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Epson gets knocking over ink blocking

Printer maker faces legal action from consumers

US consumers who are tired of paying over the odds for inkjet cartridges are suing printer manufacturer Epson, accusing it of purposely manipulating equipment in order to sell more ink.

The lawsuit, filed in Texas last Friday, charges Epson with using technology to block inkjet cartridges prematurely even though a substantial amount of ink still remains in the cartridge, so that consumers are paying for ink they can't actually use.

PC Advisor has questioned many manufacturers, including Lexmark and Epson, over early low-ink warnings and their highly controversial intelligent chips.

Manufacturers insist the smart chips are there to make the printer more user-friendly and not to stamp out competition posed by refill companies and cartridge clone-makers. The chip also allows users to monitor how much ink is left in the machine and will even guide them to a website where new ink cartridges can be ordered. Ink blocking, they state, is necessary to prevent possible damage to the printer head if the cartridge runs dry.

But a report published by the Consumers Association and cited in the lawsuit, has provided some hard hitting evidence against intelligent chips. Testers were able to override the chip on Epson's cartridges and print between 17 to 38 percent more "good quality pages". With the aid of a resetting mechanism, the Consumers Association reported "premature warnings" of low ink levels on Canon, HP, Lexmark and Epson printers.

An Epson spokesperson in the US told PCWorld.com that the legal action is "unfounded", but could not comment further. If the case is successful, Epson and other manufacturers could see a rash of similar suits being brought across Europe.

The Office of Fair Trading's consumer report into IT goods and services, stopped short at labelling printer costs a rip-off, but said there should be more information about running expenses at point of purchase. The results of the OFT's spin-off report on printer cartridges is due next month and could place much tighter restrictions on manufacturers.

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