Prinker Korea, a South Korean startup, claimed on Monday that LG Household & Health Care Ltd. has stolen the idea of its customised tattoo printing device, called Prinker M, and created a copycat product.
Prinker said LG H&H applied for a design patent under the name of "tattoo printer" in September 2020 after the two signed a nondisclosure agreement for a potential business partnership in June 2019.
The startup claimed LG H&H's portable temporary tattoo printer, called IMPRINTU, shares various similarities in terms of concept, design and size with Prinker M, noting LG H&H had purchased Prinker's devices, reports Yonhap news agency.
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LG H&H admitted to having purchased Prinker's products but said it was part of a "routine market assessment" activity before entering into a new market.
"LG Household & Health Care's portable temporary tattoo printer, set to be revealed at the Mobile World Congress this week, is another example of a large conglomerate copying the concept, technology and the idea created by a smaller startup," Prinker said in a statement posted on its website on Monday.
The allegations, if verified, would be the latest case of an idea theft dispute between a small firm and a large conglomerate in South Korea.
Prinker said its portable tattoo printer, which can print various designs on human skin by using a mobile app, is available in about 80 countries, including the United States, France and Germany.
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In January, French cosmetics giant L'Oreal decided to invest in Prinker, the startup said, without giving any details on the value of the investment.
Prinker said it has reported the case to the Ministry of SMEs and Startups, and plans to take legal actions against LG H&H for an alleged violation of the unfair competition prevention act.
LG H&H refuted Prinker's accusations, saying it has neither received any materials related to Prinker's technology nor had any type of communication -- telephone conversations, emails and meetings -- with the startup after signing the nondisclosure agreement in June 2019.
LG H&H also dismissed claims the tattoo printer concept is "exclusive" to Prinker, given Hewlett-Packard Company had already patented the idea back in 1999.
"LG H&H has been careful to avoid patents already existing in the market since the early development stages of IMPRINTU. We are a runner-up in the market and have been working with companies such as LG Electronics, HP and others since 2019," the beauty giant of LG Group said.
A slew of idea theft disputes between startups and large conglomerates have been brewing in South Korea.