An antitrust lawsuit has been filed against printer mogul Hewlett-Packard for suspected violation of monopoly laws. The tech giant supposedly paid $100 million to Staples in order to prevent the office supply chain from carrying cheaper, off-brand printer cartridge replacements. This act marks only the latest in a series of anti-competition moves made by HP.
According to Ars Technica, HP and other companies have even begun inserting microchips into their ink cartridges that “work with a corresponding technical mechanism in the printer that blocks the use of unauthorized third-party ink.” But even ignoring these more insidious means of “brand protection,” the $8,000 per gallon figure is pure sticker shock—especially for businesses who go through hundreds of cartridges a year.
Our own printer is currently beeping at us for a new yellow ink cartridge, but after reading about the discrepancies between actual ink availability and printer-reported ink availability, I can’t help but wonder if our office ink slave is one of those filthy, lying thieves as well.
But what’s really going to happen to HP if they’re booked for violating anti-trust laws? Violating the Sherman Act means prohibiting “contracts and conspiracies that create monopolization” (a prohibition which HP’s pay-out to Staples seems eager to exemplify). But when we look at what HP has already handed over to Staples, the actual penalties for violating antitrust laws seem laughable.
The maximum fine for violating the Sherman Act stands at $10 million for companies. But if this lawsuit moves towards the class-action arena, those fees could snowball into something quite a bit more damaging than a $10 million slap on the wrist.
By Kate Beall