HP SUES PRINTER CARTRIDGE REFILLERS
HP SUES PRINTER CARTRIDGE REFILLERS
2005-03-30 at 10:33:00 am #11169HP sues printer cartridge
refillersHP claims that two firms that sell refilled ink
cartridges are violating its patentsHP, much of whose profit comes from printer supplies, has sued two
companies that sell refilled ink cartridges, but it stopped short of trying to
block the refill business altogether.
On Friday, HP sued InkCycle in US District Court for the
western district of Wisconsin, alleging that the company’s ink violates three HP
patents. And on Monday, HP sued RhinoTek in US District Court for the northern
district of California, accusing RhinoTek of false advertising by using
packaging that indicates its refilled HP printer cartridges are new.
Refilling ink cartridges is “a giant problem, not just for
HP, but for everybody in the printing business,” said Gary Peterson, an analyst
with GAP Intelligence. “I would say at least 10 to 15 percent of all consumables
purchases are refills. That’s a huge chunk of profit taken away from HP and all
the other printer companies.”
But HP said the suits aren’t a change in HP’s policy that
customers have a right to refill legally purchased cartridges or buy refilled
cartridges. “We still believe it’s the customer’s choice,” said spokeswoman
Monica Sarkar, adding that HP believes its products have better quality and
The Palo Alto, California-based printer powerhouse requests
that InkCycle stop — in HP’s opinion — infringing the patents and pay damages
and HP legal fees. Brad Roderick, vice-president of marketing for InkCycle, said
Monday that a settlement in that suit is expected soon.
“We’ve been in direct communication with HP and expect a
very near-term full resolution,” Roderick said. He declined to comment on terms
or whether InkCycle will continue to sell its products, but he said, “We’re a
company that has always been respectful of intellectual-property rights.”
The ramifications of the InkCycle case could spread beyond
the company if it’s using ink that other refillers use as well. Roderick
wouldn’t comment on the origin of the company’s ink.
In the Rhinotek case, HP asserts that the company’s
“packaging and promotional materials are calculated to give consumers the
impression that defendants’ cartridges are new.” HP wants a requirement that
Rhinotek use the words “used” and “refilled” prominently on its packaging of
refilled HP ink cartridges. HP also wants all Rhinotek profits from the time of
the alleged deceptive advertisements.
Rhinotek didn’t immediately respond to requests to comment
for this story.
HP has been less aggressive in legal attacks against printer
supply companies than one rival, Lexmark. HP lashed out against Lexmark’s
attempt to use (DMCA), to stop ink refillers.
“We think it is stretching it,” HP printing unit exec
Pradeep Jotwani said in a 2003 interview. “The DMCA was put in place [to
protect] things like movies, music and software applications.”
“We consciously make sure that our cartridges are reusable
and refillable,” Jotwani said at the time. The company does put some limits on
the practice, such as adding software that makes some of its cartridges unusable
after a certain expiration date — either four-and-a-half years after its
manufacture or two-and-a-half years after its installation.
In the case against InkCycle, HP claimed the company has
violated three patents: Nos. 5,165,968; 5,428,383 and 5,488,402. The first
concerns fast-drying ink that works well on plain paper, and the second two
concern methods for preventing colour from bleeding.
HP said in its suit against Rhinotek that it holds 9,000
patents related to imaging and printing, 4,000 of them for consumable supplies
such as ink and cartridges.