A Blackpool businessman is spearheading a David and Goliath style battle over the sale of computer printer inks.
Adrian Meakin from Whitehills-based The Ink Squid is set to head to Parliament on Tuesday to take on the might of global printers giant Epson.
The Ink Squid is one of a number of online retailers which sell third party compatible cartridges for a variety of printers, much cheaper than the originals marketed by the manufacturers.
But he said that Epson has started leaning on some online market places such as Amazon and eBay to take down the third party listings.
He said the Japanese electronics giant was using copyright claims to assert its Intellectual Property rights saying that a patent it has to protect the consumer form a potential problem with cartridges, is being infringed.
But Mr Meaking said that the patent is for a problem that does not exist and is just a ruse to remove the third party retailers. He is being backed by UK digital campaigners, the Open Rights Group, which believes that Epson is behaving unfairly.
They have lodged a complaint with the UK Competition and Markets Authority to fight the de-listings.
Mr Meakin, set up his award-winning business because he noticed that although printers were fairly cheap for average people, the replacement inks supplied by the manufacturers were not.
He said: “Epson is getting Amazon and eBay to take down thousands of listings nationally, purely on their say-so that these listings are infringing their Intellectual Property rights.
“Putting a big brand in an incredibly powerful position to crush its competition, no questions asked. This is damaging the market and gradually creating a 100 per cent monopoly for Epson.
“Their patent is an old one and solves a problem that does not exist – it has been registered to supposedly protect against a situation where a drop of liquid somehow finds its way onto a cartridge chip in between the cartridge being removed from the protective plastic and it being installed.
“Frankly you have about as much chance of being struck by lightning so there is absolutely no need for the patent – it’s real motive is to create a monopoly under the radar.
“Effectively Epson is saying that if a cartridge functions but isn’t made by Epson, then by definition it is infringing their patent.
“We have had about 80 listings removed on Amazon and nearly 400 on eBay so far. Epson compatibles account for about half of our turnover.
“A report has been made to the Competition and Markets Authority and we have a meeting to bring this to Parliament’s attention.”
Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, said: “The right way for Epson to proceed is to take the cartridge importers to court, if they really believe their patents are infringed.
“Targeting small businesses reselling these cartridges on eBay and Amazon may be easy, but it is unfair. Epson have been given power of judge, jury and executioner over their own legal claim.”
Epson protecting its rights
A spokesman said: “Epson spends €1.4 million on R&D daily, filing about 4,000 new patents each year.. We do everything we can to protect this investment in innovation and our Intellectual Property. We welcome legitimate competition; however, the patents granted to us give us the right to object to companies and individuals copying the technologies that we have developed and own.
“This type of IP infringement is both damaging to us as a business and brand, and to channel partners and loyal customers.
“Our patent-enforcement activities are based on extensive purchasing and study of the products to confirm any infringement. In the case of a confirmed patent infringement on eBay or Amazon, an even-handed approach is taken, whereby we present our case to the infringers and give them the opportunity to present counter-arguments, only resorting to further action if common ground cannot be reached.”