OFT: Printer firms have started cleaning up their act

With complaints from IT buyers declining, the Office of Fair Trading thinks the industry has made some important improvements in recent years, despite ongoing legal battles over ink cartridges
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

Businesses and consumes who buy IT equipment such as printers are getting a fairer deal than three years ago, according to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).

Speaking after the OFT published new guidance for companies that sell IT services remotely, a spokesman for the organisation said on Monday that retailers had taken action since it highlighted several problems back in 2002.

This included the restrictions imposed by printer manufacturers to prevent people from using third-party ink cartridges.

"I think things have improved. Back in 2002, a lot of printer companies said customers would violate their warranties if they used cartridges made by other firms. This was anticompetitive, we felt, as it meant people couldn't shop around," said the OFT spokesman, adding that most manufacturers have now mended their ways.

The issue of generic ink cartridges still rumbles on, however. In October, HP claimed that a reseller was violating its intellectual property rights by refilling used cartridges with new ink. Such attacks would, if successful, make it much harder for consumers to find cheaper alternatives to products from major manufacturers.

The OFT is also pleased that the printer industry has developed a test "standard" for monochrome inkjet cartridges to help consumers compare the performance of different products. The standard, ISO/IEC 19752, was launched in June 2004.

However, the OFT added that a similar standard for colour cartridges still "isn't there yet" and is still being developed.

Another issue identified back in 2002 was the poor training of some sales staff. Some large IT retailers have since told the OFT that they have revamped their technical training programmes for salespeople, and there are indications that this may have paid dividends. Complaints to Trading Standards Services about IT purchases have dropped by almost 50 percent since 2001, the OFT said.

The OFT's new guidance can be downloaded from its Web site.

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