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HP Secretly Rendering Printer Cartridges Unusable? 565

Posted by Zonk
from the tin-foil-hat-brigade dept.
Momoru writes "Looks like a woman is suing Hewlett Packard, claiming that their "smart chip" technology, besides giving information about ink usage, is also secretly programmed to not work after a certain certain date." From the article: "HP ink cartridges use a chip technology to sense when they are low on ink and advise the user to make a change. But the suit claims those chips also shut down the cartridges at a predetermined date regardless of whether they are empty." We've reported recently on printer companies making questionable business decisions.
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HP Secretly Rendering Printer Cartridges Unusable?

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  • Hack-a-do (Score:5, Informative)

    by fembots (753724) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:22PM (#11750242) Homepage
    Meanwhile, people may try this trick to hack expiry date on ink cartridges [theinquirer.net], which might have been proven to work [pcbuyersguide.com].

    Do these cartridges have expiry date printed on them?
  • Go Cannon (Score:4, Informative)

    by preatorian (778996) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:24PM (#11750265)
    Good thing my cannon cartridges come with JUST INK, no stupid electronics to get in the way.

    I know they say its good to replace the nozzles every once in a while, but with every ink tank???

    HP/Lexmark/etc. need to learn that consumers aren't willing to pay these taxes anymore.

  • Bone dry (Score:2, Informative)

    by homerj79 (58075) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:25PM (#11750278) Homepage
    There arent too many details on this, but i ran the cartridge in my HP printer (Photosmart 1110) bone dry. This was long after their software was telling me my cartridge was empty.
  • Plotters (Score:5, Informative)

    by Detritus (11846) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:25PM (#11750287) Homepage
    I believe this issue previously came up with HP plotters. People were installing "new" ink cartridges in their plotter, only to discover that the cartridge had expired. HP's explanation was that old ink cartridges could cause expensive damage to the plotter by clogging up the ink system with deteriorated ink.
  • my experience is... (Score:5, Informative)

    by omahajim (723760) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:26PM (#11750293)
    ...that this is true. My trusty older HP2000C business color inkjet still sees regular use with both Windows XP and OS X. Anyways, the cartridges (HP 10, and also HP 11 which work fine) have an expiration date printed on the foil package. I had occasion to install one of these once and the printer configuration software told me it was expired and refused to use it, even though I could shake it and hear it was full.
  • by SimGuy (611829) <.kevin. .at. .simguy.net.> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:26PM (#11750298) Homepage Journal
    But the inkjet heads are in the cartridges.... If the dried ink destroys the head, you have to replace the cartridge anyway.
  • by B747SP (179471) <slashdot@selfabusedelephant.com> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:34PM (#11750395)
    I thought I recognised this story. A quick google [google.com.au] revealed this article [slashdot.org], the original of which this article is an effective dupe (along with a bunch of other slashdot stories about the long-standing axis of evil print cartridges that is Lexmark/HP/Epson.

    Me, I buy Canon inkjets. They've gone off in a completely opposite direction: Imagine a world where ink refill cartridges were little plastic containers that hold only ink, no 'chips', no replacing jets each time you run out of ink, no corporate attempt to dictate who you shall buy your ink and/or ink refills from. That's Canon Think Tank [canon.com].

  • Re:Epson printers... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Nogami_Saeko (466595) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:40PM (#11750469)
    Not exactly the same. Epsons will stop printing when the ink recovery pad in the bottom of the printer is saturated (according to whatever calculation they use). The upside of this is that you don't have to worry about ink pouring out of the bottom of your printer because the pad overflows.

    It's possible to reset the printer by pressing a combination of keys on the front panel. Of course, it's recommended that you remove and clean the ink sponge first (there are websites that show how to do this).

    N.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:49PM (#11750549)
    The allegation (from TFA) is:

    "HP ink cartridges use a chip technology to sense when they are low on ink and advise the user to make a change. But the suit claims those chips also shut down the cartridges at a predetermined date regardless of whether they are empty.

