back to article Lexmark patent racket busted by Supremes

In a victory for product resellers, the Supreme Court of the United States on Tuesday limited the power of patent holders by reversing a lower court decision that gave printer maker Lexmark control over its ink cartridges after they'd been sold. The case, Impression Products v Lexmark International, has been widely watched by …

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What about other measures?

If there's a chip in it that knows when the ink runs low and will refuse to operate if ink levels rise, and can't be counterfeited because it communicates with the printer in some way that's copyrighted by Lexmark, would that still be allowed?

The ruling sounds rather narrow in that it only bans attempts to use patents to control post-sale use, but there are other technical means at their disposal, so I don't think this will do anything more than pause the battle while Lexmark works around the ruling.

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Boffin

Re: What about other measures?

If they can work around the chip, it's OK.

http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/supreme_court_decision_allows_resale_of_used_ink_cartridges_despite_patent

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Re: What about other measures?

Bypassing such a device is allowed—that question has been settled law for decades in the US. See e.g. Sega Enterprises Ltd. v. Accolade, Inc., 977 F.2d 1510 (9th Cir. 1992).

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Re: What about other measures?

The trick is if it is possible to bypass or reset the chip. I think at least some companies use public-key cryptography to thwart this, as the communications part of the cartridge is black-boxed and unique to each cartridge. If the printer will ONLY accept encrypted communications coming from such chips, things get tricky. But as noted this is a technological obstacle, not a legal one, and pretty much in line with what the article is noting (a trend towards self-destructing authenticated consumables to block aftermarket sales). It's nothing new as it's been happening since about the fourth generation of gaming consoles.

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Re: What about other measures?

How is this not a form of racketeering ?

How is this not a form of dumping ?

Both are illegal (criminal). How have these companies been allowed to get away with it ?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What about other measures?

It can't be dumping because none of the companies are trying to price their direct competitors out of the market (Lexmark isn't trying to push out HP who isn't trying to push out Epson, etc.). Therefore, this practice is less dumping and more captive market, which while bad is both legal and actually tough to ban when it happens de facto.

And since that activity is legal, it can't be a racket (since RICO depends on the racket being of an illegal activity for the racket to be illegal).

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Re: What about other measures?

All sounds very complicated. Simple solution, don't buy Lexmark printers.

See also; don't buy inkjet printers as they are unreliable compared to lasers.

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Re: What about other measures?

Yes. Lexmark already tried that one.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What about other measures?

Serious question: which printer manufacturer is least dickish? All the printer manufacturers try to undermine 3rd-party ink suppliers to one degree or another, who's the least worst?

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If only lasers were always better

The problem I have with lasers is if you print thicker paper, especially cardstock, the paper curls so badly you have to waste all sorts of time bending them back the other way to make them flat, and you can never get them perfectly flat. The only thing I haven't tried is ironing them.

Inkjets don't have the heat of the fuser, so they don't suffer this problem. There are some that have a pretty reasonable cost per page compared with laser, especially if you aren't printing thousands of pages a month.

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Re: What about other measures?

the best (from their standpoint) and stupidest (from ours) is that the chips measure nothing inside the cartridge.

they measure pagecounts. Some of them measure time passed for "quality monitoring".

Not sure of any toner carts that have "use by" dates hardcoded, but plenty of ink ones do.

Its the page count chip that burned us a few times from resellers of recycled carts. They'd fail to reset the counter properly and it would read as "empty" in a few pages even when full. Or never printed at all because it was still counted down to zero. Or the chip drained in shipping. Worse were ones where they'd combine parts from other carts, some that'd been recycled many times so the bearings were shot, or others where they seemed to take the chip and counter from a standard capacity cart and use it on a "high capacity" one with larger storage. It'd "run out" at the same number of pages as it was originally built, not able to monitor the half-full toner reserve.

Personally, I have yet to have any chip "protected" printer consumable work in a manner that benefitted ME. All effects have been either neutral or actively detrimental.

Chips in printer carts, or ANY consumable, are a bane to customer existence. When you gotta hack yer coffee maker (Keurig) to bypass some sort of "protection", you know things have gone too far.

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Re: If only lasers were always better

there are lots of printers that have a "straight path" for just this reason.

the larger HPs used to allow this all the time, taking paper directly from "tray one" (external) and right out after the fuser.

