Supreme Court Upholds Consumers’ Rights by Limiting Excessive Patent Claims for Printer Cartridges

Private property rights are one of the foundations of a free society. Despite that, they have slowly been eroded by both governments and corporations over the past century. Terms of use agreements, copyright abuse, and patent law have been particularly detrimental and turned purchasing a product into more of a rental agreement. The Supreme Court recently ruled against Lexmark, a large printer manufacturer, which had attempted to sue ink cartridge resellers using patent law. Simply put, the Court’s decision affirms that property owners have a right to do with products they’ve purchased as they will. The company that sold the product releases any rights to sue under patent law as a result of the sale.

But the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the claim involving refurbished cartridges. Essentially, the court determined that when a patent holder sells a product, they can’t use patent law to control how the buyer uses it, no matter what kind of agreement the two parties sign.

Overall, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation writes in a statement, these decisions support the idea that intellectual property rights “should not be a hunting license that allows an owner to control and destroy any business that threatens their profits.” Companies can draw up contracts to control how their products are used — but they can’t expand the scope of patent law to do so.

In addition to restoring property rights, this is a major win for consumers in the United States. Although this case was originally about printer ink cartridges, it will also apply to other goods and services. Furthermore, the decision also applies to goods sold overseas which could prove to drastically reduce pricing disparities. Resellers are now free to purchase new goods internationally and sell them in the U.S. at those reduced prices.

Writing for the court, Chief Justice John Roberts said sellers give up their patent rights even when the purchaser agrees not to resell the product to anyone else. He said that rule applies regardless of whether the sale happens domestically or overseas.

Wilson most recently served as the Director of Social Media on the presidential campaign of Gary Johnson and Bill Weld.
He started in politics by founding the political advocacy organization A Libertarian Future after the 2012 presidential election. Its Facebook page now reaches tens of millions of people a month, and the website received more than 10 million pageviews in three years.
Wilson has also launched a successful digital marketing firm with a range of domestic and international clients. After living in Europe intermittently throughout college, he currently resides in California – strictly for the climate.

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