What Did HP Gain in Acquiring Samsung’s Printing Solutions Business?

When HP announced its acquisition of Samsung’s Printing Solutions Business last month it said one of its reasons for doing so was Samsung’s “compelling intellectual property portfolio of more than 6,500 printing patents.” Photizo enlisted Tim Strunk, our resident patent expert, to delve into the patent count and see what he could find out using the public patent database at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Strunk investigated various methodologies that are included in our in-depth report for why HP acquired Samsung. It will be available shortly on our website.

The stated 6,500 patent count is impressive and it is very difficult for a third party to verify due to the difficulty in pinpointing exactly which of Samsung’s 86,000 patents are included. In fact, at this point in time, HP and Samsung may not know exactly which patents are included in the acquisition.

A few housekeeping disclaimers should be explained before diving into the data. The search methodology uses the USPTO website and key words such as “Printer,” “Toner,” and “Ink.” The key word “Printer” is assumed to represent all things related to printing. The key word “Toner” is assumed to represent all things associated with laser printers, while the key word “Ink” is assumed to represent all things related to inkjet printing.

Since the purpose of the study is for relative comparison between OEMs, it is assumed that the key word search will have the same bias for each OEM and therefore not be a factor in the conclusion. For instance, searching for patents with the key word “printer” will return patents whose primary focus is printers, but also can return patents that simply mention printers. It is assumed this influence is the same between the OEMs. Patent applications are also included in the study since they indicate current activity. It is assumed that any unintentional duplicity between patent applications and issued patents from the USPTO is consistent in proportion across the different OEMs.

The patents shown are less than 20 years from their file date so are still in force. The applications shown are less than six years from their file date. A typical prosecution time for a patent application is three to four years, so going make back six years should capture relevant activity without getting stale applications with diminished opportunity to become a patent.

Consider the number of issued patents and patent applications shown for 13 OEMs prior to the HP acquisition of Samsung with the key word search of “Printer,” “Toner,” and “Ink,” in Figures 1a, 1b, and 1c, respectively.

Fig 1a - “Printer” Search before HP acquisition of Samsung
Fig 1a – “Printer” Search before HP acquisition of Samsung
Fig 1b - "Toner" Search before HP acquisition of Samsung
Fig 1b – “Toner” Search before HP acquisition of Samsung
Fig 1c - “Ink” Search before HP acquisition of Samsung
Fig 1c – “Ink” Search before HP acquisition of Samsung

It is very notable that the number 1 patent filer, Canon, is significantly more active than the rest of the field. In fact, Canon accounts for 25 percent of the industry’s patent activity with the key word “Printer.” Also notable is that HP, as the market share leader, is in the sixth spot. Samsung is close behind in the seventh spot for the “Printer” key word search, with over 5,000 patents and applications shown. This number gives a first-order confirmation of the stated 6,500 Samsung patents HP will acquire since some relevant patents will not contain the word printer.

Looking at the key word search “Toner” in Figure 1b tells a slightly different story with Canon still in the lead role, but with Xerox and Ricoh close behind. Since HP sources its laser engines from Canon, it is not surprising that HP is an industry laggard in “toner” patents.

Looking at the key word search “Ink” in Figure 1c shows Canon’s lead seriously challenged by Epson. HP shows considerable more activity here than in the toner key word search since HP has in-house inkjet technology. Still, HP lags considerably behind the leader, Canon. The answer to the question of what HP meant by “electronic imaging expertise” is likely revealed in the Samsung “ink” activity which shows 3,000+ combined issued patents and patent applications. This topic deserved a deeper dive into the patent sub classes of inkjet that revealed that Samsung has been very active in all areas of inkjet technology and particularly in the silicon aspect. The Samsung activity in silicon-related aspects of inkjet include testing, nozzle, ejector, maintenance, electrical control, scanning, fixed arrays, and, amazingly, extensive activity in both thermal pressure generation and piezoelectric pressure generation.

Why was Samsung so active in core inkjet technology given their dearth of inkjet products? Samsung was likely active in core inkjet technology because the company’s strong in-house silicon electronics skill intersected strategically with the ink growth engine of the printing industry. Given Samsung’s printing industry growth and domination objectives this would make sense.

In the acquisition discussions, HP was briefed on Samsung’s inkjet technology efforts. HP must have approved of Samsung’s research since ink is a key strategy for HP. Particularly interesting is the piezo research and how HP might leverage it. Piezo has a distinct advantage over thermal inkjet in its ability to print a wide range of inks. However, piezo print systems tend to be more expensive than thermal print systems. Is HP eyeing a move to piezo at sometime in the future? This will be a very interesting space for Photizo and the industry to watch.

Following the above analysis, Strunk investigated the same key word searches after the HP acquisition of Samsung. As mentioned previously, the report explains what he uncovered and how it would affect the players in the imaging industry.














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