The United Kingdom Court of Appeal recently ruled in favor of Zipher Ltd. of Nottingham in its lengthy legal battle with Markem Corporation. At stake was the disputed ownership of Zipher’s patented thermal transfer printer technology. The judgment means that Zipher retains ownership of the patents, including those related to its solid-state, clutchless ribbon drive.
Zipher was founded by former Markem employee Steve Buckby. The company was acquired in June 2004 by Videojet Technologies Inc. of Wood Dale, IL, USA. It sells Zipher’s thermal transfer technology under the DataFlex brand, but Zipher also sells its thermal transfer and inkjet printers through an independent distribution network.
The legal battle over who owned certain thermal transfer patents began in November 2002. The court concluded that Zipher created all of the innovations reflected in its patents. “From the beginning we believed Markem’s allegations were unfounded. The court’s judgment affirms our position,” said Kent Morris, Zipher’s managing director.
According to Markem, whose headquarters is in Keene, NH, USA, the trial judge awarded key patent claims to the company, with a license to Zipher, who also gained some other claims. Others were awarded to both companies. This pleased no one, so forcing a joint appeal against the judge’s decision. Markem wanted to throw the license out and obtain outright ownership of the claims the judge awarded to both companies. Zipher told the Court of Appeals it would abandon the key claims that the trial judge awarded to Markem. In the end it effectively means that neither company can claim them and that the license the trial judge awarded to Zipher is no longer necessary.
Jeffrey Miller, president of Markem Solutions, said he was disappointed with the Court of Appeals’ decision, noting that: “Markem’s policy is and will continue to be to aggressively defend its intellectual property. This particular dispute is about innovations made at Markem nearly eight years ago. Our technology has changed in the intervening years, but our commitment to protecting intellectual property has remained constant.”