Sunday, March 12, 2006

Non-DMCA case about printer cartridges

In re HP Inkjet Printer Litigation, 2006 WL 563048 (N.D. Cal.)

Plaintiffs sued HP for false representations about its printer cartridges. Specifically, they allege that HP’s “smart chip” technology, which can provide alerts via email or cellphone, deliberately misinforms consumers that the ink level is low when substantial ink remains, causing consumers to buy more ink. The cartridges also allegedly have an undisclosed, preprogrammed expiration date after which they won’t work, even if ink remains. Moreover, the technology interferes with consumers’ ability to buy from third-party manufacturers.

HP argued that the plaintiffs failed to allege they themselves suffered harm from this conduct; the court agreed and granted leave to amend. The court rejected HP’s argument that the plaintiffs failed to identify HP’s allegedly misleading statements with sufficient particularity; the plaintiffs pointed to several statements in HP’s advertising describing the “smart chip” features, touting them as consumer-friendly and saying things like “SureSupply … provides alerts via email or cell phone when toner or ink is low.” Comment: if low ink isn’t actually the trigger, that’s explicitly false, though the complaint appears to cast this as a failure to disclose limits on the chips, using phrases like “Absent from HP’s marketing material is any mention of …” and “HP has deliberately withheld … information ….” For once, this seems like underpleading the claim.

Plaintiffs’ unjust enrichment claims also survived, though the court dismissed their breach of implied warranty claim for lack of vertical privity and held that their breach of express warranty claim didn’t sufficiently identify the precise warranty terms on which they allegedly relied.

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