HP is now letting consumers remove software that blocks third-party ink cartridges in its printers

The real thing.
The real thing.
Image: AP Images/Paul Sakuma
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HP earlier this month distributed a software update that prevented owners of certain OfficeJet printers from using third-party ink cartridges, which are typically less expensive than cartridges made by HP.

A group of consumers and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) called on the printer company to remove the restriction, which came via an update to the firmware software that runs on printers. HP has now said it will do so.

In an open letter to HP earlier this week, Cory Doctorow of the EFF said that HP had “deprived its customers of a useful, legitimate feature,” by implementing the restriction, and that the company had ”abused its security-update mechanism to trick its customers.”

Some customers found they were unable to use their printers after the firmware update, which affected the HP OfficeJet, OfficeJet Pro, and OfficeJet Pro X models.

Consumer advocates regularly point out that printer ink is among the most expensive liquids that consumers buy, and generic ink cartridges are one way to reduce that expense. Consumer Reports in 2013 calculated that one gallon of printer ink cost roughly the same as 2,652 gallons of regular gas or 2,791 gallons of whole milk.

In a statement released on Wednesday (Sept. 28), HP said the restriction was a security feature to protect its customers from counterfeit cartridges that infringe HP’s intellectual property.

“We updated a cartridge authentication procedure in select models of HP office inkjet printers to ensure the best consumer experience and protect them from counterfeit and third-party ink cartridges that do not contain an original HP security chip and that infringe on our IP,” the statement said.

“As a remedy for the small number of affected customers,” the statement went on, “we will issue an optional firmware update that will remove the dynamic security feature.”

Whether this is the end of HP’s attempts to force its customers to buy only HP cartridges is unclear. In its statement, the company said it will continue to use “authentication measures” to protect its IP:

We will continue to use security features to protect the quality of our customer experience, maintain the integrity of our printing systems, and protect our IP including authentication methods that may prevent some third-party supplies from working.