Navigating Printer Consumables: Patent Ethics and Sheer Apathy
In the dynamic landscape of our printer consumables industry, every business and individual will find themselves in one of three categories. Each has its distinct approach to intellectual property rights and patents on the printer cartridges we sell.
- Indifference to Intellectual Property
This is a “who cares” approach. Some people do not care about the intellectual property rights of patentees and the patents associated with the printer cartridges they sell. It’s all about the lowest price.
- Balancing Price and Patents
Others prioritize offering the lowest prices, recognizing that they should make or sell non-infringing products, but know their customers have no concerns and only focus on the price. They give the customer what he wants.
- Valuing Patents at a Higher Price
A rare few in this category actively care about intellectual property rights, respect patents, research and develop safe solutions, and understand their value and importance, even if it means offering products at a higher price.
So, which category do you fall into?
For those in the third category, welcome to the exclusive club that values patent integrity. It’s a commendable path, albeit challenging in a market saturated with cheaper, potentially infringing alternatives. Success requires selling the value-add of patented, high-quality products, even at a premium. It’s tough when quotes are electronically submitted and sifted based on the price. The Purchase Order (PO) spits out to the lowest-price supplier without any conversation taking place.
Contrastingly, individuals in the first category are the sheep following the flock. They are seemingly unconcerned about the legal ramifications of producing or selling infringing compatible printer cartridges. This carefree attitude prevails until the day they find themselves entangled in legal disputes, which becomes increasingly more likely as patent holders fight back.
Category two individuals may grapple with a moral dilemma. They may recognize the ethical implications of manufacturing or selling infringing products yet face the challenge of meeting customer demands for the lowest price.
It’s a Complex Patent World
The printer consumables industry is inherently complex, with around 300,000 patents held by various patentees. Understanding and navigating this intricate web of patents is both crucial and costly. Crafting work-around solutions that respect patents while ensuring product performance is a daunting task but one that some truly dedicated individuals and businesses undertake.
One significant aspect in this realm is the role of the chip. The chip is indispensable for developing cartridges with full functionality. Lexmark, for instance, has employed highly complex chip designs extensively protected by patents. A legal dispute in May 2018 between Lexmark and Universal Imaging Industries (UII) over chip-related patents sheds light on the significance of caring about patents. You can’t sell a cartridge without a chip if you need full functionality, as most end users do.
In this case, a diligent individual like Steve Miller, the owner of UII, showcased that commitment to patents and the ability to create innovative workarounds can lead to success. After six years of legal battles, both parties dismissed claims and counterclaims, with no clear winner except those who diligently respect patents and have the talent to legally circumvent them.
However, the prevailing industry narrative often leans toward apathy. Many companies view adherence to patents as an unnecessary cost, only relevant if they are caught infringing. In this environment, prices plummet, competitors follow the lowest price, and discussions about value-added features become scarce.
Ultimately, the question arises: Who bears responsibility for this prevailing apathy—those in category one, with both supplier and customer indifferent to patents, a who cares attitude, or the customer in category two, solely focused on the lowest price who doesn’t at all care about patent issues even if his supplier has a pang of conscience about it.
In an industry where apathy reigns supreme, those who actively care about patents and uphold ethical standards play a vital role in preserving the market’s integrity.
As the industry evolves, striking a balance between price competitiveness and patent ethics will be essential for sustainable growth and success. Turning a blind eye or being ignorant of patents is no defence in court.
Please add your comments below about this opinion, “Navigating Printer Consumables: Patent Ethics and Sheer Apathy.”
Steve Weedon is an award-winning CEO who has held senior management positions at various OEMs, as well as Katun Corp and SCC. He is the CEO of Print-Rite Europe Limited.
He was the founder of The Recycler Magazine and of trade shows in Europe. He also established Static Control’s Worldwide Subsidiaries and relocated to the US to become executive vice president. Weedon headed up the global Cartridge World network after its acquisition in 2016. He can be contacted on LinkedIn.
Weedon is a popular columnist in RTMworld and a speaker at RT Summits and events. You can read his other blogs:
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