    "The smart chip is dually engineered to prematurely register ink depletion and to render a cartridge unusable through the use of a built-in expiration date that is not revealed to the consumer," the suit said."

    It's the "not revealed to the consumer", as in, "go ahead and buy this about-to-become-useless-cartridge", that's the focus of the lawsuit.
  • Legitimate reason: (Score:5, Informative)

    by Stoutlimb (143245) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:52PM (#11750586)
    My HP plotter has a "plot stamp" feature on it, that sticks the date, time, and our company name on every sheet we plot. Very handy when tracking things down.
  • Alternate drivers? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Powertrip (702807) * on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:54PM (#11750612) Homepage Journal
    So if we had an open-source alternative driver, things would be rosy? I don't know jack about building drivers, so is it even possible?
  • by ciurana (2603) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @08:17PM (#11750841) Homepage Journal
    I experienced something similar with my Epson Stylus 9000 Color. The printer will report the cartridge as unusuable if you let it there for too long. Epson indicated that the ink degrades over time, yada, yada, yada. I discovered two solutions to this situation:

    1. Short term: remove the offending cartridge, wait about 30 seconds, then re-insert the cartridge and run the head cleaning routine. The cartridge will probably work fine.

    2. Long term: buy a printer that's on the Laser Monk's list (http://www.lasermonks.com). I've been buying their ink cartridges for a couple of years without problems. I'm about to buy an Epson Stylus R200 -- but I didn't spring for it until I checked that the Monks have the cartridges.

    I hope this helps.

    Cheers,

    Eugene
  • by humankind (704050) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @08:19PM (#11750852) Journal
    Consumers have a choice. They don't have to buy products that are engineered to prematurely become unuseable. Slashdot ran a similar story not too long ago about Monsanto offering seeds that were only useable for crops for a single season. If you want to become a subscriber/minion for a corporation, then you patronize their shit and their controlling schemes. Or you don't.

    I urge EVERYONE to make sure they see the movie The Corporation [thecorporation.com] and everything is put in proper perspective. (Torrent 1 [chomskytorrents.org], Torrent 2 [chomskytorrents.org].)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @08:23PM (#11750899)
    Not in all cases, some printers, the Business Inkjet series especially, have the printheads separate from the ink cartridge. Look at the classic HP 2000C - this was a model many people loved and hated, since early models would all lose their cyan ink pump due to too much mechanical stress on a small plastic hook. If those ink cartridges began to dry, the small rubber pump on the bottom of the cartridge would begin to harden slight, causing more force to be needed to push the ink through the ink delivery system.

    The ink delivery system is composed of 4 small tubes that are connected in a ribbon and is about 2 feet long. If old ink was to dry in those tubes, this led to the ink clogging and the printer would need to have the ink delivery system repaired.

    The HP 2000C printer was the first model from HP that was reasonably popular to use the chips on the cartridges. We were told the chips were used to insure a guaranteed quality of print and to prevent the printer from damaging itself.

    So basically, this is so HP can say to the customer, "if your colors aren't vibrant, it's not our fault - you're using expired ink. We only guarantee the results if you use fresh/new ink and only our fresh/new ink.")

    Technical support calls regarding print quality issues would sometimes go on for hours - even regarding print quality issues that were within the specifications indicated. Or people expecting extremely high quality prints from printheads that are several years old, covered in dust particles, and with half the nozzles clogged due to dry ink.

    So my point is, you can have a dried printhead, and a perfectly fine ink cartridge with some models.

    And now I'm beginning to worry that I know who this woman is since I might have tipped her off about this problem from a past tech support call. So now I will be a coward......... :-)

  • by AbRASiON (589899) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @08:35PM (#11750991) Journal
    I recently had to bloody throw out 2x50$ AUD colour cartridges for the 9XX series of deskjets because the yellow simply didn't work. (both cardtridges)

    Admitedly they were a little old but I wouldn't be surprised if this had something to do with the problem.

