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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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  • Re:Proof? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Stevyn (691306) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:26PM (#11750296)
    Since the article didn't back this up with any technical evidence, it's hard to tell if it's true. However, HP could have piggybacked this onto the low ink indicator, but only have it work like this 20% of the time. This would make enough people think, "hey, it doesn't happen to me so it's probably not true". However, 20% could still be a large enough percentage to make some money off this scheme.
  • by abelenky17 (548645) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:28PM (#11750321)
    Last Friday, Pres. Bush signed a new law changing class-action lawsuit rules, including forcing the suits to Federal Court.

    Since this seems to be the first major suit announced, it'll be interesting to see how it works under the new law. Will there be real limits on attorney's fees? Will it be tied up in Federal Court even longer than it would've been in State Court? Will customers see something other than a coupon to buy more ink?

    Stay Tuned to find out!

  • Another class action (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Facekhan (445017) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:30PM (#11750345)
    Another class action lawsuit whereby the lawyer gets a third of everything plus expenses and we get a coupon or some vague opportunity to get a small fraction of the money we have been cheated out of. The RIAA was sued for price fixing and hence stealing about 500 million dollars. They only had to pay back about 40 million + another 40 million worth of CD's no one wanted to buy. If you factor in the tax deduction (approximately 35%) and their savings in warehouse space due to dumping a few million CD's they could not sell anyways they are basically out the cost of the plaintiffs legal fee.
  • by purduephotog (218304) <hirsch@inorb[ ]com ['it.' in gap]> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:31PM (#11750359) Homepage Journal
    Inkjet was always touted as the 'razor' for any company coming up in the ranks. The problem is ... much much much research $$ goes into finding pigments and dyes that are permanent and light fast... as well as fit the receiver requirements.

    And companies want to recoup that cost as fast as possible.

    I worked on some yellow dyes and can tell you it's a very difficult process. Very expensive- you might have 6 months of failures.. and the floor lab might be stained a million colours.

    But when it's done (and your scale up engineers have done it right) you'll get the cost of your ink way down.... I seem to remember some were down around 30$/kg. Pretty cheap. But that was the 'cost' of making the ink, not including all the $$ into research.

    And being a chemist I can tell you inks in suspension aren't good after sitting for awhile. Yes, it's in a dark cartridge, but I don't know many people that will tell you it's safe to take a drug /pill thats been in a bottle for 4 years. Ink's not a drug (tho as expensive as cipro!) but it is used to print a photograph that will, if said photo should fade, be lambasted as a "cheap ass company" for producing a bad product (See http://www.wilhelm-research.com/ [wilhelm-research.com] ... mind you I dont have a very high opinion of his work... but it's still a consumer 'start' ... he'll be re-inventing quite a bit of knowledge because he's refused help)

    Anyways.... this shouldn't surprise anyone that works with inkjets. The high-volume people will never see the problem, only the low volume people. And those that know will probably do something like this instead http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&cate gory=1246&item=6746041397&rd=1 [ebay.com] - note I am not endorsing this seller or product, only that I'm currently contemplating buying it...)
  • Epson printers... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheAwfulTruth (325623) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:34PM (#11750389) Homepage
    Epson apparently does a similar thing with their printers as my brother fount out the other day.

    At a predermined time (On time? Date? Droplets fired?) the printer shut down with the equivilent of an "Engine Check Light" and refuses to print. The driver brings up a generic error message about "serviceable parts are past their usable lifetime" even though the printer was working perfectly.

    The printer is so old now that having it serviced is completely out of the question and given that new printers of much greater quality only cost $50, well...

    Welcome to the peak of the throw away society! You no longer have to wait till normal, planned, obsolesence kicks in, electronic devices are now programed to fail!
  • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:37PM (#11750438)
    Firstly, the HP inkjet cartridge includes the print head, so no real damage is done if you run a bad cartridge.

    However, there are far more important things than exiry date for the useful lifetime. If you use the printer in a very dry area then the ink is far more likely to dry out quicker. If we're really to believe that HP is doing this to be nice to us, then I'd expect to see a humidity sensor.

    It might be OK to tell the user that their cartridge has expired and let them choose to use it or not. Surely the choice is the customer's. Analogy: Milk has an expiry date. If you use old milk, that's your business. The milk company don't prevent you from using milk that's a couple of days past expiry (though maybe if they could figure out technology to do this they would).

  • by Nogami_Saeko (466595) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:37PM (#11750440)
    Virus writers could have great fun with this then, it seems. Just write a virus to set the clock ahead a couple years. Bang, whoever gets it and has a HP printer now needs a new cartridge.

