I have read the blog string with interest and I think some history is useful, specifically, where did this new marvelous technology come from? The short answer is Michael Zimmer. Yes, one man. The long answer follows.
I was watching Jurassic Park last week and in one of the opening scenes the Jurassic Park IT guy is meeting with a representative from another company that desperately wishes to open a similar theme park. Of course this other company doesn’t have the know-how so they have “hatched” a plan to pay the Jurassic Park IT guy to give it to them. At the end of the scene the IT guy collects his payoff and says “In 18 hours your company is going to catch up on 10 years of research.” The villains in the movie are revealed.
Back to Michael Zimmer. He’s a really good guy. You’d like him if you met him. Family person with children who work at the family business, very much like many of you. So what does that scene in Jurassic Park have to do with digital ceramic print technology? Michael did in fact spend 10 years of his life developing the world’s first LASER printer and ceramic pigment based toner process. 10 years of hard, expensive, frustrating work, over coming countless technical problems and spending countless amounts of money and hours. This marvelous technology of printing ceramic pigments on a LASER printer is the result of Michael’s persistence, determination, creativity and hard work. After finally developing the first printable ceramic pigment toner and learning how to use it in a commercial LASER printer, he spent even more money filing patents around the world with the hope of enjoying some well-earned return on his investment. At that point the work still isn’t over. Now he has to bring his invention to the world and tell people about it. In the last 20 years he has refined and improved the technology into the highest quality, most flexible, environmentally cleanest, safest, least toxic and hazardous ceramic decorating process available. He simplified printing a ceramic decal to a mouse click and along the way eliminated all hazardous materials from the process – no naphtha, no MEK no acetone no VOC or flux particle laden sprays. In fact, no liquids of any kind except water. An amazing accomplishment. And, no surprise, just like those guys in Jurassic Park, companies and people all over the world – Chinese, Russian, Italian, etc etc have read his patents and used his inventions to “…catch up on 10 years of research.” Imagine you were Michael Zimmer. How would you feel about the companies that didn’t earn it but simply used what he created? Patents are designed to protect and reward the people who invest in innovation. When you think about those other companies and possibly consider buying from them ask yourself – do I really want to be one those of those guys from Jurassic Park?
Now I know some you are thinking “Oh blah blah blah.” So leave behind the moral and ethical considerations. But I sincerely hope you will give them some thought because what is happening to Michael is simply not right. But if you don’t care, and some of you won’t, there are some other considerations.
The US Patent Office has a 200 year old database of incredible searchable technology. It has a very thorough and accurate approach to identifying “prior art”. It is not in the business of recognizing inventions or awarding patents that are not the real deal. Michael Zimmer has a number of patents on the materials and processes for printing ceramic pigment based toners using electrostatic LASER printers. Before you consider buying any system, consider the risks associated with buying a system from any company that can’t grant you the technology license rights to use Michael’s patented process. You can verify on your own the potential risks and penalties. All of the companies that have learned from Michael’s creation and made their own systems may tell you not to worry about the patents or that the patents aren’t enforceable. It may be true that the patents aren’t enforceable in China or Russia and maybe not in Italy. But patents issued by the United States Patent Office are enforceable and are the law here in this country. In the case of patent violation the financial penalties are potentially severe.
Here’s the dilemma. Who can you believe? In one “corner” Michael Zimmer and his partner distributors. In the other “corner” the Chinese, Russian, Italian, Greek etc etc. companies and their partners. What can you do? The answer is actually pretty easy. Read Zimmer’s patents for yourself. Go to www. USPTO.gov and find patent number 6,068,692. If you’ve never done this before you might find it interesting and maybe even fun. Focus on the Claims section in the patents. If you read patent 6,068,692, and possibly some of the others, you can make your own assessment of how the US Patent Office sees things. Or, if you want an expert to do that for you, have a good patent lawyer take a look and follow their advice. That is pretty expensive but it will truly be objective advice you can trust and believe in.
Or even easier than that, imagine that you’re Michael.