The World According to Nick
My take on Software, Technology, Politics, and anything else I feel like talking about.
Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Making Recycling Illegal 

Lexmark has just won a case in the 9th Circuit Court that allows them to sue people for refilling printer cartridges. The gist of the argument is that Lexmark has a license agreement that they place on the shrinkwrap of their cartridges that specify that refilling them is not allowed, and that you agree to those terms by breaking the shrink wrap. The 9th circuit has just affirmed it's legality.

As Fred von Lohmann explains it, it's sort of like when you buy those fancy Gillette Sensor razors, then purchase cheap replacement razor heads - except that a court has ruled that if the package says "single use," then by opening it you've agreed you can't have any cheap replacements (but you can buy another Gillette "single use" razor). And that means the company that makes the replacement heads is out of luck, too.

From a purely greed driven perspective, I can understand Lexmark's desire to do this. They want you to have to buy their replacement cartridges which are more expensive then the refill ink. It is said that razor manufactures don't make money selling razors, they make it selling blades and it's absolutely true. However, I have a hard time with the restriction as a consumer of having to buy your blade. If you want me to buy your blade, then make it economically advantageous for me to do so, or provide some other incentive (in the form of added features). Don't call the cops on me. I think this could backfire on Lexmark.

Exactly how far reaching this decision will go is anyone's guess.

Will patent owners exploit this decision as an opportunity to impose over-reaching restrictions on formerly permitted post-sale uses, repairs, modifications, and resale? Will consumers soon confront "single use only, not for resale" notices on more and more products? Will innovators stumble over labels announcing "modifications prohibited"?

Many great inventions and ideas started out by recycling other products. This could seriously put a hamper on those great innovations that have yet to be made. Moreover, the very idea of recycling which our country has embraced, revolves around finding alternative uses for a product after it's original purpose can no longer be served, or finding a way to extend the life of a product in it's original role. Is recycling now illegal?


1. Part of the contract states that you agree to return the cartridge to Lexmark for recycling, so they aren't making recycling illegal.
2. Lexmark does provide cartridges for sale without the contract, for approximately $30 more, so the consumer has a choice whether to buy a cartridge that they can legally refill.

Having said that, I still think it's a lousy business practice.

  Posted at September 07, 2005 10:51 PM by Anonymous Anonymous  
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Name: Nick
Home: Wauwatosa, WI, United States

I'm a Software Consultant in the Milwaukee area. Among various geeky pursuits, I'm also an amateur triathlete, and enjoy rock climbing. I also like to think I'm a political pundit.

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