It's been just over a year since HP got caught using dirty tricks to force its customers to use its official, high-priced ink, and now it's Epson's turn to get in on the act.

Epson claims that ink-cartridges that are compatible with its printers violate a nonspecific patent or patents in nonspecific ways, and on the strength of those vague assertions, they have convinced eBay to remove many third-party ink sellers' products, without any scrutiny by eBay.

That's because Epson is part of eBay's VeRO program, through which trusted vendors can have listings removed without anyone checking to see whether they have a valid claim, contrary to eBay's normal procedure. As the company has said in another context, "eBay believes that removing listings based on allegations of infringement would be unfair to buyers and the accused sellers."

Because Epson only applies VeRO to patent claims in the EU, Americans are not affected by these claims, but Europeans are.

Our friends at the Open Rights Group have done outstanding work on this, and they make several excellent points in their analysis, showing that Epson is acting to hurt the resale market, not to assert patents against the manufacturers that are their competitors. If that was their goal, they'd target manufacturers, and shut down sales at the source.

Open Rights Group have asked the UK Intellectual Property Office to investigate Epson's business practices. They're also seeking contact with people who have "been affected by takedown claims relating to Epson compatible ink cartridges and patent claims" and welcome your email.

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