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Ink Expiration Prompts Suit Against HP

By Susan B. Shor
Feb 23, 2005 10:00 AM PT

A Georgia woman has filed a lawsuit against Hewlett-Packard over the company's use of chips to disable printer ink cartridges after a certain date.

Ink Expiration Prompts Suit Against HP

The suit, filed in Santa Clara (California) Superior Court, seeks class-action status on behalf of anyone who has purchased an inkjet printer with smartchip technology in the United States since February 2001. The models that qualify are the HP Deskjet 812C, 804C and 842C, and commercial printers 2000C and 2500C.

The suit seeks restitution, damages and other compensation, claiming that the expiration is simply a way to boost cartridge sales. HP does not comment on ongoing lawsuits, the company said.

Too Much Printer

HP printer cartridges do stop working even when ink remains in them, one analyst says, but they are designed to do so because the ink breaks down and can damage printer heads.

"HP could have done a better job promoting it, but this is old news," Peter Grant, research vice president at Gartner, told TechNewsWorld.

"It's an ink stability issue," he said. "The ink will start breaking down if it's not used. In the commercial printers, you will have print heads to replace if you use old ink." Granted added, however, "I can see that if you didn't know this, it would be frustrating. I've watched the market for years and I didn't know this."

Part of the problem is that because printers are cheap, people will often buy one that is capable of printing more than they need. Grant said that on average, a high-volume user will replace the cartridge two or three times a year and a low-end user will replace it once a year.

If the printer is designed for a higher volume than is needed and the ink sits in the machine too long -- or if a consumer buys an extra cartridge and doesn't use it fast enough -- the problem described in the suit could occur.

Another important factor could be the expense of cartridges, especially relative to the printers. The least expensive black or tricolor replacement cartridges for the HP 840 model sell for $31.99 on the company's Web site. The printer itself sold for just $99.

Millions and Millions Sold

HP has sold 29 million printers since 2001, not including multi-purpose machines, according to Grant. The models named in the suit account for fewer than 1 million of those sales. HP did not ship 812s after 2000, but they might still have been on store shelves, he said.

"I suppose they could have offered clearer notification that the ink is no longer good after two years," Grant said. "If inks do expire, they should put an expiration date on them, but the general usage pattern is that you'd never go two years with the same cartridge.

"I've never thought of HP as trying to screw people over," he added.


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