Epson has taken a page from HP's dirty-tricks playbook to ensure that no one can compete with them by selling ink at affordable prices.
Epson is one of eBay's "trusted partners," which means it can send takedown notices that eBay will honor without examining them, giving it enormous power over who gets to sell what on one of the world's biggest online marketplaces.
The company has been using dodgy patent infringement notices to get its competitors removed from eBay (and other sites), though it won't say which patents are being violated or how. What's more, it's targeting sellers, rather than manufacturers, suggesting that it's not really interested in enforcing its rights, but rather, eliminating its competition.
Inkjet companies say they need to charge more for ink than Moet charges for vintage Champagne, otherwise they'll have to raise prices on their printers. That may be true -- who knows? -- but you could make the same argument about a car that was designed to only accept one brand of gas or a toaster than only accepts one brand of bread. Companies are welcome to try those strategies, but when they abuse the law to prevent competitors from thwarting their plans, they're no longer in the business of supplying a market need -- they're now in the business of deciding what kinds of markets are allowed to exist at all.
It is also concerning that Epson opted to act against resellers and did not contact the manufacturers first. If Epson believe that their patents are genuinely being infringed then it would be more efficient and just to take direct legal action in order to prevent import or manufacture of these products at source.
At this stage, we cannot know if there is any merit to the Epson’s claim that these compatible cartridges infringe their patents but using patents in this way would undermine the legal regime that protects production of compatible products, including components, such as ink cartridges. That would be extremely bad for consumers.
We have contacted the IPO for clarification of eBay’s duties and responsibilities relating to patent claims. We would like to speak to both eBay and Epson about this. Meantime, if you have been affected by takedowns relating to Epson compatible ink cartridges and patent claims, please get in touch with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Epson delete competing Ebay ink listings citing patent claims [Slavka Bielikova/Open Rights Group]
Epson is Using its eBay "Trusted Status" to Make Competing Ink Sellers Vanish [Cory Doctorow/EFF]