    I was most un-impressed.
  • by geekotourist (80163) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @08:35PM (#11750995) Journal
    Certainly the *manufacturers* of medicines will tell you to throw away all meds the instant they hit the expiration date (which is the lesser of the manuf.'s expiration date or 1 year from dispensing the med). The patient is the printer, the meds are the ink cartridge... But only a few medicines are known to actually expire, i.e. turn bad after time. Most slowly fade away.

    The US Army studied this because they were throwing away millions of dollars worth of medicines each year because of the expiration date. Results? They throw away far, far less meds now:

    "Data from the Department of Defense/US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Shelf Life Extension Program, which tests the stability of drug products past their expiration date, showed 84% of 1122 lots of 96 different drug products stored in military facilities in their unopened original container would be expected to remain stable for an average of 57 months after their original expiration date. Some US Army studies on Valium, for example, show that the drug is very stable and completely safe and effective for up to 8 years after manufacture.
    Tablets of ciprofloxacin, an expensive antibiotic, were found completely safe and effective when tested 9.5 years after the expiration date.

    A recent issue of The Medical Letter quoted not only the above study but others showing expensive medications like amantadine (Symmetrel) and rimantadine (Flumadine) remained stable after storage for 25 years under ambient conditions and retained full antiviral activity after boiling and holding at 65-85 C for several days. Theophylline, in tablet form, shows 90% stability even after 30 years beyond the expiration date. Such stability is not reflected in the manufacturer or pharmacy dating about when tablets or capsules must be discarded. In general, although published data are not available for all medicines, The Medical Letter consultants believe that most drugs stored under reasonable conditions retain at least 70% to 80% of their potency for at least 1 to 2 years after the expiration date, even after the container has been opened (nb: current US Pharmacopoeia [USP] standard is generally 90% potency).

    (From the cached version of Recycling expensive medications- why not? [216.239.63.104])
  • by JustNiz (692889) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @08:37PM (#11751024)
    umm nope. Some HP printers have their own time/date clock built in, such as my psc 950. Conincidentally, its just started telling me that my 1 year-old cartridge has run out of ink, even though we have only printed about 200 sheets. (I know this as I bought a 500 sheet pack of paper at the same time as the cartridge, and there's more than half left).
  • Re:all stop!! (Score:5, Informative)

    by JustNiz (692889) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @08:39PM (#11751047)
    So does my HP psc 950 all-in-one.

    I phoned and complained to HP directly and they told me about an undocumented feature: hold down the start button on power up and it skips the cartidge check.
  • Re:Wow (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @08:42PM (#11751060)
    The way that 'cromulent' is now in the dictionary [reference.com] kind of ruins that joke :(
  • by DavidTC (10147) <[slas45dxsvadiv. ... ] [neverbox.com]> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @08:45PM (#11751090) Homepage
    The milk company can prevent that, but not for the reason you think. They can prevent that because almost all store have a contract with the milk company. They don't buy the milk and resell it, they let the dairy put the milk on the shelf, they get a cut of the profits, and the dairy comes in every day and takes expired milk back and puts in missing milk. The store cannot sell expired milk because it's still the dairy's milk until they sell it.

    If a store just goes out and purchases 10 gallons of milk and puts it on the shelf...no, the milk company could not prevent the resell.

    Of course, it would be illegal, but that's for health reasons, not 'might damage your printer' reasons. It's not illegal to sell products that people can use to damage their printer, whereas it is illegal to sell 'food' that people cannot safely eat.

  • by Macgrrl (762836) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @09:24PM (#11751388)

    All inkjet printers run a cleaning sequence, generally when they are powered on and are 'initialising'. During the cleaning cycle they flush ink through the printhead to remove any potentially dried pigment which may have lodged there. This can consume a significant amount of ink.

