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End of low cost print cartridges?

Karl Cushing
A court case in the US involving printer manufacturer Lexmark could have major implications for IT users in the UK and stifle the market for low-cost refurbished printer cartridges.

Lexmark is seeking an injunction against US firm Static Control Components to prevent it from producing computer chips used to make copies of toner cartridges that work in two Lexmark laser printers.

Lexmark claimed the firm is breaching the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

The fear is that other suppliers such as Hewlett-Packard could follow suit and users will be forced to use expensive proprietory cartridges in all their printers.

Supplying cartridges is a profitable business for printer manufacturers such as Lexmark, which sell relatively cheap hardware and recoup costs through maintenance kits and toner cartridges. By using smart chips in their machines, suppliers aim to stop users buying cheaper cartridges from third-party suppliers.

However, Malcolm Hancock, principal analyst at Gartner, said the low-cost cartridge manufacturers could be granted a lifeline in the shape of legislation such as the European Union's Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive, which will require companies such as Lexmark to ship products that can be recycled and reused.

Hancock said low-cost/refillable printer cartridges account for about 20% of the market.

SCC has been barred from producing the chips until the end of the month when a US district court judge is due to deliver his ruling on the case.

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