Thursday, 18 December 2008

EXCLUSIVE: £1 million High Court patent case hangs over West Somerset employer

AN award-winning former Watchet company is jointly facing a landmark High Court action against it with the potential for damages and costs of greater than £1 million if the case was lost.
Choice Stationery Ltd, which was based at the Smithyard, just outside Watchet, and has since relocated to Taunton, is part of the Choice Media Group which used to own Quaywest Radio.
The company expects to be in court for a trial which has been set for next June, when it will defend an action brought against it by ink cartridge manufacturer Seiko Epson Corporation.
Whichever way the case goes, the result will have major implications for the way ‘compatible ink cartridges’ are produced and sold by UK firms such as Choice Stationery.
Seiko Epson Corporation has filed allegations of a total of 10 patent infringements by Choice and two other firms, Medea International Ltd and Ebuyer (UK) Ltd.
The corporation filed its first case against the trio in February, 2006, but has since settled out of court with Medea in respect of the six specific allegations within the legal action.
It is still pursuing Choice and Ebuyer for what it says are ‘patent infringements caused by their dealings in certain ink cartridges which are compatible with Epson printers’ and this is expected to reach the stage of a trial in June, 2009.
Seiko began a second case against Choice, Medea, and Ebuyer regarding a further four similar allegations in October of last year.
Choice produces its own brand of compatible ink cartridges, called Think, which it says offers 80 per cent savings on manufacturers’ originals.
In 2005, it introduced the ThinkPlus cartridge in an apparent bid to head off possible legal action by Seiko Epson.
Choice said at the time the new cartridge was the ‘first major patented innovation in inkjet cartridge construction since their conception’.
The firm boasted: “This is the future of compatible cartridges, and although more expensive to produce than past products it still offers a huge cost saving against originals
“With the original manufacturers fighting to regain their stranglehold on replacement printer cartridge supply by threatening legal action against manufacturers and suppliers of compatible cartridges, there are many competitors ‘selling off’ lower quality products to reduce stock holdings.
“Epson’s actions will force competitors out of the market, even some of the legitimate ones who cannot face the cost of defending themselves.”
The move, however, did not stop Seiko Epson launching its two legal actions against Choice, which are said to hinge on the use/copying of a patented cartridge design and/or the use/copying of a patented ink formula.
Seiko has already earned itself a reputation worldwide for ‘suing the pants off people who manufacture compatible cartridges on the grounds of patent infringement’.
Koichi Endo, Seiko Epson’s chief operating officer, consumer products operations division, defended the legal actions.
He said: “As one of the world’s leading imaging companies, Epson commits a significant human and financial investment to product research and development.
“Although Epson welcomes fair competition in the ink cartridge marketplace, infringement of Epson patented technology and innovation undermines this investment and provides an unfair advantage to those companies acting illegally.
“As such, we intend to protect our patents against any infringement and we continue to pursue our legal action.”
Choice Media Group, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, was founded, and is now chaired, by Paul Andrews, who is also well-known a Special Constable in West Somerset.
It has combined with long-established Taunton firm Wessex Malthouse to offer design, office supplies, and printing.
Its group headquarters in Taunton was officially opened last autumn by MP Jeremy Browne, and it more recently moved into new premises in Minehead’s Mart Road Business Park.
Choice has twice won ‘Best Consumables Supplier’ in the Computer Active Awards, and Wessex Malthouse won the British Office and Stationery Supplies Dealer Excellence Award in 2006.
Last year, Choice was runner-up in the BOSS Technology Award for its investment in an innovative website.
  • Our photograph shows Choice Media staff outside their group headquarters building. Photo submitted.

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