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Anyone in Texas who buys toner for printers knows how expensive new cartridges can be. In recent years, a market has grown that remanufactures those cartridges and sells them at a lower cost than a new one. One large printer cartridge retailer, Lexmark International, was unhappy with this loss of business and filed a lawsuit against several smaller companies that remanufacture and sell those printer cartridges. The printer giant believed that patent law was on its side, but the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled otherwise.

Most of the companies involved in the lawsuit decided that it would be more advantageous to settle with Lexmark, but one company, Impression Products, decided to see the case through to the end. The smaller company argued that Lexmark made its profit from its patented products with the first sale. What customers did with the cartridges thereafter was not Lexmark's problem or prerogative.

When remanufactured cartridges first made their appearance, Lexmark offered an attractive discount to consumers. In the fine print, the company prohibited customers from using the services of companies like Impression Products. To Lexmark's credit, the company decided against suing consumers for breaching that fine print and instead sued the companies.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed with Impression Products' interpretation of the patent law. This means that small businesses can continue reworking products patented by other companies after that first sale. This could prove useful to a Texas small business that sees a profit in this type of endeavor. However, that may not stop a company from attempting some other patent law angle to receive restitution for its perceived losses, and a smaller company would more than likely benefit from consulting with an attorney if such a claim is made.

Source: Forbes, "Supreme Court Delivers Huge Patent Win To Small Business", Robb Mandelbaum, May 31, 2017

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