The battle for the very future of the third-party printer ink market that we looked at previously has moved closer to its denouement after the US International Trade Commission (ITC) decided a crucial legal issue in favour of Seiko Epson .

ITC judge Paul J. Luckern concluded that a group of 24 companies selling Epson-compatible ink cartridges were in violation of the Japanese firm's patents on several counts and recommended that imports of the non-branded ink to the US be stopped.

No more cheap ink?

The ruling is the latest step in an ongoing legal process that is likely to force companies that sell ink cartridges for popular brand-name printers to leave that market to the printer makers.

Inkjet printers are generally sold at low cost, leaving manufacturers to profit from ink sales over the life of the printer. Until now, the high cost of 'official' ink has led most savvy users to try DIY refill kits or third-party cartridges. Despite ominous warnings that such inks can damage printers or will result in low-grade prints, shoppers have tended to vote with their feet.

Elizabeth Leung, an Epson director, reacted to the decision: "We are gratified that Judge Luckern upheld the validity and enforceability of Epson's ink cartridge patents. Epson has invested continuously in R&D and manufacturing to produce high quality, innovative ink cartridges."

If the ITC's final verdict and recommendations in July agree with the judge, it seems certain to set a precedent that will have far-reaching implications for the price of home printing, whatever the country.