Forget RFID in humans, the real battle is over animal implantation. The fight over pet “tags” has been raging in the courts for nine months now. And when the dust settles, the real winners – or losers – may be pet owners.
At the heart of the matter is simple standardization. An organization has sprung up urging the major manufacturers of the competing chips to come to some kind of agreement. One pet food manufacturer has even agreed to donate 30,000 readers that can read the two standards. But so far, the only action has been in the courts.
The first shot was fired by AVID Identification Systems, Inc., a California-based manufacturer and patent-holder of 125 kHz chips, in one of two suits it filed last May. The first, in California, was against Medical Management International (MMI), doing business as Banfield, The Pet Hospital, claiming the company was misleading its customers by inserting an ISO compliant 134.2 kHz tracking chip in their pets when most readers would only handle 125 kHz chips, those manufactured by AVID (American Veterinary Identification Devices). In November, the California court told Banfield to quit selling the 134.2 kHz chips unless accompanied by, in essence a warning label, which says that most animal shelters are equipped with scanners that can’t read the 134.2 kHz chips.
The second suit filed by AVID, this one in Texas, claims patent infringement by some chip manufacturers, including one of the largest contactless chip companies in the world, Phillips. Crystal Import Corp. of Alabama, which produces the 134.2 kHz chips and Medical Management are also defendants in that case.
A month after the California injunction, Crystal Import filed its own law suit in Alabama, charging AVID and Digital Angel Corp. of Minnesota (a subsidiary of ADSX, maker of VeriChip), which sells AVID 125 kHz chips, with unfair trade and monopolistic practices, among other claims.
Crystal charges that AVID is using encryption technology in its chips that prevents other scanners, even those capable of reading 125 kHz chips, of being able to read them because of the encryption. Also, Crystal alleges that Digital Angel has entered into an agreement with AVID to “restrict the United States markets to non-ISO compliant products and to restrain competition by preventing competitors from entering the U.S. marketplace” with ISO-compliant chips.”
Also, since the California injunction against MMI, it has “effectively shut down Crystal’s business in the United States since MMI currently accounts for more than 90% of Crystal’s sales…”
Digital Angel has also filed several suits in U.S. District Court in Minnesota against Crystal, MMI, and others, alleging patent infringement. The suit also seeks a permanent injunction to prevent Crystal or MMI from selling the 134.2 chips in the U.S.
In the meantime, Banfield has shelved its pet chip injection program until everything is settled. It has notified those who purchased the 134.2 chips that they may not be readable at many animal shelters, were their pets to end up there.
A statement released by Banfield’s CEO, Dr. Scott Campbell, in December, said: “At this time, the microchip system doesn’t work and it’s a sad fact that many pets with any type of chip are euthanized when they are lost. We believe that all scanners should read all microchips, that the microchips themselves must work better, and that microchips should not be encrypted.”
The recently formed Coalition for Reuniting Pets and Families, made up of most major animal, vet and animal hospital organizations, is asking that chip and scanner manufacturers as well as marketers permit the use of a scanner that can read all microchips, and that such a scanner be made readily available to shelters, animal control officers, and veterinarians throughout the country.
Pet food manufacturer Iams has offered to donate 30,000 scanners that can read all chips. These scanners would be distributed to shelters, animal control officers and veterinarians throughout the United States. The Iams offer, valued at up to $5 million, is dependent on all current companion animal microchip manufacturers and distributors agreeing to embrace the mass scanner distribution, according to the Reuniting Pets and Families Coalition.
Currently, according to the coalition, more than two million of the country’s dogs and cats have an implanted microchip intended to increase their chances of being identified if they are lost.