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Why You Should Care About the Supreme Court Case On Toner Cartridges

rmdingler quotes a report from Consumerist: A corporate squabble over printer toner cartridges doesn’t sound particularly glamorous, and the phrase “patent exhaustion” is probably already causing your eyes to glaze over. However, these otherwise boring topics are the crux of a Supreme Court case that will answer a question with far-reaching impact for all consumers: Can a company that sold you something use its patent on that product to control how you choose to use after you buy it? The case in question is Impression Products, Inc v Lexmark International, Inc, came before the nation’s highest court on Tuesday. Here’s the background: Lexmark makes printers. Printers need toner in order to print, and Lexmark also happens to sell toner. Then there’s Impression Products, a third-party company makes and refills toner cartridges for use in printers, including Lexmark’s. Lexmark, however, doesn’t want that; if you use third-party toner cartridges, that’s money that Lexmark doesn’t make. So it sued, which brings us to the legal chain that ended up at the Supreme Court. In an effort to keep others from getting a piece of that sweet toner revenue, Lexmark turned to its patents: The company began selling printer cartridges with a notice on the package forbidding reuse or transfer to third parties. Then, when a third-party — like Impression — came around reselling or recycling the cartridges, Lexmark could accuse them of patent infringement. So far the courts have sided with Lexmark, ruling that Impression was using Lexmark’s patented technology in an unauthorized way. The Supreme Court is Impression’s last avenue of appeal. The question before the Supreme Court isn’t one of “can Lexmark patent this?” Because Lexmark can, and has. The question is, rather: Can patent exhaustion still be a thing, or does the original manufacturer get to keep having the final say in what you and others can do with the product? Kate Cox notes via Consumerist that the Supreme Court ruling is still likely months away. However, she has provided a link to the transcript of this week’s oral arguments (PDF) in her report and has dissected it to see which way the justices are leaning on the issue.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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