Lexmark v Impression Case Could Change the Patent Game

Posted Date 03/23/17

Lexmark is appearing in front of the Supreme Court in a case brought against it by smaller company Impression Products. Impression appealed a Patent Appeals Court ruling in favor of Lexmark, which had sued Impression for disabling a chip in its toner cartridges to make it possible to refill them.

Lexmark, which like other printing giants gets most of its money from consumables, is arguing that Impression’s actions were unauthorized hence unlawful. Impression begs to differ, arguing, for its part, that once the printer cartridge is sold to a customer, they can basically do with it whatever they want.

Now, if the Supreme Court upholds the Appeals Court decision, this could give patent bearers more powers to limit the things a user can do with a product they’ve bought in various ways in a bid to protect their profits, often at the disadvantage of the users, limiting their choice. This would also hit the resale market hard.

If, however, the court rules in favor of Impression, it could open the door to more resales, prompting Lexmark and its peers to change their business models that rely on the monopolistic right that goes with having a patent and using it. The Justice Department is on Impression’s side and the Supreme Court has reversed many decisions by the Patent Appeals Court in recent years but the outcome remains unclear for now: will it support big businesses or smaller players and consumers.

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