The US Supreme Court Tuesday reversed a lower court decision that had given patent owners the power to sue customers who used a patented item in a way the patent owner didn’t approve of.
Specifically, the ruling means you now can tinker with your printer cartridge — including refilling it with third-party ink — without fear of being sued.
According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, printer maker Lexmark tried very hard to keep consumers from refilling their own printer cartridges. It was able to convince the Federal Circuit court to agree that a patent owner could write their own rules that customers would have to follow or face the consequence of patent infringement.
The case went to the Supreme Court, where the EFF filed an amicus brief that explained if the lower court’s decision was upheld, patent owners could easily create user agreements that hinder competition and innovation, and take away consumers’ freedom to tinker with and repair their own goods. In the end the court ruled in favor of EFF’s argument.
“The decision reinforces the freedoms of device owners and fends off the monopolistic threat of patent rights eliminating fair, essential competition in markets for repair and third-party innovation,” the EFF said in a statement. “We applaud the Supreme Court for striking this blow on behalf of the public, and look forward to seeing the ripples of the decision in the years to come.”