The world's foremost developer of ink jet printing technology, Hewlett-Packard has been accused of stealing proprietary technology from newcomer Xerox in a patent infringement lawsuit that industry watchers say may be a publicity stunt.
"My reaction when I heard about the suit was for my jaw to drop," said Angele Boyd, a peripherals analyst for market research firm International Data Corporation (IDC). "Why would HP, who has been developing ink jet printers since 1974, be stealing technology from Xerox?"
Nevertheless, Xerox filed suit today in U.S. District Court in Rochester, New York, alleging that some 20 HP DeskJet, PhotoSmart, and OfficeJet products contain proprietary printhead cartridge technology covered in a patent Xerox filed in 1991.
The suit does not specify damages, but does ask that HP be barred from marketing any of the products named in the suit. Xerox insists the suit has merit.
"This is not a marketing ploy," said Judd Everhart, a spokesman for Xerox. "We have a couple of labs that are constantly examining competitive products. In the course of that process we came across HP products. In our view, they contain technology that we clearly invented and patented."
Xerox is a "fairly new player," in the ink jet business, Everhart conceded, entering the market seven years ago. HP inkjet printers make up about 52 percent of the market, IDC estimates, while Xerox accounts for less than four percent. HP says it has an installed base of 65 million inkjet products.
"HP was the first to introduce any ink jet products," said Jeremy James, a spokesman for HP. "If Xerox even has any ink jet products, that's news to me."
IDC's Boyd speculated that the suit may be an attempt to drum up support among resellers. "At minimum, it buys them some market awareness. It associates the quality of their technology with the quality of HP technology," she said. "At maximum, if an injunction is granted, it opens up a huge opportunity for other players in the market to jump in, and would hurt HP terribly."
"We wouldn't file a suit to gain publicity for upcoming products," Everhart said.
Even if that is true, Xerox could still end up being hurt by the suit in the long run, Boyd warned. "I have a lot of respect for Xerox--they're one of the most professional organizations I've ever dealt with--but if their products don't live up to the publicity, there could be a backlash."
Both sides await a ruling on a different suit filed by HP against Xerox last October, alleging trademark infringement by Xerox LaserJet cartridge packaging.