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Lexmark Sues 24 Companies Over Toner-Cartridge Patents 294

eldavojohn writes "Remember back in 2003, when Lexmark tried to use the DMCA to stop aftermarket toner cartridges from being produced? Well, they're now suing 24 companies for infringing on 15 patents they have on toner cartridges. The article also notes that Lexmark has been filing lawsuits over patent infringement on formulas for their inks."
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Lexmark Sues 24 Companies Over Toner-Cartridge Patents

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  • Formulas? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DarkKnightRadick ( 268025 ) <> on Tuesday August 24, 2010 @07:42PM (#33363528) Homepage Journal

    How can a formula be patented when you can't even copyright a recipe (and that's all ink is, a recipe of dyes)?

    As for patents on toner cartridges, I imagine if they were specific enough to get a patent for it (I know, I know, I'm not new around here, I know stupid patents get granted all the time), chances are they wouldn't need to worry about after-market producers.

    • Re:Formulas? (Score:5, Informative)

      by finarfinjge ( 612748 ) on Tuesday August 24, 2010 @07:54PM (#33363662)
      You don't seem too familiar with the various types of intellectual property and how they are regulated. Copyright is not patent. You can indeed copyright a recipe. You can also patent it. The entire drug industry depends on it. The more specific the patent, the easier it is for someone to make a trivial change to the recipe and outflank the patent. As such, it is advisable to make one's patent application as general as possible. Whether you believe that is bad or good, it is the law. As for the specifics of toner cartridges, I'd be very surprised if any particular cartridge was only covered by one patent.


      • Forgive me, but can you indeed copyright a recipe? I thought you couldn't copyright a fact (e.g. the mix of ingredients), but only the process (mix for 30 seconds, then rest). I mean come on, recipes are ripped off constantly.... I'd like some references please, for my own education.
        • Re:Formulas? (Score:5, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 24, 2010 @08:06PM (#33363776)

          I think you are correct. See below exert:

          How do I protect my recipe?
          A mere listing of ingredients is not protected under copyright law. However, where a recipe or formula is accompanied by substantial literary expression in the form of an explanation or directions, or when there is a collection of recipes as in a cookbook, there may be a basis for copyright protection. Note that if you have secret ingredients to a recipe that you do not wish to be revealed, you should not submit your recipe for registration, because applications and deposit copies are public records. See FL 122, Recipes.

          Source: U.S. Copyright office []

        • Re:Formulas? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Moryath ( 553296 ) on Tuesday August 24, 2010 @08:07PM (#33363790)

          What amazes me more is that you can patent the business model of making incredibly shitty, slapshod products with pickup rollers that invariably break by the 250th page.

          Next they'll have a business model patent on convincing companies like Dell to throw their reputation down the toilet by rebranding the aforementioned shitty products and selling them with their own brand name slapped on.

          • Re:Formulas? (Score:4, Insightful)

            by jimicus ( 737525 ) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @04:03AM (#33366392)

            What amazes me more is that you can patent the business model of making incredibly shitty, slapshod products with pickup rollers that invariably break by the 250th page.

            Well, it's not far from patenting a downright shady business model, seeing as they're blatantly using the patent system to block third-party cartridges. One assumes that the actual patent as submitted does not read:

            "US Patent 1234567890: Mechanism to con the consumer into spending rather more money than they had hoped by forcing third-party consumable manufacturers out of the market".

        • the facts are not copyrighted, the particular incarnation can be.

          So someone else can sell their own recipe book with the same recipe, they just can't copy-paste it from yours.

          "substantial literary expression in the form of an explanation or directions," such as a cookbook, can be copyrighted but that a mere list of ingredients cannot receive that protection.


    • All kinds of insane stuff can be patented, and it's time open source starts patenting lots of stuff too, because this nonsense isn't going away too soon.
    • Not only can you patent an ink recipe as a method, but you can also patent the ink itself as a composition of matter. Really, this is the sort of thing that patents have traditionally covered for hundreds of years. The real question is whether there's prior art out there that didn't come up during examination.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jimicus ( 737525 )

      Lexmark are (in)famous for this.

      A toner cartridge is just a plastic box full of wet ink (for an inkjet) or dry toner (for a laser), right?


