Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick




HP Tells Retailers They're Infringing Patents By Refilling Ink Cartridges

from the any-way-possible-to-stop-the-competition dept

The various makers of inkjet printers have been particularly nasty in trying to protect their market. As most of you know, they have a razor/razor blades model of doing business. They sell the printers cheap, and then load up on selling you expensive ink. The ink, you'll recall, costs more than expensive perfume, whiskey, or vintage champagne. Apparently, if you filled an Olympic-sized swimming pool with inkjet ink at retail prices, it would cost you $6 billion (yes, with a b). On top of that, there have been reports (disputed by the printer companies) that many of the ink cartridges are designed to "expire" before the ink is actually gone -- boosting revenue even more.

With that in mind, you can understand why the companies involved may pull out all the stops to prevent any competition in selling ink for their printers. A favorite of the companies is to use any and all forms of intellectual property laws to stop competitive sales. Lexmark was a big fan of using the DMCA to claim a competitor was violating copyright law. Luckily the courts slapped down that clear misuse of the DMCA (multiple times). So, without copyright law, how about trademark violations for those selling "unauthorized" printer products? However, in recent months, it's been patents that the printer firms have focused on. Epson went after a bunch of retailers who sold refilled ink cartridges claiming patent infringement, and successfully convinced some to stop. Now, it's HP's turn. The company already went after those who actually refill the cartridges, but now they've decided to go after big name retailers who will refill your cartridges for you. Specifically, they're targeting Walgreens and Office Max -- though, they say they're coming to an agreement. It's hard to see how anyone could get a patent on refilling an ink cartridge, but this is a clear example of simply trying to kill off any competition, rather than promote innovation.

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  1. identicon
    Bornslippy, 22 Jun 2006 @ 9:30am

    Find a happy medi

    Why don’t the manufacturers lower the price to a point where people would print more and possibly buy extra cartridges for backup? With the increased ink sales the companies should at least make the same profit or maybe even more with the inflated prices of today. Plus with people using their printers more they will need replaced a little sooner and low and behold a little more profit.

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