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Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Coinstar files patent lawsuit against Coin X Change

Bloomberg News

Coinstar, the biggest U.S. operator of consumer coin-counting machines, sued rival Coin X Change, claiming it infringed patents for the devices.

Coinstar, based in Bellevue, was the first company to put self-service coin-counters in supermarkets. The company has grown from four machines in the San Francisco area in 1992 to more than 13,000 in the U.S., U.K. and Canada, spokeswoman Marci Maule said.

Coinstar estimates $10.5 billion in loose change is out of circulation. Rivals have sprouted up to get a percentage of that money, including Rockville, Md.-based Coin X Change. The company says on its Web site that surveys indicate its devices are easier to use than Coinstar's. In the lawsuit, filed May 2 in Alexandria, Va., Coinstar said Coin X Change is using patented Coinstar inventions.

"These are fundamental inventions," Maule said. "We're the pioneers in the coin-counting business.

Coinstar seeks cash compensation and a court order to stop Coin X Change from infringing the patents. Since being filed, the lawsuit has been transferred to Richmond, Va.

Customers carry their change to the store and pour it into the machines in return for vouchers for cash, minus fees. The vouchers are redeemed by the store.

Coinstar offers to waive fees at about half of the machines if the coins are exchanged for gift cards to cooperating businesses including the online retailer Amazon.com.

The four patents in dispute cover voucher-issuing machines, remote reporting of the machines' status and anti-counterfeiting technology for the vouchers, Maule said.

A man answering Coin X Change's sales line today declined to comment or give his name.

Coinstar shares fell 25 cents to $25.87 today. They have risen 43 percent in the past 12 months.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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