'Revolutionary' new cheap printer to overturn printing industry, analysts claim

Update March 21: Silverbrook has now officially announced the Memjet printing technology. See our latest article for new videos, and news on when products are expected to become available.

After you've read this story, remember to take a look at our more recent articles on Silverbrook and Memjet, for the latest news.

A cheap desktop printer that prints 60 full-color pages per minute? That's among the remarkable claims being made for a new printing technology, dubbed 'MemJet', from one of the world's most mysterious inventors - a man who holds over 1400 patents but hasn't granted an interview in 15 years.

Some industry analysts are believers: “It will have the capacity to turn sector after sector of the printer and imaging consumables market upside down. Without exaggeration, competitors ignore this dynamic upstart at their own peril," warns Steve Hoffenberg, a director of leading printer market research firm, Lyra.

The company behind these implausible-sounding claims operates from unassuming offices on a tree-lined suburban street in Sydney, Australia. Silverbrook Research was founded little more than a decade ago by prolific but secretive Australian inventor, Kia Silverbrook.

silverbrook memjet printer technology logo.It first glance it seems ridiculous that a small company in Australia might have come up with a technology that could terrify leading printer vendors like Epson, Canon, HP and Kodak. Today, Silverbrook Research doesn't even have a functioning website; its staff routinely reject interview requests; try to search for solid information on its founder, its investors, its finances, or its products, and you'll come up almost empty handed.

But there is one thing that Silverbrook has in common with the giants of the printer market: patents. Silverbrook has been churning out US printer technology patents at a rate of about ten every week in recent months. At that speed, you can see how they might need a 60-page-per minute printer themselves.

Update March 21: Silverbrook has now officially announced Memjet. See our latest article for details of availability, and information on higher quality video and pictures.

Printer makers rely on patents

Anyone who follows the printer business will tell you that patents are critical. Vendors rely on them to protect the technology they have spent hundreds of millions developing, and block new competitors from entering the market.

“HP and Canon are consistently at the top of the list of US patent recipients,” says Jiqiang Rong, Lyra's director of primary research. “although we don't know exactly how many of these patents are printer related, we do know that HP, for instance, has a total of about 9000 printer-related patents.”

Patent rank of silverbrook and other printer manufacturersPatent analysis firm, The Patent Board now ranks Silverbrook among the most innovative companies in the world on the basis of its US patent applications. In the firm's ranking of February patent applications, the obscure Australian company is positioned right in amongst giants like Seiko Epson and Canon.

All this inventing hasn't sprung up out of nowhere. Founder Kia Silverbrook is the former director of printer technology leader Canon's Australian R&D center. Other Silverbrook researchers also worked at Canon. Several of Kia Silverbrook's printing patents were assigned to Canon and Kodak in the 1990s. Some of Silverbrook's inventions are cited by later patents from other printer makers like Seiko Epson.

What is the invention?

With the large number of patents assigned to Silverbrook, it's difficult to determine which are relevant to the claims of a revolutionary printing technology. 'Micro-Electromechanical Fluid Ejection Device that Incorporates a Shape Memory Alloy Based Actuator' appears to be related. As is 'Inkjet printhead with ink supply through CMOS layers ', an application filed last November.

Many of the patents suggest that Silverbrook has developed a minuscule ink delivery system which is built with the same processes used to fabricate integrated circuits, or chips. This would seem to imply a relatively cheap, very high resolution head, with many tiny ink nozzles, which operates close to the paper.

"The initial MemJet building block is a widely useful four-inch printhead which makes efficient use of a six-inch silicon wafer," says a recent application.

A 'pagewidth' printer is described in many of the Silverbrook patent applications. This is a printer where the paper scrolls beneath a wide, motionless print head – giving an extremely high printing speed. This design also does away with the print head carriage mechanism, cutting costs. The mechanical simplicity makes it easier to employ two print head arrays, able to print both sides of a sheet at once.

