China Toner Cloners Are All Over Amazon, Regardless Of Patents Or Laws

Werner Sandten * is worried about his business existence. “Since the Chinese low-cost suppliers flood Amazon, we sell virtually nothing,” he says. Soon his whole industry could go broke, “one after another”. The legislature must finally ensure fair competition. “But apparently nobody wants to mess with Amazon.”

Some days ago someone dared to do it. The German shoe manufacturer Birkenstock announced the cooperation of the world’s largest online retailer . His allegation: Amazon does not do enough to counter product counterfeiting. Apparently, the platform in Neustadt, Rhineland-Palatinate, has become more of a threat than an opportunity. And with this view, Birkenstock is not alone.

Werner Sandten is the boss of a manufacturer of alternative printer cartridges. These self-building, which do not infringe any patents, are with the devices of Epson, Canon Show chart or HP Show chart compatible, but usually cost only a third to half as much as original cartridges. The success of the business model has been a sign of business in German cities for many years. These are names such as toner dumping, Druckmal or Dr. Ing. Fill replicas and refill.

Between alternative cartridge producers such as Pelikan, Edding or Peach and the original manufacturers, there were always friction. Processes were brought against each other or cartridges with special chips were used to make the use of legal alternative products impossible. On the whole, however, both groups existed side by side.

Meanwhile, however, a third group pushes brute in the market: Chinese vendors who copy cartridges – to sell them on platforms such as Amazon or Ebay at trickle prices. Many companies started as suppliers to Western manufacturers before becoming their competitors. Meanwhile, according to official figures alone in the southern Chinese port city of Zhuhai about 60 percent of all alternative printer cartridges and 35 percent of all refilled toner cartridges are produced worldwide.

“Many of these sellers are not playing fair,” says Charles Brewer of the print-market analysis firm Actionable Intelligence. “That’s a real problem.” The cartridges from China are for the most part one-to-one replicas of the original products, Brewer also referred to as “clones”. The manufacturers do not care about existing patents.

Another advantage from a Chinese perspective: German manufacturers are required by law to recycle. Finally, for the production of a medium-sized cartridge on average three liters of oil go on it. “We sort the empties, clean intact containers, reprogram the chip and then refill it,” says Sandten. “These are precious resources.” The Chinese, however, take no responsibility for their empties, so their cartridges often end up in the trash.

Of course, Sandten also charges VAT on his cartridges. “Otherwise we would go to jail.” The competition from Asia does not have to fear that either. And so the cartridge manufacturers often do not pay VAT – much like many other suppliers on Amazon or Ebay .

All this makes the Chinese products unbeatably cheap. For only 13.99 euros, for example, sold a supplier called Prime Cartridge two sets of cartridges for an Epson printer, which acquired the SPIEGEL in a test purchase on Amazon. For comparison, a single cartridge set from Epson costs 45 euros.

Behind Prime Cartridge hides a company from Foshan in the Chinese province of Guangdong. It also does not seem to pay VAT, as a close look at the Amazon sales side suggests. The company has not responded to the request for a tax invoice.

Because of such practices, he has repeatedly written the responsible for Chinese dealer tax office Berlin-Neukölln, says Sandten. So far he has received no answer. Even otherwise, the CEO feels left alone. “If the legislature does not soon ensure that there is fair competition, then the alternative manufacturers and the refill shops in the cities will break.”

Pelican becomes Chinese.
There are already signs of the power shift towards Asia. Last year, a Chinese consortium took over the US printer manufacturer Lexmark. In July, the traditional German company Pelikan, one of the most important manufacturers of alternative cartridges, sold its licenses for cartridges and toner cartridges to the Chinese concern Print-Rite. “All Western companies have losses,” says expert Brewer. “In the US alone, the number of cartridge manufacturers has dropped from 4,500 to less than 750.”

How important the Internet is for the aggressive competition, one knows also with the printer manufacturers. “Our legal department conducts regular test purchases,” says a spokeswoman for Canon. “If it is determined that patents are being violated, we will do so.” According to a recently published study by Actionable Intelligence, printer manufacturers such as Canon, HP or Epson have filed around 50 major copyright infringement cases worldwide in recent years. However, the number of suppliers of replica cartridges at Amazon, Ebay and Co. should be much larger.

Copies are also problematic because of a lack of product safety. says e-commerce expert Mark Steier. “If you run out of ink and the printer breaks down, it’s too much to bear, but what if you buy a vehicle light that does not work properly and you do not see a mother with a buggy in time?” Steier calls for a supervisory authority to monitor events on online platforms.

German politics is reacting only slowly. At the end of November , the country finance ministers agreed on a legislative initiative to stem online tax fraud. But it can take until the implementation.

Amazon’s empty promises.
For Amazon itself, however, it would be easy to ban dubious providers from its platform today. “The sale of counterfeit products on Amazon is prohibited,” the company says on request. Such offers would be removed immediately. Also, if a seller violates tax regulations, “processes have been established to check the account and close the seller account, the seller should not submit a valid VAT number.”

Doubtful promises. The SPIEGEL are various cases in which customers turned to the complaints to the US group. The pattern was almost always the same: First, Amazon employees express regret and promise to take care of the case immediately. In the end, however, the corporation usually declares itself either ineligible or leaves it blank for announcements.

For example, a Chinese electronics retailer continues to sell without sales tax even though Amazon announced a review, according to a previous report by SPIEGEL ONLINE. And doing nothing is not limited to cases in far-away China. As early as 2015, a customer complained that a dealer in New York issued an invoice without VAT. The company sells tax-free products to this day, the angry customer announced that he was in trouble over the lack of interest in his Amazon account.

So far, cartridge producer Werner Sandten is not yet. In contrast to the industry size Birkenstock smaller companies like his are long dependent on the US group. That’s why Sandten does not want his real name published. The entrepreneur fears “that Amazon makes us difficult and places it further behind in the search results”.

In summary: The market for printer cartridges is fundamentally changing due to online platforms such as Amazon. Here, Chinese companies offer products that do not respect patent rights or recycling regulations and are often sold without VAT. European manufacturers therefore fear for their existence. This shows that the shoe manufacturer Birkenstock is not an isolated case. He recently announced Amazon’s cooperation because the platform did not adequately counter plagiarism.


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