Lexmark, HP Using Patent Law To Try To Block Replacement Ink Cartridges From The Market

from the there-is-no-free-market-in-black-gold dept

Want to know why it would cost $5.9 billion to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool with printer ink? Perhaps look to our beloved US patent laws. Five years ago, we pointed out that HP was claiming that refill ink cartridges for its printers violated its patents, and that it was building up a team of scientists not to invent anything new — but to analyze the chemical makeup of competitor’s ink to see if they could hit them with a patent infringement lawsuit.

Every so often, we hear another bunch of claims from HP about ink refillers infringing on its patents, and just a few weeks ago, we heard that HP was asking the US ITC to block the import of refill ink cartridges from foreign competitors, claiming patent infringement.

Not to be left out, it looks like HP competitor Lexmark is getting into the game as well, and has also asked the ITC to bar the import of ink refills from 24 companies. Lexmark is also suing those same companies in court, showing once again how the ITC loophole gives companies two bites at the same apple.

Of course, it’s fascinating to see Lexmark jump into the patent infringement game on ink refills. After all, it famously tried and failed to use the DMCA and copyright law to stop ink refills. It was right after that when HP started using patent claims, so it looks like it took a bit of time for Lexmark to get together a patent plan.

Of course, would it be nice if, rather than relying on government granted monopolies to block perfectly legitimate competition, these companies actually competed in the marketplace? Or is that too much to ask?

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Companies: hp, itc, lexmark

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Comments on “Lexmark, HP Using Patent Law To Try To Block Replacement Ink Cartridges From The Market”

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Berenerd (profile) says:

Re: Re:

They do, to a point. If you read the “user agreement” if you put non-HP approved ink into your printers, it voids the warranty. I used to be a field tech for HP. Some of the new high end printers wont print unless there is an HP coded toner in it. HP only approves of their ink, and then there is a security firm or two that makes ink for the security enabled HP printers. That is it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Come on Harry, Its not the consumers fault, if you need a printer you buy it. Regardless of its cost. It is the manufacturers gamble to recoup by over charging for consumables. What next sueing paper manufacurers for none HP,Lexmark branded paper. Their Ink brings nothing new with regards to ink quality so why should I pay more?.
Do you know that they have made it cheaper to replace your printer than the ink?. When my laser runs dry I buy another 1, because it costs less than the toner. I then sell the old printer & have another years guarantee. BUT THATS NOT MY FAULT IS IT?, its common sense..sheesh

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

So, by your logic, nobody would buy printers if both printers and cartridges were priced reasonably? That sounds rather silly…

Every other device with “official” replacement parts – from cars to cameras – has “unofficial” replacement parts to compete with. If printer manufacturers simply gave reasons to pay the extra for higher quality parts, they wouldn’t have to resort to underhanded legal tactics to stop the other refills.

coco Was Screwed says:

Re: Re:

They don’t “make up lost money” ink is a major source of revenue…It has a massive profit margin and provides the majority of profit for the printing Business unit. I worked for Tektronix (now Xerox) way back when and we went to great lengths to protect that revenue stream by changing formulations for each new printer and creating “keyed” ink shapes that were “patented”. I personally thought it was BS that we sold 11 cents worth of ink material for over $25. But you know R&D costs and all…

wh says:

Probably a minority viewpoint

I’m sure to be in the minority here, but look at this from another perspective. Lexmark and HP spend millions of dollars developing the technology and sell the printers for break-even at best. The only return on investment they have is the ink cartridges. If people don’t buy genuine ink, the companies will have no incentive to continue to innovate, and the market will stagnate. These knock-offs simply refill or copy the technology of others and, without the huge development bill, can undercut the price of the genuine article.

How would you feel if a company went through the garbage dump collecting empty Coke bottles, refilling them with their recipe, and selling at a lower price? Misled, at best–at worst, you don’t wanna think about it.

cc (profile) says:

Re: Probably a minority viewpoint

Then they *shouldn’t* sell the printers for break-even.

This is a business model choice: should they make a fixed profit off every printer they sell, or should they keep making more and more profits off incredibly over-priced ink?

If they go for the first, they have to keep innovating to make better and better printers so people will keep buying new ones; if they go for the second, they have to make sure to have a monopoly on ink.

