HP customers claim firmware update rendered third-party ink verboten

Then the company cranked up the price of cartridges, complaint alleges

HP is facing a potential class action complaint regarding a firmware update that rendered its printers unable to use ink from any other supplier.

The complaint [PDF] centers around a firmware update issued between late 2022 and early 2023 that is alleged to have disabled a customer's printer if a replacement cartridge that was not HP-branded was installed.

The update was electronically distributed to registered owners of the affected printers.

The complaint claims: "In the same period, HP raised prices on the HP branded replacement ink cartridges."

It adds: "In effect, HP used the software update to create a monopoly in the aftermarket for replacement cartridges, permitting it to raise prices without fear of being undercut by competitors."

The docs also contain some stirring allegations about HP's business practices.

Ink is expensive, and when it comes to cartridges, HP is not alone in charging steep prices. The business model, as with razors, means users can sometimes find themselves in the situation where supplies cost more than a replacement printer.

The complaint claims "the costs of ink for the All-in-One is not trivial or fleeting," and draws a comparison between the $100 needed for a typical set of HP-branded replacement cartridges versus those of a competitor, which it says can be half the price.

The complaint adds:

HP had a long history of using software to prevent owners of its printers from using competitors' ink cartridges. In the 2010-2015 time period, HP used software it called 'Dynamic Security' that functionally prevented the use on any non-HP replacement ink cartridge in some printer models. In 2019, it entered into a class action settlement in which it paid $1.5 million to a class of aggrieved consumers, and agreed not to use 'Dynamic Security' on specified models of printers in the future.

Ah, yes, the infamous Dynamic Security feature. This was a DRM-like mechanism that, among other things, stopped customers from using supplies made by third parties with a range of HP printers. Unsurprisingly, the lawsuits flew, and HP eventually settled the claims.

The would-be class actions adds: "In late 2022, HP reinstated a feature that had the same functionality as in many of its printer models. The purpose was the same as in the earlier time period: To force all purchasers of HP printers to also purchase only HP-branded ink, effectively monopolizing the aftermarket for replacement ink cartridges and permitting HP to charge supracompetitive prices."

Part of the issue appears to be that HP encourages users to register their products. According to the complaint's allegations, the company then quietly keeps devices up to date via automatic updates.

The filing claims: "Consumers do not have a choice to opt out of specific software or firmware updates. If a printer is connected to the internet, the update downloads automatically. Typically, consumers do not know when updates occur."

One of those updates, alleges the complaint, contained code with similar functionality to the previously discontinued "Dynamic Security."

Not knowing that the meddling had occurred, a consumer would attempt to fit the cartridge, the complaint adds. The cartridge would then be rejected until HP-branded consumables were purchased.

According to the complainant, users were unaware that their new device would be disabled in this way.

HP's end user license agreement states that using a third-party cartridge won't invalidate a warranty. However, any subsequent failures attributed to that cartridge would be up to the customer to pay for.

The complaint also alleges that HP Inc raised its ink prices while the firmware update was being rolled out. Ir is seeking class certification, compensation from the printer giant, and an injunction to disable the part of the firmware updates that prevent the use of third-party ink.

The Register asked HP to comment and will update should the company respond. ®

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