June 8, 2005 11:46 AM PDT

HP, InkCycle settle inkjet refilling suit

Hewlett-Packard settled its patent lawsuit with a Kansas City company that refills used inkjet cartridges and resells them to business retail outlets.

InkCycle said it has paid HP an undisclosed sum as part of the settlement. The patents cover the ink found in refurbished cartridges that are compatible with HP cartridges numbered 49, 57 and 78. HP initially filed the lawsuit in March after it discovered that refilled inkjet cartridges sold under the Staples brand contained patent-infringing ink.

The agreement comes on the heels of a U.S. Supreme Court decision against Lexmark. The printer maker failed in its attempt to have the high court review its copyright suit against a small company that offered a way to let customers use refilled toner cartridges.

InkCycle Chief Technology Officer Tom Ashley told CNET's News.com that his company was not aware that HP's more than 200 patents included specifics on ink until he got the call from HP's legal department. The CTO said his company has since replaced the inks for his HP-related products.

"These were inks that we purchased from some of the larger aftermarket ink vendors," Ashley said. "I think since we haven't seen many of these types of lawsuits, it shows that there is not a keen awareness in the industry in general when it comes to ink patents. We were caught unawares."

A representative with HP said that the company would investigate any product that infringed on HP's patents but refused to say if the company is looking into patent infringement claims against other inkjet refurbishing companies or their aftermarket ink vendors. HP holds 9,000 patents related to imaging and printing, 4,000 of them for consumable supplies such as ink and cartridges, the company said.

In its suit, HP claimed InkCycle violated patents 5,165,968; 5,428,383 and 5,488,402. The first concerns fast-drying ink that works well on plain paper, and the second two concern methods for preventing color from bleeding.

HP also sued Rhinotek in March for false advertising, arguing that the company falsely advertises its recycled HP inkjet cartridges as new.

InkCycle also refurbishes inkjet and laser toner cartridges for Cannon, Dell and Lexmark. Ashley declined to discuss InkCycle's relationship with those companies or the names of his ink suppliers.

A representative for Staples said the company has more than 100 in-house brands of ink toner or fax-compatible cartridges but was not sure how many of those products came from InkCycle. Last month, Staples announced a deal to offer remanufactured ink cartridges compatible with Dell products under Staples' "simply" brand.

 

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