    While I agree that they may have gone overboard in how they restrict cartridge usage these days, in part the reason is the increased quality expectations from consumers - compare the quality of output from an old Deskjet 500 series to one of todays printers. The number of nozzels have increased significantly, the size of the nozzles has similarly decreased. Smaller particles will block the nozzels and affect print quality.

    In the early days of inkjet printers, HP used to use the fact that their cartridges had inbuilt printheads as a selling feature. Inkjet inks are mildly corrosive, and over time the flow of ink through the printhead erodes the assembly, causing the quality of the image to decline. canon recommended changing the printheads every 4 or so ink carts. Epson used to have non-user servicable printheads which could cost more than a new printer to be replaced if blocked.

  • Re:Hack-a-do (Score:5, Informative)

    by dfn_deux (535506) <datsun510.gmail@com> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @09:27PM (#11751417) Homepage
    The fix is quite simple for parallel based printers one simply has to turn off bidirectional comm for the parallel port. voila!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @09:34PM (#11751480)
    I used to work there, so I know a little something.

    The on-cartridge chip in question is internally called the Acumen chip. It's really just a tiny ROM + FLASH combo storage device containing a few dozens of ROM bytes and a few dozens of re-writable FLASH bytes.

    Encoded in ROM, among other info, is a "shelf life" or freshness date -- this is effectively the date of manufacture of the cartridge. If the cartridge is not unsealed and put into service within a certain number of months (something like 18-36 months I think), it will be deemed too old. The printer will refuse to use it.

    The cartridges' ink reservoirs do lose moisture over time (osmosis [everything2.com]and all that) and will eventually be unable to print as the ink's viscosity rises.

    In addition, as an in-service cartridge is used, its osmosis rate becomes much higher. (It's factory applied nozzle tape has been removed, it sits docked in a relatively more porous "garage" when not printing, it prints sometimes and the nozzle then contact open atmosphere, etc.) The freshness date is thus shortened significantly once a cartridge goes into service. This new info is written to Acumen's FLASH area and checked from print job to job.

    -----

    In HP's defense, it is possible muck up the print head if old or sufficiently dried-out ink is passed thru the nozzles. For printers with permanent or nearly permanent print heads (you replace the ink supplies only, not the print head each time), this is a real problem. Using sufficiently viscous ink will actually kill the printer.

    The reasons to do this on devices that use combo printhead+ink cartridges are less strong: you're typically not gonna kill the printhead (and thus the entire printer) because you throw away the printhead each time you run out of ink. You get a brand new printhead with each ink replacement cycle; this occurs [typically] well before the onboard ink becomes viscous enough to kill the attached printhead (unless your printer sits unused in an Arizona school house all summer...). You are, however, going to reduce the user's effective print-quality (PQ). PQ is something HP and competitors care dearly about. They basically don't want you to ever get a "bad" image. So they punt the cartridge when the ink is deemed old enough.

    These design requirements lead the manufacturer to "freshness date" cartridges. I'm pretty sure Canon, Epson, Lexmark, and Tektronix (oops, Xerox) do the same thing.

  • Re:Hack-a-do (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @09:49PM (#11751586)
    I happen to know that HP gives tons of expired printer cartridges to their employees (This is their last employee perk) because its cheaper to ship them out than to dispose of them properly. Personally, i've never had a problem with one of them either from it claiming to be expired or the ink being faulty.
  • by jridley (9305) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @09:53PM (#11751602)
    No, but part of the point is that all that crap is only there to gyp the customer.
    The real purpose of the circuitry is to prevent refilling (for the "tell when it's empty" chips).
    The integrated printhead/ink carts are also a scam. They use a thermal ink system which is guaranteed to break down in only 2 or 3 refills. Epson/Canon/(maybe others) use a piezo system with permanent printheads, and I've never had one wear out in thousands of printed pages.

    I use a Canon printer, and the ink tanks are just plastic boxes full of ink. I've never bought one. I have refilled the ones that came with the printer dozens of times per color, and have never had so much as a clogged nozzle.