    Instant profit for HP! Who knows, maybe they'll write the virus themselves...

    N.
  • can be justified (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mqx (792882) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:41PM (#11750486)

    If the vendor makes it clear on the product that there is an expiration date, then there would seem to be no reason that they can't also enforce it by technical measures. I mean, when you buy a one year license key for a software product, you read and agree to the license that says that it will stop working after one year. If the consumable actually says that it will expire and stop working after 2.5 years (or whatever), then that's what it'll do, and this is what you are cogniziant of when you make the transaction!

    There are some complications.

    Firstly, if the time-expiring consumable is tied to the product and not available from any other vendor, there may be some sort of anti-trust issue here with "product tieing"; i.e. the vendor is trying to control the market more than is allowable: this is anti-competitive.

    Secondly, if there are objective reasons for time-expiring, then the vendor may be okay: for example, if it can be shown that the the quality of the ink degrades to the point that after the expiration date, it would actually cause damage to the product it is used in. In this case, the vendor is making a fair and reasonable attempt to reduce damage caused by the item, which seems fair enough. Note again, there would need to be a provable reason for this, not just some kind of marketing spin.

    Thirdly, it's a free market: if one vendor wants to offer a consumable with time-expiration built in, then there's nothing stopping other vendors from offer non-expiring products. As the consumer, provided you are given the knowledge up front (i.e. product labelling), it's then your free choice about which product you want to choose. There's no reason for the government or courts to step in and regulate this behaviour.

    So without knowing a lot more facts, it's hard to understand what the exact position is here.
  • Not a new tactic (Score:1, Interesting)

    by n6kuy (172098) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:41PM (#11750494)
    Accuchek has been doing it for a long time with the code chips you have to put into your blood glucose monitor to identify the batch of strips being used. Go past the expiration date and the meter refuses to operate....

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

    by plover (150551) * on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:42PM (#11750501) Homepage Journal
    Easy to test, and maybe easy to fix:

    Take your computer offline, reboot, set your BIOS date forwards four years, bring it back up in Windows and try printing again. If it comes up bitching, take the debugger to their printer drivers and sniff out any Win32 API calls to GetSystemDate(). Patch according to taste (hardwiring a return value of 1/1/2000 should make their carts happy that they haven't expired yet.)

    I can't think of any legitimate reason for a printer driver to know the current date, so there doesn't appear to be an immediate reason why this wouldn't work.

  • Re:Proof? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by StarCharter (768335) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:47PM (#11750537)
    This has been running around on the Internet for several years. Friends of mine who are HP techs swear it's true. See Geeknewscentral [geeknewscentral.com] or Inkstuff [inkstuff.net] We won't know if it's really true until the engineering drawings are subponeaned. It is a mistake to think you can solve any major problems just with potatoes.
  • Agreed. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by game kid (805301) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:50PM (#11750564) Homepage

    No company--especially one who had a troubled (and now dumped) CEO like HP--would want to spend money on products--like ink--after it has stopped working reliably. They shut off the carts because they don't want people suing HP for bad print jobs from 10-yr-old (or less?) carts.

    No well-known corp wants to spend money supporting something that can't be fully guaranteed. To them it's like having a bastard child--no parent would be too proud of that; they want to be able to support their creations without legal risks like tired old ink.

  • Re:Go Cannon (Score:3, Interesting)

    by zakezuke (229119) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:57PM (#11750637)
    Good thing my cannon cartridges come with JUST INK, no stupid electronics to get in the way.

    The Canon's I've seen are nice in the fact that they use simple ink tanks and have a easily detachable printhead when the time comes to replace it.

    The Epson I own, the R200 doesn't look as easy as the Canon to replace the printhead.

    The HP PSC 950 I own takes a $30 black cartrage with an estimated yield of 603 pages. The print head is as usual onboard. About .5cents/page.

    There is another cartrage for HP ( 51645A ) that is the same price but has an estimated yield of 833 pages. It was for the 950c series among many others. It works out to be 3.6 cents a page. I no longer own this printer.

    My Epson r200 takes a $17 black ink tank with an estimated yield of 450 pages. Unknown inkhead replacement cost. The tanks are chipped to prevent running totally dry (or refilling). About 3.7cents/page

    The Canon BJC 2100 takes an inktank that costs $7.00 with an estimated yield of 200 pages. About 3.5cents/page. The printhead costs $50 or so if you need to replace it.

