I’ve just come across a press release which E-ink issued last Friday. Apparently Trekstor and/or the Chinese company who made the screens for Trekstor forgot to license the appropriate patents from E-ink.
And so E-ink is suing. They’ve named 2 specific patents in the lawsuit which they have filed in Germany. One covers the stuff inside the screens and the other covers the screens themselves.
Interesting, no? Unfortunately this still leaves some unanswered questions. At this point I do not know exactly how the patents were infringed. I’m still waiting to hear back from E-ink on this story, and since they might never actually answer my questions I will lay them out for you.
What I do not know yet is whether Guangzhou OED Technologies, the Chinese manufacturer of the screens, reverse engineered E-ink’s screen tech from scratch or whether they bought screen material and used it without paying the appropriate license fees.
E-ink’s screen is initially produced in MA as 300′ long rolls of plastic sheeting. The black and white pixels you see in an E-ink screen are embedded in the sheeting, and the reason you can see them and show images on the display is that the sheets are cut into pieces and mounted on backplanes. (I’ve explained this before.)
The reason I mention the technical details is not because they matter much on a legal level; I’m interested in the tech involved.
If Guangzhou OED Technologies merely used E-ink’s screen without paying the license fees then they are decent engineers. These folks developed and released a 4.3″ screen with the same resolution as E-ink’s 6″ screen. On a technical level that is pretty sweet.
But if they successfully reverse-engineered the base E-ink screen sheeting then Guangzhou has some frigging brilliant engineers. Assuming their quality holds up, they have accomplished something that a number of well-financed US start-ups never could. (E-ink wasn’t the only MIT spinoff working on an epaper screen; they were merely the survivor with the best engineers and businessmen.)
That last point might only matter to me but I think it’s worth knowing.
Update: And I have heard back from E-ink. They believe Guangzhou “built both front and backplanes that infringed on our patents.”
Note, though, that it likely won’t affect this case. Trekstor is probably guilty of infringement, and if they don’t settle there is a better than even chance that E-ink will be able to block the sale of the Pyrus Mini.