Promax Imaging Ltd

Remanufacturing – Apocalypse…How Soon?

“From afar echoed the gallop of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, I saw them riding rough-shod over all in their path. And they were War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death.”
(Vicente Blasco Ibanez, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, 1916.)


“Into the High Courts of every land, on their mounts of Litigation, Tort, Patent and Foreclosure rode the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  I saw them ride rough-shod over all in their path, and they were Epson, Lexmark, H.P. and Canon.”     (Chris Brooks, 2006.)


Yeah! what’s HE on? You might well be thinking that right now.  For your information, it’s a very heady mix of anger, resentment and reality. 

Imagine for a moment that the OEM’s had acquired patents that give them control over the whole remanufacturing process of inkjet cartridges. Do you really think that they care one bit about our industry or our employees.  Only as far as we affect their profits, which we do in a manner most detrimental to them.  So if you believe that on acquiring such patents they would licence the process in any way to our industry, then you are wrong.  So wrong as to be criminal.  You would have more chance of getting Horst Edelmeier to talk to you after telling him that OCP ink is nothing special, just another mix of dye and water.

Overnight our apocalypse would arrive.  Make no mistake about that.  Writs and injunctions would arrive on our premises like confetti.  Nobody from the huge remanufacturers, franchise chains or the one man independent refill shop would escape the deadly wrath of these four horsemen.  Just look at what Epson did to the compatible manufacturers a few days before the Las Vegas show this year.

Most of the people I have spoken to about this in the last couple of weeks reckoned that my scenario was a flight of fancy, the stuff that conspiracy fiction is made of.  Some just laughed in my face and said I was mad.  Only a very few seriously thought about it and said there was merit in what I had outlined, and that we as an industry should be doing something to prevent this from happening.

Also, if you think this will never happen, then get your head out of your fat rear end and WAKE UP!

Let me tell you this is no idle fancy on my part, or a wild conspiracy theory.  IT IS REAL and IT’S NOW! 

Under patent application EP 1 661 710 A2, on 29th November 2005 Epson filed just such an application, claiming priority back to 29th November 2004, under JP 2004343427 et al.  It encompasses just about every possible part of the refilling process for their inkjet cartridges.  This application only came my way by accident, and I was utterly appalled.  However, it only goes to prove the true intentions of the OEM’s toward our industry.  This action also demonstrates the lengths they will go to stop us.  They will try just about anything, and they have the resources, and the pockets to find and pursue any means, fair or foul, but not illegal to bring this industry to its knees.

This is not isolated to Epson alone.  In the same light we have to consider Lexmark’s action against Static Control, and against several others.  Canon too has filed a patent application for the process of remanufacturing toner cartridges.  H.P. has also filed for a patent to cover remanufacturing processes for some of their inkjet cartridges.

All over the world these four OEM’s are sitting on committees who are attempting to formulate industry standards for inkjet and toner cartridges whether new or remanufactured.  They do this whilst pounding their breasts claiming they are fighting for a level playing field for all, and as consumer champions by ensuring that all replacement cartridges conform to a minimum standard.  Yet, at the same time they strive to prevent remanufacturing from even being an option for the consumer.  Believe me, these patent applications have only one aim.  To close this industry down.

Enough of the doom and gloom…well almost…well actually no.  It could get worse, and it probably will.  Many of you think, and have also said to me that these patents have no chance of being granted.  Mainly, because we as an industry have been refilling these cartridges since the year dot, the authorities will not grant this kind of patent.  Additionally there are loads of prior art about predating any of these applications.  WRONG, if that is your view or belief then get out of the industry now.  We need people who have greater foresight and passion than you.  I resent this attitude vehemently, it can serve no one’s purposes but those of the OEM’s.

In the 18th century Edmund Burke, a famous English statesman once said “When bad men combine, the good must associate else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”  William Wilberforce said in the 19th century that “Evil succeeds when good men do nothing.”  Both statements are very true and totally applicable in this case.  Understand quite clearly that if we as an industry do nothing, then these patents will be granted.

It is absolutely unrealistic to expect the patent authorities to refuse a patent if they are not made aware, and in the proper manner, of the existence of prior arts and practices.  Or of anything else in the public domain that renders the granting of a patent improper.

We cannot afford to just stand by leaving action to others and do nothing ourselves.  That would be plainly irresponsible.  Remember, not only does our livelihood depend on our immediate action, so does the livelihood and wellbeing of those who work for us.  To them we also owe a duty of care, and diligence of stewardship over their future. Just as they place their trust in us to safeguard continued employment.

So, what can we do to fight and prevail against these applications?  What can we do to prevent further types of patent applications in the future?

