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HP’s print ink policy faces monopoly legal challenge

by on10 January 2024

Court will be told HP has a hotel on Mayfair and Park Lane

Make of expensive printer ink, HP has used its "Dynamic Security" software updates to "create a monopoly" of replacement printer ink cartridges, a lawsuit filed against the company on 5 January claims.

The lawsuit, which may end up a class-action, is yet another form of legal trouble for HP for breaking printers when they try to use ink that doesn't have an HP logo.

The lawsuit, filed in US District Court in the Northern District of Illinois, names 11 people suing HP and wants the company to stop its printer software updates from blocking non-HP branded ink. The lawsuit wants more than $5,000,000 in damages and a trial by jury.

The lawsuit is about HP printer software updates issued in late 2022 and early 2023 that left users with bricked printers when they tried to print with non-HP ink:

The case claims that HP was wrong to issue a software update that messed up printer functions, and users were not told that accepting software updates "could damage any features of the printer", the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit questions HP's practice of getting people to register their printers and then secretly releasing updates that change the printers' functions. Also, the lawsuit points out that using non-HP ink cartridges doesn't break HP's printer warranty.

The filing reads:

“... it is not practical or sensible to buy a new printer to avoid buying HP replacement ink cartridges. So, once people buy their printers, the Dynamic Security software updates lock them into buying HP-branded ink.”

HP is chuffed with its strategy of locking in printer customers. Last month, HP CFO Marie Myers praised the company's move from one-off sales to forcing customers into regular buys through things like Instant Ink, HP's monthly ink subscription service.

"We absolutely see when you move a customer from that pure one-off sale ... whether it's [to] Instant Ink, plus adding on that paper, we sort of see a 20 per cent increase on the value of that customer because you're locking that person, committing to a longer-term relationship", Myers said.

HP says Dynamic Security is meant to "protect the quality of our customer experience, keep our printing systems working, and protect our ideas". HP's Dynamic Security page says that HP printers with the feature "are meant to work only with cartridges with new or reused HP chips or electronic parts. The printers use the Dynamic Security measures to block cartridges using non-HP chips or changed or non-HP electronic parts".

The new lawsuit claims that HP's software updates forced customers to buy HP-brand ink that costs more than rivals.

When asked for a comment, Peggy Wedgworth, a senior partner at the Milberg law firm and one of the lawyers representing the people who are suing HP in this case, said:

HP effectively took over the market for replacement ink cartridges in breach of federal and state laws against unfair competition, which forced HP printer owners to buy only HP-branded ink at high prices and lose the value of any non-HP branded replacement ink cartridges.

The lawsuit accuses HP of raising prices on its ink "in the same period" that it issued its late 2022 and early 2023 software updates, which "create[d] a monopoly in the market for replacement cartridges, letting [HP] raise prices without fear of being beaten by competitors.

The lawsuit doesn't give a source to back up its price-rise claims, but Ars Technica had a quick look at Amazon prices, via Camelcamelcamel, for some of HP's ink products that, right now, closely match (within pennies) the prices on HP's website. We found that HP ink prices for some - but not all - of ink cartridges went up in late 2022 and early 2023. Different factors could make a product's price go up, though.

The lawsuit against HP pointed out that "HP makes a lot of money" from its ink cartridge sales and that third-party replacement cartridges "may cost half as much" compared to what HP charges. It argues that people would have more and cheaper options if it weren't for HP's practices.

"Having created a monopoly for itself through the software update, HP is able to charge over-the-top prices for replacement ink cartridges", the lawsuit claims.

HP's decision to use software updates to break printers using non-HP ink has often landed it in legal trouble since Dynamic Security started in 2016. While the new case is still in its early stages, it's another example of how unhappy users have become with HP taking control over the type of ink that customers put into machines they own.

For example, HP agreed to pay $1.5 million in 2019 to settle a class-action case in California about Dynamic Security.

Overseas, HP paid European customers $1.35 million for Dynamic Security. It paid a 10,000,000-euro fine to the Italian Antitrust Authority 2020 over the practice and agreed to pay about AUD$50 each to Australian customers in 2018.

As well as the lawsuit filed earlier this month, HP is facing a lawsuit filed in California in 2020 over an alleged failure to tell people about Dynamic Security. As noted by Reuters, in December, a Northern District of California judge ruled (PDF) that the lawsuit may not result in money rewards, but people who are suing may ask for an order against the practice.


Last modified on 10 January 2024
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