Cheap toner for Lexmark printers is a SCOTUS decision away from becoming illegal.
The Supreme Court heard appeals this week from a lawsuit where Lexmark successfully sued a small company in West Virginia for refilling Lexmark cartridges without permission, and then selling them on the secondary market. The defendant, Impression Products, according to a federal appeals court, violates Lexmark intellectual property with this activity.
The SCOTUS decision on Impression Products, Inc v Lexmark International, Inc likely will affect companies that want to buy cheap toner. If the court upholds Lexmark’s suing for unauthorized refills, that sets a precedent for Brother, HP, and the other printer hardware players to pursue.
Printer manufacturers find refill companies particularly irksome. The printer business model revolves around the people and businesses that buy ink & toner cartridges. There is not much margin on the printer sale itself; the companies rely on the continued purchasing of the consumable items.
In an earlier article on HardBoiled, author Scott Roy Smith, a former veteran of the ink & toner industry, delves into the details and ferrets out the underbelly of the OEM versus generic ink and toner debate nicely.
Why hasn’t this lawsuit happened sooner?
If you’re surprised about the lack of codification about the selling of cheap generic ink refills, you share the sentiment of Justice Anthony Kennedy. If you’re wondering how patent law applies to printer ink, you’re in the same camp as Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito.
Thus far, Lexmark’s suit has been upheld by a 1952 Patent Act, under which the courts have decided Lexmark meets the necessary requirement of “authority” by which the company can attach and enforce IP law to products after the time of purchase. Counter arguments hold that patent rights expire post-sale, or rather, are “exhausted” in the words of the Civil-War era common law setting that precedent.
Who is going to win?
Tough to say. Fortune magazine thinks SCOTUS “has it in” for the patent appeal court; there’s also a chance for a 4-4 tie if the U.S. Senate does not confirm nominee Neil Goruch in time for the decision.
How do you find the best toner for your laser printer?
Glad you asked. Refer to this beautiful infographic from Panda Paper Roll for that. (thanks Abigail Del Pilar and Frank Ouyang!)
See More: Shop for ink cartidges and toner for Lexmark and other laser printers