Silverbrook proposes placing several of its basic 4-inch wide printheads alongside each other to achieve the required page width.

silverbrook memjet printheadThe diagrams here are adapted from one of Silverbrook's March 2007 patent applications, published just a few days ago. They show a single nozzle of the printhead. This is built up layer by layer on a silicon wafer, in much the same way as any integrated circuit chip, like a graphics chip or CPU, is made,

The second cutaway picture shows the ink delivery tube, with an inkdrop being ejected.

Note that the entire superstructure you can see there is 20 microns high, according to the patent application. That 's about one fifth the thickness of a human hair, or a sheet of paper. If it was on the tip of your finger, you might be able to notice it as a speck of dust.

The tiny size of the ink nozzles makes more sense when you realize that Silverbrook is about to announce a printhead packed with 1600 nozzles per inch.

Some of the many Silverbrook patents appear to describe printheads with integrated refillable ink cartridges. Manufactured with semiconductor fabrication technology, the business end of the printhead incorporates its own drive electronics. In theory, this should help cut complexity and costs.

It's definitely worth pointing out that other companies and other inventors have tried out lithographic assembly of printer nozzles and micro-electromechanical methods of moving the ink over the past few years, so Silverbrook isn't the first with those particular ideas. Whether the company has a better implementation of them remains to be seen.

Here's an excerpt from an earlier Silverbrook patent, granted in 2006, which describes a product concept dubbed 'iPrint':

“The invention will be described with reference to a high-performance color printer which combines photographic-quality image reproduction with magazine-quality text reproduction. The printer utilizes an 8-inch page-width drop-on-demand microelectromechanical inkjet ("Memjet") printhead which produces 1600 dots per inch (dpi) bi-level CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black). It prints 30 full-color A4 or Letter pages per minute, and is intended as an entry-level desktop printer. The printer has been designated as iPrint.

iPrint reproduces black text and graphics directly using bi-level black, and continuous-tone (contone) images and graphics using dithered bi-level CMYK. For practical purposes, iPrint supports a black resolution of 800 dpi, and a contone resolution of 267 pixels per inch (ppi). “

Silverbrook's secrets

A report by the University of Melbourne's Intellectual Property Research Institute of Australia (IPRIA), published in 2006, describes Silverbrook Research as a "secretive" company about which "little is known", although “primary inventor and owner, Kia Silverbrook, is among the top living patenters.”

Kia Silverbrook does not appear to have granted an interview to the media for for than 15 years, and Silverbrook Research R&D staff won't even tell friends what they're working on. The only outsiders who claim to know anything are Lyra Research, whose analysts have visited Silverbrook recently.

The mysterious Silverbrook Research has something of the aura of Transmeta, the CPU start up that built hype to a fever pitch by saying almost nothing. Transmeta did deliver a fascinating, innovative product, but the impact on the industry was relatively slight. Prolific inventor Kia Silverbrook himself conjures up images of US polymath Dean Kamen, whose brilliant Segway personal vehicle was a disappointment partly because secrecy drove speculation to ridiculous heights.

It's difficult to know what to make of the company. On one hand we have the incredible torrent of patents, on the other we have reports that Silverbrook Research was sued by several creditors over unpaid bills a few years ago. There are also oddities like this rather amateurish company logo.

And then there's the fact that, despite all those patents, the IPRIA doesn't even list Silverbrook on its chart of top Australian innovators because “it is not regarded as a company that brings any of its products to market and its licensing revenue is unknown".

"He's charismatic and very good at getting his ideas across and convincing other people that they are good ideas. But I wouldn't say he had practical business skills in following through to develop products out of these ideas," said a former business partner of Kia Silverbrook in a 2004 Sydney Morning Herald interview.

