Slashdot is powered by your submissions, so send in your scoop

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Printer Businesses The Courts United States

US Supreme Court Protects Consumers' Right To Refill Ink Cartridges In Precedent-Setting Lexmark vs Impression Case (hothardware.com) 259

The U.S. Supreme Court said on Tuesday companies give up their patent rights when they sell an item, in a ruling that puts new limits on businesses' ability to prevent their products from being resold at a discount. The ruling is a defeat for Lexmark International, which was trying to stop refurbished versions of its printer cartridges from undercutting its U.S. sales. It's also a blow to companies like HP and Canon that sell their printers for a relatively low cost with the idea that they will recoup money on sales of replacement cartridges. From a report: Lexmark originally set its sights on Impression Products, a small company that specializes in remanufacturing print cartridges for resale at prices much lower than what a customer would pay for a "genuine" Lexmark product. These cartridges often have no noticeable difference in performance compared to genuine ink or toner cartridges -- the only real difference is that customers can save a lot of money by going the remanufactured route. This secondary market for cartridges not only has implications for regular Joes looking to save a buck, but also businesses that are always looking to cut costs.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

US Supreme Court Protects Consumers' Right To Refill Ink Cartridges In Precedent-Setting Lexmark vs Impression Case

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 30, 2017 @01:24PM (#54511921)

    good

    • by Anubis IV ( 1279820 ) on Tuesday May 30, 2017 @01:54PM (#54512197)

      That was my initial reaction too, but this is doubtless going to be the decision that pushing them over to licensing/renting cartridges, rather than selling them. The decision itself says that if Lexmark wants to enforce these sorts of restrictions, it can't do so via patent law after the initial sale, but it can do so via contract law. Which is basically just a way of saying, "Lexmark, follow the software industry's lead if you want to screw customers".

      Again, the decision was a good one, but I don't look forward to what comes next.

      • by fodder69 ( 701416 ) on Tuesday May 30, 2017 @02:20PM (#54512407)

        That was actually my first thought as well. Business and consumers are both going to hesitate when required to sign a contract to buy a printer or ink cartridge I think. Hit the cash register and the cashier whips out a contract for you to sign? In this case I think free market principles will make that position untenable.

        • by Anubis IV ( 1279820 ) on Tuesday May 30, 2017 @02:29PM (#54512463)

          Why sign a contract at the register, when you can just seal the cartridge in a bag that says, "Opening this seal constitutes agreement with the EULA"?

          • by EvilSS ( 557649 )

            Why sign a contract at the register, when you can just seal the cartridge in a bag that says, "Opening this seal constitutes agreement with the EULA"?

            Lexmark actually does this. I bought a cheap Lexmark laser printer back in the mid 2000's and it had a tear-through agreement on the box that basically said you would not transfer the toner cartridge to any third party but would send it back to Lexmark for recycling. They leaned on their patent to support it, so I can't wait to see what they come up with now.

            You can see the kind of text it had here: http://media.lexmark.com/www/doc/en_US/lexmark_end_user_license_agreement__2_.pdf [lexmark.com]

            • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

              Now the next logical step, if you're a sociopathic corporation, would be to sue the companies that provided the cartridges to the recyclers, alleging tortious interference with the contract between users and Lexmark. However, this won't yield significant financial wins, so the next step after that is to use the lawsuit to demand their customer list and start suing individual users. And the next step after that is Chapter 11, followed by Chapter 7.

        • Has anybody ever physically signed a paper contract to use Windows?

          Or any other software...?

          • by msauve ( 701917 ) on Tuesday May 30, 2017 @02:50PM (#54512641)
            No, but neither do I pay any attention to the terms of a contract of adhesion, one I can't negotiate, gives me no rights I don't already have, and which I don't agree to.