    My numbers come from Office Depot, and my printer selection is limited. While it's true that the Canon's ink tanks for the bj 2100 are slighty cheaper than the HP 51645A, this cheepness is dependent on how often you replace your printhead.
  • This is new? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by NoseBag (243097) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:57PM (#11750643)
    The HP kill-the-cart.-after-one-year ploy bit a buddy of mine last year. Supposedly, the install date is burned into the cartridge chip when it is first used. Lexmark is rumoured to do the same thing. Changing the PC date won't work after the fact.

    My friend was furious as his cart. was still half full and (was) perfectly functional the day before. He called HP and chewed a$$ mightily, to no avail. Neither one of us will ever buy a HP product again.

    It was my understanding that the Lexmark lawsuite was peripherally in response to a 3rd party cartridge that had this feature bypassed or removed. Also - hacks do exist. Removing the offending system date calls from the driver (I think) is supposed to work.

  • "I guess now we know why printers are HP's last profitable division."

    And, as soon as ink can no longer be sold for $8,000 per gallon [ebusinessforum.com] (mostly cheap solvent, bought in tank car loads), HP will go out of business? (Also see this analysis about Epson ink: Comparison of ink in bulk to prefilled cartridges. [nomorecarts.com])

    If so, then HP has not been a real business for a long time, but has been merely piggybacking on the ignorance of its customers. And that means that Carly Fiorina was not a businesswoman at all, but merely good at giving the appearance of competence. And that, in turn means that people who write for the business press are completely incompetent, too.

    Slashdotters should have a mission in the world, to provide at least minimal education to their friends and family and neighbors and political representatives:

    Don't buy anything from a spam email.

    Buy ink refills from Costco and refill Canon cartridges. (See this comment: 54 cents per refill [slashdot.org].)
  • by nuclear305 (674185) * on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:00PM (#11750674)
    "If you'd read some of the linked-to articles, you would have discovered that HP provides an externally visible (outside of package), displayed expiration date of 2.5 years after "build" date and an internal "hard" expiration date of 4.5 years after build date. With the 2 years of HP printer ownership you've had, it's unlikely you would have run into the hard expiration date."

    I didn't see anything about this in ANY of the linked articles in the summary...even regarding the Lexmark case (And since Lexmark != HP it would be irrelevant anyway)

    Anyway, after checking my cartridges do indeed have a date printed on them which is in the ballpark of 2.5 years after I purchased them. My next question would be--where is the printer getting the date from? I'm not going to tear my printer apart looking for an independent battery but being a cheap printer I'd be surprised if one exists to maintain an internal clock of some type.

    If it's getting the date from the computer, simply setting the date forward a few years would reveal whether or not there is a "hard" expiration date. After unplugging my printer's power and usb cable and setting the year to 2010, plugging it back in, and printing yielded a surprising result--a full color printed page!
  • HP Laserjets (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nurb432 (527695) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:15PM (#11750812) Homepage Journal
    The older ( perhaps current ones too ) used to lock up with a 'service' error after a certian number of prints was reached.

    It could be cleared if you knew the codes, but thae were not given out to mere 'consumers'.

    Its still a scam, but its not new.
  • by Orion Blastar (457579) <orionblastar@gmail . c om> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:16PM (#11750829) Homepage Journal
    HP should label these things to say "Cartridge Expires 30 days after use" or "Cartridge Expires after 11/25/05" to meet the truth in advertising ethic. If not, they are being unethical.
  • by Khashishi (775369) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:31PM (#11750958) Journal
    This evil device has 4 ink cartridges (black, cyan, magenta, yellow) and it will refuse to print if one of the cartridges is deemed empty. Now I never really print any color printouts, and yet, I keep running out of colored ink. I cannot seem to be able to print black and white without replacing the color. It goes through some sort of cleaning process every so often, and I think it just wastes the ink or something. Anyways, it claims these cartridges are empty even when they aren't! They haven't even been used to print anything! HP aren't the only thieves in the business. Something must be done, and I am glad to see this suit.
  • by Zeinfeld (263942) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:38PM (#11751034) Homepage
    Federal judges are appointed by Presidents and have to be confirmed by the Senate. They are usually of a very high quality. State judges, by comparison, are not usually as highly regarded. Many of them are political appointees or popular electees - not subject to the same level of peer approval required for federal judges.

    That depends on the president appointing them. Thomas and Jackson both were evidently unqualified at the time they were proposed. But on average the quality of federal judges is certainly higher.

    I don't think that the class action bill will work the way that its promoters intend. I think that it is most likely to eliminate the '$5 coupon' type of settlement where the principle objective is to pump up the lawyer's fees to the maximum possible and let the persons damaged by the defendant's behavior go hang.