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Re: If only lasers were always better

"The problem I have with lasers is if you print thicker paper, especially cardstock, the paper curls so badly you have to waste all sorts of time bending them back the other way to make them flat, and you can never get them perfectly flat."

You can get pretty close to flat using a printer with a straight through paper path (or has that option) and using a printer which lets you slow down the printing process and adjust the fuser temp. Some, including some Lexmark models have those settings, others do to, some will adjust speed and fuser temp based on the paper type you set in the menus. Most of the people I've heard complain of this never even saw the paper selection options in the menu and were pleased with the results when I showed them how to change the settings. Leaving the printer set to the default "Plain Paper" generally optimises everything for the fastest throughput, ie highest fuser temperature. It's also worth looking for card stock aimed at laser printing use as it's likely to have a lower moisture content, which also helps (and costs more)

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Re: What about other measures?

"If the printer will ONLY accept encrypted communications coming from such chips, things get tricky. "

In a bunch of jurisdictions, it could result in restraint of trade prosecutions. Australia being one country that springs to mind.

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Re: If only lasers were always better

"The problem I have with lasers is"

You're using the wrong kind of laser.

The curling is happening because the printer you're using is running the card through a curved path when it applies heat (fusing) and probably at too high a heat because you told the printer it's plain paper instead of heavier stock.

Either iron your card, or find a laser which has a "straight through" path for heavy stock (they still exist) and settings for such things.

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Re: What about other measures?

"some that'd been recycled many times so the bearings were shot"

This is about the only area where I could see a chip being useful (counting the returns to base).

As for coffeemakers - those pod or packet based things are evil and should be banned.

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Paris Hilton

Or just MAYBE some company will get a bit smarter

Well done, Supremes!

It seems these days that corporations are pretty much out to screw the consumer, and they're not even ashamed of it. The whole ink cartridge thing is a perfect example of that. I've avoided using inkjet-type printers because I could see the way users got screwed.

As far as an "arms race" goes, how about if some company choose NOT to play that game? And told everybody they weren't doing it and why?

I'm curious as to what would happen. Would people say "Oh, look, such-and-such company isn't screwing us into the ground like the rest are!" and buy from them? Or are consumers too stupid to notice when they're being fleeced, and would go with the "$25 printer that costs you $100 to put ink in" model?

Paris because I don't know the answer, either.

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Re: Or just MAYBE some company will get a bit smarter

are consumers too stupid to notice when they're being fleeced, and would go with the "$25 printer that costs you $100 to put ink in" model?

Survey says... *HELL YEAH* Most of the people I talk to don't see why this is a problem. They just accept ink is made from virgin unicorn pee or something.

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LDS
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"They just accept ink is made from virgin unicorn pee or something."

Just like those buying perfumes, for example. And many other types of cosmetics (pharmaceutical too, and let's not talk about the fresh water sold as homeopathy...). Many kind of beverages. including alcoholic ones - especially when drunk at a bar/pub/restaurant.

Often, the manufacturing, packaging, warehousing and delivering cost more than what's inside.

There are many sectors where consumables cost more than the device to use them - not only printers consumables. The real question is how much overpriced they, and at what price the businesses making them cold be sustainable.

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Meh

Re: Or just MAYBE some company will get a bit smarter

"Or are consumers too stupid to notice when they're being fleeced, and would go with the "$25 printer that costs you $100 to put ink in" model?"

In fairness this is really only the case at the very cheap end of the market; when you pay more for your printer the ink costs less as a proportion of the printers price

Consumers could make this problem go away by being more prepared to pay the true cost of the actual printer. As long as companies sell their stuff as loss leaders then this practice will continue.

Or do people really believe that the shiny all singing, all dancing MFP they've just bought really does cost 35 quid to make/market/distribute? Truth is I think if Lexmark have all but given you a printer you probably should buy your ink from them after all they need to make a profit in order to make the printer they've just given you!

NB nothing I've said indicates approval of the way the printer companies behave

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Re: Or just MAYBE some company will get a bit smarter

"The whole ink cartridge thing is a perfect example of that."

Ah, but you seem to missing the point. The case was about toner cartridges not ink-jet ones.

The whole ink-jet scam is well known but it seems as if manufacturers are also seeing a threat to their profits by the re-manufacturers like Impression Products. Now however, the Supreme Court has nipped that little scheme in the bud, for the time being, which can only be a good thing for customers.

