The US Supreme Court will hear the argument in a patent dispute, impression products vs. Lexmark international Inc. unlike most patents, this patent directly affects the lives of nearly every American. This requires the court to answer simple question: Does a patent holder have the power to dictate how to use a product after we buy it? Although we do not realize this that every product that we use from our day to day routine, from phones, cars to toothbrush and medication are patented. These patents are largely invisible to average consumer because of crucial legal limitation known as “exhaustion”.
Exhaustion provides that when you buy a product, you own it or you are authorized to own it, even if it is patented. Consequently, patent owner’s rights are limited. As we can use, resell, donate as per our will . The patent holder cannot object or raise question in this case.
Lexmark use of patent law
Patentee like Lexmark is prepared to give up this control. Lexmark sells printers, but most importantly it sells ink cartridges. As anyone with home printer can attest, the continuing cost of replacing ink can quickly surpass the once-per-decade expense of a new printer. Frustrated by the consumers who buy cheap ink in bulk to refill their own cartridges and by companies that do the refilling for them. Lexmark is now using the patent law to construct something resembling customer loyalty. This strategy isn’t unique; we see it when mobile phone companies lock their customer’s device to stop them from switching to a competition network. We see it when car companies, electronic manufacturers and even the tracker marker Deere & Co. try to clamp down on independent repair shops. Often those efforts rely on software locks that restrict low customers can use, or whether they can fix the things they buy.
Lexmark’s approaches in the quest
The company argued that the use of replacement ink cartridges bypassed its software locks in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. But the US court of appeals of the SIXTH Circuit saw the argument for what it was; a perversion of copyright law intended to thwart competition. So now Lexmark’s next strategy was to use the patent on its ink cartridges to restrict what consumers could do with them. Lexmark began selling cartridges with the notice on the packaging insisting that the product couldn’t be reused or transferred to the third parties. According to the company, anyone who refilled or resold that cartridge was a patent infringer, even if they owned them.
The Supreme Court should reject this power grab. It’s inconsistent with a century and a half precedent in which the court has consistently held that companies cannot use patent laws to restrict the use and transfer of product after authorized sale. Moreover, allowing patent holders to replace the straightforward rules of ownership with whatever restriction best suits those would impose heavy cost on the consumers.
Worryingly, most consumers simply won’t invest time to scour every label, click-through agreement or product manual to figure out the terms of each purchases and that’s a recipe for abuse. Imagine Toyota motocorp sold you a car, but sued you for a patent infringement after you had it repaired by an independent mechanic. It is the one Supreme Court wants to prevent.