In what marks a major victory for printer cartridge manufacturers worldwide, the United States Copyright Office yesterday held that third-party manufacturers were free to sell chips to override technology on Lexmark printers which prevent consumers refilling used cartridges.

Lexmark brought an action against cartridge maker Static Control Components (SCC) back in December for manufacturing and selling so-called Smartek chips for use in Lexmark's products.

SCC's chips contain software that overrides authentication procedures installed by Lexmark to prevent unauthorised cartridges being used in its machines, thereby allowing owners to install cheaper third party cartridges.

The Copyright Office held that, under the terms of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), aftermarket companies should be allowed to develop software to promote interoperability between remanufactured toner cartridges and printers.

"We are very gratified that the Copyright Office has agreed with our position," said Ed Swartz CEO of Static Control Components US. "It has provided a means to force Lexmark to discontinue these practices that are against the public interest and cost consumers a great deal of money."

The decision could lead to a whole host of cartridge manufacturing companies now challenging Lexmark's copyright on its smart chips.

This is SCC's second victory against Lexmark. Back in August it successfully challenged the validity of the printer company's US return program mdash; where consumers agreed to buy only Lexmark cartridges in return for a discount of around $50 on each new cartridge — with the court ruling the system void and unenforcable in the state of North Carolina.

It's been a bad few weeks for the printer industry, with consumers in the US also taking action against Epson, accusing it of manipulating equipment in order to sell more ink.

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