HP to expand 'smart chip' range

Hewlett-Packard plans to expand its controversial 'smart chip' technology into all its printer products, reinforcing a growing determination by printer companies to protect their lucrative supplies business.Regional executives have confirmed that the smart chips, originally used only on high-end enterprise printers to determine available levels of remaining ink, will eventually be rolled out across HP's full printer range.

Hewlett-Packard plans to expand its controversial 'smart chip' technology into all its printer products, reinforcing a growing determination by printer companies to protect their lucrative supplies business.

Regional executives have confirmed that the smart chips, originally used only on high-end enterprise printers to determine available levels of remaining ink, will eventually be rolled out across HP's full printer range.

"We will ultimately introduce smart technology on all our supplies products," Vincent Vanderpoel, vice-president for HP's Asia-Pacific supplies business, told a press gathering in Singapore. Printer supplies account for around half of the $US25 billion in annual revenues racked up by HP's imaging and printing group.

Smart chip technology has proven controversial because in many instances it makes it difficult or impossible for third parties to refill ink cartridges, since the chip will tell the printer it has no ink left even after the refill is performed. Lexmark is engaged in an ongoing copyright lawsuit against Static Control Components, which sells chips which circumvent the protection technology in Lexmark supplies. HP maintains that its technology does not qualify as a so-called 'killer chip' which renders re-inking impossible. "It's purely designed to prove enhanced customer benefits, and it certainly doesn't lock out any competitors," said Vanderpoel.

Nonetheless, HP is devoting increased efforts to promoting its own line of cartridges and media. "We recognise that people have a choice, but we feel it's incredibly important that people make a choice in an informed environment," said Vanderpoel.

Some third-party studies suggest that consumers are becoming less enamoured of re-inking, despite the fact that doing so is generally much cheaper than buying brand-name supplies.

An HP-commissioned study by QualityLogic suggests that 40 per cent of colour refill cartridges fail at some point in their lifespan, while 65 per cent of respondents in a recent Lyra Research study said that cartridge life for refills was lower than for branded supplies.

Angus Kidman travelled to Singapore as a guest of HP.

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