back to article How Lexmark's patent fight to crush an ink reseller will affect us all

If printer maker Lexmark International prevails against ink cartridge reseller Impression Products, tech giants and other American companies will gain the ability to control products through patent claims after they have been sold. The Federal Circuit Court in Washington, DC, last year supported this idea by siding with …

  1. Pompous Git Silver badge

    Lexmark also contends that a notice on its packaging binds customers to return used cartridges to Lexmark rather than disposing of them elsewhere. (Lexmark sells some cartridges at a discount under its Return Program, while also selling full-priced cartridges without a contractual notice on the packaging.)

    Say what!? I received an email a year ago from Lexmark saying that the Rewards program was now defunct and I wouldn't be receiving any of the promised rewards for being a loyal customer.

    1. Fuzz

      This sounded slightly mad to me too. If Lexmark want to sell cheap cartridges in return for receiving the empties back then they should ship or sell the new cartridges once they receive the returns. Trying to tie customers to some sort of contract by writing something on the pack isn't going to stand up.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Welcome to america

    Americans (and American comporations) have rights. Foreigner scum does not.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Welcome to america

      Actually, it's the Americans fucking the Americans over. We Johnny Foreigners can still still stick 2 fingers up at the companies and refill to our hearts content.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Welcome to america

        "We Johnny Foreigners can still still stick 2 fingers up at the companies and refill to our hearts content."

        Quite so. What's that "affect us all" doing in the title? Clickbait?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Welcome to america

          Yep, this is what's wrong with America. Drain the swamp!

  3. Drew 11

    You think ink cartridges are expensive now?

    Just wait until you have to buy them from Trump Industries Inc.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      BUY? I thought they only LEASED.

      1. Dwarf Silver badge

        BUY? I thought they only LEASED.

        Look on the bright side. The American presidency is only a lease as well.

        1. Number6

          Hire Purchase

          Look on the bright side. The American presidency is only a lease as well.

          Up to now, that is. Remember that Trump does things differently. He's already clamping down on dissent and criticism, let's see what he tries in three and a bit years, assuming they don't impeach him first.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Hire Purchase

            "He's already clamping down on dissent and criticism"

            BS

    2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      I want to see the printer design

      I want to see the printer design capable of accommodating a golf club as a printer head.

      When I close my eyes I see a nightmarish vision of the ancient IBM typewriter style daisy wheel with golf clubs attached to it. It will print all right. Very deep imprints - in whatever you put into where the clubs hit.

    3. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge
      Boffin

      @Drew...

      I guess we'll have to modify Goodwin's law ... :-P

      But seriously... Lexmark is going to win if they actually hired good lawyers.

      Its one thing for you, joe consumer to buy the cartridge and then buy the ink to refill the cartridge. Its another for a company to buy your spent cartridges and refill them for resale. The amicus brief is garbage.

      There's actually case law that supports Lexmark. You can see the future too.

      Keurig Coffee had the K-Cups. While the patent was in force, only Keurig could make coffee pods for their coffee machines. When the patent ran out, others could make K-Cups, so Keurig's only option was to re-invent the wheel to freeze out the competition. (The profit was in the coffee not the brewer.) That was a complete failure.

      So until Lexmark loses the patent, if you own a Lexmark, you have to buy their cartridges unless they license a third party to resell their products.

      When consumers are offered a choice and they take the time to do their research like the TCO of the printer over the 3-5 year life of the printer... they may purchase a different product.

      1. Sven Coenye

        Re: @Drew...

        I don't recall anyone refilling used K-Cups, though. That spat was about compatible competing products.

        1. Sleep deprived

          Re: @Drew...

          Why refill used K-cups when you can buy reusable cups (~15$ for a pack of 4) and refill them ad infinitum? Keurig's 2.0 RFID blockade can be bypassed following instructions on Youtube.

          1. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge
            Boffin

            @Sleep Deprived ... Re: @Drew...

            Again, you want to refill your own ink cartridges... nothing Lexmark can do to stop you.

            This issue is about a business reselling used cartridges and Lexmark is suing them by arguing a patent violation. You can look at the K-Cup lawsuits as a pattern that Lexmark can use and probably argue in court because that's what Keurig did.

            To your point, once the patent expired... Keurig couldn't stop other companies offering K-Cups and with their new product... sales were kind of flat. Consumers didn't buy in to it.

            Personally I have a built in Miele coffee machine that makes the perfect cup of coffee and all I need to do is to add my own beans, milk and keep the damn thing clean. :-)

        2. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge
          Boffin

          @Sven ... Re: @Drew...

          "I don't recall anyone refilling used K-Cups, though. That spat was about compatible competing products."

          The similarity is that both are using patent law to protect their IP and their profit streams. In both, the printer and the brewer are sold with minimal profit while the real revenue stream is in the coffee and ink. (See that similarity?)

          In the case of Lexmark, its reusing their cartridges to make a competing product. In the case of Kreuig, its a compatible container. In both cases they used patent law to defend their position. Very similar.

          Enough that a good lawyer for Lexmark will make a similar argument.

          They can even make more arguments about protecting their brand and the consumer from dodgy products based on the refill cartridges.

          The odds favor Lexmark.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: @Drew...

        "Its one thing for you, joe consumer to buy the cartridge and then buy the ink to refill the cartridge. Its another for a company to buy your spent cartridges and refill them for resale. The amicus brief is garbage."

        So you won't be able to by refurbed engine/car parts either? Or any other kind of spares or consumables capable of being refurbed? There's been a second hand refurb market since stone age hunters put new shafts to flint arrowheads and vice versa so how is this one different?

        1. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge
          Boffin

          @John Brown ... Re: @Drew...

