Panasonic profits: copy protected camera batteries

Panasonic has changed its policy around generic batteries following the model of Gillette razor blades inkjet printer cartridges the car servicing industry and other similar pricing models — “sell the device cheap and make big money from the accessories.”

Until recently Panasonic had a policy of recommending
official LUMIX camera batteries while still allowing the  use of considerably cheaper
generic camera batteries at the customer’s own risk.

Now it has built technology into the batteries that shuts the camera down if anything other than an official Panasonic battery is inserted part of a new worldwide policy banning the use of generic batteries.

Panasonic’s LUMIX camera range has been a disruptive innovator in the digital camera area with cameras such as the traveller-friendly TZ series of compact ultrazooms proving popular. Panasonic is also a co-inventor of the new Micro 4/3rds standard for interchangeable lens cameras — another innovation pushing the compact camera market along beyond its traditional turf.

Not surprisingly this has attracted a sizable number of customers many of whom buy spare generic camera batteries to use on photographic expeditions due to the high cost of genuine Panasonic batteries — over $80 for a compact camera that might have cost only a little over twice that to buy new.

For example two official Panasonic BCG-10E batteries for a currently popular $600 Panasonic TZ7 camera cost $180 from an Australian website but two generic equivalents only cost $47 from a trusted American website (both prices included delivery).

Panasonic’s decision to block the ability to use these generic
batteries clearly makes the total cost of ownership for LUMIX digital cameras much
higher and may discourage many photographers from buying them.

A Panasonic Australia spokesperson defended the policy change vigorously stating that the decision was made “first and foremost to protect the customer’s safety and their investment in their LUMIX camera.”

They continued “We permit the use of only genuine quality-assured Panasonic batteries
with our products as there have been reported instances of third-party
batteries damaging the camera’s electronics overheating or even

“Using a genuine Panasonic battery ensures the optimum performance and
user satisfaction […] maintaining safety quality
and reliability for the life of the product.”
The spokesperson confirmed that Panasonic had no current authorised third party manufacturers of compatible batteries and no plans to licence other companies to make them either.

Some manufacturers of cheap generic batteries claim that they’ve reverse engineered Panasonic’s battery ID feature and their batteries will still work with the latest Panasonic LUMIX firmware but even if this is if true there’s no assurance that these
batteries will continue to work after another firmware update.

Panasonic is far from being the first manufacturer to apply copy protection to its hardware. Printer maker Lexmark even had a “breakthrough” licence agreement on its toner cartridges at one stage — once you opened the box you agreed to lengthy legal fine print on your use of the cartridge. Many inkjet printer manufacturers have attempted to disable refilling of ink cartridges via chips that disable the cartridge once it is emptied the first time.

What do you think: do you suspect Panasonic is using “safety” as an excuse to profit from sales of pricey batteries or do the various problems with Lithium Ion batteries exploding leaking and catching fire over recent years justify the change?