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phosphoimager nightmare

Jay Hirsh jh6u at faraday.clas.Virginia.EDU
Wed Aug 18 11:57:55 EST 1993

We thought we would pass on information regarding an unfortunate 
incident we've gotten ourselves into in trying to purchase a 
phosphoimager.  We hope our experience will be a lesson to aid others in 
preventing this sort of occurrence.

The story starts last year when we decided to purchase a phosphoimager.  
Our decision basically came down to two instruments, one about to be 
released instrument, and one established instrument from Molecular 
Dynamics.  We had heard good things about the MD instrument, but from 
the other company we could get a workstation based gel reader thrown in 
for the price of an MD phosphoimager alone.  The catch was that the new 
instrument wasn't available for an on site demo- we could try the 
instrument at the factory, but couldn't get one here to play with.

So, one of us (SK) stopped by the factory, and spent an afternoon 
playing with both the phosphoimager and the sequence gel reader.  He was 
fairly well impressed, although the instrument wasn't yet up to par on 
all fronts.  We were assured that these deficiences would all be 
corrected by the time of shipment,  and to protect us, they would 
provide a 30 day money back guarantee.  In the words of a fax addressed 
to me from the product manager in May 1992, "If you or your Colleagues 
are not completely satisfied with the system once it is installed, we 
will issue a full refund."  

So, we went ahead with the purchase, with the company and a UVA 
purchasing agent signing onto a bid form which included the statement 
"Shall include a 30 day full money back return warranty".  

On arrival of the phosphoimager, we were unhappy with the instrument for 
a number of reasons.  The field engineers were not able to get the 
instrument running off a PC that met the specifications they gave us.  
It's still connected to their PC, not ours.  Although capability to run 
off a Mac is advertised, they were similarly not able to run all 
functions of the machine from a Mac.  Additionally, the first imager 
shipped was defective in a number of other respects, and was replaced 
within two weeks of its installation.   

With a functional phosphoimager finally running, we proceded to run some 
tests with a 14C resolution/sensitivity standard provided by the 
manufacturer.   Our tests show that the installed instrument was 
inferior to an MD instrument in our chemistry department in image 
quality, resolution, and sensitivity.  In addition, scanning time is 
roughly 7 fold slower than on the MD.  To be fair, our installed 
phosphoimager lacks the horizontal "flaring" apparent on the MD, and it 
will image chemiluminescence, which the MD won't.  However, the 
chemiluminescent imaging is slower than film.  The manufacturer's 
representatives tell me that they have data that contradicts ours, i.e., 
that their instrument is superior to the MD in the terms of sensitivity.  
However, we have not seen that data, and we can only procede on what we 
have seen directly.

Within days of getting and testing the functional instrument we decided 
that we were sufficiently unhappy to request a full refund.  Then the 
fun started.  We were told by the manufacturers chief legal counsel that 
"full money back warranty" does not mean what we had supposed!  It 
means, in his interpretation, a warranty to perform up to THEIR 
specifications, not to OUR satisfaction!  He further told one of us 
(JH), in a phone conversation, that he wasn't concerned that we weren't 
happy with the instrument.  His only concern was the signed contract.  
He did offer to take the instrument back, for a $40 K "restocking" fee 
to cover their expenses.  Needless to say, we declined this offer.  What 
ever happened to companies concerned with customer satisfaction? We are 
absolutely flabbergasted by this behavior, and can't understand why they 
are trying to stick us with a piece of equipment that we don't want!  

The complication with all this is that during the lengthy installation 
process, partial payment was made to the company.  As things now stand, 
the company is sitting on a fair chunk of our money, and we have turned 
all his over to our own legal staff.  A vendor complaint form has been 
filed against the company, which if successful, would prevent it from 
future sales to the state of Virginia.  We have a phosphoimager that we 
would rather not have, and all this has wasted an enormous amount of 
time and energy.  

Some lessons from the above:

1)  In making a large purchasing agreement, make sure that legal staff 
check over the detailed wording of the paperwork.  Also, make sure that 
you get a copy of the final paperwork before it gets signed, just to 
make absolutely sure that it says what you expect it to say.

2)  If there is a money back warranty, make sure that payment is not 
made until you are satisfied.  In our case, it would have been possible 
to build in an inspection clause, such that payment wouldn't have been 
made until we signed off.  

3)  Never put any faith whatsoever in oral agreements made by company 
representatives.  Everything must be in writing.  Furthermore, don't put 
any faith in advertised claims of phosphoimagers or other instruments.  
Insist on a lengthy on-site trial period for adequate evaluation.

We hope this recounting will prevent similar occurrences elsewhere.

Jay Hirsh  (jh6u at virginia.edu)
Steve Kay  (sak5y at virginia.edu)
University of Virginia, Dept Biology

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