          I think you missed the point that Lexmark is arguing about a patent violation.

          They are trying to protect their product and patent.

          In the end, the law is on their side.

          Now show me an aftermarket product that violates a patent, and I'll show you a lawsuit.

          And if you want to see an example of where aftermarket parts make a difference, take a look at Remington Rifles and Browning. Remington 700s are the most popular bolt action rifles around. Why? Because you can customize them. Browning? Not so much. (THere's also the Ruger 10/22 but that's a different beast.)

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: @John Brown ... @Drew...

            "I think you missed the point that Lexmark is arguing about a patent violation."

            I'm still not seeing it. To violate a patent you have to be making a patent protected item or buying patent protected items/components without a licence. So long as they are refilling with a non-patented ink formulation, I can't see a patent violation. Patents don't protect an item from being resold. Unless there are a part or parts being replaced as part of the refurb, which the article doen't mention, or if maybe it's a "design patent" being argued about.

      3. eldakka Silver badge

        Re: @Drew...

        Those competitors were manufacturing Keurig compatible cartridges.

        The companies in this case are not manufacturing Lexmark compatible cartridges. They are aquiring legally manufactured cartridges, refurbing them, and then selling the refurbedded cartridges.

        They are completely different situations.

        Patents only cover the manufacturing of a patent protected product, not the re-using of said product.

        If Lexmark win, it would be illegal to re-build engines or engine components that were under patent and sell them. E.g. rebuilding a gearbox, or a carbareutter, or re-boring an engine block, or hell, buying and fixing up damaged cars and then selling them on. Amy company - and there are many - that is in the business of refurbing used products - otherwise know as recycling - still under patent protection would be put out of business. Car rebuilders, white-goods re-conditioners, IT resellers, smarthphone and tablet resellers who buy broken phones and refurb them and then sell them, and so on.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Just wait until you have to buy them from Trump Industries Inc.

      Yes, every article on the site somehow needs a Trump bashing comment.

      Why don't you just grow up and give it a rest?

  4. goldcd
    WTF?

    We're still printing?

    I mean that seriously.

    1. 9Rune5

      Re: We're still printing?

      Yes, we are still printing.

      Personally I "enjoy" printing out pictures of my kids. I say "enjoy" because it comes at a price.

      It started two years ago, a friend bought us a printer for the holidays. The ink Canon supplied with their product soon ran out (of course), so I thought "why not give third-party ink a go?". That ink was much cheaper, but the photos now show my kids looking like oompa-loompas, complete with orange faces and green clothes.

      So I am back to the original Canon ink. I cannot help but note that ordering from Canon's website was the cheapest option, yet they were able to ship the ink straight to my door (a guy came to check my signature and everything). I smell a markup.

      I realize there is nothing new in my comment: Cheap printer hardware, expensive ink. Same old story. Just let me have my little rant here, ok?

      1. LDS Silver badge

        Re: We're still printing?

        How much the paper you print to costs? I've printed on some (excellent) papers that cost far more than the inks. And they are still "only" sheet of paper (or canvas). Why people complain about inks only?

        Bringing the ink to you also costs. There's obviously also some greed involved to make some easy money, but the idea that consumables should be very cheap is a bit distorted.

        The film I put in my camera wasn't cheap, nor the print I made. The fuel I burn in the heater already costed me far more than the heater itself. Even beer is overpriced, believe me....

        BTW: using different inks, if not quite exactly like the original ones, means you need to create new color profiles for the ink/paper combination(s) you use. Otherwise the result will be far from good. The quality of third party inks varies a lot - there are good suppliers, and bad ones. For photo (and other art uses) printing, reliability and consistency of inks matter a lot. Differences among batches are an issue.

        I didn't buy a photo printer to save - but to control the process fully. Thereby right now I stick to original inks. Maybe one day I'll have time to experiment with third party ones, and see what they can do after being properly profiled.

        1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

          Re: We're still printing?

          Bringing the ink to you also costs. There's obviously also some greed involved to make some easy money, but the idea that consumables should be very cheap is a bit distorted.

          The film I put in my camera wasn't cheap, nor the print I made.

          In the early days of inkjets, HP had a gross margin on ink cartridges of around 95%. Of course, quite a lot of that margin went into persuading the supply chain to push inkjets, but HP still did very well out of it.

          Film and printing paper - completely different. A camera could run any make or type of film in one of two common sizes - 35mm and 120. Kodak's semi-proprietary sizes (127 and 620) resulted in products that rapidly lost value, and the film was discontinued. As a result of the common sizes, film making was extremely competitive and resulted in very high quality product at rather low prices. It cost an awful lot more to make a roll of 35mm film than an inkjet cartridge, but the film was a quarter of the price.

          Kodak started off with cameras that were almost given away in order to make money on the film, which was proprietary. It did not work, and the Box Brownie, running standard 120, was for years their biggest volume camera.

          1. LDS Silver badge

            "film making was extremely competitive"

            So competitive you had essentially three main vendors only, Kodak, Agfa and Fuji (Ilford was mostly a B/W company).

            While some low-end negative film was cheap (and often given away together the far pricier development and printing), high-end ones, and reversal ones were not cheap at all. The cost is more or less that of an ink cartridge. In the early days inks were more expensive than today - it's good if competition can keep prices lower.

            If you developed yourself, nor color chemical (and once opened, they had a short shelf life) and nor papers (and proofs "wasted" some) were cheap . Nor processing and larger prints from a reputable lab were, either.

            Sure, all you needed were the 4"x6" prints from a one-hour lab, it looked almost cheap... and in that case I would advise against printing at home, it would be just more expensive and results may be very variable. One of the photo printing business will probably yield better results at lower prices. If you aim for better results on larger prints, and like to be in total control, cost is no longer the main driver.

