Lexmark has won the first round in a case that could affect the future availability of low-cost replacement toner cartridges for printers.

A US court yesterday issued a preliminary injunction barring defendant company Static Control Components (SCC) from making or selling chips used to make replacement cartridges for two of Lexmark's laser printers.

These components are used by thousands of vendors to "remanufacture" toner cartridges by refilling, refurbishing and repackaging them. These sell for around 30 per cent less than official refills.

The case began last December. Lexmark is invoking the US Copyright and Digital Millennium Copyright Acts in its case. It argues that SCC's Smartek chips include Lexmark-developed software protected by copyright that allows for manufacturing toner cartridges for two of its laser printers. The software handles communication between the printer and toner cartridges, the cartridges do not work without it.

The case judge found that Lexmark is likely to win the case, issuing a temporary injunction against SCC on the strength of that. SCC must not ship the chips until the case is decided.

"We are disappointed in his order, and feel that after he or a jury has heard a full exposition of the facts that we will prevail," SCC said in its statement.

Lexmark has argued that its printers work best with its own cartridges, and that replacements offered by third parties are of lower quality.