Consumers would benefit from the first option, but printer manufacturers would benefit from the second…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Probably a minority viewpoint

Better than dumping millions of tonnes of plastic waste which will take thousands of years to decompose in a landfill.
Its called recycling – The little postage paid envelope that comes with the ink allows you to return the empty one for re-filling free. Whats the problem? huh!

I buy only re-cycled ink carts, SAVE THE PLANET WOOOO!!!

No you are not in a minority. Humans waste everything they get their mitts on, and you are only human.

Alex (profile) says:

Re: Probably a minority viewpoint

wh: Your analysis is totally wrong, showing a fundamental misunderstanding of the compatible inks market. When you buy compatible ink cartridges, you know that that is what you are getting. Compatible ink manufacturers do NOT try to pretend they are anything other than exactly that: ink in cartridges that are *compatible* with a particular printer. It is NOT they equivalent of selling their own formula in empty Coke bottles: they are packaged differently, with the name of the ink manufacturer on the carton, and probably the name of the printer type(s) they are intended to work with in small(ish) print. They DO NOT PRETEND that they are selling ink made by HP, or Canon, or whatever. They generally use their own ink formulae, which for any compatibles manufacturer is most likely to be the same for all cartridges, regardless of printer brand they are intended to work with. Certainly one can argue that the printout quality is not going to be so good as with genuine inks, but you get what you pay for, and there is NO ATTEMPT TO MISLEAD.

Joseph Kingsley says:

Re: Probably a minority viewpoint

Damn right you’re in the minority, and I marked your post as funny – not because I’m laughing with you, but laughing AT you.

I’m supposed to feel sorry for HP or Lexmark now because their business model of selling cheap printers and expensive ink isn’t to their liking? What the hell did they expect?

I would HAPPILY pay a premium on new printers if I didn’t get jacked around on ink.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Probably a minority viewpoint

I would feel compelled to do better than the competition.

This is not an emotional issue, who cares what the competition feels?

You wanna know why they had to do this?
Because the Japanese did it first they were selling their printers at a loss and making up on the ink, you think they stopped to think about their competitors feelings? yah right LoL

Now some people came along and found a way to make ink cartridges on their own or refill old ones what is the problem with that?

Printer manufacture’s are owned a market now?
How about telephone companies should they have a monopoly on what devices connect to their networks?

How about car, planes, electric power, TV sets, sound systems, music equipment etc they all should have control of what people do with them after they are bought?

Sure why not, I want to see car manufacture’s suing the accessory industry, I want to see the music equipment industry suing musicians for not paying them, I want to see TV sets which excludes competing equipment from functioning on them that would be great can you imagine how vibrant the market would be.

Yes we need to take into account the feeling of the manufacturer how rude we are, because they only have good intentions and never a corporation abused anything.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Probably a minority viewpoint

How about telephone companies should they have a monopoly on what devices connect to their networks?
i’m guessing you’re ‘young-ish’. cause ma bell did exactly that with their landline service decades ago. we could only use their phones- princess models or square counter top models- plus there was a monthly lease fee.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Probably a minority viewpoint

your coke analogy is incorrect. What you’re illustrating is a violation of trademark law and one that harms the consumer. The company that is refilling Coke bottles with their own soda and selling it is harming the consumer by selling an infringing product (I think I’m buying coke but I’m not). The competing ink companies do not label their boxes with the HP or Lexmark logo, they simply sell their own ink that is compatible with HP or Lexmark printers. the consumer is not harmed.

Is the competitor’s ink inferior in some way? Does it injure me as a consumer? Why should I care if HP and Lexmark can’t make huge profit off of ink cartridges? HP and Lexmark could simply sell a more expensive printer.

Besides, when was the last time a printer was truly innovative? And I’m not talking about the addition of a color LCD screen or SD card reader.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Probably a minority viewpoint

“sell the printers for break-even at best”

Why? Because they know they can rape the customer for ink and make a bigger profit in the long run. They could adopt a more customer-friendly model of charging more for the printer and then allow customers to choose ink supplier (giving quality and other incentives to choose their brand – they’re the ones with access to the technology after all), but this current rip-off model is too lucrative.

“These knock-offs simply refill or copy the technology of others and, without the huge development bill, can undercut the price of the genuine article.”