            While 135 and 120 film were the most common, 126, 127 and 110 saw success for a while, especially for very cheap cameras. According to Wikipedia, 127 film was produced by Kodak from 1912 to 1995.... 620 is 120 film on a different spool - and you can still buy it.

            Later attempts (disc, APS) were big failures - electronic compact cameras became very small, cheap, and made using 135 film easy even for the most clueless user, so no need for more formats.

            1. MJI Silver badge

              Re: APS

              Still was killed at birth by the comment that APS would use a better quality film than 35mm to try to equal the quality.

              However the film makers would rather sell film so there was no way APS would get better than 35mm.

              So APS died as a film format.

            2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

              Re: "film making was extremely competitive"

              "so no need for more formats"

              I keep thinking I must get myself a 120 camera. I still have the printing frame somewhere & the grandkids should be taught that there are more forms of photography than just digital.

      2. MJI Silver badge

        Re: We're still printing?

        I have a Canon printer and get genuine cartridges for similar cost to decent refills.

        And really cheap inks seem to mess printers up

        1. Dave 15 Silver badge

          Re: We're still printing?

          No, if a printer detects the wrong ink it messes up and alters colour balances and all sorts.

          If you fool the printer well enough it is fine.

          The things that annoy me most are:

          Stupidly small amounts of ink in the cartridge. Look at the volume of the cartridge and read how much ink you get... the bulk is waste product, it would be very simple to design with a decent amount of ink (and indeed you can usually find cartridges with significantly more ink available in them in the same physical size)

          The MOST annoying is that at least some printers refuse to print black and white when red has run out DESPITE having a black cartridge present and full. What the hell is that about other than screwing the consumer?

          Really come back my old 9 pin with its multicoloured ribbon that lasted and lasted and lasted...

      3. Fuzz

        Re: We're still printing?

        "Personally I "enjoy" printing out pictures of my kids. I say "enjoy" because it comes at a price."

        The cost of maintaining a printer for this kind of printing isn't worth it. I just use one of the myriad of online print services. They're using proper Fujifilm printers so you get an actual photograph which won't fade like an inkjet print. The cost isn't any higher than printing at home, once you've factored in replacing dried up cartridges that you haven't used for a couple of months and the multiple prints you have to do because you set the wrong colour profile or you loaded 7x5 paper when you wanted 6x4 etc.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: We're still printing?

          "I just use one of the myriad of online print services."

          Yes, places like Photobox, DS Colour Labs, et al are good, but they're not perfect. I've had a couple of prints come that were obviously wrong on colour balance (company's fault, not mine) and needed to be redone, which is annoying, and less convenient than if you'd printed it (time-to-correction).

          "They're using proper Fujifilm printers so you get an actual photograph which won't fade like an inkjet print."

          My inkjet has "lightfast" inks, which are allegedly rated to 100+ years. The first prints out of it are over a decade old, and haven't faded.

          "The cost isn't any higher than printing at home"

          Actually, for A4 prints, on my printer, including paper, it is cheaper for me to print my own. This is not the case for 6x4's, nor bigger than A4 (can't do).

          "once you've factored in replacing dried up cartridges that you haven't used for a couple of months"

          I use my printer on a weekly basis, so this isn't a problem.

          "and the multiple prints you have to do because you set the wrong colour profile or you loaded 7x5 paper when you wanted 6x4 etc"

          Never had this happen. Ever. In 10 years.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: We're still printing?

            Instead of using an online print service.

            You could just invest in a reasonable colour laser printer, which wont fade and wont dry out if you dont use it... work out how much you print, work out all the costs for two years of use with an average amount of printing each month factored in and you will see ink printers simply dont make any sense what so ever. Most people realise they start saving inside the first 6 or 12 months when using a colour laser instead.

            1. LDS Silver badge

              Re: We're still printing?

              Laser are not an option for photos, but for the less demanding needs. Most of them have also paper paths that may have issue with heavier papers, and have the bad habit of curling it. If you need something beyond A4 it could become really large, heavy and expensive. And the photo quality can't match a pro photo printer.

              I now have an A4 color laser (with duplex) for generic documents, and an A3+ inkjet pro photo printer (I would have liked an A2, but it would have been too large/heavy), because I eventually found I couldn't cover both needs with a single printer. The photo inks are too expensive to print generic documents (and options like duplex are not available), while printers designed to keep per page costs down are not suitable for high quality photos.

              1. eldakka Silver badge

                Re: We're still printing?

                Laser not good for photos? Can I have some of the crack you are on? (seriously, my supplier has retired)

                I purchased a Sharp MX-4101N at an auction for about 250GBP, each of the three 15k page colour cartridges were between 50% and 70% full, and the 36k black was about 80% full.

                It can print up to A3 size paper at 1200DPI, has a 100-sheet straight-through paper path option for heavier stock, a 150 sheet ADF for scanning up to 9600DPI or copying, 4*500 sheet input trays (one has A3 paper in at the moment). network printing, many irrelevant business functions. It prints beautiful photos.

                And here's the dirty secret of toner and ink cost - the cheaper the printer the more expensive the toner, the more expensive the printer the cheaper the toner. If you print a lot, you are better off paying a lot (say $1k-$2k) for a printer than only $400. Or, like I did, pay 250GBP for a second hand printer from auction that brand new cost north of 3k GBP, and comes with about 250GBP worth of toner in it.

        2. LDS Silver badge

          "which won't fade like an inkjet print"

          You may have missed the improvement in inks (and papers) in the past ten years or so. Of course you need to use photo inks designed to last.