            Shrink-wrap licenses ostensibly use copyright law to force a contract, but I consider copying software from the distribution media to the computer, then into memory to run it, as fair use - that's the sole purpose of the software, and it would otherwise be useless.
        • staples will lie about the contract and up sell you on an expanded warranty

      • That was my initial reaction too, but this is doubtless going to be the decision that pushing them over to licensing/renting cartridges, rather than selling them. The decision itself says that if Lexmark wants to enforce these sorts of restrictions, it can't do so via patent law after the initial sale, but it can do so via contract law. Which is basically just a way of saying, "Lexmark, follow the software industry's lead if you want to screw customers".

        Again, the decision was a good one, but I don't look forward to what comes next.

        Problem here is enforceability. A one-sided contract - like a EULA - is a lot less enforceable than a two-sided contract in terms of forcing the party that can only sign to do what other party wants.

        Software firms typically gets away with it for the AS-IS portion of the license; but if something more was needed then it'd be a problem for the software firms too. Software firms also accept a lot higher piracy than most, and more than LexMark would be able to do so in order to enforce this.

      • by Jason1729 ( 561790 ) on Tuesday May 30, 2017 @03:49PM (#54513097)
        Epson and Canon currently sell consumer grade printers with built in continuous ink systems. All you do is pour ink from a bottle into the printer. Sure, the same printer that would cost $80 on the razorblade model is $250, but that's already a pretty good option for people who print enough to use refilled cartridges already.

        If lexmark does what you suggest, it will destroy their printer business.
      • The right to make aftermarket car parts is legally recognized, resulting in cheap car parts. We need this for other industries (like printers).
    • by pz ( 113803 )

      I have seen a UID as low as 54. I personally know the person as well. I haven't seen anything below that.

  • I'm glad that the gouging of printer manufacturers' has been recognized and cheaper replacement ink options are being mandated.

    The ink jet printer market has always followed the razor blade model - sell the handle at a loss and get 'em with the blades.

    Which leads me to the question, has Gillette or any of the other shaving blade manufacturers been investigated by the DOJ or is it just that the gouging was so extreme in the printer market that people stood up and took notice?

    • has Gillette or any of the other shaving blade manufacturers been investigated by the DOJ or is it just that the gouging was so extreme in the printer market that people stood up and took notice?

      When Gillette starts using DRM to prevent you from changing out razor refills with a third party's, then you can complain to the DOJ.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        They do, by patenting the connector on the end of the handle.

        • AFAIK, interfaces cannot be patented. This is why the robust market for aftermarket car parts exists.

          • by Megol ( 3135005 )

            Of course they can be. The Gillette design uses a specific construction to make an easy to manufacture, easy to use (attach, detach) and reduced complexity connector. Really like the design, not the company.

    • by Salgak1 ( 20136 )

      No, But they also haven't tried to crowd out Harry's or Dollar Shave Club, either. . . .And you pretty much always COULD buy generic razor blades for as long as I remember (going back to the 1970s. . .)

    • For the price that you pay for Gillette blades, you can buy dozens of cheap complete razors. All the magic is in the blade. The handle is just a hunk of plastic.
      I have tried many other razors, I have tried non-Gillette blades on my Gillette razor handle. They all suck.
      I really do not like Gillette or how much I pay for Gillette blades, but I buy them anyway because they are the best.

      • by EvilSS ( 557649 )
        I've had good luck with Harry's after using Gillette Fusions for ages. Blades are made in Germany and pretty decent. Low angle of attack so they nick/irritate me even less than the Fusion (my face is crazy sensitive, it's really annoying).
    • by EvilSS ( 557649 )

      I'm glad that the gouging of printer manufacturers' has been recognized and cheaper replacement ink options are being mandated.

      The ink jet printer market has always followed the razor blade model - sell the handle at a loss and get 'em with the blades.

      Which leads me to the question, has Gillette or any of the other shaving blade manufacturers been investigated by the DOJ or is it just that the gouging was so extreme in the printer market that people stood up and took notice?

