Ink Cartridge Re-Use: Light and Heat

Readers know that I was indelibly marked by my experience in Zuhai, Nanhai, and Foshan China a decade ago.  When I came across a neighborhood, several city blocks, where all the printer refurbishers had been shut down, and saw the supressed emotions of the Chinese city official, I went a google-ing to find what had happened.  I found an AGMA press release about a partnership agreement between HP and the Chinese EPA, as well as a long (and misleading) article in China Daily about "poison" ink cartridges.  The AGMA press release disappeared, Orwell-style, when I asked about it.

As if the new inks are healthy, and the fake inks are poison...  The link between counterfeit ink and poison?  E-storks with photos of children, and white juju words like toxin and cancer and e-waste.

What has been poisoned is the well of public opinion on reuse.

The fulcrum between legitimate re-manufacturing of consumables (inks, ribbons, toner cartridges) and counterfeit (back in a fake OEM box) remains the most kinetic place in the debate.   I just discovered a blog by David Connett, editor of The Recycler, a trade magazine for used cartridge remanufacturing.

350 Companies were expected at the 9th ReChina Asia Expo last week in Shanghai.  If it's the 9th show, it means it's been organized since about the same time I became aware of the war on reuse.

The profits on consumables like printer ink are astronomical.  The patent wars and push on patent exhaustion doctrine could have long term and wide ranging effects.

This month, China's own Supreme Court took a different take on patent exhaustion doctrine than USA's Supreme Court did in 2008.  Patent cases are taking a very intense international flavor, and environmentalists don't have a dog in that fight.

As more and more manufacturing has been outsourced to lower wage nations like China, our USA original equipment manufacturers rely more and more on the profits from consumables like ink and toner, and rely more and more on their patents to act as a trade barrier.

On our side?  Retailers and distributors. The cheaper the product, the more volume they sell, the more people come in the store and buy other things.  Best Buy now "manufactures" as many products as Dell or HP do - using their own contract manufacturers.  Best Buy would probably shrug off patent exhaustion faster than the computer manufacturers would, because cheaper product in higher volumes benefits them.

When China and India become bigger-than-USA markets for consumables like ink, the re-manufacturers will "scale" and become huge, and will shrug off loss of American markets over patent enforcement. Patent exhaustion will not rely on the USA Supreme Court, but on court decisions like the one in Beijing this month.  China may be thinking ahead to the day when they need to reinforce their own patent holder privileges, as they did with display devices, using anti-reuse-law as protectionism and trade barrier for Chinese Communist Party owned virgin CRT factories.  Or perhaps the Chinese distributors and retailers, who make money on volume and participation, will emerge victorious.

Ink.  It's a display device, in a way.

Fahrenheit 451 and Fahrenheit 1346, both court ordered temperatures to make reading and learning less accessible.  This entire decade has been about the internet making truth and fiction exponentially more communicatable, and the reactions by major corporations to control ink and display repair, in conjunction with dictators, would be funny if not so dire.

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