The U.S. Copyright Office ruled this week that a manufacturer of low-cost, third-party printer ink cartridges can continue to make and sell cartridges for Lexmark printers. This ruling will have broad impact on the printer consumable market as alternative brands of ink cartridges may now move from the black market to retail store shelves.
Lexmark International sued Static Control Components (SCC) for copyright infringement of computer code contained in Lexmark’s printer ink cartridges, charging SCC with violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) ban on circumventing digital technology that protects copyrighted material. SCC had reverse engineered Lexmark’s software and created it’s own brand of ink cartridges for Lexmark’s printers.
The Copyright Office took an tack, rather than considering whether SCC had violated Lexmark’s intellectual property protection, the office ruled that the DMCA does not restrict SCC’s actions. This means that software developers may not be free to reverse engineer code if the intention is to create interoperability with another’s computer application.
With this ruling in hand, I expect that there will be a flood of third-party ink cartridges for both Lexmark and Epson printers, the two manufacturers who are most frequently faulted for imbedding chips in their ink cartridges and forcing users to buy the more expensive primary brand consumables.
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