08/29/2015 - Op-Ed: Lexmark’s war against a man who recycles toner cartridges

by Doug Kari
-Doug Kari is a lawyer, business executive, and freelance writer in Southern California.

The intellectual property interests are at it again, trying to leverage their rights to take away yours. No one knows this better than 44-year-old Eric Smith of Charleston, West Virginia. Smith has devoted his life to the office supply company founded by his father—a company that’s now under legal attack by printing behemoth Lexmark International, Inc.

Although Smith trying to fend off Lexmark is like a lone Ukrainian trying to stop the Russian army, when I reached the embattled businessman at his office, he said that he’s determined to stick it out. “We have nothing else to fall back on.”

Smith started in the business as a teenager, delivering typewriter ribbons to customers around town. When IBM Selectrics gave way to computers anddot-matrix printers, Smith found a niche in recycling ink cartridges —buying up empties and refilling them. As revenue grew he hired buddies to work in the shop, and eventually he became president.

But in 2013, Smith started getting threatening letters from lawyers representing Lexmark. The letters accused his family company Impression Products, Inc. of patent infringement, based on a theory that Smith found baffling.

Some of the empty cartridges that Impression Products recycled had first been sold overseas. Lexmark insisted that as patent holder, it had the right to block Impression Products from refilling or reselling these foreign-market cartridges in the U.S.

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