The same can be said of replacement car tyres, water filters, light bulbs, SD cards, hell even printer paper. Yet, all of those industries thrive with official and “knock-off” brands co-exiting. Why should printer be any different?

“How would you feel if a company went through the garbage dump collecting empty Coke bottles, refilling them with their recipe, and selling at a lower price? “

Instead of building a hilariously inept strawman, how about we face the facts of what is happening. No, recycled food products sound like a very bad idea. But, Coke competes with Pepsi, RC and other cola brands but come out top. Why? Because their product is perceived as the best and many people are willing to pay a premium for it. Again, why should ink cartridges be any different?

Dave says:

Re: Probably a minority viewpoint

This is absolute rubbish. It would be like a car manufacturer telling you to buy their own brand of fuel or a drinking glass maker instructing that only their make of water should be used for drinking. Ink is a consumable and, as such, should be able to be made and used by anybody. There’s nothing mystical about ink. How would have users of old-fashioned fountain pens in the past have felt if they were told to use only ink made by the pen manufacturer? Some sense needs to be drummed into this situation!

Midnight (profile) says:

Re: Lexmark, HP Using Patent law.

Unfortunately, many of those 3rd party inks are garbage, often damaging printers and in HP’s case, will void your warranty!

As for Lexmark, if they were to lower their prices for replacement cartridges, Maybe the consumer Might be inclined to buy their inks. Why anybody buys a Lexzmark printer in the first place, baffles the mind!!

As it stands, you can buy a Lexmark piece of junk printer for under $79.00, but the replacement ink cost over $100.00!!
Might as well buy a new printer every 3 months!!

When you buy a bundled package at any big box store, which printer do they usually/always include?
Why, Lexmark of course! They can’t sell their printers, so might as well give them away!! 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

I blame them, 20$ for the printer, 30 to 75$ or more depending, for ink, for real????

of course I will buy the cheapest ink out there
their business model is to sell you the product that you will have for awhile, the printer, then screw you over non stop for ink,

next the will start trying to sue for the fact that you aren’t using “their” paper, that will be the next likely target

screw companies that operate that way, I got to have ink, sell it at reasonable prices and I would not buy competitors ink

Bucky (user link) says:

printer ink

Its funny how Kodak has entered the market and been doing well by using cheaper ink as its selling feature. The printers themselves cost more than their competitors, yet people buy them because, in the long run, they are saving on the cost of ink. It could be that the HP and Lexmark have just misjudged what people want so they are attempting to cover up their mismanagement with silly lawsuits.

econoline (profile) says:

Re: printer ink

Actually Kodak uses a very suspect test method that relies on continuous printing to make their claims. If you look at the amount of ink lost to servicing and the amount thrown away because they use ganged supplies the total cost of ownership will be much higher for most people. In addition the quality is low, I would never buy a kodak and I test these things for a living.

-ink insider

Del Boy says:

Here’s another technique: Epson

They chip their ink cart’s. Which stops you from buying none Epson brand ink.
If you try a compatible then you risk it flooding your printer & ruining it, plus all the crap of it identifying the ink levels etc.

I would prefer to buy a more expensive printer that would allow me to buy compatible inks – so to bring the long term cost of ownership down.

That way printer manufacturers don’t lose money & over time we save money.

But what do I know?.

Hmmm says:

If I bought a new car for $500, but then servicing costs $5000 a time then the cost of ownership over 3 years would be $15500. Manufacturers lose money & I spend more than I expected.

If I bought a new car for $10000, but servicing cost me $100 a time then the cost of ownership over 3 years would be $10300. No brainer buy the expensive car.


HP,Lexmark & Epson lose money on printer sales, because they have the most stupid business model ever conceived.

$50 for a printer & $60 to replace the ink.
$200 for a printer & $20 to replace ink.

Depending on the volumes of printing do the math… it would be cheaper to buy the more expensive printer.
Therefore the manufacturers don’t lose money. And we save money!!!

Consumers aren’t as stupid as some posters here make out.

Anonymous Coward says:

In college, I bought a $30 printer. When I went to the store to buy more ink, I saw that I could get the same printer for cheaper than buying the ink that came with it. What did I do?

I bought a second printer, took the ink cartridges out of it, and returned it. The evil multinational corporation gave me a full refund. I got free ink. Win-win!

