EU is to investigate allegations of anti-competitive practices by leading
printer makers, following complaints that users are being overcharged for
The worldwide market for printers and ink and toner
cartridges is dominated by four companies: Canon, Epson, Lexmark and
Hewlett-Packard. The vendors make most of their profits in this market
from disposable cartridges, whilst making next to nothing on the printers.
You can currently buy an Epson Stylus C60 printer for around £69 - and
that includes one black and one colour ink cartridge. Replacements for
these cost £22 and £20 respectively.
The manufacturers have encouraged consumers to buy replacement cartridges
supplied by themselves, rather than 'unbranded' cartridges from
third-parties. Some have suggested that the use of third-party supplies may
result in inferior quality prints and in some cases damage to the
For example, Epson's Setup and daily Use guide for the Stylus Color 740
says, 'EPSON recommends the use of genuine EPSON ink cartridges. Other
products not manufactured by EPSON may cause damage to your printer not
covered by EPSON's
Nonetheless, third parties have gradually eroded the printer
manufacturers' market share, largely by refilling the original cartridges
for a fraction of the price. According to the Financial Times some
estimates put their market share at around 11 per cent, worth some $3
Under EU law, companies cannot exploit a strong market position to
restrict competition. European competition commissioner Mario Monti raised
the issue this week with US anti-trust regulator Charles James and has
concluded that there is, 'probably a case here for us. We intend to
examine this in detail.' The EU can fine companies up to 10 per cent of
their turnover if it finds them guilty of anti-competitive practices.
Hewlett-Packard has already denied any wrongdoing. A spokesman said, 'HP
does not prevent customers from using cartridges from other suppliers.'