A Boston man has filed a class-action lawsuit accusing hardware maker HP and office supply retailer Staples of colluding to inflate the price of printer ink cartridges in violation of federal antitrust law. According to the suit, HP allegedly paid Staples $100 million to refrain from selling inexpensive third-party ink cartridges, although the suit doesn't make it clear how plaintiff Ranjit Bedi arrived at that figure.
For most printer companies, ink is the bread and butter of their business. The price of ink for HP ink-jet printers can be as much as $8,000 per gallon, a figure that makes gas-pump price gouging look tame. HP is currently the dominant company in the printing market, and a considerable portion of the company's profits come from ink.
The printer makers have been waging an all-out war against third-party vendors that sell replacement cartridges at a fraction of the price. The tactics employed by the printer makers to maintain monopoly control over ink distribution for their printing products have become increasingly aggressive. In the past, we have seen HP, Epson, Lenovo and other companies attempt to use patents and even the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in their efforts to crush third-party ink distributors.
The companies have also turned to using the ink equivalent of DRM, the use of microchips embedded in ink cartridges that work with a corresponding technical mechanism in the printer that blocks the use of unauthorized third-party ink. Adding insult to injury, most printers are lying, filthy ink thieves, according to a recent study, misreporting that they are low on ink when they are not.
Bedi's suit asks for unspecified damages and an injunction barring the two companies from engaging in anticompetitive business practices.
[Via Ars Technica]