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Writing on the wall for 3rd-party ink market

Cheap third-party inks could be on their last legs

Everyone knows that makers of inkjet printers earn their money not from the initial hardware sales but from selling high-priced, own-brand ink cartridges throughout the life of the printer.

Because of this, the market for third-party cartridges and ink refills has long been a booming one. But that looks set to change with an industry body in the US outlining an agreement yesterday that broadly upholds the complaints of Seiko Epson against third-party ink sellers.

After filing suit in the US District Court in Portland, Oregon, in February against 24 companies that service the third-party ink market, the Japanese printer giant (known simply as Epson in the UK) has reached agreement at the US International Trade Commission (ITC) with several companies involved.

The end is nigh

The settlement requires the firms to admit patent infringement and to withdraw from any Epson-related business, including importing and selling ink supplies. The remaining cartridge makers are awaiting further ITC talks and a verdict in the District Court case early next year.

So far, the ruling affects only a few companies and applies only in the US, but the implications for other ink-cartridge vendors and for consumers in other countries are clear to see: cheap, third-party inks will not be around forever. J Mark Lytle