    I don't think it very likely that the Federal courts will refuse to hear the cases due to mixed jurisdiction issues either. congress has decided that these cases should be heard in their jurisdiction. All prior case law concerning venue is now obsolete. Legislation trumps precedent, that is the point of legislation. The only way the courts could push the cases out would be to declare the venue clause unconstitutional which I can't believe would happen.

  • Re:Proof? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rilister (316428) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:46PM (#11751095)
    I know a case where something a bit like that happened. In a previous job, working for some other company, I know of one product that was built to expire after using 1/3 of its ink supply.

    The ink was being used as a security marker and the business model of the company producing the hardware required that people buy three times as many disposables as they would if they let the cartridge run dry. The hardware company wasn't in the business of making print cartridges, so couldn't change the fill levels, so the only choice they had was to have the ink level indicator stop printing after a certain volume had been used.

    I have no idea how successful the product was, but it always seemed pretty odd to me. It wasn't like they had a choice, though.

    I don't buy this '20% failure rate' idea though. Businesses kinda know that practises like that would eventually get out and a business like HP has a lot to lose (from a brand point of view) if it was seen to be ripping off customers. If they do it, they would have to have a reason they could plausibly justify and just saying "we wanted a 20% failure rate" isn't going to fly with anyone.
  • by SpecBear (769433) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:48PM (#11751105)
    A few questions come to mind:

    If it costs so much money to create ink, then why are third-party ink vendors able to do it for so much cheaper?

    If there's really that much innovation going into the ink R&D, why not just patent the ink?

    Do ink formulations really change that much from printer to printer?

  • by alienw (585907) <alienw.slashdot@gm a i l . c om> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @08:03PM (#11751206)
    There are quite a few printers with internal batteries. I have no idea what they are used for, but I've seen them in more than one printer.
  • Re:Hack-a-do (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DogsBollocks (806307) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @09:07PM (#11751687)
    Panasonic laser copiers/printers have a trick that after X number of copies/prints the machine indicates that a new cartridge will be needed soon.

    If you keep ignoring it eventually the machine shuts down and asks for a new cartridge to be installed.

    On the side of the cartridge is a small plastic cover with a couple of electrical connections nearby, underneath the cover is a pico-fuse (small fuse that looks like a resistor) when you insert a new cartridge the printer detects the fuse, resets the counter and then blows the fuse.

    Replacing the fuse on one of these used cartridges will indeed give you a few more thousand uses.
  • Reverse Engineering (Score:4, Interesting)

    by purduephotog (218304) <hirsch@inorb[ ]com ['it.' in gap]> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @09:30PM (#11751852) Homepage Journal
    It's not very hard to take an ink, purify it, dissolve it in Methylene Chloride, toss it into a powerful NMR ... and come up with a structure.

    Then quick jaunt to the patent literature will help pinpoint any patented routes that are 'protected' to produce similiar compounds.

    Finally, set up any graduate in chemistry to come up with a synthetic route.

    Retool a pharmco plant or use (*if you care about quality*) some form of purification (membrane, recrystallization, solvent exchange, chromatography) and you've got an ink with no upfront costs.
  • by Jeff DeMaagd (2015) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @11:24PM (#11752482) Homepage Journal
    What I've found in my HP printers is that the colors are used to make smoother grayscales. Yes, it sucks. It sucks badly, if one of the color starts going dry. I always wondered why the greys never quite looked right, they looked a touch too blue.

    Short of buying a laser printer, I don't know what to do either. I really didn't like the ozone that I smelled around laser printers in the past, I don't know if they changed it. Inkjets seem to be maintainance nightmares, if you print too much, money is being wasted, print too little and ink might dry up, or now, the cartridge might expire.
  • by dmaxwell (43234) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @11:41PM (#11752575)
    That is no defense whatsoever. As the one doing the printing, I decide what is an acceptable printout. There are a million reasons why you might print something and not give a crap whether the the quality matches the printer's theoretical maximum or not. You certainly don't subject my wallet to additional assrape to get that theoretical maximum either.

    Incidentally, I've got a Laserjet 4M+ with more than a few miles on it. The last (used) cartridge I put in lasted three years before something failed in the cartridge and started dumping toner on the paper. I had another (used) cartridge handy and it has lasted over a year and a half to date. Needless to say, print quality (PQ) remains great.

    These shady inkjet printer manufacturers can take their $30,000/gal ink, their half-filled chipped cartridges, their plasticky disposable printers, their business models, the lawyers they use to enforce said business models, and shove them where the sun don't shine. Sideways.

"Never ascribe to malice that which is caused by greed and ignorance." -- Cal Keegan

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