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Re: Or just MAYBE some company will get a bit smarter

Never confuse value, cost and price.

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Re: "They just accept ink is made from virgin unicorn pee or something."

.LDS

and of course there's fresh water sold as expensive........ fresh water -because it's in bottles.

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Re: "They just accept ink is made from virgin unicorn pee or something."

"Often, the manufacturing, packaging, warehousing and delivering cost more than what's inside."

The oft-quoted example being a certain 4-letter brand of red and white Cola.

The content of the 330ml can is worth less than 1/2 of the metal IN the can. That's when you pick it up after being manufactured, packaged and delivered to a corner store near you. The entirity of the rest of the cost is marketing and store markup.

(There are odder examples. Mr "I bought the company" Karman tripled the price of the razors being sold and by doing so pushed them into a marketplace which previously wouldn't consider touching them because they were so cheap.)

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Re: Or just MAYBE some company will get a bit smarter

"In fairness this is really only the case at the very cheap end of the market"

Have you priced ink for Designjets and similar large printers? There's a reason there's a healthy market for aftermarket continuous-ink systems for these things and only a small fraction of it is the convenience of not having to change out cartridges at inconvenient moments.

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Betcha $100 moldavian clambakes they start trying to somehow licensing cartridges instead of outright selling them. I don't see how that could fly, but I'm sure some lawyer has his career depending on it right now.

How does defeating the chip not fall afoul of the DMCA?

Also, I'm sure taking the case all the way to the SCOTUS cost Impression Products a big 'ol pile o' dosh. Are the going to be able to recoup legal costs?

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Anonymous Coward

You're quick on the analysis, Gene. That's exactly where it would head; Lexmark can't get people to return the carts for free, can't get the courts to put the kibosh on those nasty ink reseller pirates, can't put in cheap electronic to thwart said pirates and those nasty consumers trying to save $40 on four-colours of powder, so the last measure would be to really stick it to the consumer and make them register their ink cartridges before the supreme over-seer makes his grand decision to allow four-colours of powder to spew forth from their lofty cartridge heads. Oh, and the muggles will rejoice.

Printer manufacturers are still trying to rip people off for some powder. The day they can't sell you $.04 worth of power inside a $2 piece of plastic, and a bit of metal for $50 per unit, is the day hell will freeze over.

I stopped playing that game while trying to make a Kodak printer work without having to replace various parts that cost more than their $10 ink carts. I just visit the copy store with a USB drive, print, and go about my business. Either that, or just use the various work printers. I don't need an HP or a Lexmark thinking that I should be paying $50 a unit for shitty little boxes of powder. I've checked, and they never ever have cocaine in there, so why the high prices? :P

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They ALREADY do that with laser toner cartridges, especially for enterprises. Look up "Return Program Cartridges".

As for Impression, can't they just sue Lexmark to get the costs back?

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I stopped playing that game while trying to make a Kodak printer work without having to replace various parts that cost more than their $10 ink carts. I just visit the copy store with a USB drive, print, and go about my business. Either that, or just use the various work printers.

Not to mention if you don't need to print often enough, most inkjet cartridges end up being effectively single use they just dry up.

My solution was similar. For normal occasional draft printing I use HP Laserjet 4700 colour laser printer. Given reasonably low print volumes, I've stuck to original HP toner cartridges which you can get for quite reasonable prices. The yields on cartridges are quite good and actual price per page end up being very low. As a bonus it doesn't matter if I print every day or once in a month or two. The beast just works.

For the occasions where I really need photo quality it is either some of the online print shops or walk to a local one with USB flash drive.

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Print quality is not good enough for photos - but for office documents etc,

Epson EcoTank ET-2500 Multifunction Printer with Refillable Ink Tank

Works nicely, no cartridges

You get what you pay for, I chose to pay for the printer, not the ink. At some point all the R&D needs paying for, and the consultants ;)

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Mushroom

Takes me back

"(self-destructing cartridges)."

Your mission Jim, should you choose to accept it, ...

*---------------------------------------------------------------------

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Black Helicopters

Re: Takes me back

Didint you forget to add

"this cartridge will self destruct in 10 pages".

