EPSON HAS become the latest printer company to attempt a ban on third-party printer cartridges, asking eBay to issue takedown notices for sellers under the site's VeRO programme.
VeRO or "Verified Right Owner Programme" is eBay's way of protecting intellectual copyright, and Epson is registered with trusted status.
According to the Open Rights Group (ORG), all a member has to do is ask for the removal of a listing which they "believe may infringe on their intellectual property rights", without actually requiring proof.
ORG has stated it believes this is unfair as it only gives protection to a rights holder, where resellers have no recourse. Many resellers have nothing to do with the manufacture of cartridges and do so in good faith.
Affected cartridges which eBay is claiming are hooky against its patent GB2433473 and GB2465293 are currently: T16XL; T18XL; T24XL; T26XL; T27XL; T29XL; T33XL; T0715XL; T0797XL; T0807XL.
It is believed that Epson is using a loophole of contesting the way that chip contacts on the cartridges are aligned.
ORG adds, "At this stage, we cannot know if there is any merit to the Epson's claim that these compatible cartridges infringe their patents but using patents in this way would undermine the legal regime that protects production of compatible products, including components, such as ink cartridges. That would be extremely bad for consumers."
But eBay has previously admitted that its rules are skewed this way in other court filings (via Ars Technica).
"eBay has a policy to quickly remove listings when a NOCI [Notice of Claimed Infringement] provides a court order, but eBay rarely removes listings based on mere allegations of infringement. eBay has two reasons for this policy," it said.
"First, eBay believes that removing listings based on allegations of infringement would be unfair to buyers and the accused sellers. Such a policy, in eBay's view, would give too much power to unscrupulous patent holders. T
"he second reason eBay has adopted its policy is because it lacks the expertise to construe the patent infringement claims submitted to it and cannot assess the claims when it never possess[es] the products."
Epson's PR Manager Leonie Toal sent us a long statement in defence of the decision. After mansplaining what a patent is, she goes on to say:
"Action is also taken where Epson considers necessary to protect its commercial and intellectual property interests, online and offline. Our activities are based on extensive purchasing and study of the products to confirm that they infringe.
"An even-handed approach is taken, whereby we present our case to the infringers and give them the opportunity to present counterarguments and only resort to further action if common ground cannot be reached. In some instances this further action involves using eBay's own rights-enforcement mechanism; in others it may involve litigation."
We are still trying to establish if indeed warnings were given by Epson ahead of this action and will update you when we confirm either way, but ORG suggests that this was not the case.
She adds: "As a company we welcome legitimate competition, however, we do object to companies and individuals that simply copy the technologies that we have developed and own. This type of IP infringement is both damaging to us as a business and brand, and to channel partners and loyal customers."
The saga of printer ink is nothing new. In terms of price per gram, it works out more than gold to use many official ink cartridges and often it's cheaper to replace a printer than replacing the ink. The same has been true since printing began.
In fact, back in 2006, we ran a story claiming it was more expensive than human blood, yet the manufacturers are on a perpetual mission to stop the use of cheaper (and usually fuller) third-party or refilled cartridges.
Most recently, HP Inc (as opposed to ink) blocked re-manufactured cartridges, literally overnight last September, by enforcing DRM in the sensor chips. This decision was reversed after an outcry, but surfaced again this September, though this second time appears to have been a false alarm.
However, Epson's statement claims that the HP case has "no relevance" despite them both being about the ridiculous price of printer ink being enforced by large companies. Seems relevant to us.
ORG has provided INQ with the following quote following publication: "While Epson did contact the reseller before removing those listings, resellers are not the manufacturer. Epson should take the manufacturers of the ink cartridges in question to a patent court to resolve this dispute. Epson's tactics are just another form of patent trolling." µ
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