Trade publications such as The Recycler and Recharger Magazine have to be made use of.  Articles on the structure of new cartridges must be submitted for publication immediately these cartridges come to market, and the methods for refilling them.  It does not matter if these methods are not completely correct or functional, they can be theoretical even.  The important thing is that they are out there as soon as the cartridge is.  That gives us prior art.

Outlooks and preconceived attitudes prevalent throughout the industry have to change, and quickly.  Too many of you seem to think that because you have been remanufacturing Epson cartridges for years the technology is in the public domain.  It is not, because you have not published your methods or ideas.  You might also contend that you have it all in written form, with illustrations.  Where?  in a reference book you have made up for your staff to use?  That is regarded by the courts as ‘being behind closed doors’, and can have no effect, it is not within the public domain.

The same applies to confidential procedure training manuals like the ones issued to franchisees of chains such as Cartridge World or Smart Cartridge.  By their very nature they are confidential material designated as being restricted to the franchisee, and those working for him.  This distinction applies to training courses run by franchises, or any other organisation offering training for payment of a course fee, however described.  These are closed shops.  There is no public domain.

Equally these rules apply to the internet.   Every one of us knows that there are many websites that have cartridge remanufacturing instructions posted on them.  The big problem is again they are not public sites.  They need a password which you can only get if you are a customer, or by subscription.  Blog sites and newsgroups that are password protected fall under the same umbrella, they all by their very design are not intended for free anonymous public access.

In essence, information being in the public domain can be asserted as:

Any information or article being freely and anonymously available to any person whether it be in printed or electronic form openly published without restriction of use or royalty save as to copyright.

So publish your methods freely, keeping methods as a trade secret ultimately defeats us all.  You play into the hands of the OEM with this attitude.  This stifles prior art.  It might give you a very short term advantage, but will cause long term damage.  If you think nobody else is out there researching the same problems as you, then you are a fool.  As remanufacturers discover the same solution to problems associated with a particular cartridge, they also strive to keep the process secret from others.  Very soon everybody is keeping the same secret from everybody else.

Some secret!  The whole world knows how to remanufacture the cartridge, yet the methods are kept secret, SO THERE IS NO PRIOR ART AVAILABLE, because it is all closed shop publication and the OEM’s are free to get their patent.  We get closed down.  The public get ripped off even worse as there are no longer any alternative supplies available, so the OEM’s hike their prices even higher.

Publish on the internet, there are many free sites where you can do this.  The site can even be as obscure as you like, as long as it is freely accessible to all.  Start your own free information site, give away all your methods to those who seek them.  Not only does this enhance our industry, it will ultimately benefit you.  Yes it will, because as product improves as a result of your openness, the paying public gain greater confidence in our product.  This in turn enlarges our market share, and leads to increased sales for you too.

By publishing, you deliver a double whammy to the OEM.  Efforts to obtain restrictive patents are thwarted and they simultaneously lose market share of the aftermarket.

At the same time support your Trade Association.  For a start JOIN IT!  All trade associations strive to represent their member’s interests to the hilt.  However they need money in the war chest to do this.  Larger membership equals a larger war chest.

UKCRA for instance has achieved fantastic results for our industry.  A few dedicated people combined with a small membership have done well.  Much more could have been achieved with a higher membership.  It makes me extremely angry that the industry as a whole benefits from the work UKCRA does, but very few support UKCRA by joining.  Not one person or organisation has ever seen fit to make a donation to the cause even if they did not want to join.

Apathy has to stop immediately.  Start to care about the future of our industry, and work collectively toward our future.  Mutual collaboration is perhaps the greatest weapon we have in our armoury.  As an industry we must use this weapon to our best advantage against our common foe.

Short-sighted policies must be identified and stopped.  What benefit is there to making short term gains at the expense of long term existence.  I desire to see far-sighted people, committed to the growth and the promotion of our industry, and its future protection.  Not myopic muppets.

Make an active commitment now to our industry, care about its future, AND DO SOMETHING.

If I have offended anybody in this article, then good.  It means I have made you identify with some of the people I have described.  You have felt guilt, but it’s not too late to reform, or get the hell out of our industry now.  We do not need or want myopic muppets like you about.

But if I have made you think, and reflect upon these issues I have done a better job.  By thinking about these problems you acknowledge their importance, and the dangers they potentially present.  You know we have to do something, and want to help.  So let’s do it….now.

“Evil men, obsessed with ambition and unburdened by conscience, must be taken very seriously--and we must stop them before their crimes can multiply”     These are words spoken by George W Bush this year.  I wonder, did he have our Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in mind?

Chris Brooks is the Managing Director of Promax Imaging Ltd.
Now devoting his time to research and development of new techniques for use in the industry, he is also a certified electrical safety inspector and a technical adviser to several companies in Europe and America.  Apart from writing technical manuals and articles for trade magazines, he is also a member of the BSI committee for standardisation of test methods for printer cartridges.