          This guy made a lot of accelerated aging tests: http://www.wilhelm-research.com/

          Prints on silver-halide paper may even last less.

          Then, if you make many mistakes while printing, well, probably is not your hobby <G>

          1. LDS Silver badge

            Re: "which won't fade like an inkjet print"

            Sorry if some quantitative, scientific tests didn't confirm someone's prejudices.

            Don't worry, you can always hide behind 'alternative facts'....

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The cost of maintaining a printer

          I am not maintaining it. Using and throwing away proved to be a much cheaper option to me. I am relocating with all and every of my contracts. I need some printer and scanner to deal with my paperwork, for example to sign and mail contracts and tax returns. Buying the second cheapest multifunctional devices from the nearest shop works perfectly. The most complex bit is how to dispose the device when I move on. Thou shall not throw any electronics in the green bin, it is for garden clippings only.

      4. Chemical Bob

        Re: We're still printing?

        "the photos now show my kids looking like oompa-loompas, complete with orange faces"

        Did that 3rd party ink come from a factory owned by The Donald?

      5. Number6

        Re: We're still printing?

        I said 'ouch' once too often and bought a laser printer instead. Costs a fair bit less per page than an inkjet.

      6. cynic56

        Re: We're still printing?

        @9Rune5: Perhaps Canon is different - I've never owned one.

        However, I have lost count of the number of HP and Epson prints I have done - but it's in the thousands. I can see no difference in the initial quality or longevity of the HP/Epson prints and the 'own brand' sellers. It's all bullsh*t from corporate liars.

        100% with you about the markup rip-off - I just haven't seen the gulf in quality that you have observed. You stick with the Canon 'own brand', I'll stick with the HP compaitible- and we'll both be happy at our own wisdom in making the right choice.

    2. Maventi

      Re: We're still printing?

      Yes - as long as the most-used document format used practically everywhere in business is still paper-shaped, produced and consumed by software designed for working with paper-shaped documents, then wasteful printing will always continue because the antiquated document format simply encourages it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: We're still printing?

        or much of the world doesn't want to spend every moment looking at a screen,

    3. poohbear

      Re: We're still printing?

      That whole "clay tablet" thing didn't work so well.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: We're still printing? That "clay tablet" thing didn't work so well.

        Yeh but we can stiil read 5000 year old cuneiform tablets - I doubt we can read the shit of 10 year old paper judging from the oxidisation I've seen on most of the stuff around.

    4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: We're still printing?

      @goldcd

      SWMBO has just left for the patchwork class she runs. She has taken with her 6 copies of class notes comprising 6 sides of A4 each. In addition there are 6 copies of today's pattern on flimsy paper. What did you expect her to do? Write them out by hand and add watercolour to the illustration on the title page?

    5. Ogi

      Re: We're still printing?

      > I mean that seriously.

      Not only are we still printing, in my case we are printing more. I used to print very little, only the odd photograph to stick on the wall, and if I need a few sheets to take with me somewhere. Eventually it came to the point where I didn't bother actually having a printer (which made it annoying for that once in a blue moon time when I needed to print something out, like airline boarding passes).

      However I grew tired of staring at screens, I was staring at screens for work, staring at screens for shopping, staring at screens for dating, staring at screens for consumption of entertainment, staring at screens for doing my taxes, and staring at screens to study.

      I had enough. So now for study (and some entertainment) I have taken to printing out ebooks and reading them on paper. Not only is it easier on the eyes, but I can actually underline, highlight, make notes, and mark bits I am interested in.

      Plus I can easily take the book with me to work, or anywhere else, and have all the notes and references there, and it is in a universal format that has persisted for thousands of years.

      Also I have to say, it feels nice, the tactile feedback of paper, and needs no power to have the information on tap.

      I've since bought some good quality paper, and a book binding kit, so have taken to binding my own books. they even look nice organised on the shelf.

      Coupled with Project Gutenberg and archive.org. there is a large body of out of print free ebooks on all kinds of topics I never even have considered before, so now I can build up my own library relatively cheaply.

      1. LDS Silver badge

        "I have taken to printing out ebooks"

        Ehm, what's wrong in buying books already printed and bound? You could also help some jobs to survive...

        1. Ogi

          Re: "I have taken to printing out ebooks"

          > Ehm, what's wrong in buying books already printed and bound? You could also help some jobs to survive...

          Alas no bookshops in my area. I think the last one shut down 5 years ago. Most people seem to prefer tablets and ebook readers for the convenience, so all book shops near me have long gone. Also I can get books that are out of print now.

          I do buy books, but have to do it online (sigh), plus wait for them to be delivered (usually around a week) and be at home at the right time. With my current set up I can get a book from an online archive printed and bound in under an hour at any time I want, ready for reading. Plus I can pick fonts and layouts that I find the most pleasing for reading.

          I admit I have taken to some enjoyment to doing it too, it could turn into a hobby of mine. I can also make all the books have the same outside covers and dimensions, so looks neater on my shelf.

          The only thing lacking right now is a good method of printing onto the spine cover. Sticky labels or marker pen just doesn't look that nice.

    6. EastFinchleyite

      Re: We're still printing?

      How else do you think I could afford £20 notes?. The real ones are far too expensive.

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Facepalm

      Re: We're still printing?

      Still printing? Hell, I still write. With pens and pencils. On paper.

      I still print a bit too, and I'd do it more if printers weren't such shit.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: We're still printing?

        Globally we've just about reached peak printing in terms of newspapers & magazines, so I guess print-to-paper will be around for a while yet. Other kinds of printing, e.g. packaging, containers, fabrics, coverings (wallpaper, laminates, etc), are still on the increase.

  5. Maventi
    WTF?

    I didn't even know Lexmark still existed. Now that I do, this news doesn't surprise me in the least unfortunately.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Paper mills of Finland.

