Careful, China clones!

What they do, how we recognize them and what their consequences are for the market, the environment and consumers.

Owners of laser and inkjet printers can sing a song about it: Somehow the device seems to need new cartridges all the time - especially when the money is not that easy. Who then google for cheap alternatives on the Internet, will quickly find it. Original cartridges for a fraction of the manufacturer price?

A real blast! At least at first glance. Because after the purchase often bad surprises wait for the bargain hunters: For example, if the print looks strangely frayed, or because the cartridges are suddenly much faster empty than usual. And some dawns at the latest then that it is not really the originals of Samsung, Brother & Co. are in the cheap cartridges, but most likely a brazen forgery.

Counterfeit toner and inks cause billions of dollars worth of damage

The subject of ink and toner plagiarism is not new - and is now growing into a multi-layered problem. As early as mid-2014, the worldwide alliance of OEM printer supplies manufacturers estimated the damage caused by counterfeiting at around $ 3.5- $ 5 billion a year.

The dreaded toner and ink clones, today often referred to as "China clones", are mostly produced in Asia and usually resold through dubious Internet providers. In addition to the financial loss, the manufacturers of the originals have suffered immense image damage. No wonder that it is becoming increasingly important for them to defend themselves by all means against the counterfeiting - primarily by patenting various individual parts and technologies of their products.

Original, recycling or new construction - everything can be faked

In general, a distinction is made in the European market between different variants of the printer accessories:

  • OEM (Original) Toner and Inks (OEM = Original Equipment Manufacturer): are newly produced and put on the market by the original manufacturer.

  • Recycled (recycled) toners and inks: may be refill toner / inks or rebuilt toner. For refill cartridges, used originals are professionally cleaned and refilled, with rebuilt toners wear parts are also replaced.

  • Compatible toner / inks: are completely rebuilt (but not by the OEM) and sold under their own brand name.

So far so good. OEM cartridges can be safely trusted, as well as recycled goods - even if they have been reconditioned by an alternative recycling company. Even newly produced third-party goods are often of good quality when manufactured to European standards and therefore do not violate manufacturer patents.

The problem: All variants can also be offered as clones. According to market research institute InfoTrends clones are "(...) toner cartridges and printer cartridges, which consist entirely of new parts and for whose production no empty cartridges of the OEMs were used." To supplement is that not only inferior material used, but also at least one of the Manufacturer patents is infringed.

Counterfeiters even copy recycled cartridges

Many of the clones produced in the Far East are, at first glance, indistinguishable from the originals: they mimic the original cartridges both in production and in the declaration and packaging - a clear violation of various patent rights. The end customer notices that cheap material was used at the earliest when printing. The recycling company notices it at the latest when the empty goods can not be reprocessed.

Because the China clones are completely unsuitable for recycling. For the cheap material, no binding quality standards apply, so that reprocessing companies often exclude the clones from the collection system: they land on landfills and pollute the environment. It seems particularly perfidious in this context that counterfeiting likes to masquerade as environmentally friendly "recycling cartridges".

In addition, there are also toner and ink clones that look completely different from the originals and extremely cheap: they violate the patents of manufacturers simply by incorporating the same technology.

China clones set in motion a disastrous cycle

The consequences of the clone invasion are devastating and lasting, not only for the manufacturer but also for the consumer. One thing is certain: the more cheap plagiarized products are launched, the less reliable original products will be sold. As a result, even recyclable originals are missing - a big problem if the resource-conserving principle of recycling is to last forever. The result: Prices for new and remanufactured originals are rising, and more and more customers are turning to clones. The ecological principle of recycling is being undermined.

On the other hand, if manufacturers reduce their prices to prevent this, they will offset their losses elsewhere: for example, by revising the purchase price of printers upwards.

And how do I recognize fake toner and inks?

The surest indication that a product is not an original is the price, which is what makes the product so attractive at first glance. That's why a quick pre-check on the current selling price is urgently recommended. The toner cartridge for 20 instead of 120 euros? Hands off! The 4-pack of ink for 5 instead of 25 euros? Not a good idea. Unfortunately, quality does not exist for nothing: Even recycled toner and compatible products can not offer high-quality material at dumping prices - unless it is saved in the wrong place.

It is particularly annoying that dealers with the counterfeit goods put many reputable Internet providers in the wrong light. And they are rightly alarmed, after all, they also strive for quality at the best possible price.

Lawsuits, raids, law-winners - the war continues

Lawsuits on patent infringements are always successful. But beyond that, many OEMs work with other manufacturers, law enforcement, customs and tax authorities. In mid-2014, Xerox managed to confiscate thousands of boxes of counterfeit toners through raids in China, South America, and Europe and to stop the companies responsible.

Shortly before that, Samsung had massively attacked patent-infringing toner clones and had won a lawsuit against various traders selling illegal cartridges. Because not only the production, but also the sale of the clones will be prosecuted!

At the same time, OEMs remain active to protect themselves as much as possible against piracy: for example, by equipping their products with holograms that are difficult to duplicate. The manufacturers of compatible toners and inks meanwhile employ numerous patent attorneys who calculate and evaluate the risks accordingly. Tough negotiations for license fees are on the agenda.

Which price do we want to pay?

To assert that the consumer alone decides with his buying behavior whether the cheap counterfeit products can prevail on the German market is certainly too short-sighted: Legislators and OEMs also need to become more active - for long-term quality assurance and environmental responsibility. Nevertheless, we buyers should also take a look beyond their own nose. And realize that thrift is sometimes not worth the price.