San Diego’s Printer Industry Veterans Offer Some Insights Into Memjet’s Technology

One of the most surprising personnel moves announced in San Diego so far this year came in early January, when former Qualcomm COO Len Lauer was named to head Memjet, a startup the Wall Street Journal described as “a closely held company most people have never heard of.”

Lauer’s move was puzzling. As a wireless industry veteran—and former Sprint Nextel COO—Lauer was rumored to be a possible successor to Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg. Memjet, on the other hand, has been working for at least a decade to develop a broad spectrum of new inkjet printing technologies that promise to revolutionize the printer market. With many inkjet printers selling for less than $100—or included for free when you buy a new PC—it doesn’t seem more like a commodity than an industry that’s ripe for an innovation revolution.

Memjet nevertheless has amassed substantial gravitas since it took the wraps off its technology in 2007. Memjet has four U.S. based operating companies (Memjet Home and Office, Memjet Labels, Memjet Photo Retail, and Memjet Wide Format) and says it holds more than 2,600 patents—with 2,000 more pending. Managing so many patents—and using such intellectual property to maximum advantage is one reason why Memjet looked to recruit a top executive from Qualcomm, which holds more than 9,400 patents and generated more than a third of its 2009 revenue from licensing its proprietary technologies.

Memjet’s core technology was invented by Australian Kia Silverbrook, a former chief technology officer for Japan’s Canon. He is renowned in the printing industry as both brilliant and eccentric.

Memjet CEO Len Lauer

Memjet CEO Len Lauer

Lauer’s experience in organizing and managing big technology companies also was “likely overdue,” according to the Hard Copy Observer, a trade journal published by Lyra Research, a printer market research firm based in Newton, MA. “As Memjet has expanded, the company’s ability to execute across the broad range of fronts in which it is engaged has likely suffered from the lack of a professional executive,” the Hard Copy Observer reported in January. So Lauer’s appointment also marks a restructuring of a company that reflects Silverbrook’s priorities. Of Memjet’s 600 employees, Lauer told the Wall Street Journal that 400 are employed in Sydney, Australia, as engineers. In the U.S., Memjet has operations in Boise, ID, and San Diego, but no chief financial officer.

As it turns out, Memjet and Silverbrook are well-known in certain … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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