by Robert Palmer | 8/20/15
In a surprising move, Memjet announced on August 11 that it has filed a patent infringement lawsuit against HP. Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, the lawsuit alleges infringement of eight different Memjet patents related to its page-wide "waterfall" printing technology.
Interestingly, Memjet’s claims are quite broad and far-reaching. The lawsuit seeks to enjoin HP from its unauthorized use of Memjet technology, and to recover damages resulting from the use of the patented technology in a range of HP PageWide printing products. HP models cited in the claim include the HP Pro X office products, the T-series commercial presses, and the PageWide XL series wide-format machines. Memjet also notes that HP has stated its intention to utilize PageWide technology across its printing portfolio, including in future wide-format and 3D printers.
Based on these claims, it appears that Memjet is taking on any current or future product based on HP’s PageWide Array (PWA) printing architecture. As is always the case in the early stages of pending litigation, neither firm is saying much publicly. Memjet issued the press release announcing the lawsuit, but at the time this article was written we have yet to secure an interview with either party.
For more on the Memjet lawsuit, see press release here.
Memjet’s lawsuit seemed to come completely out of the blue — taking many in the industry by surprise, and not just because Memjet has sued for patent infringement. Indeed, ever since Memjet was formed it has talked openly about plans to strictly enforce its inkjet patents. Memjet is an R&D company that has substantial investment in the development of its page-wide printing technology.
Silverbrook Research, which was founded in 1994 by ex-Canon engineers, formed Memjet with the single goal of creating a disruptive inkjet-based marking system. Since that time, Memjet has developed a deep inkjet technology portfolio while amassing some 5,000 patents, with 500 more filed and pending. In some ways, Memjet’s patent portfolio is stronger than the technology itself, because Memjet has limited capability to commercialize its own technology and must therefore rely primarily on licensing partners to bring new products to market.
The question is: why is Memjet filing a lawsuit now? Both HP and Memjet have been promoting page-wide printing architecture for years. While Memjet itself was founded in 2002, it first began demonstrating its technology in early 2007. Coincidentally, that was roughly the same time that HP began showcasing its own page-wide printing architecture, which was then marketed as Edgeline technology. Could it really have taken this long for Memjet to reverse engineer HP technology?
It has always been assumed that there was at least some potential for patent infringement between the two competing technologies. HP and Memjet print heads are both based on drop-on-demand thermal inkjet technology and both utilize a MEMS-based manufacturing process. Still, there are many notable differences in overall print head design. Meanwhile, HP and Memjet are not the only vendors developing page-wide printing solutions. Xerox’s solid ink page-wide printing technology was commercialized long before HP and Memjet. At the same, there is a growing list of other OEMs developing page-wide liquid inkjet printing technologies.
Over the past decade or so, both HP and Memjet have made significant R&D advancements in page-wide array inkjet printing. Up to this point, Memjet technology has found its way into a variety of specialty printing segments, such as label printing, packaging, and wide format. Memjet has signed up a number of OEM partners, but for the most part these have been smaller players in niche markets.
HP, on the other hand, has made massive strides with its PageWide Array technology. The firm has introduced a family of Officejet Pro X and Enterprise Color products based on the PWA architecture, which are beginning to see real penetration both in SMB and the office workgroup segment. HP’s newly introduced PageWide XL series wide-format printers have been met with serious acclaim in the market due in part to radical advancements in performance. Meanwhile, HP’s T-series Inkjet Web Press machines have proven very successful in the commercial print space. HP claims that it has reached more than 100 billion pages printed on the InkJet Web Press, which is now averaging 4 billion pages per month.
It is no secret that HP now views its PWA printing technology as integral to its future success. During recent analyst events, HP executives have positioned PWA technology as a clear differentiator that will be instrumental in attacking various growth segments, including the office workgroup printing market. Perhaps this is why Memjet is filing its patent infringement lawsuit now. HP has essentially developed a market for page-wide printing technology, which means that Memjet now has much more to gain through protection of patents.
There are far too many unknown variables to even speculate as to a potential outcome for the Memjet lawsuit. Memjet has a very strong patent portfolio and while it has filed other claims to protect its technology, Memjet has not demonstrated a propensity for pursuing frivolous lawsuits. Even so, HP has very deep pockets and it will no doubt fight tooth and nail to protect its own investment and position. We will be watching this closely so keep and eye out for further coverage as additional details emerge.
Robert Palmer is chief analyst and a managing partner for BPO Media, which publishes The Imaging Channel and Workflow magazines. He is an independent market analyst and industry consultant with more than 25 years experience in the printing industry covering technology and business sectors for prominent market research firms such as Lyra Research and InfoTrends. In December 2012 he formed Palmer Consulting as an independent consultancy focused on transformation, mobility, MPS, and the entire imaging market. Palmer is a popular speaker and presents regularly at industry conferences and trade events in the U.S., Europe, and Japan. He is also active in a variety of imaging industry forums and currently serves on the board of directors for the Managed Print Services Association (MPSA). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.