    It always surprised me that the paper mills in Finland never fought back against Global Printer manufacturers/expensive injk and produced a cheap consumer printing system, given Finland's technology sector too (at it's height)..

  7. James 51 Silver badge

    Epson ecotanks. That's the approach all manufactures should be taking.

    1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

      "Epson ecotanks. That's the approach all manufactures should be taking."

      Years ago I was in a university chemistry lab when I noticed that they had modified an A3 inkjet printer with a set of little tubes to the cartridges connected via peristaltic pumps to ink tanks. It was basically a lab copy of a technology which already existed, knocked up by a student. The idea has been around for many years. Of course it was manual, i.e. magenta goes low, run magenta pump for x minutes.

      In the days of Canon Bubblejets, one GP I had was refilling them with ordinary Parker black ink, via an inserted hypodermic and a syringe with a graduation mark.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: "Epson ecotanks. That's the approach all manufactures should be taking."

        But what happened to the HEADS over time?

        1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

          Re: "Epson ecotanks. That's the approach all manufactures should be taking."

          But what happened to the HEADS over time?

          The short answer is that they eventually degrade, but by not having to keep inserting and removing cartridges they last a surprisingly long time. You don't really think a Bubblejet cartridge could be designed to wear out just as the ink ran out?

          As I recall, he said that he could refill a cartridge about 20 times before it stopped working properly. I don't know about the lab example, but DesignJets have separate heads and cartridges and the heads last quite a long time.

        2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: "Epson ecotanks. That's the approach all manufactures should be taking."

          The nice thing about Epson print heads is that they're very well made, and can be manually dismantled and flushed with a syringe if you really need to. You have to be a little bit careful not to get the small amount of electronics attached to the head wet, or if you do, make sure that they're rinsed with clean (preferably distilled) water and then thoroughly dried before reassembling (I've heard reports of the magic smoke escaping from print heads that have been assembled without checking they're perfectly dry!)

          The solution I've used to flush heads with has been distilled water with about 10% isopropyl alcohol, Some online resources suggest you should use pure isopropyl alcohol, but I've never had a problem.

          I've seen people use liquid as mundane as cheep spray window cleaner, but I'm a bit worried about the surfactants that are added to these solutions.

          1. Ogi

            Re: "Epson ecotanks. That's the approach all manufactures should be taking."

            > The nice thing about Epson print heads is that they're very well made, and can be manually dismantled and flushed with a syringe if you really need to

            I have an old Epson P50 that ceased printing black ink, and all attempts to flush out whatever clogged the head hasn't worked. I've since bought a new Epson A3 printer, but would not mind getting the old P50 working again. Are there any good instructions you can recommend on disassembly/reassembly of these printers?

            1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

              @Ogi

              Lots of videos of it on YouTube. This one looks appropriate for you.

              Basically, don't take the printer apart. You can do it with just the top cover opened, and it only takes about three minutes to take the head our. The head is a ceramic plate underneath the print cartridges.

              Take the cartridges out, and you should see a number of clips/plates holding a couple of ribbon cables in place on the RHS of the print head carrier. Release the clips.

              Then find the clips at the back that hold the contact cradle that the cartridges sit in, and release them.

              You should then see three screws holding the head in the carrier. Remove them, and the whole head assembly should lift out of the carrier.

              You can remove the cables, but remember what went where.

              Reassembly is the reverse procedure.

              It is possible to clean the head in the printer using a syringe, fluid and some plastic tubing, but it's a bit messy.

              Please note. You do this at your own risk. I don't offer any warranty on this.

              1. DiViDeD Silver badge

                Re: @Ogi

                "Reassembly is the reverse procedure."

                I'm always reminded of the old Haynes manuals, which led my father to come up with his workshop slogan:

                "Reassembly is a reversal of disassembly - but with more swearing"

                1. Ogi

                  Re: @Ogi

                  Thanks a lot guys for tips, links and humour, upvotes all round!

                  Good to know I can get at the print head without having to take the entire printer apart. My worry was that I had to do that, it would be a big job, and even if I managed to get the head working, I might not be able to reassemble the printer again (or it will take a lot longer, with much more swearing).

                  And no worries about liability. I wrote off this printer months ago and bought the Epson Photo 1500W as its replacement (with CISS it is really cheap to run, ink I can buy by the litre).

                  It has been gathering dust on my top shelf since, so why not see if I can bring it back to life. This will just be a last ditch attempt at repair, and if it fails I will probably strip it for some cool parts anyway.

          2. Charles 9 Silver badge

            Re: "Epson ecotanks. That's the approach all manufactures should be taking."

            "The nice thing about Epson print heads is that they're very well made, and can be manually dismantled and flushed with a syringe if you really need to."

            You've never had to deal with a PictureMate, have you? Most go to the secondhand stores because their heads clog beyond hope of cleaning. It's one reason I switched back to HP photo printers. At least when you change the cart, you change the head, too, and with infrequently-used inkjets like photo printers, head clogs and ink shortages are about even in terms of reasons you can't print when you need it.

            1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

              @Charles 9

              Epson do not want you fixing the printers, so do not tell ordinary people how, but the procedure to remove the head is quite simple, and the heads are pretty robust. It's easily within the ability of anyone with a few basic tools, a fairly steady hand and a bit of patience to clean the print heads.

              There are also procedures on the 'net to reset the cleaning cycle count that says when the ink sponge is full.

              After a number of refills, the re-manufactured HP cartridges will stop working because the print head is quite fragile. I would expect properly maintained Epson printers to still be running as long as you can buy ink to refill the cartridges.