    My first two printers were HPs, which were nightmares, even if I bought factory carts. I don't know why the hell anyone buys those on purpose, unless they assume all the others are just as bad.

    My next was an Epson, which was OK but hard to refill, and one day just stopped working. Epson wanted more in a flat rate repair than a new printer cost.

    Now I'm on Canon, and couldn't be happier. Refilling a tank takes less than 2 minutes, and I don't even get a drop of ink spilled.
  • by jridley (9305) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @09:57PM (#11751633)
    Amen bro. Canon is the easiest to refill. I've had one for over a year and have refilled each cart over 20 times. I have yet to buy a single cartridge. Dirt cheap to run. Never a single problem; not even a clogged head (my old HP and Epson printers constantly needed nozzle cleaning cycles even when I ran factory ink carts). I did buy my Canon new.
  • Re:Hack-a-do (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @10:10PM (#11751710)
    Yes, HP's MFPs (at least, the business-class laser ones) do indeed have an NTP client. In fact, one model released a couple years ago had some odd behavior when you put it on a network with no NTP server and no other MFPs it could talk to to find out what time it was. This was fixed with a later firmware release.

    Posting AC because I work at HP and don't want to get fired.
  • by Nick Driver (238034) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @10:27PM (#11751830)
    I have an old HP DeskJet 697C which sat unused since March of 2001 in storage. I recently pulled it out, and wiped off the bottom of the old ink cartridges with a paper towel wetted with a bit of rubbing alcohol, and have now printed almost 100 pages with it on those ~ four year old carts.
  • This is new? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Tinik (601154) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @10:43PM (#11751927)
    I've been dealing with this problem for a while.

    Some of my clients (generally small to medium buisnesses) use HP inkjets. More then once they've called me saying that they had just opened a new ink cartridge only to be told by the printer that it is expired, and every time the cartridge in question had been one that was kept on hand for a couple of months.

    Also, this happened once with a computer that had the date set wrong. A perfectly working printer was plugged in and immediately the cartridges expired. Even setting the corect date wouldn't bring them back.

    This is something that HP put in to the cartridges to combat all the ink refill kits. It's a real pain, too, since it means you can't keep any extra cartridges around as spares.
  • Re:Hack-a-do (Score:5, Informative)

    by tropicdog (811766) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @11:00PM (#11752023)
    Yes they have date stamps on the cartridges. Where I work they have several HP 2000's that are affected by the expire date ink problem. I can't locate the info right now but we have it documented in our internal knowledge base. The expiry times are something like: 30 months after first install or 2 years after printed date on cartridge, whichever comes first. I can vouch for the validity of the claim that the friggin printer will just plain stop printing when ink expires. You can run the printer's self diagnostics and it will show the ink levels to be adequate and will print just fine. But go to send a print job to that printer, acts like it isn't turned on.
  • Re:Hack-a-do (Score:4, Informative)

    by tylernt (581794) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @11:28PM (#11752165)
    "HP's MFPs ... do indeed have an NTP client"

    This is nothing new. As soon as WinXP was released, my firewall started logging a bunch of connections to Microsoft's subnets. They were all trying to phone home to sync clocks.
  • by MmmDee (800731) on Wednesday February 23, 2005 @01:10AM (#11752702)
    I had an i850 for awhile. I quit using it for about two - three months and when I tried using it again, the ink had dried out on the print head and despite several "deep cleaning" cycles, it refused to print (well, actually it went through the motions of printing but very little ink showed up on the paper). Looking on the internet, I discovered replacement print heads were $60-90. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I dismantled the printhead, soaked it in rubbing alcohol overnight and blew it out with compressed air. It started working beautifully... I was ready to throw it away.
  • by rincebrain (776480) on Wednesday February 23, 2005 @01:50AM (#11752882) Homepage
    Like this? [sf.net]

    Just a thought.