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Re: Takes me back

"this cartridge will self destruct in 10 pages"

Ha, that reminds me of an OfficeJet 9100 I once had. Didn't print all that much (and yes, had problems with drired up nozzles) - and one day got a message on the display saying the cartridges had expired. Words to the general effect of "gosh, that's not cricket" were uttered when I looked it up and found that in fact, the chaps of questionable parentage at HP did in fact time-bomb the cartridges. IIRC, from the date the cartridges are put in the printer, they have just 18 months.

There was absolutely nothing whatsoever in the manuals, packaging, online warning of this limitation. I tried phoning (IIRC) Consumer Direct who handle interface between people and their Trading Standards departments and they seemed unable to see why this should be any problem at all.

Lets just say that after that I have never recommended an HP inkjet to anyone.

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Re: Takes me back

"this cartridge will self destruct in 10 pages".

I've seen plenty of third party toner and ink cartridges which did that. Office Depot/Niceday being prime offenders.

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FAIL

Recycled cartidges

My experience with recycled cartridges for my HP laser printer, and my Epson Glycee photo printer, were both bad. In both cases, the refills screwed up in the printers after only a month or two & had to be tossed. So I've resigned myself to having to drop my drawers, bend over & grab my ankles, and buy the official ones every time either needs new cartridges. F*ck me.

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Re: Recycled cartridges

My Epson Stylus P50 has been running fine for years on recycled cartridges. I chose that printer based on reviews of third party ink and the Linux driver.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Recycled cartidges

My HP Officejet runs well with third-party cartridges from Aliexpress. I usually refill them once or twice

before throwing them in the bin. I guess you might be able to tell the difference when printing photos, but I rarely do that at home.

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LDS
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Re: Recycled cartidges

For generic laser printing, I may be tempted to use 3rd party toners from a reliable manufacturer.

For high-end photo printing, the quality and reliability of prints is more important than saving a few bucks on inks and/or paper. High-end papers are expensive as well, and knowing inks batches don't require re-profiling the printer/paper combinations saves money. I don't print photos myself because it's cheaper, I do to obtain the results I'm aiming for.

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Thumb Up

Re: Recycled cartidges

@LDS but I don't suppose you use a "cheap" inkjet?

I use a Pro100s and the full set of inks (8 cartss) for that is 70 quid which isn't actually that bad and I can often find a deal that will bring the price down to 50 quid.

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LDS
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"but I don't suppose you use a "cheap" inkjet"

Of course. I'm actually using a Canon Pixma Pro 10 - the 1 at 30Kg was unluckily too heavy and large for my setup - and even larger models are justified only if you print much more than I do. The price for print falls into a range which is acceptable to me (factoring the paper price also). I may also print using an external lab for larger prints - but a pro lab which works *with* you to deliver what you need (and not just a standard one from 8bit sRGB JPEGs), is still not cheap. Of course, is one is OK with standard labs results, and doesn't need much control on the final print, there are cheaper alternatives.

IMHO today generic inkjets with some photo capabilities cannot really yield acceptable results unless your expectations are quite low, and "large" (A4, <G>) prints are not cheap.

Generic inkjets are mostly OK only for people who print rarely (despite the ink clogging issues on some models), need color, and are scared by laser consumable prices, and printer size/weight - although some monochromatic models are quite small.

Probably refillable tanks will become more common (Canon released its models too), although people should be aware those inks may be less steadfast than others (I've seen tests), not an issue for documents with a brief life. They could at least solve the "landfill printer" issue, when it's cheaper to buy a new printer than consumables. I'm environment aware, and stay away from such approach, but for someone it is tempting.

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Lexmark loses twice?

Lexmark could lose twice now. First, they can not control the refill market like they tried. Thus, some will decide to buy lower cost refills putting pressure on Lexmark to lower prices. Second, if my personal usage is typical, I suspect most people do not print as much as they did several years ago. Even allowing for the cartridges to dry out, Lexmark is not selling as many as they used to. I have a few ink jets that have not been turned on for several years (I think they work). What printing I do is done on a laser printer (2 years old and on the original toner cartridges). The laser printer might get used a couple of time a month.

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Re: Lexmark loses twice?

Lexmark loses three times, actually. The third one is that this publicity reinforces what every techie worth his salt already knows, which is that when it comes to buying printers you make a list of all the brands, and the second thing you do is pick one off that lisrt.

Er ... did I mention the [i]first[/i] thing you do? Cross off Lexmark, of course. Honesrtly, why would [i]anyone[/i] with a clue buy a Lexmark product? They always used to be carp, but they have really and truly changed now. For the worse.