      AFAIK Gillette does not prevent you from sending your used cartridges to a 3rd party for refurbishment and resale. Not that anyone does that. Nor do they have a rip-through license agreement on the packing like Lexmark did, forcing you to accept a EULA for them (http://media.lexmark.com/www/doc/en_US/lexmark_end_user_license_agreement__2_.pdf [lexmark.com]).

      They are allowed to charge what they want and patents are still a valid thing. This case was about what the consumer did with the product after they purchased it.

  • Great (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 30, 2017 @01:28PM (#54511971)

    Now, what will the SCOTUS say about the right to repair for farming machinery from John Deere (if I remember correctly)?

    • what about thinks apples tricks to lock out 3rd party repair shops from getting parts / tools to fix stuff?

    • John Deere uses software lockouts to ensure only authorized parts are used, supposedly to ensure the equipment meets emissions standards. Any potential lawsuit would be addressing copyright law (DMCA circumvention) rather than patents, and John Deere has a rationale beyond price gouging for their restrictions.

      We can certainly argue that the owner would assume responsibility for emissions if 3rd-party parts are installed. This is already the case with automobiles---the EPA doesn't go after Chevy or Ford when

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        What might get them is that even authorized parts can't just be dropped in. An authorized repair person has to enable each new part to operate in a particular tractor. If it was JUST for emissions, each partt's firmware being correctly signed would be good enough.

  • You would think HP would have gotten slapped down by the Supreme Court for the all tricks they pulled over the years.
  • by cfalcon ( 779563 ) on Tuesday May 30, 2017 @01:31PM (#54511989)

    This is great. Even better is that it was 8-0 (or 7-1 on some parts, as mentioned in the article). It's wonderful to see something as basic to our society as the idea that "sold products are not owned by the seller after the sale" be confirmed unanimously by the supreme court. This will send a very real message to other industries as well, and likely result in even peripherally associated industries looking for other ways to mitigate their perceived losses other than expensive legislation and punishing their customers.

    Truly excellent, and will have invisible benefits for years.

  • John Deere (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Weaselmancer ( 533834 ) on Tuesday May 30, 2017 @01:31PM (#54511995)
  • by MrKevvy ( 85565 ) on Tuesday May 30, 2017 @01:31PM (#54512001)

    "... when they sell an item..."

    This may be a precedent-setter in the cases of the farmers who save seed and are then sued for by "patent infringement" by Monsanto.

    • This ruling does not mean all recourse is gone. From the opinion:

      The single-use/no-resale restrictions in Lexmark’s contracts with customers may have been clear and enforceable under contract law , but they do not entitle Lexmark to retain patent rights in an item that it has elected to sell.

      So this just means the Monsantos of the world would have to sue the farmers under some other theory like breach of contract instead of patent infringement.

    • by taustin ( 171655 )

      That depends on whether they bought the seed, or actually agreed to a binding contract to not save seed knowing what they were signing.

    • This may be a precedent-setter in the cases of the farmers who save seed and are then sued for by "patent infringement" by Monsanto.

      That's pretty unlikely. The issue with saving seeds isn't that you're saving them, it's that you're growing a bunch of new plants.

      A loose analogy to printer cartridges would be if you bough one cartridge and then claimed the right to make and sell thousands more. That's a whole different thing than just refilling the existing cartridge with ink from another source.

  • Trump (Score:5, Funny)

    by thegreatbob ( 693104 ) on Tuesday May 30, 2017 @01:33PM (#54512023) Journal
    Glad to see that consumers rights trump corporations' rights in the eyes of the SCOTUS. My apologies to anyone that may have thought I might be going in a different direction there.
  • some manufacturers force distributors not to sell under MSRP and you can't can't buy from the manufacturers on your own.

  • by Rick Schumann ( 4662797 ) on Tuesday May 30, 2017 @01:34PM (#54512031) Journal
    Wow, I didn't know that was still a Thing, I thought laserprinters were cheap enough that anyone could buy one. I haven't owned one in years because they were such a ripoff.
    • by radish ( 98371 ) on Tuesday May 30, 2017 @01:47PM (#54512143) Homepage

      Sure cheap lasers are great for text, they don't do a good job of photos though ;) I personally have a brother laser sitting right next to my large format inkjet photo printer.