      If you're Lexmark, it also contains a chip which does various (patented) things that the printer uses to confirm it's got a genuine Lexmark cartridge installed. Abracadabra, you can now use patent protection to ensure that only your exorbitantly expensive cartridges get used.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

      If you couldn't patent a formula, how could Monsanto patent its chemicals, or Merck patent its drugs? Now, note that patents ane copyrights are two entirely different animals. Patents last twenty years and cover inventions and processes, while copyright lasts longer than a human being and covers "writings".

      You can't copyright a recipe, but you can copyright its presentation. I have various cookbooks, all of them have copyrights -- but the copyright is on the book, not the recipes inside it.

  • by finarfinjge ( 612748 ) on Tuesday August 24, 2010 @07:42PM (#33363530)
    I mean really? Every printer of quality I've seen in the last 3 years (and I use the word 'quality' loosely) has been an Xerox, HP or Canon. Maybe they should spend some time building things people want to buy. Could be wrong of course. Often am.

    • by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Tuesday August 24, 2010 @07:52PM (#33363632)
      Yes, Lexmark still sells printers and yes, their printers still cost less than their ink cartridges. And yes, their drivers are as crappy as ever.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by fluffy99 ( 870997 )

        Every single Lexmark printer we've bought in the past 6 years died within 18-months (not by my choice obviously). That's including the cheap inkjets and their bigger workgroup lasers. Most of the inkjets simply melted their power supplies. They also sucked that really expensive ink down really quick.

        • I don't mean to debunk anecdotal evidence with more of the same, but I have a Lexmark z2940 wireless printer here that I just setup to use wireless: downloaded the drivers (running Windows 7), installed them, plugged into the USB cable when prompted to so it could configure the wireless, joined my wireless network with my key, unplugged the USB cable when prompted, then finished the setup. Prints fine using wireless.

          Except for the fact that the ink cartridges are either empty or dried up...

          • by fluffy99 ( 870997 ) on Tuesday August 24, 2010 @10:46PM (#33364932)

            I don't mean to debunk anecdotal evidence with more of the same, but I have a Lexmark z2940 wireless printer .... Prints fine using wireless.

            Except for the fact that the ink cartridges are either empty or dried up...

            You mean the z2420? Looking at Walmart online, the printer costs $39, the black ink cartridge is $30 and a color cartridge is $32. You validated the comments that the original ink cartridges are only partially filled (ala HP) and dry up really fast.

            Most of the reviews on this model are horrible, such as CNET giving it 1.5/5 stars and most comments talking about poor printouts and jamming.

            Somehow I don't think you've debunked much yet. Let me know if it lives past a year.

      • by Zerth ( 26112 )

        Unless you buy dot matrix.

        I have a pair of industrial Lexmark wide carriage printers that only cost 40 bucks for a cartridge that last for 40k triple carbonless sheets($2k for the printer, though). Actually came with the circuit layout, diagnostic procedures, and replacement instructions for every piece, including those that need soldering.

        Alas, $700 for a motherboard, which I found out after a storm found its way through the onboard serial port. Went for a a $900 refurb instead, as I might be switching t

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rolfwind ( 528248 )

      Brother makes good lasers/leds imo.

      • Yeah.. I do wish more Linux distros had the drivers in the box... i've got aBrother laser, and an HP LJ4000 (bought used).. the HP was a far smoother experience.
        • by Haeleth ( 414428 )

          That's because HP appears to care about Linux. They release real open-source drivers that can be included by all Linux distros, even ones like Debian and Fedora that have very strict rules about licensing.

          HP products maybe aren't the best value for money, but anyone who cares about open source drivers should definitely consider taking their custom to one of the few companies that gets it.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by aztracker1 ( 702135 )
            Brother's drivers are open-source, and available... they just don't seem to be included in the repositories. Most of my experience is with Ubuntu, and a Brother FAX 4100, laser+fax printer. The fax functionality is separate from print. The printer shows up as a straight laser printer, no fax out or scanning, which is fine with me... It's just having to download from the Brother website and install the drivers is a bit too manual for my taste in this day and age, where most other OSes simply detect and do
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by sconeu ( 64226 )

          Brother uses PostScript. But they also have Linux support and drivers on their site.