    Interestingly, my HP sitting over in the corner had the same cartridges installed in it for over 18 months, and it never had a problem using the above drivers.
  • Re:Hack-a-do (Score:4, Informative)

    by dfn_deux (535506) <datsun510.gmail@com> on Wednesday February 23, 2005 @01:56AM (#11752904) Homepage
    From what I've read the HP models that are effected by this expiring cartridge BS don't seem to be able to report ink levels, page counts, or any other extended printer info when used on a non-bidirectional parallel port.
    YMMV, I have no personal experience with these products or this particular hack.

  • Re:UPS batteries (Score:3, Informative)

    by dbIII (701233) on Wednesday February 23, 2005 @02:25AM (#11753032)
    I'm almost certain APC does this on their batteries as well.
    It appears from the model numbers of the batteries that they just use very cheap very ordinary batteries on their low end models - but a lot of discharges will kill even a decent battery, and you can get decent replacement batteries in a lot of places. One thing I intensely dislike about APC is their price gouging on their serial cables (10x usual price where I live) which appear to have a couple of wires crossed over for the sole purpose of only allowing their serial cables to work. Generic brand Taiwanese UPS's now appear to be a lot better at the low end - using ordinary serial cables, published communication standards and having better software than APCs efforts. All that said, I did get another two APC UPSs (second hand 1kVA and 2.2kVA) and one generic brand a couple of weeks ago - I expect to have to pay more for decent new batteries soon than I did for the APC UPSs.

    Even a good battery treated well only lasts a few years.

  • Re:Hack-a-do (Score:3, Informative)

    by SEWilco (27983) on Wednesday February 23, 2005 @03:43AM (#11753334) Journal
    I can't locate the info right now

    Well, you might search in Google for: 30 months after first install or 2 years after printed date on cartridge

  • by Silicon_Knight (66140) on Wednesday February 23, 2005 @03:52AM (#11753362)
    Yeah, right.... have you EVER used an NMR for ANTHING aside from what your instructor handed you, or tried making a sample yourself?

    I'll give you a hint - NMR solvents, such as CDCL3, are VERY high purity, because any contamination will show up on the NMR and mask the readings. Didn't air the sample tube out properly after rinsing with acetone? You'll see the acetone peaks. Drop of water somewhere because you didn't dry it properly? You'll get that big blob from the OH group.

    That ink is most likely a mixture of chemicals. Running it under an NMR will give you peaks. LOTS of peaks. Like - a solid set of spikes. You won't be able to read anything in there. Even if you were to run it through some sort of magical chromatography setup to separate out all the component chemicals, you'd still have to figure out stuff like particle size, mixing ratios, etc.

    -=- SK
  • Re:Wow (Score:3, Informative)

    by MickLinux (579158) on Wednesday February 23, 2005 @06:01AM (#11753732) Journal
    Actually, the printers are symptomatic of why HP has gone downhill.

    Think Carly. The woman from lucent (of WinModem fame), hired to be HPs president, and (thankfully) now fired.

    Essentially, when you start thinking of your business as a scam, then people start avoiding you. As a techie, I was aware of the problems the moment she came in to HP, and the other management scattered.

    I therefore advised people not to buy new HP products. Shortly thereafter, HP quality *did* go through the floor, while their flash and spin went through the roof. Their printers suddenly were *streamlined*, *decorative* ... ... but more expensive, less reliable, and -- yes -- HP was starting to scam its customers. Remember the case of low-filling the cartridges for central and eastern Europe? I was there, using a pre-Carly Deskjet 5000 (if I remember correctly). Part of the reason I had gone with that printer, of course, was cost per page. That cost per page was what I call an advertised but nonbinding contract. They broke it.

    Well, when it happened, I wasn't surprised; and the cost increase I could bear. But I'm not going to go back to HP in such a case, am I?

    Nor did others.

    Don't say that printers are HPs last profitable division. Rather, say that printers were HPs scam that sucked the profits out of all their divisions.

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