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Supreme Court ruling gives green light for hardware modders

You now can refill your toner without fear of being sued.

It's no longer legally risky to refill your ink cartridges.
Sarah Tew/CNET

Americans can use and resell products they've purchased without fear of running afoul of patent violations.

That's according to a US Supreme Court opinion handed down on Tuesday (see the PDF here). The nation's highest court reversed an earlier lower court decision that had allowed printer companies to legally bar individuals and small businesses who would refill printer cartridges with third-party ink.

The ruling is a blow to Lexmark and other manufacturers that had effectively tried to outlaw end-user modification of printer cartridges. But the broader implication of the new decision is that you should be able to mod, alter and resell products you've purchased to your heart's content.

"The decision reinforces the freedoms of device owners and fends off the monopolistic threat of patent rights eliminating fair, essential competition in markets for repair and third-party innovation," the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a consumer privacy and advocacy group, said in a statement. "We applaud the Supreme Court for striking this blow on behalf of the public, and look forward to seeing the ripples of the decision in the years to come."