              I did once fail to get a R1800 working, but one of the blacks (that printer has two different black cartridges, plus a gloss 'finisher') was completely blocked such that the cleaning solution could not get in to dissolve the ink. I left it soaking for several days, and it made no difference. The guy in the shop that asked me to look at it said that he didn't know whether it had ever worked, because he had taken it back from a customer under warranty, but never returned it to Epson. They then left it in the workshop for over a year before looking at it!

              1. Charles 9 Silver badge

                Re: @Charles 9

                "After a number of refills, the re-manufactured HP cartridges will stop working because the print head is quite fragile. I would expect properly maintained Epson printers to still be running as long as you can buy ink to refill the cartridges."

                But it's easy enough for me to obtain more cartridges. Remanufactured ones are easy enough to find online and have likely only been refilled once, so I keep getting relatively fresh heads when I need it, which I cannot say for the PictureMates, which I've consistently been told are not the realm of amateurs to delouse.

          3. GrapeBunch

            Re: "Epson ecotanks. That's the approach all manufactures should be taking."

            I use 100% Finnish vodka. No shurfactants, shir.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Epson Eco-Con more like

      Epson Eco-con more like. These still have an incremental counter to "end of use' waste ink pad i.e. Finite usage.

      There is no feature that allows ink flow to be stopped (ie: no tube clamp is included in the printer design)

      The side mounted ink reservoirs are designed such that any movement from the normal base-down position can result in flooding of the printhead, vent system and subsequently leak ink.

      As such it's very easy to create a situation that might break the printer.

      It's like having free entry to the nightclub, with payment on leaving.

  8. FrankAlphaXII Silver badge

    What the hell does AARP care about this? I can see why Mozilla and EFF do, but the American Association of Retired People? Really? Does it disproportionately affect Granny or something?

    1. Stevie Silver badge

      AARP

      Whippersnapper! Get off my lawn!

    2. GrapeBunch
      Childcatcher

      AARP

      American Association of Retired People. Old people (I guess I am one) and their close cousins, people who grew up in households headed by people who survived The Great Depression (1929-39?) tend to be super conscious (not to be confused with Jung) about expenditures, even if they aren't constrained forever by a measly pension. They re-use printer cartridges, for sure. On a good day, the rest of the population hardly prints anything. On a bad day, the rest of the population "has no idea of the value of money". There, I've said it.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: AARP

        > On a bad day, the rest of the population "has no idea of the value of money". There, I've said it.

        About 1/10,000 what it was in your day, grand-dad.

  9. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    WTF?

    Simple idea. I buy it. It's mine. Not yours.

    I'm amazed HP haven't joined them in the law suit.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Simple idea. I buy it. It's mine. Not yours.

      "I'm amazed HP haven't joined them in the law suit."

      They're probably still smarting from the backlash of their previous attempt. Give them a year or two to let people forget & they'll be back.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Simple idea. I buy it. It's mine. Not yours.

      They counter: You buy a car, but you don't own the software and firmware in the computers inside your car that are needed for it to run efficiently...eh...?

      1. LDS Silver badge

        " that are needed for it to run efficiently"

        "that are needed to cheat the emissions tests".

        Fixed for you...

    3. Stevie Silver badge

      Re: I'm amazed HP haven't joined them in the law suit.

      Or SCO. It's almost as if they've lost the will to sue.

  10. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "patent exhaustion doesn't apply when patented goods are sold outside the US"

    Isn't that wonderful ? Finally US law acknowledges that there is an "outside". Well, in some cases. When money is to be won by an American company (duh).

    Oh well, baby steps, I guess.

    1. bryces666

      Re: "patent exhaustion doesn't apply when patented goods are sold outside the US"

      And thankfully American law won't be getting its claws too deeply into my country anytime soon now that trump has ended the trans Pacific partnership trade agreement.

      1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

        Re: "patent exhaustion doesn't apply when patented goods are sold outside the US"

        And thankfully American law won't be getting its claws too deeply into my country anytime soon now that trump has ended the trans Pacific partnership trade agreement.

        The principal beneficiary of that is likely to be China, especially as Trump's decision is going to weaken the reach of US IP. And Russia, because they are trying to forge strong trade links with China.

        Lexmark, in fact, is Chinese owned (Apex technology). So a Chinese company is trying to benefit from US capitalist-friendly IP law. This really is a break out the popcorn (and hope your seat doesn't catch fire) time in which to be alive.

      2. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: "patent exhaustion doesn't apply when patented goods are sold outside the US"

        Maybe out of the frying pan and into the fire... China's said that they're willing to pick up the reins where the US left off so an agreement which was supposed to exclude China could now make the Pacific countries very China centric.

        1. GrapeBunch

          Re: "patent exhaustion doesn't apply when patented goods are sold outside the US"

          "China's said that they're willing to pick up the reins where the US left off so an agreement which was supposed to exclude China could now make the Pacific countries very China centric."

          Canada's already vassalised to China through FIPPA, so they (we) will probably be enthusiastic. I have nothing against Chinese people, but I thought godless commies should be held at arm's length. That was the subject of Harry Truman's inauguration speech in 1949, how incorrect the Communists were. What a difference a few trillion yankee dollars make! Lucre, not Truth, drives this world of ours. Oops, sorry, everybody knew that.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: "patent exhaustion doesn't apply when patented goods are sold outside the US"

            Just, many of those who made China Great Again, are the same who are counseling Trump... because there are really easy money to be made there. Aren't IBM and Wallmart people Trump adviser? When I first traveled to Florida (where some relatives of ours were living) in 1978, I remember my mother complained she couldn't buy anything "truly american" to bring back as gifts because everything was "made in Taiwan"....

