Class Action Claims HP Printer Firmware Update Blocked Use of Third-Party Ink, Toner Cartridges
by Erin Shaak
Mobile Emergency Housing Corp. et al. v. HP, Inc.
Filed: December 17, 2020 ◆§ 5:20-cv-09157
A class action claims HP transmitted firmware updates to its printers that block customers from using third-party ink and toner cartridges.
A proposed class action claims HP, Inc. has transmitted firmware updates to its printers that block customers from using third-party ink and toner cartridges and force them to buy more expensive HP-branded supplies.
According to the 25-page lawsuit, the firmware updates essentially “act as malware” by adding, deleting or altering the printers’ code to render competitors’ products incompatible with HP printers. Per the case, the firmware update, or at least the portion that blocks the use of third-party cartridges, “serves no legitimate business purpose” and blindsides customers who were never warned that the update would strip them of their ability to buy less expensive supplies for their printers. From the complaint:
“Even if other portions of the transmission had some arguable security or quality benefit, the secretive, automatic, and misleading manner in which the firmware updates are carried out unlawfully deprive Plaintiffs and the Class of the fully informed choice of either choosing to accept the firmware update and the represented benefits accompanying it, or to decline the update and receive the benefits of using ink or toner of their choice.”
The lawsuit argues that HP has harmed competition by depriving customers of the choice to purchase less expensive third-party ink and toner cartridges. Those who had already installed competitors’ products before the firmware update have been left with “useless” printers and supply cartridges as a result of HP’s “unilateral, unsolicited, misleading, and deceptive” conduct, according to the case.
HP, the suit explains, depends on recurring sales of high-priced supply cartridges as “the lifeblood of its business,” meaning competing printer supply products, which are sold at a discount of as much as 711 percent, present a significant danger to HP’s revenue. To address declining supply revenue, HP, in October and November 2020, resorted to pushing out firmware updates to its internet-connected printers that block the use of third-party ink cartridges and toner, the case says.
According to the lawsuit, HP did not seek consent from, explain, or advise printer users before “simply transmitt[ing] the update,” which caused damage to HP Color LaserJet printers and all-in-one devices, including the HP Color LaserJet Pro M254, HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M280, and HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M281.
Moreover, after the update was rolled out, HP made misleading statements to conceal its role and the nature of the update, the lawsuit says. Per the case, users who had installed competing ink and toner cartridges received an error message that merely stated their printers had a “supply problem,” which falsely suggested the third-party cartridges were broken instead of disabled by HP. The case says the update caused the printers to be unusable unless customers discarded the otherwise functional third-party ink and toner cartridges and replaced them with HP-branded supplies.
The lawsuit argues that HP’s underhanded tactic in boosting printer supply sales was unfair to customers, who were unable to make a fully informed decision about whether to install the firmware update or continue using less expensive third-party supplies.
The plaintiffs, a New York business offering emergency housing for victims of natural disasters and an Arizona tire shop, say they would not have purchased HP’s printers had they known they would be unable to use third-party ink and toner cartridges.
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