Do you really own what you bought? New insights from Supreme Court decision Impression Products vs. Lexmark International

Supreme Court decision PDF file: Impression Products vs. Lexmark International

Wired, “The Supreme Court Just Bolstered Your Right to Repair Stuff

Impression Products vs. Lexmark International hinged on two points: Did Impression infringe upon Lexmark’s patents by (1) reselling cartridges in the United States when Lexmark explicitly prohibited reuse and resale, and (2) importing without authorization cartridges Lexmark sold abroad. Various courts split on these questions, and everyone from the AARP and Huawei to Costco and the Auto Care Association weighed in when the case finally reached the Supreme Court.

Why all the fuss? Because this wasn’t really about printer toner. It was about your ownership rights, and whether a patent holder can dictate how you repair, modify, or reuse something you’ve purchased. “This case raises important questions about the reach of American patent law and how much control a manufacturer can exert after its products have been lawfully sold,” the editorial board of The New York Times wrote in 2015. “Taken to their logical conclusion, Lexmark’s arguments would mean that producers could use patent law to dictate how things like computers, printers, and other patented goods are used, changed, or resold and place restrictions on international trade.”

Consider this: Countless people hack their Keurig machines to brew “unauthorized” coffee brands. Can Keurig sue them? Could Apple or Samsung stipulate that you can’t resell their products on Craigslist or eBay? Could John Deere claim that a repair tech is infringing upon its patent rights by repairing a broken combine without permission? Consumer rights advocates at the EFF and Public Knowledge worried that a ruling in Lexmark’s favor would “jeopardize independent product refurbishers and repair services”.”

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