    • What he said. Moreover, if you do need higher resolution or better color than your laser can provide, you can always go to a high end print shop and have it printed there. I think consumer inkjet printers is a dead industry that just doesn't realize it yet. Like cable TV. Moving forward on inertia only.

    • Inkjet printing is still the standard for photographs, since color laser requires halftoning and the result, while suitable for business graphics (and comparable to offset press), is not up to the level of quality that can be produced by inkjet printers with more than CMYK inks.

      Admittedly, photo inkjet printing is a small market, and it has gotten even smaller as a result of the increasing popularity of online photo printing services. But for the immediacy of being able to print something and see the resul

    • I didn't realize personal printers (in general) were really much of a thing any longer. I though for the most part paper was a concession to boomers at the office and the rare occasion where they invade our personal lives.
  • The Holy Grail (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Major Blud ( 789630 ) on Tuesday May 30, 2017 @01:39PM (#54512077) Homepage

    I like the ruling, but I think the day of the inkjet cartridge may finally be coming to an end regardless. For the past few decades the "paperless office" has been the Holy Grail of IT, but we were never quite able to reach it. I can remember seeing a statistic about 15 years ago stating that paper usage actually increased because of the ease of printing....If you needed to take something away from your desk, you just printed it and carried it with you. Now that mobile devices are pretty much ubiquitous, you can just carry it on your phone/tablet instead of having to print it.

  • by ErikTheRed ( 162431 ) on Tuesday May 30, 2017 @01:41PM (#54512099) Homepage

    ...in the discussion. I used to repair printers. To say that there is no difference between remanufactured cartridges overall and OEM cartridges is a joke. Yes. there are some excellent remanufactures out there that produce outstanding products. There are also plenty of shoddy ones that sell leaky ones that crap up your printer and / or use substandard ink / toner that produce lesser (or awful) pages. In most cases, the consumer has no idea and buys on price. From a patent standpoint, Lexmark's case was stupid, petulant, and ridiculous. However, if they wanted to make an argument about voiding your warranty for using remanufactured cartridges then they would probably have a valid point. Really, the whole printer industry is in a prisoners' dilemma where they have to keep the printer prices down in order to sell printers and then they make it up on consumables. This eases up a bit in the enterprise space where you occasionally have more sophisticated buyers that have enough experience to understand that efficient purchasing covers the entire lifecycle of the device. Hopefully somebody will be able to break this cycle, but it will probably take some very good marketing to convince consumers to be less price-sensitive with the initial purchase.

    • by macwhiz ( 134202 ) on Tuesday May 30, 2017 @02:08PM (#54512311)

      I agree. I used to work for a major printer and print-engine manufacturer, as a senior support tech for laser printers. ("Senior" as in "if I have to escalate your issue, I call the product engineers directly.")

      For one thing, not the difference between refilled and remanufactured cartridges. A refilled cartridge has just had more toner added; a remanufactured cartridge should have had the optical photoconductor (OPC) drum replaced as well (but too often, does not). While it's likely that the OPC will last much longer than one fill of toner, it's not guaranteed. In fact, if you have a laser printer for occasional printing at home, chances are you replace the toner cartridge when the OPC wears out from age and starts causing image defects, not when the toner runs out. If you send that cartridge to a place that refills it, the next user will inherit those image problems.

      The remanufacturers don't use the same quality toner and OPC, either. The xerographic process is... finicky. Everything has to be just right for it to work well. The entire print engine is designed around specific physical and electrochemical properties of the toner. If your reman'd cartridge uses toner that's got a different charge, or melts at a different point, or was ground too thick or too thin... it's not going to work as well. If the replacement OPC isn't well-matched to the wavelength of the laser in your printer, it's not going to work as well. If the replacement OPC has a too-thin coating... Well, you get the picture.

