Compaq has mounted an internal investigation following allegations that the vendor warned one of its distributors that it had bought fake Compaq memory from the grey market, when the components were genuine.
Two weeks ago (22 March), Computer Reseller News revealed that a UK distributor believed itself to have £200,000 of fake Compaq memory in stock. Now three sources claim the memory is genuine.
Compaq declined to discuss the incident when approached by CRN, but issued a statement reading: "Compaq has taken this issue seriously and it is currently being investigated internally."
Industry observers said the incident highlights the difficulties faced by a vendor when attempting to discourage its channel from buying on the grey market, which is unregulated and vulnerable to fake or unlicensed products. Also, vendors themselves sometimes use the grey market to balance a short-term product surplus or meet sales targets. This can lead to conflict with vendors' country organisations, which prefer distributors to buy locally.
It remains unclear what happened in this incident, but it is certain that a shipment of 'WinBond'-branded Compaq memory from the Far East via a broker caused confusion for Compaq in the UK.
One possibility is that Compaq inadvertently told the distributor that the memory was fake because it was an unfamiliar component. Another is that someone at Compaq knew the product to be genuine, but still told the distributor it was fake to discourage use of the grey market. The distributor involved was unaware of the situation and will remain anonymous.
After receiving inquiries from his customers, the broker that originally supplied the product to UK distributors claimed to have contacted Compaq and had it confirmed that Winbond 313616 memory is a genuine Compaq product.
The broker said an individual at Compaq UK may have not recognised the memory and told the distributor it was fake. "They could have screwed up or they could have done it on purpose. I wouldn't be surprised if they did it on purpose," he said.
The broker claimed he has a multimillion-pound business buying surplus product from Compaq across the world. "When vendors need to hit their quarterly targets, they say, 'Take this, and get it as far away from us as possible'."
A third source said Compaq supplies the grey market, but said it does not deliberately set out to mislead its channel. "It's not that well planned.
Individual countries occasionally object to cheaper product coming in from abroad and try to discredit it."
Bernadette Spofforth, director at distributor European Micro, said: "I have done business with the broker in question for over seven years. He has never sold fake product and always buys directly from manufacturers.
The grey market is self-regulating. If you deal in fakes, you go out of business," she said.
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