Fargo seeks injunction against firm for copy cat ribbon, files lawsuit

Saturday, May 1, 2004

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - Card printer manufacturer Fargo Electronics has filed a lawsuit against one of its product distributors claiming that a printer ribbon recently introduced by IRIS Companies infringed on a Fargo patent.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Minnesota in late February and alleges that a product sold by IRIS Companies called the “Fargo Equivalent 81733G Ribbon” infringes on two Fargo patents for its dye sublimation ribbons. Specifically, Fargo said the ribbon in question contains a patented core pin technology, a mechanism that senses if the correct ribbon is installed in the printer for the print job the end-user is asking it to perform

“The ribbons and the printers are very tightly correlated. There’s a lot of work done to make sure the ribbons print properly and the colors match up,” said Jeff Upin, general counsel and vice president of business development. “These sec-ondary or clone ribbons have pro-perties where they’re not as effective or they don’t read as well.”

As part of its lawsuit, Fargo has asked that IRIS Companies to stop selling the ribbon. The two companies have also ended a distribution relationship that spanned more than six years. At one time, IRIS Companies was considered one of Fargo’s largest authorized distributors.

Ned Gehris, secretary, treasurer and an owner of IRIS Companies in Fleetwood, Pa., said his company received an opinion from a patent attorney before bringing the printer ribbon to market.

“We’re certainly not out to do anything illegal,” said Gehris.

IRIS Companies has since hired a second attorney to look at its ribbon and Fargo’s for another opinion on whether it infringes on the patent.

The company began offering the generic, after-market ribbon at the beginning of the year in an effort to save customers money, said Gehris.

Along with IRIS Companies, Fargo has recently filed lawsuits against two South Korean companies, KCP Systems and IntraKorea. Fargo is seeking an injunction barring the companies from manufacturing and selling ribbons that infringe on Fargo’s patent.

Upin said it’s unclear when the case will be resolved. As of press time a preliminary injunction hearing had yet to be set.

Gehris said if IRIS Companies is told by its second attorney that its product does infringe upon Fargo’s patent the company will “move on.”

“But if we’re not infringing, then we have to sit down with an attorney to make whole our name,” he said.