      If you're using a laser printer for light-duty work, you're absolutely better off going with OEM cartridges. If you don't print enough to use up the toner, chances are the cartridge will have a practical lifespan of about five years. The extra cost of the OEM cartridge over five years is negligible. The chances of an aftermarket cartridge failing, working poorly, or lasting a fraction of that time are pretty good.

      I'm not as familiar with inkjets, but I do know that ink isn't just ink. Your inkjet is designed for ink of a particular viscosity, with a certain chemistry, and the software assumes that the ink will be a certain precise color. If you use an aftermarket "close enough" ink, it may clog, run, smear (because it dries too slow), or result in screwed-up colors in your photos.

      • I recall reports of people having success extending the life of some types of ink cartridges by adding additional solvent (seems likely they were drying out somewhat, but i don't recall)... the solvent that was used in the story that's coming into my mind... Axe body spray. I'm having trouble finding it, so it may be a corrupt memory. Anyhow, up to a point, so long as the viscosity is reasonably low (and free of aggregating particles), it should work... provided your goal is just to get some sort of pigment
      • by MeNeXT ( 200840 )

        In almost all the cases I can replace the whole printer with a newer model for less than the cost of replacement cartridges even taking in consideration that the cartridges which come with the printer may have less toner in them.

        All I can say is just read the fine print whenever you purchase anything.

    • Hopefully somebody will be able to break this cycle, but it will probably take some very good marketing to convince consumers to be less price-sensitive with the initial purchase.

      I doubt it will happen in our lifetime. Just look at the cell phone market. You buy a phone for near nothing and the only real change in 10 years is your paying for it over the course of 3 years rather than a "contract" fee for leaving the agreement early. I know its different in Europe but in the states its almost universal. HP and Cannon dug this hole and they will have to find some way out of it and I don't think any kind of marketing will change the way we buy printers for atleast 20 years.

      It took t

    • by ewhac ( 5844 )
      I suspect we're going to be having this same fight over Li-Ion batteries as well.

      Anyone who's tried shopping for a replacement battery for their laptop or camera knows what a cesspool that market is. Some of them are indeed ethical and trying to build a reputation. But there are hundreds of off-brand vendors of "refurbished," "remanufactured," or "compatible" batteries, which invariably turn out to be crap. Good luck telling the difference when shopping on Amazon.

    • However, if they wanted to make an argument about voiding your warranty for using remanufactured cartridges then they would probably have a valid point.

      If I'm not mistaken this is outright illegal under the Magnuson–Moss Warranty Act [taftlaw.com] and that the manufacturer would have the burden of proving that the "unauthorized" cartridge was at fault.

  • I don't understand why people put up with it. A decent laser printer is similarly priced to a garbage printer, and toner is a cheaper and MUCH more seldom purchase. Home color prints are terrible quality, expensive, and generally annoying.

    If I need to print something in color, I step out into meatspace and do it at a place that sells that service.

    exploiting the Gillette business model, in the past I have bought an ink printer on clearance, printed color on it until it ran out, then thrown it in electr
    • If I need to print something in color, I step out into meatspace and do it at a place that sells that service.

      Then you had better hope that your city's public transit isn't in the midst of a 60-hour scheduled downtime, as Fort Wayne Citilink was from about 6 PM Saturday to 6 AM this (Tuesday) morning.

    • If I need to print something in color, I step out into meatspace and do it at a place that sells that service.

      Printing photographs at Walgreens or Costco is so dang cheap, I have no plans to ever own a photo printer again. Just log in to the web page or send the photo from your phone via their app, then go to the store in an hour or so at your convenience and pick up the prints. I can't buy ink jet photo paper that cheap, and at the rate I print photos, the jets are all clogged up by the next time I want to print one.

    • a color ink printer is simply a device that sits in your house reminding you that you need to pay the manufacturer more money as often as possible.

