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HP inkjet printers refuse to accept third-party ink cartridges after stealth firmware update

The inkjet printer market has been a ridiculously profitable racket for HP and its ilk for decades, and manufacturers have fought tooth and nail to keep it that way. HP launched the latest salvo in this effort earlier this month, when a six-month-old firmware update suddenly kicked in and locked out third-party ink cartridges.

Multiple models in HP’s OfficeJet, OfficeJet Pro, and OfficeJet Pro X were all affected, even though none of these models had seen a firmware update in the past six months. The consensus is that HP actually baked this response into the March 2016 update it released, but told no one it was coming. This ensured more people would adopt the firmware and report that it worked without incident.

In a statement to the BBC, HP noted that some devices had been updated with this functionality via firmware, while others had shipped with the necessary chips and capabilities from Day 1. “The purpose of this update is to protect HP’s innovations and intellectual property,” HP said in a statement. “In many cases, this functionality was installed in the HP printer and in some cases it has been implemented as part of an update to the printer’s firmware.”

Dutch ink cartridge manufacturer 123inkt noted it had received more than 1,000 complaints in a single day as a result of its cartridges suddenly failing to work in HP hardware. Refilled cartridges with an HP security chip should still function, though this requires that the user still purchase an original set of HP cartridges at significantly higher prices.

This type of control mechanism only works well in the short-term — in the long run, third-party manufacturers have typically figured out a way around the problem. As for why HP moved in this direction, a quick check of its Q1 2016 results shows the problem:

HPIncResults

Revenue in printer sales has been sliding, and “Supplies” constitutes 67% of HP’s income. Sales were down 14% year-on-year compared with 2015, commercial hardware fell 13%, and consumer hardware fell 46%. A company built on printers is seeing its sales collapse as most people don’t buy printers anymore. That’s problematic in the best of times. For the split HP, bereft of its cushy enterprise revenue, it’s downright disastrous.

Unfortunately, high profile moves like this are only going to backfire in the long-term. HP may well record a temporary revenue bump thanks to its sabotage, but the customers whose hardware it spontaneously broke aren’t going to remember it with love for the favor of paying huge mark-ups on microliters of ink that’s indistinguishable from high-quality third-party brands.

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