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What’s in a Name? Pirates Good and Bad

27 May, 2016 By: Steve Weedon, Discover Imaging Products, LTD

Arrrrgh.  For more than 25 years, the Office Equipment Manufacturers (OEM’s) and the “pirates,” sorry, “aftermarket” segments of our imaging industry, were clearly defined and separated.  The OEM’s were the captains of their vessels and knew where they were headed for the biggest return on their investment. Sailing the seas of commerce, they have been innovative and smart to create huge businesses centered around the production of a printed page. They competed with each other to get there first; like the Dutch and the Spanish, the British and Portuguese, the French of the 16th century, all searching for the new world.  At the outset of their voyage into the desktop printing seas, none had expected to battle with the eventual “pirate” aftermarket.

Initially, OEM skirmishes were quick affairs with legal letters and threats that frightened off many would-be pirates. But the pirates always came back...better armed and more prepared. For the most part many have, over the last 25 years, legitimized themselves ... becoming formidable competitors today.

In the earlier days of the industry, OEM’s referred to aftermarket suppliers and resellers as “pirates” including the term “toner pirates,” as companies that would come along and steal their business with cheap alternatives of inferior quality and patent infringing products. Even today, the OEM employee generally considers the aftermarket as something illegal, outside the law, or detrimental to his/her employer’s business and security, so should be eradicated. Thus whether good pirates or bad pirates, “they still be pirates, arrrgh.”

Counterfeit product producers, compatible product producers, remanufactured product producers, clone product producers, toner and ink producers, drum producers, chip producers and so on, are all pirates under the OEM definition. All enemy’s, all to be beaten, at all costs.

Over the years the world continued to turn; knowledge and technology improved and the status quo has developed. When an OEM and pirate bump heads out in rough seas, skirmishes break out in the form of patent lawsuits. Sometimes the pirate wins and a beleaguered OEM sully’s back to HQ licking its wounds. Most times the OEM wins and the pirate in question is defeated and/or surrenders, signing consent orders to never pirate the products again.

Fast forward and what do we see?  Some pirates have legitimized themselves and are now hugely successful organizations listed on the stock market, looking to create profits from which dividends can be paid to shareholders.  Just like the OEM’s!

The demarcation line between these industry captains is now more blurred than ever. Those that are counterfeiters are still bad pirates. Those that legitimately sail the commerce seas with non-infringing product, of variable quality from great to poor, see their competition through their spyglass atop the crow’s nest, and for the most part, no cannon balls are fired.

Now we see...

The so-called pirates of the past who have legitimized their operations and have seen great global success have moved forward, parlaying with the captain of Lexmark’s ship, and have agreed to buy them out.  Huh?  Unbelievable!  Many other OEM captains have also parlayed and negotiated supply agreements from past pirates in order to feed their MPS programs. Who would have thought that possible a few years ago?

The lines are now very blurred indeed. Its one huge imaging industry. However, counterfeit operations are not legitimized and remain very bad pirates, and collectively, we should all act to eradicate them since they do harm to everyone including the end user.

Those that strive to provide good quality at a good price and that are IP compliant, whether selling OEM original or aftermarket remanufactured or compatible cartridges, are all legitimate vessels sailing the commerce oceans looking for customers. Nothing wrong with that. Those that skirt round Intellectual Property Rights of others knowingly will remain pirates who will walk the plank.


Steve Weedon is the Global CEO of Cartridge World, and a regular contributor to imageSource magazine and Recycling Times (www.iRecyclingTimes.com) among other publications.

About the Author: Steve Weedon

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