          2. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: "patent exhaustion doesn't apply when patented goods are sold outside the US"

            "I thought godless commies should be held at arm's length."

            Except they found religion - as with most people they worship at the altar of the trading currency.

    2. LDS Silver badge

      Re: "patent exhaustion doesn't apply when patented goods are sold outside the US"

      Yes, but it's still the imperial approach of "hic sunt leones", thereby patent exhaustion doesn't apply. I wonder if I am liable if I modify a US product here and then bring it with me in the US <G>... another reason not to buy US products here. I'm happier now my inkjet printer is a Canon...

  11. TonyJ Silver badge

    Um...so Lexmark's long term plan...

    ...is to prevent their customers from being able to source cheaper consumables such that they can lock their customers into much higher prices.

    At which point, presumably, most of those consumers will give Lexmark two fingers and move to an alternative printer manufacturer who doesn't (currently) do that.

    Driving down their sales.

    Great long term survival plan.

    How does it go then, Lexmark? Piss off your customers, drive down sales, PROFIT!!!! ???

    I mean I imagine just the threat of this would make customers run to alternatives.

    Hmm yeah I just remembered my old man bought a Lexmark some years ago. Crap quality, ludicrously expensive inks that (at the time) there were no third party options for. Hmm...

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Um...so Lexmark's long term plan...

      They're figuring on lock-in and sunk costs. As bad as cartridge prices are, they're nothing compared to dumping everything for another brand.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Um...so Lexmark's long term plan...

        "As bad as cartridge prices are, they're nothing compared to dumping everything for another brand."

        Given the cost of a set of ink cartridges frequently being more than a new printer, that's debatable.

        1. Dave 15 Silver badge

          Re: Um...so Lexmark's long term plan...

          I remember buying another printer instead of a set of cartridges. I suspect though some more care is required... often the cartridges in the new machine are half full compared to the ones on the shelf, and the ones on the shelf are half the size of ones you can get online. It does sometimes depend a little on how much you use the printer as well.

        2. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Um...so Lexmark's long term plan...

          "Given the cost of a set of ink cartridges frequently being more than a new printer, that's debatable."

          That's only in the consumer market where they loss-lead. Commercial devices are a whole other league.

    2. paulf Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: Um...so Lexmark's long term plan...

      @TonyJ "How does it go then, Lexmark? Piss off your customers, drive down sales, PROFIT!!!! ???"

      Isn't Lexmark the former IBM Printer division? I guess they're running with the strategy of their former parent where that idea seems to be going swimmingly (at least for now).

    3. Mike Richards Silver badge

      Re: Um...so Lexmark's long term plan...

      I'm sure the ultimate plan for these companies to get out of the business of actually making stuff which is messy and expensive and gradually move into the shiny, air-conditioned world of entirely living off patent portfolios.

    4. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: Um...so Lexmark's long term plan...

      I actually though that Lexmark had left the consumer inkjet printer market, so this appears a stupid thing to try to defend.

      Indeed, I tried to find some print cartridges for a rather neat 15x10cm Lexmark portable photo printer recently (did I really say "rather neat" and Lexmark in the same sentence?), and there was *NOBODY* stocking original cartridges, and only a few people able to supply re-manufactured cartridges.

      Maybe they're trying to expunge any reference that they were in the inkjet market at all by preventing re-manufactured cartridges, causing people to throw them out. They really need to, because their products were pretty crap. Even the aforementioned photo printer had to be repaired, because the nylon drive gears on the lower paper advance had shattered due to age (amazing what little neoprene O-rings can be used for)

      1. GrapeBunch

        Re: Um...so Lexmark's long term plan...

        Sounds like a manoeuvre from Asimov's Foundation trilogy. In my humble experience, Lexmark printers sort-of work, but their 100+ MB driver packages do not. I'd tend to go with some earlier suggestions: if you have a lot of images, get a good laser printer. Not so many images: online. Text or monochrome images only: cheaper laser printer.

    5. Rol Silver badge

      Re: Um...so Lexmark's long term plan...

      I remember Lexmark knocking out printers for about £30, some ten years ago, while selling the ink cartridges for about £45.

      The computer printers for sale section in my local rag was crammed with dozens and dozens of these things, providing a useful list of all the feckless consumers in my locality.

      I made a fortune selling perpetual motion machines, sky hooks and left handed screwdrivers.

      1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

        Re: Um...so Lexmark's long term plan...

        So you are the guy behind this:

        Left Handed Metric Screwdriver - $13.90

        Sky Hook Set - $380.99

        Flux Capacitor - $15,849.95

    6. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Um...so Lexmark's long term plan...

      "Hmm yeah I just remembered my old man bought a Lexmark some years ago. Crap quality, ludicrously expensive inks that (at the time) there were no third party options for. Hmm..."

      Lexmark never did seem to get the hang of building inkjet printers. Being previously known as IBM, their laser printers used to be decent although I've not had my hands on one for a few years now so I don't know how much of the IBM design and quality heritage remains.

      1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: Um...so Lexmark's long term plan...

        The spin-off of Lexmark from IBM happened before inkjet printers hit the mainstream.

        IBM did have some inkjet printers before Lexmark got split off, such as the 4079 Postscript inkjet printer, but the cost of running one of these was astronomical. But colour printers were pretty rare at the time.

        The earliest colour inkjet printer I used was in about 1985, branded Integrex or something similar, although it was apparently a badged (and possibly re-rom'd) Cannon PJ-1080A. It appeared to print one line (really, like it only had one nozzle for each colour) of the image at a time, and as a result was abysmally slow.

        I believe that it is only the inkjet market that Lexmark left. They're still making laser printers.

  12. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    I wonder how this plays with contract law in the countries in which the cartridges were sold.

