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Epson finalises settlement in respect of a class action brought by customers in Canada – was Epson guilty?

Issue 0927/1 – Epson has settled out of court in a class action, brought by customers in Canada, alleging that Epson was guilty of “depriving the Class Members from fully benefiting from the Epson Inkjet Cartridges they purchased”. Perhaps a grey area, Epson has taken the swift, but costly, exit route by offering all Epson inkjet customers a compensation package, while not admitting any liability. But, was the class action justified? What was Epson actually guilty of?

Between 2005 and 2007, Epson Canada was taken to task in four class actions across Canada (British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec and Ontario (rest of Canada)) that it has recently settled out of court during the course of this year and finalised with a settlement allowing qualifying Epson inkjet printer users to claim a compensation package beginning in September 2009.

Every single inkjet printer model sold by Epson in Canada between 1st November 2002 and 1st September 2006 (numbering approximately 95) is included in the class action, meaning that every individual, organisation or company that bought an Epson inkjet printer during this period is eligible to claim the compensation.

Quite frankly, these class actions would seem to have been made from an uneducated standpoint without paying due care and attention to the technical background of the case.

Ink cartridge foam padsFoam pads from a
non-Epson ink cartridge

In this instance, the complaints were based on the fact that Epson ink cartridges leave a small quantity of ink in the cartridge when the ink system delivers the ‘Ink Out’ message, claiming that Epson was “depriving the Class Members from fully benefiting from the Epson Inkjet Cartridges they purchased”.

FACT – EVERY ink cartridge leaves some ink behind – no inkjet printer owner has ever benefited fully from every last drop of ink in any of the cartridges they bought.

Why do I say that? Read on!

But first – what would the world be like if householders were to take out class actions against:

  • peanut butter manufacturers because there is a smear of peanut butter left in the jar that a knife will not excavate?
  • toothpaste manufacturers because there is a little toothpaste left in the tube that cannot be squeezed out?
  • bread manufacturers because cutting a loaf of bread with a knife makes crumbs that can realistically only be swept up and thrown away?
  • battery manufacturers because there is still a residue of power left in a battery when the electrical equipment it is driving will no longer run with that battery?
  • etc., etc.

The reason for ink to be such an emotive issue, rather than these other products, is purely and simply down to the fact that manufacturers recover a large proportion of their printer R&D costs in the ink, giving it a high perceived cost.

Worse than this though, there is no technical reason why a small amount of peanut butter or toothpaste HAS to be left behind when the jar or tube is essentially empty and everyone accepts that it is a fact of life that cutting bread makes crumbs.

There is, however, a solid technical reason for some ink being left behind in the cartridges manufactured by Epson – or Brother for that matter – or some models of cartridge from Canon and Hewlett-Packard.

“Why?” Because if the cartridge was drained completely, air would get into the ink system!

“So what?” When air gets into the ink system, it has to be purged or streaking will occur on the page when ink cannot flow into the print head, thus meaning that the printer does not print correctly and to its highest print quality. The net result is wasted pages, which means wasted paper, wasted ink and wasted time – an expensive commodity.

“So purge the air!” Did you know that the priming process of a typical Epson inkjet printer, when the printer is new out of the box, sucks out about 23% of the ink contained in each of the first set of cartridges to be installed without the owner ever printing a page?? (CharisCo Printer Labs test results – Epson Stylus DX7400)

However, when a cartridge is replaced at the correct time, no air has entered the ink system, meaning that ink remains throughout the system and that no priming is required. The printer will probably just run a standard cleaning cycle (which also uses ink but not as much!).

Do Canadian users really want 23% of the ink in four cartridges to be sucked through the print head every time they change one cartridge because the system has to purge the air that entered the system by totally draining the cartridge? That is the equivalent of 92% of the cartridge that is actually being replaced (in a four-ink system). Why not cut out the middle man and pour the ink straight down the toilet? It would be much more fun to watch the colours intermingle in the toilet pan!

In my opinion, the only failure (oversight) by Epson in this instance has probably been to have not published a disclaimer stating that “some ink will remain in the cartridge at the end of life” and perhaps explaining why.

The question is, “would the Canadian consumers who brought this class action against Epson prefer to waste large amounts of ink in the priming process every time they replace one cartridge and also pay for a new print head every so often?” Because, sure as eggs is eggs, they are not “fully benefiting from the Epson Inkjet Cartridges they purchased” even now.

Technology has advanced over the years and less ink remains in cartridges in 2009 than in 2005 – but the fact remains that there is no way that Epson can allow ink cartridges to run totally dry without causing the user far more pain than ‘wasting’ a tiny bit of ink in each cartridge.

However, run an inkjet print head dry and there is a serious risk of ruining the print head itself. If this is allowed to happen every time an ink cartridge runs dry, it is only a matter of time before the head needs replacing.

In conclusion, the fact that there is ink left in each Epson cartridge bears witness to Epson’s strategy of responsibility to the customer, protecting them from damaging their printer and preventing them from unnecessarily wasting ink. These class actions could actually be classed as ‘wasting the courts time’ and, in the process, it has cost Epson a significant amount of money.

Who funds the settlement? Customers (members of the class), of course!

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