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

That has the advantage of actually being ethical, in contrast with AC’s plan which amounts to stealing ink from the store. Here’s another one:

1) Buy new printer for less than ink price (to be aboveboard, it has to have real ink cartridges, not lame starter ones)

2) Remove and sell ink for just below market price

3) Sell printer with no ink for some non-zero price

4) Repeat

The question is whether anybody sells a printer with a full-on ink cartridge included.

econoline (profile) says:

Re: college kid buys a printer because it is cheaper than the ink

The ink cartridges that come with your printer generally come with far less ink than the replacement cartridge you buy at the store. This lets people startup without having to buy additional ink. Always buy the largest size supply you can get for your printer, they are a much better deal cost of ownership wise.

Anonymous Coward says:

Ignoring the laughable business, uh, “model” that the printer manufacturers currently employ, I’d think it would be wiser to play up the benefits of using genuine ink rather than trying to use patents to try to bar third-party sales. Unlike many third-party OEM replacements, such as laptop batteries and such, there is a definite, tangible difference between a genuine ink cartridge and a third-party replacement — the ink.

I had the pleasure of cleaning up after an administrative disaster after one of my previous employers decided to order a couple of boxes of cheap ink for their printers. We’d wind up with cartridges that were dead out of the box, would clog up in a day or two, and would leak. Aside from the obvious technical problems, the ink didn’t adhere to the page well and would readily smudge even a couple of minutes after printing.

It wasn’t just one brand. In their infinite wisdom, after one set of cartridges flopped they decided to do the same thing with a couple of different alternative brands. When those had the same problems, they finally went back to the IT department’s original suggestion — buy genuine HP ink. No problems after that.

Despite the horribly inflated cost, the original manufacturers’ ink is typically the best stuff that you can get for a printer. It’s foolish for the printer manufacturers not to take advantage of that.

NullOp says:


Perhaps a class action suit should be brought by everyone owning an HP or Lexmark printer! I am tired of being gouged by Lexmark for ink carts! TTBOMK, Kodak is the only company producing a printer that you pay for and ink is inexpensive. All the other mfgs gouge for ink in a very big way. This is price fixing! No other conclusion can be drawn.

techturf (profile) says:

I would buy an expensive printer with really cheap ink any day

I have two Canon printers that can use generic cartridges. The cartridges cost a little over a dollar each when I buy 20. I paid $200 on ebay for the last printer, an open box and for a lot more than list, when they were discontinued since I love really cheap ink SOOOO much. When one of these breaks, I would not hesitate to pay $300 for a printer that used generic cartridges, or better yet, one with tanks that you could easily fill from big squirt bottles of ink. Since it does not look like this is going to happen with a US company any time soon, perhaps China will step up.

Steve R. (profile) says:

Reverse Engineering

Another sad implication of out-of-control “intellectual property” has been the apparent elimination of reverse engineering as a legitimate strategy to bring products (such as ink) to market.

Like others I am appalled by statements that companies, if they spend mega dollars, should somehow be entitled to gouge the consumer to “recover” their investment. The free-market system is based on competition. If a company can’t make money too bad, you go out of business.

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t buy HP or Lexmark. I want value for my money. The Ink-Jet market is an incredible scam and every time I see someone buying a printer I tell them to look at the cost of the ink for that printer before making a decision. A $49 printer is a good deal until it costs you $80 every time you replace the ink. And you replace the ink a lot. I bought a used laserjet (the only good product from HP) and get 3000 pages per $25 refillable cartridge.
Remember the only good thing HP has done for us is to buy and bury Compaq. As a tech I rejoiced when it happened because they got rid of a crap proprietary computer that was a repair nightmare. As a tech I have thrown away many mainboards for HP computers. The only thing salvageable is the hard drive, DVD and the memory. The rest is garbage made in China by the enemy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What's ink?

No they won’t sue consumers just buy a couple of politicians and make it a law that every document produced by or for a government agency must be printed.

Old guy: What are you doing?
New Hire: Just reading the email you sent out
Old guy: but you haven’t printed it yet
New Hire: No need, I can read it just fine on the screen
Old Guy: You have to print it first
New Hire: why would I print it. That would just be a waste
Old Guy: Didn’t you read the handbook? Section 123 of the revised code states that all material must be printed before consumption. Don’t let me catch you doing this again or I’ll be forced to write you up.

