Supreme Court overturns Lexmark’s patent win on used printer cartridgesEnlarge / Lexmark printer cartridges in a Staple’s store in New York. (credit: Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
The US Supreme Court voted 7-1 to place more limits on the rights of patent-holders, striking down a decision by the nation’s top patent court for the second time in two weeks.
In Impression Products v. Lexmark International, the justices’ opinion (PDF) made crystal clear that once a patented item has been sold once, the patent is “exhausted” and can no longer be enforced.

That’s true even if the sale happened abroad and the item was later imported. Lexmark had two different strategies for trying to control how its cartridges get re-used; the high court struck down both of them and paid scant regard to various industry briefs pleading to maintain the pricing structures used by Lexmark and others to maintain profits.
Lexmark had been trying to use patent laws to impose restrictions on companies like Impression Products, which are known as “remanufacturers.” These companies acquire Lexmark cartridges, then re-fill and re-sell them.

A strong 10-2 majority of judges on the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which hears all patent appeals, took Lexmark’s side and found that the patent-related restrictions were justified.
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