I first came upon this story via a new product announcement on the Dutch ereader blog eReaders.nl. The covered a new ereader from Icarus. The Icarus Essence is a no-frills 6" ereader that lacks Wifi or a touchscreen. It has 4GB of storage, a microSD card slot, and broad format support including Epub, PDF, Mobi, and more.
Just about the only detail that is worth noting is that the product listing says it has an epaper screen, while all the other Icarus ereaders have E-ink screens. That might be a small detail but it is a telling one, trust me.
Also announced last week (but not yet available) is the Icarus8, a larger ereader with Wifi, audio ability, and an 8" (1024x768) epaper screen.
I'm still looking for confirmation but I don't think that is an E-ink screen either.
But wait, there's more. It turns out that Trekstor, sellers of the Pyrus Mini, are also selling the 6" Trekstor Pyrus and it too has a knockoff screen. TeXet, a Russian gadget company, has a number of ereaders with E-ink screens as well as at least one ereader with a 4.3" (screen like the one found on the Pyrus Mini).
Isn't this interesting?
There are now 4 ereaders on the market in various parts of the world that clearly do not use E-ink's screen. It makes you wonder how many have escaped notice, doesn't it?
It also raises the question of whether these screens really do violate E-ink's patents. Surely 3 companies in 3 countries wouldn't all put themselves at risk of a lawsuit without first going throw the technical specs with a fine tooth comb and making sure that the screens were legal.
Now I'm beginning to understand one of the conversations I had at CES 2013. I never wrote about it, but I met with the device maker who originally developed these ereaders before licensing them to teXet, Icarus, and Trekstor. The CEO of the OEM doesn't want me to name his company, but he swore up and down that the knockoff screen was not a knockoff. He insisted that it didn't infringe on E-ink's patents.
I'm seriously beginning to wonder if he is correct; but for now all I can say is that there are details to this situation that I don't have yet.
That might change in the not too distant future. When I was at Flextech last week I made sure to bring my Pyrus Mini with me. I left that ereader in the eager hands of the Flexible Display Center, and I handed it over with the understanding that they would dissect the screen and send me a report.
It's going to take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months before I get an answer, but I do plan to get to the bottom of this.