Somehow this seems way to close to a real possibility to me.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: What's ink?

and here I was thinking small and only thinking about saving the paper and ink industries and forgetting all about how beneficial this could be to other industries. I’m sure we can get broad support for this bill as it will help printer manufacturing, paper recycling, lumber (we can add a requirement that government paper only be 50% recycled material), Service technicians, warehousing (gonna have to store all that printed material somewhere), trucking (to get it to the warehouse), custodial services (with all this extra paper getting tossed around I’m sure we’ll need even more custodians to keep our halls of government clean), and we can even create a new agency to enforce this on all the state and local governments to ensure they don’t try to cheat their obligations which will create thousands of new jobs all on its own. I’m really starting to get behind this idea now…I think it could help save our economy all on its own

Anonymous Coward says:

I must be missing something because so many comments here seem to be based on the assumption that the printer industry in the US lacks competition, thus allowing inflated prices for ancillary products like replacement ink.

Last time I looked there were a large number of companies selling consumer printers, each of which competes against the others for the attention of consumers.

Competition does seem to be alive and well, but it is just that consumers would prefer prices to hover around $0.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Last time I looked there were a large number of companies selling consumer printers, each of which competes against the others for the attention of consumers.

You are defining the wrong market.

In this case, we’re defining the market for *ink* once you’ve bought a printer. And here is where it is not competitive. And that’s the problem people see.

Save Money this Way says:

If you print on 2 sides on 24 lb. paper using the lowest ink use setting (not Draft, but custom with fast settings), it does not bleed through and provides perfectly usable and legible documents. This saves paper, saves a lot of ink, and saves postage if you mail it. This has been my experience with Canon ink jet products and I get way more printed sheets per cartridge than the leading consumer magazine could ever imagine.

Cheaper yet is Brother laser products with refillable laser cartridges. There is an American ink company that sells toner to refill certain brother cartridges for $10 a bottle/fill. It is a little mess to do it, but you’re saving big money over the Chinese made replacement cartridges that are $20-$40 a pop. Plus you’re not dumping old cartridges into the landfill or shipping crap half way around the world, so it is better for the environment!

Sheila Lewis says:


Just lower the prices of Ink and problem solved,I personally only switched to the crappy Kodak because ink was cheaper,I do not understand why Ink is so expensive,I will switch back to my Lexmark (yes I know there are probably better printers)When they make ink reasonable(it did work excellant compared to the kodak)Kodak’s Ink is cheap but the printer is the worse i have ever used.All most of us really need is a printer that works descent and has affordable ink!Have they noticed the Economy is in the toilet..most can’t afford Ink at all,especially outrageous Ink.Stop being greedy..It’s always about the benjamins,Thats whats wrong with the world,Corporate greed! I have purchased refilled cartridges and was not mislead!Granted the refilled versions are not equal in quality but price is the biggest issue with most of us.Be fair and we will purchase your products..if not they’re will always be a kodak or cartridge refiller!

dawnofjustice (user link) says:

Just reduced the costs of Ink and issue fixed,I individually only turned to the low top quality Kodak because ink was cheaper,I do not comprehend why Ink is so costly,I will change returning to my Lexmark (yes I know there are probably better printers)When they create ink reasonable(it did perform excellant in comparison to the kodak)Kodak’s Ink is affordable but the printing device is the more intense i have ever used.All most of us really need is a printing device operates nice and has cost-effective ink!Have they observed the Economic system is in stained..most can’t manage Ink at all,especially unbelievable Ink.Stop being selfish..It’s always about the benjamins,Thats what is incorrect with the entire globe,Corporate greed! I have bought filled again refills and was not mislead!Granted the filled again editions are not equivalent in top quality but cost is the most important issue with most of us.Be cost-effective and we will buy product or service..if not they’re will always be a kodak or container refiller!

jungle book (user link) says:

Right you’re in the community, and I noticeable this informative article as crazy – not because I’m having a laugh with you, but having a laugh AT you.

I’m expected to have a pity party for HP or Lexmark now because their company structure of promoting inexpensive photo printers and dear ink isn’t to their liking? What the heck did they expect?

I would HAPPILY pay a quality on new photo printers if I did not get jacked around on ink.

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