JAPAN:NO MORE OEM TONER/INK MONOPOLY !
JAPAN:NO MORE OEM TONER/INK MONOPOLY !
2005-04-18 at 9:50:00 am #8952
Tokyo court case has lit the ‘go’ sign for remanufactured cartridge resellers in
Japan. But the battle against the OEMs has only just begun
last few decades, Japan has clung to all that is advanced and modern – embracing
commerce, technology and ‘state of the art’ with gusto. But it seems one
international trend has passed the nation by. While anti-monopoly battles have
been fought out in the West – with courts largely bowing to the rights of the
consumer – manufacturing giants in Japan have been left to enjoy relative
intellectual property domination.
The market for remanufactured
cartridges provides a clear example. The Japanese market is a small one over
which OEM giants such as Canon and Epson reside. It is also one in which legal
uncertainty – and fear of going against these giants – has left many dealers and
distributors unwilling to import recycled inkjet cartridges into the country.
recent events suggest revolutionary rocks have started rumbling. In December
2003, Asian cartridge supplier Union Technology International (UTec) shipped
some recycled inkjet cartridges (compatible
for Canon printers) to a Japanese customer, Recycle Assist. This provoked Canon
to lodge a patent infringement claim against the Japanese distributor. On 8
December 2004, the charge was rejected by Tokyo District Court, which clarified
that recycling cartridges belongs in the category of ‘repair’, and in no way
invades the OEM’s intellectual property rights.
Although Canon is
currently appealing against the decision, industry insiders claim the impact of
the case -should it not be reversed – will be immense. “The decision is a
milestone for cartridge recyclers in Japan and is expected to bring about
revolutionary changes,” says UTec’s director Iris Ngo.
“It opens the
door for overseas recyclers (notably those in low cost countries) to export
recycled inkjet cartridges to Japan. We also
expect to see more inkjet cartridges recycled
in other countries going into Japan. OEMs such as Canon and Epson are right to
be concerned by the expected increase in competition.”
CEO of imaging products manufacturer GCC International, airs a similar view.
“Now that it is seen to be legal, the market is open to refillers of all quality
and price levels. Japan is a high priced market and will attract many entrants
eager to get a part of it.”
Indeed, Japan is one of the few markets
worldwide in which OEM inkjet cartridges still
take up to 80-90 per cent of the supplies market. The potential is huge.
The benefits to consumers, too, are evident: greater choice; lower
prices (recycled printing supplies usually sell at 20-30 per cent discount to
original products); environmental satisfaction; and, as many believe, higher
quality suppliers in the market.
But just because distributors can sell
remanufactured cartridges in Japan, does not automatically mean they will gain
market share. Japanese customers are known to demand high quality products and
services, so they may continue to look to brands they are familiar with.
“It remains to be seen if remanufacturers of inkjets can meet the high quality levels that
Japanese consumers demand, and whether they can develop a brand, find
distribution and make a profitable business case,” says O’Brien. “After all,
patents are there to encourage innovation and forbid others trying to get a
‘free ride’ off the OEMs’ products.
“Furthermore, Asia has a high
respect for brands and a lesser regard for environmental issues which pushes
them to the OEM,” he adds. “And the Japanese market differs from the rest of the
Asian markets in that brand and quality tend to remain paramount over price,
compared to, say, China where price is everything and quality a very poor
There are additional hurdles for distributors. OEMs can
restrain competition from recycled products by using ‘killer chips’. According
to Vincent van Dijk, secretary general of the European Toner and Inkjet Remanufacturers Association (ETIRA), these
chips have useful functions such as measuring ink levels, but increasingly their sole purpose is
to prevent re-use of the cartridge after the first use, therefore reducing the
availability of empties in the market.
In addition, many tech giants –
including Canon – have introduced their own collection and recycling schemes in
But, according to O’Brien, perhaps a larger threat to the future
of the Japanese imaging products industry is not so much patents but
counterfeiting, which is becoming increasingly rampant.
On the plus
side, the market scope for remanufactured cartridges worldwide looks extremely
rosy at the moment. The paperless office still seems a far cry from becoming a
reality, the digitalisation of imaging has increased printing globally, and the
colour laser is fast on the inroad. With any luck, there will be plenty of room
in the Japanese market for OEMs and remanufacturers alike.