The Hewlett-Packard logo is seen on printer printer ink boxes on display

Enlarge / HP sometimes bricks third-party ink and toner that’s over 90 percent full, Imaging Technology Council claims.

HP printers have received a lot of flak historically and recently for invasive firmware updates that end up preventing customers from using ink with their printers. HP also encourages printer customers to sign up for HP+, a program that includes a free ink-subscription trial and irremovable firmware that allows HP to brick the ink when it sees fit.

Despite this, HP markets dozens of its printers with Dynamic Security and the optional HP+ feature as being in the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) registry, suggesting that these printers are built with the environment in mind and, more specifically, do not block third-party ink cartridges. Considering Dynamic Security and HP+ printers do exactly that, the International Imaging Technology Council (IITC) wants the General Electronics Council (GEC), which is in charge of the EPEAT registry, to revoke at least 101 HP printer models from the EPEAT registry, which HP has “made a mockery of.”

Before we get into the IITC complaint sent May 22 to  GEC Senior Manager Katherine Larocque, we should note the IITC’s obvious stakes in this. The nonprofit trade association was founded in 2000 and says it represents “toner and inkjet cartridge remanufacturers, component suppliers, and cartridge collectors in North America.” So its members stand to lose a lot of money from tactics like Dynamic Security. The IITC already filed a complaint to the GEC about HP in 2019 for firmware blocking non-HP ink, but there didn’t seem to be any noticeable results.

The group is biased regarding this topic, but its complaint still mirrors many problems and concerns that consumers and class-action lawsuits have detailed regarding HP printers’ exclusive stance on ink. You can find the full complaint here.

“Killer firmware updates”

For a printer to make the EPEAT registry, it’s supposed to comply with the EPEAT Imaging Equipment Category Criteria, which is based on the 1680.2-2012 IEEE Standard for Environmental Assessment of Imaging Equipment (PDF). The IITC is hung up on section 4.9.2.1, which requires that registered products do not “prevent the use of nonmanufacturer cartridges and non-manufacturer containers” and that vendors provide documentation showing that the device isn’t “designed to prevent the use of a non-manufacturer cartridge or non-manufacturer container.”

Well, as the IITC and consumers who found their inked bricked mid-print will tell you, that sounds an awful lot like what HP does with its Dynamic Security printers.

Diving deeper, the IITC’s complaint claims that “in the last 8 weeks alone, HP has released 4 killer firmware updates targeting dozens of EPEAT-registered inkjet printers.”

“At least one of these recent updates specifically targeted a single producer of remanufactured cartridges while not having any impact on non-remanufactured third-party cartridges using functionally identical non-HP chips,” the complaint reads.

The trade group also claimed at least 26 “killer firmware updates” occurred on EPEAT-registered HP laser printers since October 2020.

The complaint argues that the error message that users see—”The indicated cartridges have been blocked by the printer firmware because they contain non-HP chips. This printer is intended to work only with new or reused cartridges that have a new or reused HP chip. Replace the indicated cartridges to continue printing”—go against EPEAT requirements, yet HP markets dozens of Dynamic Security printers with EPEAT ecolabels.

Wordplay

The IITC’s complaint highlights numerous places where HP claims EPEAT registration while seemingly contradicting the registry’s terms.

For example, it shared a EPEAT documentation (PDF) stating, “HP printers are not designed to prevent the use of non-manufacturer cartridges and non-manufacturer containers.” Meanwhile, HP’s Dynamic Security website says, “Dynamic Security equipped printers are intended to work only with cartridges that have new or reused HP chips or electronic circuitry. The printers use the dynamic security measures to block cartridges using non-HP chips or modified or non-HP electronic circuitry.”

“Perhaps it is HP’s position that 4.9.2.1 allows it to block any non-manufacturer cartridge that does not use an HP chip. Regardless of whether HP cites ‘security concerns’ or some other excuse, 4.9.2.1 affords no such leeway. The language of 4.9.2.1 is unequivocal and unqualified,” the IITC’s complaint says.

Dynamic Security printers get periodic firmware updates that HP claims “can improve, enhance, or extend the printer’s functionality and features, protect against security threats, and serve other purposes” but also “block cartridges using a non-HP chip or modified or non-HP circuitry from working in the printer, including cartridges that work today.” Sometimes those cartridges are over 90 percent full, according to the IITC, which fails to see where the “security” in “Dynamic Security” comes in:

The truth is, Dynamic Security has nothing at all to do with security, and everything to do with frustrating consumers who choose non-HP cartridges in an effort to improve sales of genuine HP cartridges.

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