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HP raps rival for invoking DMCA

A top Hewlett-Packard executive says although intellectual property rights are vital in the printer industry, rival Lexmark is wrong to try to use the DMCA to safeguard those rights.

A top Hewlett-Packard printer executive said that although intellectual property rights are vital in the printer industry, rival Lexmark is wrong to try to use a controversial copyright law to safeguard those rights.

In an interview with CNET, HP Senior Vice President Pradeep Jotwani said Lexmark is using the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act in ways it was not intended, in pursuing a lawsuit against a maker of remanufactured toner cartridges.

"We think it is stretching it," Jotwani said of the Lexmark suit, which was filed Dec. 30 against Static Control Components, a maker of remanufactured toner cartridges. "The DMCA was put in place (to protect) things like movies, music and software applications."

Jotwani said HP will protect its intellectual property rights if companies infringe on them, but the DMCA is not the right weapon to use. A Lexmark representative declined to comment specifically on Jotwani's remarks.

"I don't plan on going down that path," Jotwani said, referring to using the DMCA.

HP did threaten last year to use the copyright law to pursue a team of researchers who demonstrated a bug in its Tru64 Unix operating system. However, the company later backed down.

The issue is a critical one for HP, Lexmark and nearly all printer makers. Ink is the lifeblood of the industry, with supplies accounting for the bulk of profits. In HP's case, its printing and imaging business makes more money than the company as a whole, with much of the profits coming from its supplies business, which Jotwani heads.

Jotwani said that although HP thinks its own supplies deliver the best quality and value for most customers, he believes there should be a place for those companies that sell refilled cartridges and refill kits.

"I think customers draw the line. Part of that choice is they can choose our original supplies, which is always what we'd like them to do. But there is a segment of the market that is cost-conscious that draws a different line." Jotwani said that HP makes its inkjet cartridges refillable, although on some models some high-end features, such as ink-level monitoring, are disabled once a cartridge is refilled.

"We consciously make sure that our cartridges are reusable and refillable," Jotwani said. The company does put some limits on the practice, such as adding software that makes some of its cartridges unusable after a certain expiration date--either four-and-a-half years after manufacture or two-and-a-half years after a cartridge is installed.

Gary Peterson, who covers the inkjet-printing arena for market researcher ARS, said that HP makes refilling technically feasible, but still tries to discourage consumers in other ways.

"It is easy to refill HP cartridges," he said. "They do allow that to happen."

However, Peterson said HP has done other things, such as suing manufacturers for patent infringement and trying to keep refilled cartridges off the shelves of well-known stores.

"They put as much heat as possible on retailers" not to carry remanufactured cartridges, Peterson said.

HP has also made moves that make it more desirable for consumers to get a new cartridge, such as moving the print nozzles onto the cartridge. Those nozzles can get blocked or fire less accurately after a period of time, Jotwani said.

"What we have tried to do is, the stuff that lasts for a long time we put in the printer," he said. "The stuff we have to change, we put in the consumable."

Bill Gott, who edits the industry newsletter Printer Market Monitor, said Lexmark has a right to defend its intellectual property through the courts. He noted that HP has done so many times in the past.

"I think it's reasonable to expect any of the vendors to protect their work," he said.