A US district court has issued a preliminary ruling in favour of Lexmark International in a case that analysts have said could affect the future availability of low-cost replacement toner cartridges for printers.
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A preliminary injunction has been issued that bars Static Control Components (SCC) from making or selling chips used to make replacement cartridges for two of Lexmark's laser printers.
SCC's components are used by thousands of suppliers to "remanufacture" toner cartridges by refilling, refurbishing and repackaging them. Such cartridges sell for around 30% less than replacement cartridges offered by the major printer companies.
Lexmark filed suit against the SCC in December, charging it with violations of the Copyright Act and the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act. It argued that SCC's Smartek chips include Lexmark software that is protected by copyright, and that they allow the unauthorised remanufacturing of toner cartridges for two of its printers.
The software, which was introduced by Lexmark last year, handles communication between its printers and toner cartridges. Without the software, replacement toner cartridges will not work with Lexmark's printers. SCC developed the Smartek chips to allow the continued remanufacturing of Lexmark cartridges.
Like other major printer suppliers, Lexmark has argued that its printers work best with its own cartridges, and that replacements offered by third parties are of lower quality.
It said it offers users a choice in toner cartridge, including a cartridge that can be remanufactured by others without the need of a third-party microchip. It also offers a cartridge return programme that provides customers with an up front discount if they agree to return the cartridge they buy directly to Lexmark when it runs out of toner.
Analysts have said the case could have a wider impact than on Lexmark alone. If Lexmark succeeds at trial other printer vendors may adopt similar technologies that prevent their printer cartridges from being remanufactured.