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
    Nalla Flodur, 19 Oct 2007 @ 10:31am

    RE Ink jet cartridge refilling.

    I think it is rediculous what these big multinational companies are getting away with. They bully the governments and courts so that the little guy trying to make a living cannot do it. Before you know it everything that we have to buy have to be from these big multinational companies. Laws were made to protect all people not just the big multinationals , but the governments don't see it that way because the little guy doesn't give them big money to run their election campaigns. Can you image if G M or Ford etc. told all the aftermarket companies that they cannot build aftermarket parts for their cars ,then stop production of parts for their cars so people will be force to but new cars. That is exactly what these multinational printer companies are doing . We the consumer must lobby governments to stop this practice and allow competition in this market. Maybe the price of printers will go up but at least we could use them for over a year without going broke by buying over inflated ink cartridge prices. Like all other products that we buy let competition flourish for the better of use the consumer who fill the pockets of these multinations. If this goes on much longer the Big Multinational will run the country if not the world. Then we will not have any democracy but dictatorship. Is this what we what?

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