[German]The Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof) issued a groundbreaking ruling on recycling toner cartridges. The printer company Canon had filed a patent infringement suit against the German printer cartridge manufacturers wta Carsten Weser GmbH and KMP PrintTechnik AG. The Canon lawsuit was finally dismissed – and may be valid within the European Union (EU).
What’s the case?
The lawsuit was filed by Canon for an EU-Patent 2 087 407, describing a coupling piece attached to the toner drum for connection to the printer’s drive unit (please refer to the picture in this article).
German printer cartridge manufacturers wta Carsten Weser GmbH and KMP PrintTechnik AG have replaced the so-called coupling piece (and the associated gear wheel) during the recycling process and installed it in the rebuilt toner cartridges mentioned below.
- HP 05A / CE505A
- HP 05X / CE505X
- HP 80X / CF280X
- HP 55A / CE255A
- HP 55X / CE255X
- Canon Cartridge 720
- Canon C-EXV40
Interesting: Canon is also a manufacturer of HP toner cartridges, which is why the patent also applies to HP toner cartridges.
Lawsuits since March 2014
Since March 2014, Canon has been suing for cessation of the sale of recycled toner cartridges. In addition to suing for cessation wta and KMP in German courts, a large number of global industry leaders around the world such as Armor, Artech, Pelikan, Zephyr SAS, Aster, X-Com Shop Ltd. and OOO Softrade were affected.
Canon won the lawsuits before the lower courts in Germany. But German companies wta and KMP called the Federal Supreme Court to defeats the judgment of the two lower instances. Finally wta and KMP won the case, because the judgment is final for German (and probably also European) market.
I have not yet received written details about the final judgment of the Federal Supreme Court – but according to the spoken words of the judge, the recyclers are allowed to install the coupling piece in their toner cartridges. Thus, the patent claimed by Canon is not infringed. Whether the BGH used the principle of patent exhaustion is unknown to me. At least this English report suggests this. We will see that once the verdict is in full.
I find it interesting that the BGH is probably in line with international jurisprudence. Some time ago I’ve blogged (German blog post) about US verdict against Lexmark, dealing with refurbished ink cartridges. The U.S. Supreme Court said companies give up their patent rights when they sell an item, in a ruling that puts new limits on businesses’ ability to prevent their products from being resold at a discount (see this Bloomberg report for details).