          We had a workgroup Brother DCP series printer and it was very nice, for both Windows and Linux.

      • Samsung does as well. I'm very happy with my $100 wifi connectable laser.

    • by arth1 ( 260657 ) on Tuesday August 24, 2010 @08:00PM (#33363728) Homepage Journal

      Perhaps it's precisely because they don't sell many printers anymore that they resort to this.

      In any case, it tells me loud and clearly what printer not to buy next.

      I'm thinking of retiring my Epson R1800 soon -- any good recommendations for a large format photo quality printer?

      • by cynyr ( 703126 )

        a cannon or an epson, or an HP.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by afidel ( 530433 )
        Unless you do a crazy amount of greater than 8x10 prints you're probably better off with a cheap laser and Walgreens/Costco/etc with a real mini-lab, better quality than any sub $5,000 printer, prints will last a lifetime or more, and it's cheaper per print when you consider all costs.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Pax00 ( 266436 )

        Canon Pro 9500 Mark II is a great machine.

        If you are looking for something larger than this, I don't know but I would still go Canon on for it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jimicus ( 737525 )

        I'm thinking of retiring my Epson R1800 soon -- any good recommendations for a large format photo quality printer?

        I really wouldn't bother. Find a reliable lab and send it there.

        You won't have as much control over the finished article but you won't be wasting time tearing your hair out trying to get a half-decent print. Lab machines are built to do one thing and do it well - churn out print after print cost-effectively, reliably and quickly. By and large they're pretty good at it.

        Inkjet printers are built to do one thing and do it well. Extract absurd quantities of money from you reliably and quickly. By and large

    • My parents recently got an HP all in one, I'm quite impressed with the way it works. Seems to do a decent job with all the tasks I've set it to do, the only annoyance is that the wireless support seems to be a bit flaky, as in it doesn't seem to get along with my open-mesh set up.
  • Please... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Starteck81 ( 917280 ) on Tuesday August 24, 2010 @07:46PM (#33363568)
    Their patents are probably nothing more than 'we patented the specifications of cartridges that work with our printers so other companies can't sell cheap 3rd party cartridges' patents.
    • by jd ( 1658 )

      Oh, almost certainly. And possibly any emoticons on the sides of the ink cartridges as well. Ink formulae - that might be a stronger case, provided it is not a trivial derivative of any standard or historic ink. However, an ink formula can't be both patented and trade secret at the same time. That's a no-no. Has anyone actually looked at their ink patents to see if they're violating the patent rules there? (Dumb question - no, nobody has; yes, they are.)

      • Lexmark isn't suing over ink patents, so there's not much to look into. (Never ever believe a single word in a Slashdot summary, they're wrong almost as a rule).
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by jd ( 1658 )

          Can I at least accept the spaces between the words in a Slashdot summary? :)

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I had an Epson inkjet which I actually liked quite a bit until I used some off brand cartridges. I went through 2 generic black cartridges without a perceivable difference in quality. Eventually I had to replace the color cartridges and the printer stopped working. Thinking the generics were just bad, I went out and purchased all new genuine cartridges, which also didn't work. A call to Epson tech support confirmed that the printer essentially is bricked when one tries to use generic cartridges.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        There are basically two kinds of ink used in inkjet printers. Solvent-based and water-based.

        Solvent-based inks are generally used for the kind of inkjet printers where some resistive element heats up the ink to make a tiny bubble of gas to push out the ink. Water-based inks are typically used where some mechanical device is used to push out the ink, such as a piezoelectric element. Since the majority of printers are of the resistive variety, most third-party inks are solvent based.

        Epson printers are of the

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Lexmark, HP, Canon, and Kodak all deserve the money gotten for their ink. It's only fair. I say, and I am sure most of slashdot is with me, what's GOOD FOR LEXMARK IS GOOD FOR CONSUMERS !!

  • by Lord Byron II ( 671689 ) on Tuesday August 24, 2010 @07:48PM (#33363596)

    I called their tech support after trying to get one of their printers to work on Linux. This was before I found out that they use a non-standard and proprietary way to communicate between computer and printer.

