How cheap ink cartridges can cost you dear

Firmware update rendered new HP printer useless as cartridges from another company had been used

The owner of a Hewlett-Packard printer has vowed to never buy another thing from the company after a “firmware update” left his £150 printer unusable because he had bought cheaper ink cartridges from another manufacturer.

Dom Smith, who works in IT in the Netherlands but is originally from the UK, was left incensed after the HP OfficeJet Pro 8020 printer he bought during lockdown was rendered useless by a recent software update.

He is just the latest person to complain about the problem that has dogged the owners of HP printers who have balked at the price of the company’s own-brand ink cartridges.

For several years, HP has been using the firmware updates to prevent the use of “fake” ink cartridges that it claims infringe its copyright. The policy has put the firm on a collision course with buyers, and has led to a number of legal actions.

In 2018, HP agreed to pay $1.5m (£1.1m) to customers in the US, and the company is facing another class action from people claiming a firmware update made their printers incompatible with other brands’ ink cartridges.

Smith, who had paid more than £150 for his printer, said he was quoted a “crazy” price to buy a complete set of replacement HP ink cartridges, so had bought cheaper aftermarket ones that had worked fine until the update.

“It left me unable to print anything. I’m so cross about it that I would rather scrap my perfectly good 8020, and nearly full ink cartridges, than be strong-armed by HP into buying their products,” he says.

“I can’t believe that this is even legal. Surely, once I have paid for the printer it is mine to do with what I want. I would strongly urge others with HP printers to change the settings so that they no longer accept any firmware updates and stop this happening to them.”

Max Freeman, a commercial director at the Crewe-based supplier, says most consumers are unaware that it is possible for a printer manufacturer to stop them from using third-party ink.

He agrees with Smith that there is little to be gained by consumers from allowing the HP updates, assuming you have the technical skills to stop them from happening.

Hewlett-Packard logo
HP says it ‘includes dynamic security to protect the quality of our customer experience, protect HP’s intellectual property, as well as reduce illegal counterfeiting of HP cartridges and warranty fraud’. Photograph: Thomas Kienzle/AP

“This has been a long-fought battle. However, I would urge users not to be put off from using third-party cartridges, and many will still work – provided they retain the original HP chip.”

He says companies such as his are careful to use recycled or remanufactured cartridges that will “span” a firmware update.

His firm offers a lifetime guarantee on its cartridges and promises a refund if a software update leaves a customer’s printer out of action. It encourages the recycling of original HP empties, as once remanufactured they will continue to work, post any firmware upgrades.

A spokesperson for HP says: HP includes dynamic security to protect the quality of our customer experience, protect HP’s intellectual property, as well as reduce illegal counterfeiting of HP cartridges and warranty fraud.

“Refilled or remanufactured supplies that use an original HP chip will continue to function normally. Other cartridges, including those using cloned chips, or modified or non-HP circuitry, may not work today or in the future.”

They said the company offers a range of options for customers, including HP Instant Ink, that can save UK customers up to 70%.

However, this has not been enough to convince Smith. He says his printer had a sticker offering the 70% discount but the site would not allow him to register. He has since bought a new printer from another firm, and says he will not be buying another HP product.


Miles Brignall

The GuardianTramp

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