The aftermarket cartridge industry has long struggled with terminology. Cartridges can be called remanufactured (remans), reconditioned, rebuilt, compatible, new build, non-OEM… the list goes on. The BSA last month announced its approval of a new standard definition for a remanufactured cartridge to help with clarification, but will it be enough to generate industry-wide adoption and use and eventually ensure that all products are characterized correctly?

For a little background, the Business Solution Association (BSA) in October set out to define what constitutes a remanufactured cartridge and released a draft to elicit feedback from the general public. In January, the standard was approved, published, and made available to the industry.

At this point you may be saying to yourself, that’s great, but who is the BSA?

The BSA is a trade association that represents manufacturers, wholesalers, and manufacturer representatives in the business products and related industries. The group aims to develop industry standards, best practices, and technological advances to drive growth and success for its members through networking, education and innovative ideas. While the BSA itself is not instantly recognizable, several of its members are some big names in the cartridge industry, including Clover Technologies, Supplies Network, United Stationers, and SP Richards.

Why are they doing this now?

If you took a random poll asking people to define what a remanufactured cartridge is, you would probably get a hundred different answers. The overall theme of the definition would likely be the same, but there would be notable differences. Prior to October, the industry lacked a standard description of how to define a remanufactured cartridge, which has resulted in confusion and misuse of the word. With the new standard, the Association’s primary goals are to first and foremost to establish a definition that distinguishes remanufactured cartridges from everything else, while also eliminating terms that are interchangeably used to describe both remanufactured products and non-remanufactured alternatives. This should in-turn help producers understand how to market and categorize cartridges, reduce consumer confusion around what they are purchasing, and help prevent the sale of cartridges that may violate laws and GEOs (general exclusion orders).

So how did the BSA define a remanufactured cartridge?

The standard defines a remanufactured cartridge as “an original OEM cartridge that has been previously used and the marking substance consumed, and then is subsequently collected in the United States , inspected, cleaned, had new or reconditioned parts installed, re-filled with ink or toner, and quality tested so that its capability to print has been restored”. The standard also provides several guidelines on how to market a remanufactured product so that the message is explicitly clear.

Going back to the goal of eliminating the use of certain terms interchangeably, the standard dictates that a remanufactured cartridge should not be referred to as a “replacement, reconditioned, refurbished, rebuilt, compatible, new compatible, newly remanufactured, newly manufactured, newly built, newly refreshed, new build, new plastic, factory fresh, non-OEM, OEM compatible”. To simplify, the products described by many of these terms are most commonly known as compatibles, or clones, which can be defined as cartridges that are built by a third party using all new parts and materials.

Why is distinguishing the two so important?

There are many benefits to adopting a standard definition of what a remanufactured cartridge should and shouldn’t be called, but one of the largest is the intellectual property aspect (IP). Clone cartridges are an ongoing issue for the industry because they continue to proliferate, especially in developing regions and places where economic conditions are poor and regulations are enforced inconsistently.  They can significantly undercut OEM and even remanufactured cartridge prices because they are much less expensive to make.  Though it should be noted that even a remanufactured cartridge can only be rebuilt a limited number of times before it becomes unusable, they are much more sustainable than clones, which are newly-built, frequently from less-reliable materials, and are often not recycled responsibly.  IP comes into play because many clone cartridges infringe on OEM patents, as they are often built very similarly to the OEM and can look almost identical.

In short, clones are risky. Many companies marketing clones online and in product catalogs have been known to misclassify them as remanufactured, and as a result, have landed themselves with a lawsuit. Similarly, companies that are reselling/wholesaling/distributing infringing clone cartridges could get pulled into the litigation as well if the OEM files an infringement lawsuit against the company making the cartridges. A recent example of this is Samsung, who went after resellers in Germany and the Netherlands for distributing compatible cartridges that infringed on its patents. OEMs are also not showing any signs that they plan to curb their pursuit of IP rights – Canon just this month announced its initiation of new patent infringement lawsuits against 18 aftermarket vendors in the U.S. Bottom line, if you don’t know exactly what you are selling, there’s a risk that it could be infringing. Adopting standard terminology (assuming it is used correctly) would certainly help reduce that risk for resellers and consumers.

Consumers and remanufacturers are similarly affected. Anyone that unknowingly purchases a low-quality clone cartridge, will have a poor experience and may choose to no longer purchase any type of non-OEM alternative. Good news for the OEM, bad news for the legitimate remanufacturing industry. Remanufacturers are similarly at risk of infringing if they source new-build parts and components. Additionally, as I mentioned before, the sale of clone cartridges impacts the sale of legitimate remanufactured cartridges, so it is also in remanufactures’ best interest on several levels to ensure products are labeled correctly with standard terminology.

Now that we know what it’s all about, is the approval of this definition going to have major effect on the industry?

While it’s certainly a step in the right direction and has the potential to effect change, getting an entire industry, especially one as highly fragmented as that for cartridges, to adopt and consistently use the terminology will remain an obstacle, especially on a global scale. Specific challenges include education, adoption, and ongoing efforts to ensure consistent use.

Approving the definition was the first step, but if no one is aware that it was ever created, the effort will largely be lost. There is going to have to be a major effort around educating the industry, including manufacturers, resellers/wholesalers/distributors, and consumers alike. After education, getting the industry to adopt and consistently use the definition will be another barrier to the standard’s effectiveness. Potential solutions could come in the form of signing an agreement, using special logos or emblems, or creating a separate coalition dedicated to enforcing its use. However, the third, and maybe more important element, will have to be based on continuing education and enforcement.

This is also not the first endeavor of its kind. Just last year, the International ITC published a resolution that that its members will refrain from buying or selling products they know or have reason to believe are clones, new compatible cartridges, new compatible cores, new remanufactured cartridges, or any cartridges that may infringe valid intellectual property rights. Similarly, the European Toner & Inkjet Remanufacturers Association (ETIRA) shortly after issued its “Guide to Clones”, while Italian website published a post that helps distinguish between clones and remans, as well as tips on how to recognize a clone with regard to price, time-to-market, and wear-and-tear.

However, even with continuing education and adoption efforts, it’s unlikely that the approval of this definition is going to cause any significant change in the short term. Even in the long term, it is expected that there will be companies that are unaware of the standard, and even some who simply choose not to participate. However, regardless of the far-reaching effects of the standard, the BSA’s efforts should certainly be commended, as it represents progress toward a unified goal.