Charleston business owner wins SCOTUS patent case against Lexmark

By Carrie Salls | Dec 11, 2017

CHARLESTON – Eric Smith, the owner of Lexmark printer cartridge recycler Impression Products, feels that a May 2017 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that exempts entities who resell, refurbish and repair used products from patent laws is good for his industry as a whole.

“The ruling means Impression Products (and all of my competitors) can continue making aftermarket toner cartridges,” Smith told The West Virginia Record. “Furthermore, all who trade in this industry such as the cartridge brokers, chip suppliers, toner manufacturers, etc. can now rest easy because a West Virginia company fought for their jobs.”

Smith said the issue at stake in the Supreme Court case, which was decided unanimously in favor of Impression Products, according to an article in West Virginia MetroNews, was that “it would seem inherently obvious that if you buy something legally on the market, that item would be yours.”

“The overall impact is enormous considering every consumer in the world now legally owns whatever item they purchase,” Smith said. “Thanks to Impression Products, patent law now recognizes that if you buy it, you own it. The entity that made it doesn’t get to control it (or you) in perpetuity.”

In November, Smith was recognized by Recycling Times for Impression Products’ Supreme Court victory.

According to a WCHS Eyewitness News report on Impression Times’ legal saga, “in 2010 Smith got a letter from Lexmark International saying they were going to sue Impression Products for patent infringement.”

Smith told WCHS that “about 50 other companies across the country got the same letter, but Impression Products was the only company that fought back.”

“We’re not a knock-off, we're not mimicking their product,” Smith told WCHS. “They're making their money. We’re waiting for the cartridge to be used.”

The high court of the land agreed with Impression Products.

“We conclude that Lexmark exhausted its patent rights in these cartridges the moment it sold them,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. “The single-use/no-resale restrictions in Lexmark’s contracts with customers may have been clear and enforceable under contract law, but they do not entitle Lexmark to retain patent rights in an item that it has elected to sell.”

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