    The tech asks me if I'm using Windows XP or Vista. I say I'm using Linux. He's says "Windows Linux?" "No, just Linux." "Oh, okay, Windows 98." From there he proceeded to give me help based off the idea that I was running Microsoft Windows 98 Linux Edition.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Yvan256 ( 722131 )

      When people don't understand what you're talking about, they assume stuff and then try to help you anyway [].

      • Re:Lexmark on Linux (Score:5, Informative)

        by Andorin ( 1624303 ) on Tuesday August 24, 2010 @07:57PM (#33363696)
        A better link to the comic [] for anyone who views this thread after tonight, when a new comic goes up.
    • by blair1q ( 305137 ) on Tuesday August 24, 2010 @07:55PM (#33363668) Journal

      Or, if you're Linus Torvalds, Windows Me.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by El_Oscuro ( 1022477 )
      The weird thing, I have a Lexmark (x204n) which fully supports Linux, even to the point of having Tux on the box alongside the Mac and Windows logos. Even scanning with xsane works. Too bad the printer itself is kind of crappy...
    • Microsoft Windows 98 Linux Edition

      What is that I don't even

  • One more company takes the patent troll route after finding out they are incapable of manufacturing something worth owning in the first place. Unfortunately HP printers are approaching Lexmark quality levels and not the other way around. I hate both companies, but obviously avoid Lexmark like the plague. I usually don't even bother trying to troubleshoot them or buy new roller kits -- I just replace the lexmarks with HPs.

    • I just don't buy ibk printers... if someone *HAS* to have one (they'd better be printing a few items a week, to keep the ink/jets from clogging), I usually suggest cannon much better long term cost wise. HP Lasers, haven't really had negative issues with, relatively speaking.
      • by dissy ( 172727 )

        HP Lasers, haven't really had negative issues with, relatively speaking.

        Second that.

        My only 'complaint' with some of my older (15+ year) HP laserjets are that they still work great yet it's damn near impossible to find toner in town for them anymore.

        Those things are built like tanks.

  • by ciaran_o_riordan ( 662132 ) on Tuesday August 24, 2010 @07:57PM (#33363692) Homepage

    I usually ignore stories about hardware patents, but this one highlights a problem that exists in software patents: interoperability is essential.

    Microsoft can develop a wonky filesystem (FAT), and use their market power to force it on everyone. When they finally realise that 8-letter filenames is a broken idea, they add a fix, patent the fix, and sue people who use the fix.

    That fix isn't patentable because it's valuable, it's simply valuable because it's patented. It's an arbitrary idea, not necessarily better than any other solution (of avoiding the problem in the first place!), but it becomes a must-have because it's the idea Microsoft chose to implement.

    Same with Word. Microsoft patents a few features in their file format and they're essential. You develop your own file format and patent some features, and they just get avoided by Micrsoft and nobody cares about your patents. How good your patents are, or how they compare to Microsoft's patents, is of no consequence.

    And so it is with Lexmark. They make cartridges in a certain way. Might be good, might be wonky. You can patent a better idea, but it's useless because you're not looking for "best", you're looking for "compatible". is a publicly editable wiki, help with developing these arguments is very welcome.

  • by KonoWatakushi ( 910213 ) on Tuesday August 24, 2010 @08:08PM (#33363800)

    A nice advertisement for what not to buy, thanks Lexmark.

    Anyway, for those looking for alternatives, Brother doesn't chip their cartridges, and the ink is not criminally expensive. Anyone know of other brands?

    Another option is to buy a continuous ink system; often these include compatible chips so you can bypass the manufacturer. Though, finding good CIS and quality inks may be somewhat troublesome. Any suggestions here?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by REggert ( 823158 )

      I bought a Brother printer a few months ago when my Canon printer became irreparably clogged. It has worked quite well for me so far. The ink even comes in individual per-color cartridges.

    • by ChefInnocent ( 667809 ) on Tuesday August 24, 2010 @08:53PM (#33364178)
      This is probably too much work for many people, but I just told the HP software to ignore the cartridge reading and print anyway. I've been running on "low toner" for over a year now.
    • I was able to use after market cartridges in my (former) Epson printer. However it gave up the ghost after about 6 years... it was a high end model (11x17) used often in preprint or for photographic art and even by wedding photographers. Still... the after market cartridges worked great and the colours were fine... and were way cheaper than brand name. I got rid of it a year ago so I'm not sure what the deal is with newer models.
  • by Joe The Dragon ( 967727 ) on Tuesday August 24, 2010 @08:18PM (#33363894)

    The Magnusson Moss Warranty Act does not let them void the Warranty so they just try this BS to lock out the 3rd party stuff.

