Court limits patent owners’ right to block resale

In a ruling against printer company Lexmark International Inc, the US Supreme Court has made it harder for patent owners to control the use of patented products once they are sold.

The high court said that Lexmark, which has patents on ink cartridge technology, relinquished its intellectual property rights in those cartridges once it sold them to the public, Reuters reported.

The decision came in a dispute between Lexmark and Impression Products Inc, which buys empty Lexmark cartridges and resells refurbished cartridges for less than Lexmark charges.

Lexmark sued Impression in Ohio federal court in 2010, arguing that because it expressly retained patents rights in its cartridges, Impression’s business model infringed on its patents.

However, the high court found that Lexmark cannot enforce these restrictions through patent infringement lawsuits.

The justices also said that holders of US patents cannot control what happens to patented items they sell abroad, Reuters reported.

The ruling is being seen as a setback for many big US technology firms and also the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

“An authorized sale outside the United States, just as one within the United States, exhausts all (patent) rights,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court.

The justices overturned a ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit that favored Lexmark.