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Small W.Va. company wins giant legal battle

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A Charleston based company is celebrating a true David and Goliath battle which went their way.  Impression Products has been in businesses since the late 1970’s.  Their businesses involves recharging printer old printer cartridges with ink and reselling them.     The practice didn’t sit well with one of the makers of some of those cartridges, Lexmark Incorporated.   Lexmark, a multi-national corporation, sued 50 companies like Impression Products over the practice.

“Forty-nine other companies were on the list and got the same letters we were receiving,” said President Eric Smith. “Forty-nine others backed down.”

Smith and his family run business in Charleston with 25 employees considered joining them, but it would have left them out of business.  It would have also impacted thousands of other businesses .

“It goes far beyond printer cartridges,” said Smith. “This was a fight for every consumer.”

So Smith and his small brand set out to battle Lexmark in a case which made it all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States.   The Supreme Court ruled in their favor in an 8-0 decision on the domestic component of the case and 7-1 in another international component of the case.   The ultimate ruling was when you buy a product, it’s yours to do with as you wish and the patent holders rights end when the product is sold.

“You buy a product, you would think it’s yours,” said Smith. “I just kept coming back to that and thinking surely common sense will prevail here.”

It wasn’t clear cut from the start, at one level of the appeals process Impression lost their case, before appealing to the Supreme Court.    But ultimately, the case is finished and the small West Virginia based company, with it’s 25 employees prevailed.   The significance of the case, according to Smith, isn’t lost on others.

“We’ve become a household name.  People in other states now know who Impression Products is and we’ve been able to turn it into a little investment,” said Smith. “A lot of people appreciate what we did here, especially the auto parts industry and they’re saying, ‘Look what can we do?  We really appreciate what this little company did for us.'”

Because of the case’s notoriety, Smith says they have seen an increase in interest from prospective customers to buy their recharged ink cartridge products.

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