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Legal Challenges The Printer And Refill Ink Market Is Facing

2011-06-20

The printer-cartridge refill industry is on the rise in major markets, and a host of legal troubles are coming with the new surge. Original equipment like Samsung cartridges are highly complex devices and often cost billions of dollars to develop. Cost-conscious customers who buy printer ink online and refill their old cartridges are costing themselves money.

Right now, the refill business only represents a small share of the printer ink market, but it is growing again. It saw its heyday in the 1980's when the technically-inclined printer owners would buy bottles of printer ink online, drill holes in their Epson, HP or Samsung cartridges and shoot in ink with needles provided in the refill kit.

The only trouble with this for the customer was that it was messy and didn't work very well. This has opened the door for a new type of refill business, the remanufactured cartridge. Often the original manufacturer or another company will take an empty cartridge back, refill it and then put it on the market at a fraction of the original cost.

However, some third-party companies are beginning to sell new cartridges as remanufactured. These rip-offs are counterfeits that violate the patents of the big-name brands like Samsung cartridges. Samsung has taken the first step to filing lawsuits by sending out cease-and-desist letters to these manufacturers. Canon and LexMark have also filed actions with the International Trade Commission against the companies.

Another development in the ink-refill business has been the invention of large-size machines used in many retail stores to automatically refill printer cartridges. For frugal customers who do not want to buy refill printer ink online, this has been a popular alternative. However, this industry is plagued by lawsuits as well.

TonerHead, the manufacturer of Ink-O-Dem, a retail cartridge-refill machine, has filed a lawsuit against many of its competitors for patent infringement. The suit names not only other manufacturers of refill machines but also the retail stores that use their competitors' products. In response, all of the defendants, including Costco and OfficeMax, have filed suits against TonerHead, in an attempt to invalidate some of that company's patents.

These claims and counterclaims have been dragging through court since 2010. In the meantime, the affected parties have been engaged in their own private negotiations.

The first fatality in this patent war is Ink-Tec, a Korean manufacturer who is listed as a defendant in TonerHead's lawsuit. They have announced that they will no longer make their refill machine, Ink-O-Matic.

The printer-cartridge business is a major global industry. As the major players fight for greater market share, suits and counter suits become important weapons in the war they are waging on each other.

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