On September 28, HP issued an apology over a “dynamic security feature” in a firmware update that caused some HP inkjet printer models to deliver error messages and stop printing when certain aftermarket cartridges using third-party chips were installed.
The firmware update in question affected OfficeJet, OfficeJet Pro, and OfficeJet Pro X inkjet printers and all-in-ones using the HP 934/935, HP 950/951, and HP 970/971 cartridges. It appears that the update itself actually happened earlier in the year for some machines and may have even been part of the original firmware on some models. But on or around September 13, 2016, what HP is now calling a “dynamic security feature” took effect and caused certain aftermarket cartridges to stop working in these devices (see “HP Inkjet Printer Firmware Update Disables Some Third-Party Inkjet Cartridges”).
HP’s move sparked outrage among consumers, the media, and consumer and digital rights advocacy groups, and affected aftermarket supplies firms scrambled to offer their customers solutions (see “HP Firmware Update Continues to Spark Consumer Outrage, Aftermarket Solutions”). A class-action lawsuit was filed against HP over the move in Alabama (see “HP Faces Class Action over Printer Firmware “Time Bomb” That Prevented Use of Aftermarket Cartridges”), and we just learned of yet another class action related to the firmware update that was filed in California (see “A Second Class Action Filed against HP over Inkjet Printer Firmware Update”).
On September 18, HP initially provided a very short statement declaring that the firmware update was designed to “protect HP’s innovations and intellectual property” and that its printers would “continue to work with refilled or remanufactured cartridges with an Original HP security chip.” The problem, of course, is that most third-party cartridges use third-party chips so as to offer fuller functionality. But after two weeks of bad press, HP is changing its tune—kind of.
A September 28 blog post from Jon Flaxman, HP’s chief operating officer, states, “We are committed to transparency in all of our communications and when we fall short, we call ourselves out.” Mr. Flaxman begins by again describing the firmware update as a move to protect HP’s intellectual property. He says, “We updated a cartridge authentication procedure in select models of HP office inkjet printers to ensure the best consumer experience and protect them from counterfeit and third-party ink cartridges that do not contain an original HP security chip and that infringe on our IP.”
Mr. Flaxman then goes on to address the delivery of what some have called an aftermarket-cartridge-killing “time bomb.” He says, “As is standard in the printing business, we have a process for authenticating supplies. The most recent firmware update included a dynamic security feature that prevented some untested third-party cartridges that use cloned security chips from working, even if they had previously functioned.”
According to Mr. Flaxman, HP’s error was in lack of communication about this “dynamic security feature.” He says, “We should have done a better job of communicating about the authentication procedure to customers, and we apologize. Although only a small number of customers have been affected, one customer who has a poor experience is one too many.”
Mr. Flaxman says that HP is offering a fix for disgruntled customers—and, yes, it involves another firmware update. Within two weeks, HP will offer an optional firmware update that removes the dynamic security feature. The company provided a link where it will provide more information, as it becomes available, about the optional firmware update.
No Big Change in Strategy
In Actionable Intelligence’s coverage of the class action filed against HP in Alabama, I said I would be very surprised to see HP roll back its printer firmware to an earlier version at this late date. Now, HP has gone and announced that it will do essentially that. I am willing to eat crow on this one. But, as was the case last time I ate crow (see “A Look at Funai’s Kodak Verité 55”), I am only taking a little. Maybe a thigh.
Third-party-cartridge-killing firmware updates are not new, and something that the aftermarket supplies industry has long coped with. With its all-important supplies revenues in steep decline (down 18 percent in the third quarter), HP has been taking steps to try to turn its business around. Taking back share from the aftermarket via tools like marketing campaigns, the Instant Ink subscription programs, intellectual priority litigation, and firmware updates has never been more important for HP. I thought the firm would hang tough on this one even if it meant losing some disgruntled customers to other printer brands. Because consumers that use aftermarket cartridges are not profitable customers for HP—they are precisely the sort of customers HP might not mind losing to Brother, Canon, or Epson. However, I think the two weeks of relentless media coverage and customer complaints forced HP to do something to ameliorate the situation. But is this a sudden concession that HP’s firmware update was wrong and a vow never to do something similar again? Not even close.
Although HP is offering a Band-Aid to customers harmed in its effort to combat the aftermarket, HP is not dropping the fight. Mr. Flaxman says, “We will continue to use security features to protect the quality of our customer experience, maintain the integrity of our printing systems, and protect our IP including authentication methods that may prevent some third-party supplies from working.” That, folks, means aftermarket-cartridge-killing firmware updates are here to stay. HP simply vows to improve communications, “so that customers understand our concerns about cloned and counterfeit supplies.”
That HP will be offering a firmware fix is good news for affected customers who wish to continue using aftermarket cartridges, and customers are, of course, HP’s main concern. Are the difficulties the aftermarket has undergone because of the firmware update a concern? As we say here in New Jersey, fuhgeddaboudit. HP’s strategy of using firmware to lock out aftermarket cartridges will remain in place, which is cold comfort to those in the aftermarket.
[UPDATE: On October 12, HP made available its firmware fix for affected OfficeJet models (see “HP Makes Firmware Fix Available for OfficeJets Affected by Aftermarket-Cartridge-Killing Update”). For more on how to download the update, see HP’s Support Forum. The Actionable Intelligence article noted here also provides step-by-step instructions.]