      It's even worse than that. A recent install of a new HP printer for my friend wanted to AUTOMATICALLY purchase replacement ink when it ran low. So now, a child can print out a huge waste of ink and your credit card will be charged WITHOUT YOUR ATTENTION! Boy, is that greedy, or what?

    • I don't understand why people put up with it. A decent laser printer is similarly priced to a garbage printer

      How many laser printers have built-in scanning capabilities (I'm talking about for home use, not enterprisey stuff)? I can tell you that the only reason I own an inkjet printer is because it has a scanner. You don't see too many standalone scanners these days, unless you really shop around.

  • by H3lldr0p ( 40304 ) on Tuesday May 30, 2017 @02:02PM (#54512265) Homepage

    One might even feel like the court, with it's unanimity is trying to tell the Federal Circuit that it really wants to stop having to hear all these patent cases. The opinion was delivered by the Chief Justice who spared no words in telling the Federal Circuit that it needs to do a much better job.

    This venerable principle is not, as the Federal Circuit dismissively viewed it, merely "one common-law jurisdiction's general judicial policy at one time toward antialienation restrictions."

    And

    The Federal Circuit reached a different result largely because it got off on the wrong foot.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Refurb ink and electronics repair aren't exactly the same, but an argument could be made for repairing an iphone with 3rd party parts is comparable to refilling an ink cartridge with 3rd party ink. At the least, I hope it indicates the court would lean towards consumer rights in a future right to repair ruling.

  • by roc97007 ( 608802 ) on Tuesday May 30, 2017 @02:33PM (#54512489) Journal

    The business plan for liquid-ink printers was starting to get bizarre. I mean, if you were patient enough to wait for a sale at one of the geek warehouses, it was cost-effective to just throw out the printer and buy a new one, rather than mess around with replacement cartridges. A big advantage is that you'd get a new print head each time, which cured a lot of printer-related problems.

    I've been recommending to customer to only use laser printers with dry toner (color or B/W as necessary) for internal use, (they've gotten very affordable) and outsource high resolution color printing. Dry toner cartridges last a very long time, and there's no print head clogging or cleaning cycles to worry about. ("Outsourcing" in this case means to a local print shop, not overseas.)

    Outsourcing your "wet" print jobs, besides having the advantage of not having to fool around with gummed up print heads or cartridge replacement, also has the advantage of using such printers the way they "want" to be used -- shorter downtimes between jobs, and less chance for the ink to dry up.

    At home, even though I make part of my living as a photographer, I have an inexpensive laser printer I use for most stuff. (Mostly flyers and misc printing.) The toner cartridge is something like $100 but in 7 years of use I have yet to buy one. For my photography, I have coveted one of those large carriage continuous feed 8 cartridge printers, but realistically, I don't need one, when the photo store a mile and a half away has the same model and will print photos up to poster size for much less than the per-print cost of owning one of the damned things. Even if someone gave me one for free, I probably couldn't afford to keep it going.

    So although I really appreciate the decision, and have a private fantasy that it'll perhaps mean higher cost but higher quality printer hardware, in the final analysis, it doesn't matter, because liquid ink printers are a bad choice for most consumers in the first place.

    • Maybe printers will go back to being expensive devices that not everyone has, but can be maintained and repaired [by a qualified technician]. If I was a printer manufacturer I'd focus on selling my printers to businesses and having service contracts that bring in revenue. Leasing plans would also be an option when doing B2B, as sometimes the accounting rules are favorable for both parties. One party avoids tying up money in a capital investment and shift it over as a reoccurring expense, and the other party

  • When I was a younger man, I held job as a "tech" at an inkjet refill place. Some carts needed extra steps to keep the pressure equal (lexmark I think) Some needed to be shorted against a little piece of tech that somehow reset the little DRM chip, and some just bled ink all over the costumers desk and ruined their day. I was shocked by how easy and cheap it was to refill the carts. I was convinced that this was going to be a giant market as soon as the everyman noticed. I bought a refill kit from myself th

Genius is ten percent inspiration and fifty percent capital gains.

Working...