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Hewlett-Packard, the world's biggest personal computer maker, has moved to block sales of some Acer computers in the US, alleging its Taiwanese rival had violated several patents related to power management and other computing tasks.
The lawsuit marks the latest in a series of high-stakes patent disputes between big electronics companies and comes after Acer has seen accelerating growth and gained market share in the US.
Analysts interpreted HP’s move as a sign that Acer’s biggest competitors felt they could no longer afford to ignore the Taiwanese company. “This is a move to stem Acer’s momentum,” said Alvin Kwock, an analyst at JP Morgan in Taipei.
Acer – which expects to overtake Lenovo as the world’s third-biggest computer company this year and is set to surpass Dell as the second-biggest notebook brand – saw its US revenue grow by 50 per cent year on year in 2006 to $1.6bn. It recently signed an agreement with Best Buy under which Acer computers will be sold through the US retailer.
HP said that it believed Acer had been selling notebooks, desktops and other devices that used HP's patented technologies "without permission". The company said it was taking "necessary action" to protect its intellectual property.
“HP respects the intellectual property rights of others and expects the same treatment in return," the company said.
Acer said it had no comment as its lawyers were still looking at the issue.
In its complaint, HP said it was seeking unspecified damages against Acer, which it accused of violating five patents covering a variety of PC technologies, from power management to a method for writing data on to DVDs and other optical storage devices.
Acer is not expected to suffer any immediate damage as the lawsuit could run for several years. But industry experts said the company could now face higher hurdles to growth in the US market as distributors exclusive to Acer might seek to protect themselves by taking in HP and other brands.
In Europe, Acer faced stiff competition last year as rivals raised pressure on its channel partners to do more to promote their products.
Earlier this month, 3M, the US diversified manufacturer, sued a handful of laptop computer makers including Lenovo, Sony and Hitachi, alleging that technology used in their computer batteries violated some of its patents.
Other recent high-profile patent infringement cases include Creative's long-running dispute with Apple over the iPod, which was settled last year for $100m.
Acer said Wednesday its net earnings rose to NT$10.22bn in 2006, from NT$8.48bn in 2005.
Acer shares closed down 0.5 per cent at T$64.10.