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A Measure of Their Success: E-ink is Now Suing Over Knockoff E-ink Screens

Remember about a month ago when I reported on the super-cheap Trekstor Pyrus Mini ereader with the 4.3″ E-ink screen and a retail of $64? Now I think we may know why it is so cheap.

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.


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fjtorres November 5, 2012 um 10:17 am

Front and backplanes?
No mention of the electrophoretic film…
(Might there be a gray market in eink film? With excess capacity floating around maybe somebody–LG? AUO–unloaded some spare rolls?)

Gotta love chinese ethics, huh?

Nate Hoffelder November 5, 2012 um 10:21 am

The electrophoretic film is the front plane.

fjtorres November 5, 2012 um 5:30 pm

But then, "building" the front plane would mean making their own film, no?

Nate Hoffelder January 4, 2013 um 9:07 pm

That’s what they did, yes.

Ludovicus November 6, 2012 um 8:45 pm

I was wondering why there were no photos of it from the Frankfurt Book Fair. (They were supposed to show it off there.)

Nate Hoffelder November 6, 2012 um 9:31 pm

I think Trekstor may have been ducking the E-ink folks. Or perhaps they already knew about the infringement and didn’t want to be kicked out of the show. That has happened before in Germany.

Nik Nik November 7, 2012 um 10:18 am

I just swung by the Thalia book store and compared their six inch "4ink" eReader (made by Trekstore) with the also availble Bookeen Cybook Odyssey and my own PRS-T1.

Low and behold! The so called "digital ink" screen sports a signifcantly lighter white background than both Pearl eink divices! Contrast looked about the same.

The cheap(€59) unit with flimsy buttons ain’t my cup of tea, but the displayed pages of an ebook did actually look better. If they really stole something from Eink they sure improved it to.

E-ink Loses Two-Year-Old Patent Lawsuit Over Competing Screen Tech ⋆ Ink, Bits, & Pixels March 2, 2015 um 2:17 pm

[…] the past couple years E-ink has been in an ongoing legal battle with German gadget maker Trekstor. The latter company was and is selling ereaders which […]

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