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Umax hit with injunction

Acting on a competitor's complaint, the court says Umax, one of the top makers of scanners, must re-label a product which it claimed had 36-bit capability.

Umax Technologies, one of the top makers of scanners and digital imaging products, has been hit with a preliminary injunction, forcing the company to re-label its scanners and change its advertising practices.

Unless Umax Technologies makes changes to the labeling on its Astra 1220 scanner, it is prohibited from selling it as 36-bit capable, according to a preliminary injunction issued by The U.S. District Court for Northern California.

The suit was filed by Fremont, California-based Visioneer, itself a scanner and imaging software company. Visioneer alleged that Umax made misleading claims about the Astra scanners by selling them as 36-bit scanners when they were 30-bit scanners that used software to approximate the higher image quality offered by 36-bit scanners.

Scanners convert documents and photos into bits of data using special chips. The more bits of data these chips can handle, the better the color and image quality.

The court effectively ruled that Taiwan-based Umax must qualify the term "36-bit" in describing its scanners, since these extra bits are achieved with software techniques. Umax has to state clearly that it uses this method to achieve the higher scanning rate.

Umax can still sell the Astra scanners that are already at retail stores as long as it applies labels that clarify its use of the term "36-bit" in relation to the product's 30-bit technology. Future packaging must reflect the court's order as well.

Visioneer immediately claimed victory with the ruling, but Umax also tried to claim victory as well, noting that the court didn't bar them from using the term "36-bit" in its advertising, as Visioneer had requested, and didn't require Umax to run ads correcting their earlier claims, which would've been an expensive proposition.

The lawsuit is another sign that competition in the scanner market is heating up as prices on the devices plummet.

In October, Storm Technology filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after suffering heavy losses from the year-long price wars in the scanner industry (See related story).

Ironically, Storm itself had filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Visioneer earlier this year.