Supreme Court says companies can’t use patent law to sue resellers

The Supreme Court has ruled that patent holders can’t sue people for reselling or refurbishing a product that’s based on those patents. Today, it passed down a decision in Impression Products v. Lexmark International, declaring that printer company Lexmark can’t sue companies selling refilled toner cartridges for patent infringement. This reverses a two-part federal court ruling from 2016, affirming that patent law doesn’t justify eroding ownership rights.

Lexmark International, like many companies that sell printers, makes a lot of its money from customers buying a steady stream of toner cartridges after their initial purchase. But “remanufacturing” companies like Impression Products can take exhausted cartridges, refill them, and independently sell them at lower costs. Lexmark has spent over a decade arguing that this kind of refurbishing violates both copyright and patent law — though it lost the copyright fight in 2004.