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Re: Lexmark loses twice?

Make a distinction. Lexmark inkjet printers are crap, yes, always have been, but Lexmark laser printers are still frequently used in enterprises (sometimes rebadged like Dell printers), but I still see them all over the place with few complaints.

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Re: Lexmark loses twice?

I'm pretty certain that Lexmark are out of the new inkjet market. Any you see for sale now are old stock, which I wouldn't touch with a barge pole.

They still make usable laser printers, but their only activity in the inkjet market is selling cartridges.

I like older Epson printers, because the cartridges are just ink buckets, and the fixed heads are robust enough to allow them to be cleaned. Only problem is the ink sponge counter that needs to be reset once in a blue moon.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Lexmark loses twice?

"I'm pretty certain that Lexmark are out of the new inkjet market."

Apparently this is correct- Wikipedia sez (complete with refs):

"In August 2012, Lexmark announced that it would stop production of its inkjet printer line. Lexmark will continue to provide service, support and aftermarket supplies for its inkjet installed base."

Ironic considering that circa 15 years ago Lexmark was the brand probably most associated with dirt cheap consumer printers requiring horribly overpriced replacement carts. (#)

But I'm pretty sure they'd declined long before they exited that market; the company I've worked for since 2007- which deals in compatible ink carts among other things- always sold a lot more Epson, Canon, HP and Brother inks, and we stopped selling Lexmark compatibles completely several years back.

(#) Of course, you'd get people thinking they were clever by saying "oh, I can buy a new printer that comes with a cartridge for cheaper than the cartridge itself". Aside from the obnoxious waste, and the fact that these came with (what are weaselishly-described as) "starter" or "light use" cartridges- i.e. half full- this line of thinking was what I liked to call "Lexmark Logic".

If you spend (say) £30 on a new Lexmark inkjet instead of £35 on new cartridges, you're still effectively paying £30 every time for a new set of cartridges! Wherease if NiceCo sells theirs for £50 and the carts cost £10, you break even after buying the first replacement set and save tons thereafter.

The fact that the free ink cart you get with a new Lexmark printer (or whatever) is "worth" £35- rather than NiceCo's similar £10 one- might look good until you realise it means the exact opposite. The more overpriced the replacement carts, the more that poxy little free ink cart that came with the printer is "worth". Hey, the carts for this Lexmark are £500 for 10ml. That means I'm getting £500 of ink with this printer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!111111111111

But hey... cheap printer and sticking it to The Man. *cough* Lexmark Logic.

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Re: Lexmark loses twice?

"if my personal usage is typical, I suspect most people do not print as much as they did several years ago."

This is exactly what I was thinking. Who actually needs to print things any more? Pretty much anything that used to involve printing - letters, forms, etc. - is now done online. Offices and businesses still need to print things, but they're using enterprise laser printers anyway. The average consumer rarely has any need to print anything at all. Printers have gone from a mature market where the manufacturers had to gouge on the cartridges because people didn't need to constantly buy new printers, to being a declining market where they're just desperate to claw back any money they can because people just don't need their products as much as they used to.

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Re: Lexmark loses twice?

What about photographs, though, especially ones which you'd prefer to keep in confidence?

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Re: Lexmark loses twice?

"What about photographs, though, especially ones which you'd prefer to keep in confidence?"

What about them? No-on is suggesting that printing is going to disappear entirely, but there seems to be a pretty clear trend that people just don't need to print things out as much as they used to. Unless you're suggesting that people have suddenly started printing out hundreds of times more photos than they used to, they're not going to change anything about that trend. As it is, I'd be very surprised if photos didn't also follow that trend; printing them out on crappy home printers was never particularly popular in the first place, and it's unlikely to get more popular when people have no other reason to own a printer at all.

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Re: Lexmark loses twice?

"Who actually needs to print things any more?"

There was the old joke that the paperless office was anything bit, but in the last 4-5 years we've seen a marked reduction in print volumes after 3 decades of yearly increases that showed no sign of decelerating.

It's actually caught us off guard inasmuch as the printers we have now are vastly oversized for the job they do.

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Epson extortion

The worst example I can think of is a color Epson all-in-one. It would not print a black-only page if one of the color ink tanks was out, even though the black tank was full.

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