Patent it all

One reason for the huge number of Silverbrook patents is that the company patents both basic technology and its potential applications. So the company has patents with titles like "Hand-held video gaming device with integral printer". Similarly, Silverbrook holds patents for cameras, PDAs, mobile phones, and even in-car entertainment systems, all with built-in printers.

These are certainly not products that Silverbrook is likely to develop itself. But, if printer technology becomes much cheaper and much more compact, maybe the next PSP or Gameboy will have its own tiny printer - then Silverbrook's patent will earn royalties. It's worth repeating here that much of Silverbrook's basic research is in fact, all about making printers cheaper and more compact.

Silverbrook is such a patent-generating machine that its former legal counsel actually used the experience to set up his own company handling bulk patent filings.

What next?

Kia Silverbrook photoSilverbrook has announced that it will reveal details of its Memjet technology eleven days from now, on March 21st 2007 at the 30th Global Ink Jet Printing Conference, in Prague, Czech Republic. Publicity-shy founder and CEO, Kia Silverbrook (photo: right) will deliver a keynote address titled "Memjet, a 1600 npi [nozzles per inch] pagewidth ink jet technology which features cost competitiveness with scanning inkjet in home, office, and wide format applications".

Silverbrook will provide details of the technology and its applications, including "how high density of nozzles and low cost per nozzle is achieved ".

The company appears to be planning to license the technology to printer makers, though its not clear if it already has a manufacturing partner.

"Memjet's juggernaut of innovations includes unprecedented speed, top-notch print quality, and a remarkably low cost of purchase and operation. Through an aggressive licensing program managed by top U.S. printer-industry management talent, Silverbrook intends to quickly become a top-tier player in multiple segments of the printing market," Lyra Research claims.

We'll update this article when we have more information.

March 13 Update: A company closely-linked to Silverbrook Research, Hyperlabel, has announced a product labeling system which relies on the Memjet technology. We've also added details of Silverbrook's planned keynote speech to the 'What next' section of this article.

March 15 Update: We now have a video of a prototype of the Silverbrook Memjet desktop inkjet printer in action, together with more information on possible prices.

March 20 Update: For further information, see Memjet's print quality, intellectual property issues, & competition from HP's Edgeline, this includes details of Silverbrook's partnership with Photo-Me International,

Dreams get eaten, when reality bites

Thanks for bringing it all back down to earth by comparing to Transmeta and Segue. Its true, but sad to say, that innovative ideas won't always take hold in an entrenched market situation.

Don't doubt for even one minute that Canon and HP will be looking at their legal leverage. I hope these Australian guys have some big legal guns on their side because I see them locked up in patent court wrangling for the next decade.


Maybe they're going to co-operate with HP or Canon, that would be smarter

How do you know it isn't a pump and dump?

So please please tell how can I invest in this hot new penny stock? Hey thanks!

Isn't that what comes next in these type of stories?

Just saying...

You can't invest in it

The basic answer is that you can't invest in the company, so if it's a pump n dump, its not a very productive one!
What I mean by that is that as far as we can find out, Silverbrook doesn't exist as a listed entity on any stockmarket.
My opinion is that companies always try to 'manage' the flow of information to their advantage. I have no evidence to support this theory,  but it's possible in my opinion that Silverbrook has reasons to finally go public with this now, instead of a year ago, or two years ago. All we can do is guess at what the reasons could be.
Not being listed on a stock market means there's no information about the financial side of the company that we could find. But I assure you it is a real company, no question about that, just take a look at all the patents (search google or click the links in the story).
We also determined that there's a lot of smart, highly-qualified people working there, who have been working there for years. Taking a wild guess, 40, 50 or more R&D staff [update: I was way wrong, apparently there's well over 200 R&D staff, according to Lyra Research!]. I could have listed the names we found, but that information is not really relevant to this sort of article.

Look at the HP equivalent of that

I don't know much about this, in fact it seems nobody knows much. But I am not particularly impressed. This seems some people of Canon leaving the company and making an startup trying to improve the basic technology (while Canon, HP and other keep improving too).