    What if a car maker pulled this on a radio interface so you are locked in to there radio and can't install your own. What about remote starters?
    In car DVD and TV systems?

  • You cannot sell your 'fake' inkt with less than a 2000% profit... And even then we will lose a 1000%... Seriously printer inkt is not more expensive than gold. It just isn't no matter what they let you pay for it. For this very reason I never buy inkt. We have come in the absurd situation that is quite a lot cheaper to just buy a new printer with the 1000 pages worth of filling you get with it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Delarth799 ( 1839672 )
      Well they have have their inkt and make it as expensive as they want but all everybody else cares about is ink. They really need to lower the price of the ink, maybe even charge a bit more for printers.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by v1 ( 525388 )

      speaking of gold, just how does printer ink compare for price, ounce for ounce, with gold?

      And really, how much can it cost to make the stuff? It's little wonder that with such an insane profit margin that they get litigious, they have all the money in the world to play patent bully and feed their sharks.

  • After all, that's what it boils down to.

    Can't beat the competition - sue them. What this tells me is that Lexmark doesn't have a good enough value proposition on their replacement toners. If they offered even close to equal value to the knockoffs, or the knockoffs had a bad rep for damaging people's printers, there wouldn't be a problem.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Kaz Kylheku ( 1484 )

      24 reasons not to buy not only a Lexmark, but in fact any printer that interrogates security chips in cartridges.

      Amen, Brother.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cdrguru ( 88047 )

      Why would you assume that people using a "Lexxmark" toner cartridge that is half the price would not sue Lexmark if their printer subsequently failed? I know plenty of people that would believe the printer was obviously defective if it failed to properly accept and use whatever toner was put in it.

      After all, if your expensive replacable-ink-cartridge pen fails to operate it must be defective, no matter what sort of ink cartridge is used, right? The fact that the printer might be a little bit more complica

  • The article also notes that Lexmark has been filing lawsuits over patent infringement on formulas for their inks

    The article also notes that HP has been filing lawsuits over ink patents.

  • by Kaz Kylheku ( 1484 ) on Tuesday August 24, 2010 @10:33PM (#33364848) Homepage

    No chips in cartridges!

    What Lexmark is fighting about is most likely not the cartridges themselves as containers of ink, but rather the chips. Makers of third-party cartridges have to reverse-engineer Lexmark's chips which prevent users from refilling cartridges.

    You can fight this nonsense by not buying Lexmark, Canon, HP, Epson, etc.

  • Crap like this (Score:3, Interesting)

    by spikesahead ( 111032 ) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @10:36AM (#33368796)

    Crap like this is why my family doesn't even -have- a working printer. Instead we print the natural way; bring the file to work and print it there. Plus it's free!

    Seriously though, once tablets are more or less ubiquitous in a professional office it will trickle down to the point where they're giving the ink away for free just to sell a printer again.

  • by salesgeek ( 263995 ) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @10:57AM (#33369146) Homepage

    Brother is making some great printers these days, and have Linux support for almost all of them. Linux Support = support for CUPS, LPD and SANE. Many of the drivers are GPL, so you can get code from Brother's website. Many of the drivers are in Ubuntu's repos, so most of the time you can just apt-get.

    Most print features are implemented. Also, Brother's ink is not chipped, and you can buy genuine Brother ink for about $9/cartridge or get third party ink for about $3 per cartridge (you can probably refill, too, but for $3 per, why mess with it). The cleaning cycles don't tap the ink on Brother printers the way they do on Lexmark either. I had a Lexmark years ago that would get about 40 pages out over one month and need $60 worth of ink.

    The only thing with Brother is that their printers are $10-$20 more than the comparable Lexmark or Brother, but you'll get you $20 back on the first round of ink.

I THINK MAN INVENTED THE CAR by instinct. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.