HP CHEMISTS HUNT VIOLATORS OF INK …..

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HP CHEMISTS HUNT VIOLATORS OF INK …..

 user 2006-08-30 at 12:11:00 pm Views: 65
  • #16355

    HP chemists hunt violators of ink patents
    CORVALLIS,
    Ore., A team of scientists and a phalanx of lawyers working on behalf
    of Hewlett-Packard Co. have one thing on their mind: ink, specifically,
    competitors’ ink.H-P’s ink-cartridge business acts as a powerful
    annuity for the company. The technology titan, which has a market share
    of 50 percent in the U.S. and more than 4,000 patents on its ink
    formulations and cartridge design, often sells its printers at a loss,
    then essentially locks customers in when they have to repeatedly come
    back to buy replacement ink cartridges. In fiscal 2005, H-P made more
    than 80 percent of its $5.6 billion in operating profit from ink and
    toner supplies, according to Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.To protect
    this franchise, increasingly under attack from rivals, H-P could sue
    any ink makers it suspects are infringing on its patents. This month,
    it sued China’s G&G Ninestar Image Co., a cartridge manufacturer,
    alleging G&G had violated seven H-P patents in cartridge design.
    The complaint also targets four online retailers. H-P also asked the
    International Trade Commission to open an investigation against
    Ninestar. A Ninestar spokeswoman said the company had no comment.This
    latest suit follows other actions over the past year. In June, H-P said
    retailers Walgreen Co. and OfficeMax Inc. had infringed on H-P ink
    patents with ink used at in-store ink-cartridge-refilling stations;
    Walgreen and OfficeMax both deny the claims. Last year, H-P similarly
    warned the U.S. arm of Cartridge World Inc., a domestic retail
    ink-cartridge refiller; Cartridge World says it is working to resolve
    the issue.New competitors such as Cartridge World, Caboodle Cartridge
    Inc. and Rapid Refill Ink International Corp. refill empty ink
    cartridges made by H-P and others, and sell them at discounted prices
    of as much as 50 percent off a new cartridge in locations such as malls
    or downtown stores.”A lot of people come into the ink marketplace with
    some assumptions that there really isn’t a lot of technology” in ink,
    says Tuan Tran, a vice president of marketing in H-P’s printing
    business. “We want to remind them that there is a lot of technology
    that goes into formulations.”Such a reminder often comes in court,
    where H-P is used to defending its patents on various products. In
    2003, it launched a wide effort to protect its intellectual property
    and profit from its 33,000 patents through technology-licensing deals.
    Its litigation strategy has been on the increase under Mark Hurd, H-P’s
    chief executive since March 2005, who wants to improve the company’s
    profitability. In fiscal 2004, H-P’s patent efforts brought in around
    $200 million in cash and product discounts.H-P’s ink studies often
    start with teams of people in its printing group around the world, who
    routinely collect all the inks they can get on the open market and ship
    them to an H-P lab here in Corvallis for testing by LeAnn Bell, H-P’s
    37-year-old coordinator of competitive-ink testing, and her team of
    nine scientists.Ms. Bell had just graduated from the University of
    Maryland, Baltimore County, in 1998 with a doctorate in chemistry when
    she was recruited by H-P. Having studied mostly substances that cause
    cancer, she was surprised that the company wanted her to study
    something entirely different: ink.”I never thought about ink,” Ms. Bell
    says. But H-P had thought about it a lot, and was looking for someone
    with a background in chemistry to find a way to analyze inks from
    competitors to determine whether H-P patents were being violated.Taking
    on the assignment, Ms. Bell spent her first years at H-P learning the
    chemical components of ink and chemical-testing methods from other
    chemists. She soon pioneered the application of a test known as
    capillary electrophoresis in the ink field. Using this test, an ink
    sample is put into an electrical field inside a thin glass tube,
    enabling the separation of charged components. The test helps create a
    chemical “fingerprint” of the ink, which Ms. Bell can compare with
    “fingerprints” of other inks. When an ink sample arrives in Corvallis,
    Ms. Bell and her group of chemists store it and dissect all the
    samples. On average, she and her team test 50 inks in a two- to
    three-week period.One chemist on the team typically runs up to 60
    individual ink samples a day through a large machine that uses a method
    called gas chromatography. The machine heats the ink into a gaseous
    form, and detects what solvents are inside it. The solvents help
    indicate how the ink is made.Then there is the “egg yolk” test, in
    which Ms. Bell puts a drop of colored ink on a petri dish and places a
    drop of black ink from a competitor’s cartridge on top of it. If the
    black ink forms a perfect black dot on top of the yellow dot, much like
    an unbroken egg yolk, a high-quality ink is indicated, perhaps an ink
    that infringes on an H-P patent.By such means, the ink team concluded
    that InkCycle, a division of LaserCycle Inc. that made the ink for
    Staples, had violated two H-P patents that prevent colors from bleeding
    together in printouts. In March 2005, H-P sued InkCycle alleging patent
    infringement. InkCycle settled with H-P in June 2005 for an undisclosed
    sum and agreed to stop using the infringing inks.More often than not,
    Ms. Bell says, she finds suspected infringements in the inks she tests.
    But she adds that she isn’t sure that is indicative of the market, or
    just of the samples she receives in the mail. “My job is enforcing our
    ink patents so that we are all playing fair,” she says. “It’s the
    corporate version of CSI.”