HP recently announced something similar, the edge-line technology:


It has 1200 dpi not 1600 but it is a product showed in several conventions and is going to be in the street in a few weeks! Silverbrook product is not more than a lab prototype, at least for the moment. When Silverbrook ideas hit the street in a mass comercial product, not before a two or three years, we can expect improvements from HP and others.

Most of these companies don't see the light in a commercial product. Some of them get bought by a giant, this usually is a good business for the people that started the company but not for late investors.

More on Silverbrook & Memjet tomorrow...?

Thanks Malaany, those are interesting points.

We've spent hours looking through the patents, but we really don't have anything close to enough understanding of this technology to know if Silverbrook has got something exceptional or if it's just a runaway inventing machine that's never going to bring a real product to market. I guess they must be making a lot of money from royalties on their patents to keep operating for so many years.

We are swayed by the opinions of people at Lyra Research, who seem very upbeat about Silverbrook. They specialize in this industry. Their bread and butter is printer industry research and analysis. I think it's certain that if they make a really bad call, the damage to their reputation will hurt them badly.

The announcement from HyperLabel suggests that they are close to launching hardware which uses Silverbrook's tech (the link to the Hyperlabel article is at the end of the story above).

We hope to get some more information tomorrow - we'll add an update to this story, or publish a new story, depending on what we hear.

How much does the printer cost?

How much will the printer cost? When is it on sale?

How much does the printer cost?

They say they're aiming for $200, and $20 for large 50ml ink cartridges. When? Don't know. If they've already got large-scale manufacturing figured out and ready to go, the soonest would be Xmas shopping season 2007, we think

Read for more details of their pricing plans:


All I can add is that

All I can add is that silverbrook has been privately funded by a few guys who believe in the product being developed. Mainstream manufacturers have been approached and it is being picked up by industry. So the product is a go and no outsiders get to take a slice of the action on the stock market.

Silverbrook's Funding

Thanks, that's extremely interesting. Do you think the consumer desktop printers could be on the market this year? If you're able to tell us more, please post here, or get in touch with us

I want one now!!!

I'm so sick of my ink jet running out of ink every 10 seconds.. this is brilliant. I would buy an A3 and A4 one tomorrow if it was in stores!

Ink prices should go through a revolution too!

Like most I welcome new and better technology...especially if it's cheaper at the same time!!! For instance I purchased a Brother MFC210C for my business so I'd have both a scanner and a printer. It was , after rebates, at a break-through price of around $20. That, I thought, was amazing. Now I realize what is amazing is that I'm buying close to $100 every 2 months in ink! No wonder they can afford to sell a printer at a final cost of $20.

Every printer manufacturer will likely want a piece of this memjet type technology...But, on a realistic level it will kill their bottom-line ink profits unless they find away to further raise ink prices. I would prefer Mr. Silverbrook to start his own company and really let the consumers get a break on both the product costs and the ink costs. I simply do not trust Canon, HP, Brother, Lexmark, and others to give the consumer the ultimate value that this product has the possibility to be.

Silverbrook has declared

Silverbrook has declared that it testament divulge info of its Memjet bailiwick eleven days from now, on March 21st 2007 at the 30th Spheric Ink Jet Publication Discussion, in Prag, Czechoslovakian Republic. Publicity-shy beginner and CEO, Kia Silverbrook (image: sect) leave bear a keynote tactfulness called "Memjet, a 1600 npi [nozzles per advance] pagewidth ink jet subject which features cost aggressiveness with scanning inkjet in lodging, part, and statewide divide applications".

Transmeta did render a

Transmeta did render a fascinating, groundbreaking quantity, but the alter on the manufacture was relatively ignore. Prolific creator Kia Silverbrook himself conjures up images of US polymath Dean Kamen, whose vivid Segway individual object was a disappointment part because silence crowd reflection to ridiculous spot.