How Epson's patent trolling is killing the EU market for replacement ink

If you're thinking of buying an Epson printer, think again (if you were unlucky enough to buy one already, consider switching): in an industry marked by the dirtiest of tricks to force customers to spend vast fortunes on ink that costs pennies to manufacture, Epson has marked itself out as a true innovator of sleazy tactics.

Epson claims that third-party and refilled ink cartridges infringe its patents, and thanks to the overbroad EU E-Commerce Directive, it can simply notify Amazon, Ebay and other online marketplaces that a product is violating patent law and the product is immediately removed from sale.

But Epson isn't targeting the alleged patent infringers here: the manufacturers who make compatible cartridges, who have deeper pockets and might actually defend themselves. Instead, it's targeting the small businesses, people who sell these cartridges in the EU.

And because the E-Commerce Directive has no counternotice system, once a listing is taken down, it's down -- without the chance to defend yourself from these overbroad claims.

In the end, the losers are the European people, who are locked in to a monopolistic form of illegal tying, where manufacturers insist that you must arrange your affairs to benefit their shareholders, rather than your own interests.

Policy attention on online platform regulation has largely focused on increasing responsibility for illegal or unwanted content; however, in this circumstance, platforms are taking action to remove content but this is having a significant negative effect on UK enterprises, both in terms of business viability and in terms of free speech.

Many UK businesses, especially individuals and small traders, rely on internet platforms to reach customers and conduct operations. However, the process of removal decision-making at platform level is often arbitrary and unfair. In situations of online defamation, counter-notice is available as a method of challenging speech removal. It allows individuals to put up a direct defence to the removal of their post. Although an imperfect system, this style of rebuttal opportunity could apply well in commercial contexts to protect businesses interests and ensure free speech rights.

For fairness and justice, there vitally needs to be a UK legislative mechanism put in place whereby online sellers can counter-notice against takedown demands and assert their rights to continue trading. If Epson doesn’t then dare take sellers to court for fear their patent might be overruled - well, that’s their choice.

If you have been affected by takedowns relating to Epson compatible ink cartridges and patent claims, please get in touch with us by emailing policy.monitoring@openrightsgroup.org.

Patently unfair - Epson takedowns continue [Open Rights Group]