HP: Chinese rivals used stolen parts to make copy-cat ink cartridges

Trucks hijacked, factory pilfered of printheads, HP claims

Hewlett-Packard has accused a Taiwanese maker of printer ink cartridges with using stolen HP parts to make knock-offs and sell them in the U.S. through outlets such as Amazon.com.

In a lawsuit filed Friday in a San Francisco federal court, HP charged MicroJet Technology of Taiwan, as well as five other companies from China, Hong Kong and the U.S., with infringing six patents held by HP that relate to ink jet printing technologies.

HP alleged that MicroJet used more than 300,000 genuine HP color and black-and-white ink printheads to manufacture copy-cat cartridges sold under the "Mipo" label. MicroJet makes the ink cartridges, which it sells under its own name as well as to others to distribute, said HP.

According to HP, MicroJet built at least some of its ink cartridges using printheads stolen from the American firm's Singapore factory or from trucks that were hijacked on the way to a Malaysian assembly plant.

"In 2006 and early March 2007, HP noticed and recorded that certain component parts appeared to have been unlawfully taken from the HP facilities," said the lawsuit. "As a result, increased security measures were implemented to prevent loss from manufacturing and assembly sites. As part of that effort, HP tightened its transport measures, including using trucks and security personnel to transport the component parts, including the printheads, to the assembly plant in Malaysia."

Apparently, the additional security didn't help. "In March and September 2007, trucks carrying HP parts were hijacked while en route from the manufacturing facility in Singapore to the assembly plant in Malaysia," the suit said.

Those trucks carried HP ink cartridge printheads, the part that includes the ink nozzles and the circuitry needed to form droplets of ink and then spray the ink toward the paper.

Although the lawsuit stopped short of accusing MicroJet or the other defendants of stealing the printheads themselves, HP claimed that the product identifiers marked on the printheads used in the AmiPro-branded cartridges -- which HP employees had purchased on the open market in the U.S. -- showed that those printheads were among the ones that had gone missing or were stolen from the trucks.

HP charged MicroJet and the others with nine counts altogether, including six patent violations, as well as a violation of the Lanham Act. "Defendants unlawfully obtained HP's goods, namely, HP printheads, incorporated the genuine HP printheads into its own knock-off ink cartridges, labeled the fully assembled products with its own identifying mark ('Mipo'), and marketed and sold those products to customers while representing that the products were their own," said HP.

MicroJet Technology of Taiwan and Mipo Technology of Hong Kong did not respond to requests for comment on the HP lawsuit. Phone numbers for two defendants based in Florida, Mipo America and SinoTime Technologies, could not be located.

Earlier today, the Dow Jones News Service reported that a spokesman for MicroJet Technology said his company had not yet received a copy of the lawsuit, and so could not comment on the allegations.

HP demanded that the federal court slap an injunction on MicroJet and the other defendants to bar them from infringing on its patents, and asked for triple damages for willful infringement.

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Gregg Keizer

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