HP Accused of Blocking Rivals to Create Printer Ink Monopoly
by Brian Eckert
A proposed Milberg class action lawsuit filed in Illinois federal court claims that HP Inc. used software updates to block consumers from purchasing cheaper third-party replacement ink cartridges in HP printers, creating a monopoly that allows it to charge exorbitant prices for aftermarket printer ink.
The lawsuit names eleven plaintiffs and asserts claims under consumer protection and antitrust laws in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Anyone who purchased an HP-branded or non-HP branded replacement ink cartridge for certain models of HP printers may be eligible to join the litigation.
“Dynamic Security” Firmware Updates at Issue
According to Milberg’s complaint, HP forced consumers to buy higher-priced HP replacement-ink cartridges in its printers by sending “Dynamic Security” firmware updates in late 2022 and early 2023 that disabled HP printers when they tried to use a rival company’s ink cartridges.
“In effect, HP used the software update to create a monopoly in the aftermarket for replacement cartridges, permitting it to raise prices without fear of being undercut by competitors,” the suit states.
When consumers tried to use non-HP ink in their HP printers, they allegedly received an error message informing them that the third-party cartridges were blocked by the printer firmware. The lawsuit says customers were not notified at the time of the firmware update that the update would impede the printer’s functionality with other cartridges and that there was no way to opt out of the update.
Because of the anticompetitive course of conduct described in this Complaint, HP restrains consumers’ ability to purchase third party ink that would work in their printers if not for the Dynamic Security updates. Absent the conduct complained of herein, the replacement ink cartridge aftermarket would include a greater selection of usable ink cartridges sold by independent third parties.
During the same time period that it distributed this firmware update, the lawsuit adds, HP raised prices on its replacement cartridges and its “Instant Ink” subscription program.
Thus, the plaintiffs claim, they lost money in two ways: they could not return non-HP ink cartridges that had already been opened and had to pay higher prices for HP cartridges to use their printers.
An ARS Technica analysis of HP ink cartridge pricing on Amazon shows that ink prices for many HP cartridges increased in late 2022 and early 2023.
Milberg Senior Partner Peggy Wedgworth, who leads the firm’s Antitrust Practice Group, told ARS Technica that, “HP effectively monopolized the aftermarket for replacement ink cartridges in violation of federal and state antitrust laws, which forced HP printer owners to purchase only HP-branded ink at high prices and lose the value of any non-HP branded replacement ink cartridges.”
Other Lawsuits Make Similar Claims
HP debuted its Dynamic Security firmware updates in 2016. Since then, the Silicon-Valley based company has faced a string of litigation from disgruntled users.
In 2018, HP paid $1.5 million to settle a Dynamic Security class action case in California. HP also settled a European lawsuit over the firmware for $1.35 million.
In addition to Milberg’s lawsuit, HP is facing two California lawsuits about its ink practices. In 2021, discount ink seller Ink Genie sued HP for allegedly unlawful practices meant to thwart competition. And Italian and Australian authorities have fined HP for its Dynamic Security software.
Milberg’s complaint contends that HP controls approximately 35% of the global printer share and has a “long history” of blocking owners from buying competitors’ ink cartridges.
Proposed Classes and Printer Class Models
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, seeks to represent all consumers who purchased an HP-branded replacement ink cartridge or a non-HP branded replacement ink cartridge between September 2022 and the present for HP printer models that include the OfficeJetPro, OfficeJet, LaserJet, LaserJet Pro, DeskJet, Envy Inspire, and Envy Photo.
Plaintiffs seek an injunction requiring HP to disable the printer firmware that blocks non-HP branded ink; compensatory, statutory, and punitive damages; and attorneys’ fees.
Since 1965, Milberg has filed thousands of class action lawsuits, recovered billions of dollars for our clients, set groundbreaking legal precedents, and compelled corporate reforms through litigation.