    1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

      So how did the ink cartridges get out of the US ? Didn't they have to be sold bty the US company tro a distro ?

  13. Fihart

    major cause of landfill

    I have lost count of the number inkjet based printers and printer/scanners I have seen dumped on the street locally. I suspect that most are there because owners are fed up with the price of ink.

    I routinely try to intercept friends thinking about buying a printer and bully them into buying a laser printer -- leave photo printing to those machines in pharmacies and specialist photo stores which produce better results.

    1. Kevin Johnston

      Re: major cause of landfill

      I bought an HP Colour laserjet many many moons ago and it has survived three kids going through High School/College with various homework and projects along with my wife going through various College/Uni courses. I did run refilled cartridges once but it was not a success and I dumped them to return to HP stock. Cost per page is minimal and as you say, the small number of photos needing printing are best done on a commercial grade system.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: major cause of landfill

        "Cost per page is minimal and as you say, the small number of photos needing printing are best done on a commercial grade system."

        Unless, of course, you don't have access to one when you need it, which is the reason you have it in the first place...

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: major cause of landfill

      I actually try to keep older Epson printers running, merely because the third-party inks are so cheep, as the cartridges are pretty much ink buckets, with little or no electronics in the cartridges.

      I currently have a Stylus Photo 1290 A3 printer as the volume printer, because I can get five sets of compatible cartridges for the price of one set of Epson originals, and as this is mainly used as the volume printer rather than for quality this is not an issue (though the quality is not bad either, even with the re-manufactured cartridges I use). It's attached through a NAS, so is on all the time for whoever wants to print in the house.

      The real problem now is the windows drivers. There are none published for Windows 7 or later, so you have to jump through hoops to install the XP ones, which do work OK on Win7, and I've not tried on later versions.

      It's still usable from Linux without problems, however.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: major cause of landfill

        "It's still usable from Linux without problems, however."

        Maybe Windows could print "generic PS colour" to a Linux print server which can then use it's own drivers/filters to address the Epson? Not sure how, I've never tried, but might be worth looking into.

    4. Adelio

      Re: major cause of landfill

      I used to have a fantastic Canon pixmia inkjet primter, duplex everything but it would sometime stand for weeks witrhout being used. Thing was, when i tried to use it i would spend ages trying to clean the print heads enough to actually use it.

      IFinally switch to a Xerox colour laser printer about 8 years ago. Cartidges as not cheap BUT they last for ages and each colour is seperate so if one runs out i can just replace that one.i can leave it for months without use and it will just start up and print no problem.

      Now I am NOT saying that it produces perfect colours but for what i want it for it is not too bad.

    5. GrapeBunch

      Re: major cause of landfill

      Years ago I found an HP Laser printer in a dumpster. Honest, I wasn't diving, it was a shallow dumpster and the lid was open, it was flaunting itself. I lugged it home and after some work with a left-handed screwdriver discovered something the shape and colour of a Smartie or M&M in a place where it was not in danger of being crushed, but definitely messing up the work flow. Don't know if the person I passed it along to still has it. LaserJets were workhorses, then.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: major cause of landfill

        There were exceptions, though. I think I've spotted some 5L's and 6L's in the heaps in the past, mostly because the paper feed wasn't ideal and the pickup roller stopped gripping after a while. The P's of those generations were much better, especially once you found a JetDirect to go with them.

  14. adam payne Silver badge

    "Lexmark also contends that a notice on its packaging binds customers to return used cartridges to Lexmark rather than disposing of them elsewhere. (Lexmark sells some cartridges at a discount under its Return Program, while also selling full-priced cartridges without a contractual notice on the packaging.)"

    I would rather give my cartridges to a charity so that they can get some money then send them back to you Lexmark.

    These printer and ink manufacturers have been over charging for years, they just don't like the fact other companies are taking some of their cash cow away.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      By the sound of it, you are effectively leasing the cartridges under that scheme, which may be the crux of the legal action. If you want to donate used carts to charity so they can "sell" them for refilling, then you need to buy the full priced ones. I don't especially agree with what Lexmark are doing but I can see their point. They sold the cheaper carts on the understanding they'd get those carts back to re-fill/refurb and sell on again so why should they lose out to others doing that commercially at their expense?

  15. Daniel Hall
    Flame

    'Murica

    Even before I opened this article it stank of America's typical patent/suing/ill take all your money attitude.

    I miss the reg before this rubbish. Keep it UK!

  16. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    Try a continuous ink system

    I've used a continuous ink system for years. It comprises a kit that you retro-fit to your printer, with kits available for a large variety of printers. The ink is fed into dummy cartridges via thin pipes, with the ink reservoirs external to the printer. You never change cartridges, you just top up the reservoirs from bottled ink. Another advantage is you can see exactly how much ink is left of each colour. You can get almost any type of ink you want (including edible ink), and so have a greater choice than you get with the original cartridges. While the best ink is expensive, a set of 500ml bottles will last as long as a dozen sets of cartridges, so cost per page is a tiny fraction of using cartridges, whether original or refilled. Google "Ciss" for a supplier.

  17. WibbleMe

    I refuse to print off invoice for customers I simply tell them that is email only.

    Why in this day and age where you have online drives and virtual desktops would you want to print out.

    If you disagree with me then you should have already retired!

  18. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge
    WTF?

    I'd like to sell my car...

    This is a nice car; a really nice car. Have you ever repaired or maintained this car? You can't sell it if you've done that.

  19. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    I wonder if this patent protection shenanigan will be part of the 75% of "restrictions" OPOTUS will abolish?

    Careful. You nearly coughed out a lung there.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Apart from key travel documents

    I just don't print.

    But then I am boring.

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