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
    Ol' Brother Dave, 24 Dec 2006 @ 2:53pm

    Get off the SOAPBOX HP...

    I edit a monthly newsletter for a motorcycle organization and recently when I went to buy ink replacements, I noticed that HP was offering a cartridge with "double " the amount of ink. When I asked the clerk how I would get a 'cartridge double the size in my printer', she laughed and explained,,,"Oh no,,, they use the same size cartridge,,,, they just double the amount of ink you get".
    Now, I'm no rocket scientist, but to me it saound like that in itself could be a lawsuit of 'mis-representation to the public' on behalf of HP. This actually say that they could have been offering twice the amount of ink in the very same cartridges all this time but instead sold the public half empty cartridges. Now they put in more ink and up the price even more?
    Oh, and that's is still not saying you are getting a "full" cartridge. Knowing HP and the others,,, they could offer this a while and add a little bit more and up the price again and the general public would probably fall for this price gouging again. This is really a hell-of-a pitch for retail sales but then again, it is one hell-of-a rip off for the general public who is supposed to trust these multi-billion dollar organizations? Go American Retail Manufacturering Rip Offs.

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