HP is facing a potential lawsuit as customers allege a firmware update prevented the use of third-party ink which the company then followed up by raising the price of first-party options.
While there are several options for at-home printing, HP remains one of the bigger players in the game and is very active in making sure that its customers continue to buy its first-party ink cartridges. HP has actually engaged in this behavior before, going so far as to use what it called “Dynamic Security” to block third-party inks. The DRM was eventually the target of a class action lawsuit and HP ended up paying out $1.5 million to customers and agreed to stop using the feature.
It’s not the only company to engage in actions to block third party ink — Canon spends its efforts on the legal front and aggressively sues companies making ink for its printers — but a new legal complaint alleges HP does too much behind the scenes to force customers into a very expensive ink purchasing cycle.
As reported by The Register, the new class action complaint (which could escalate to a class action lawsuit) focuses on the time period between 2022 and early 2023 and alleges that HP first encouraged users to register their products which automatically subscribed the printers to updates from HP — a background action that the complaint says wasn’t particularly clear.
“In late 2022, HP reinstated a feature that had the same functionality as in many of its printer models. The purpose was the same as in the earlier time period: To force all purchasers of HP printers to also purchase only HP-branded ink, effectively monopolizing the aftermarket for replacement ink cartridges and permitting HP to charge supracompetitive prices,” the complaint alleges.
Once a printer was linked with HP’s update system, the complaint alleges that the company would periodically send firmware updates to the products to “keep them up to date,” which also meant blocking the use of certain ink cartridges.
“Consumers do not have a choice to opt out of specific software or firmware updates. If a printer is connected to the internet, the update downloads automatically. Typically, consumers do not know when updates occur,” the complaint continues, adding that end users wouldn’t have known that the firmware update had even occurred and would have no idea that their device would even be able to prevent the use of specific inks in this way.
The class action complaint says it doesn’t end there and alleges that once the firmware updates were complete and successfully blocked the use of non-HP ink, the company raised the prices of its first-party options.
“In effect, HP used the software update to create a monopoly in the aftermarket for replacement cartridges, permitting it to raise prices without fear of being undercut by competitors.”
The Register notes that HP’s end user license agreement doesn’t say that simply using a third-party cartridge invalidates a warranty, although HP won’t cover any damage to the printer that third-party cartridges might cause. To a customer, there doesn’t seem to be any real problem with using third-party ink, but HP clearly disagrees.
The complaint is seeking compensation from HP and an injunction to disable the part of the firmware update that prevents the use of third party ink.
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