Apple has a long history of fighting against unauthorized repairs of its hardware. The company frequently and vociferously opposes right-to-repair legislation that’s been tabled in various U.S. states and elsewhere, and actively goes after unauthorized repair shops, particularly those that it believes may be using counterfeit parts.
While some of this may be in the best interests of consumers — Apple certainly spins it that way, of course, and certainly nobody wants to be on the receiving end of repairs that use substandard, or even dangerous parts or procedures — it also drives the cost of repairs up for end users, especially in places where Apple-authorized repair shops are sparse.
In one of the more prominent examples of Apple’s battle against unauthorized repair shops, the iPhone maker attempted to shut down a Norwegian shop last year, and in a David-and-Goliath story, actually lost the case. Apple lawyers had sent a letter to Henrik Huseby, the owner of a small electronics repair shop in Norway, demanding that he stop offering aftermarket iPhone screen repairs and also pay a settlement to Apple for having previously done so.
Huseby’s shop, PCKompaniet, came to Apple’s attention after Norwegian customs officials seized a shipment of counterfeit iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s screens, which Apple insisted were infringing on its trademarks. Rather than caving to Apple’s pressure, however, Huseby decided to challenge the tech giant, and actually won the case based on Norwegian law.
The key points that worked in Huseby’s favour were that he was not trying to pass off aftermarket parts as being genuine Apple components, and despite the Apple logos printed on the parts — which were mostly covered up with marker ink — the Norwegian court decided that since those logos wouldn’t be visible to the end consumer, they couldn’t be considered misleading in and of themselves.
Apple is Continuing the Fight
A year later, however, it seems that Apple is just not willing to let this case go. According to Motherboard, the company was granted an appeal of the decision, with the case now being reheard by a higher Norwegian court this week. According to Huseby, Apple hasn’t changed its argument — it’s merely restating its original case to the higher court, emphasizing its belief that Huseby has been illegally importing counterfeit goods.
Huseby’s lawyer noted that the screens that Huseby imported do use some original Apple parts, but these are combined with refurbished, non-Apple parts, such as the glass on the screen.
The screens are also not sold as an original but used as a refurbished, compatible screen. The goods are not ‘counterfeit’ when they are imported with all logos covered with paint.”Per Harald Gjerstad, lawyer for Henrik Huseby
However, since all of the logos are covered with paint, Huseby’s lawyer maintains that the goods cannot be considered “counterfeit” — and so far the Norwegian courts have agreed that the issue is whether the end user can see the logo and would be led to believe that they are receiving genuine Apple parts.
While Apple is almost certainly fighting its case against Huseby based largely on principle and trying to set a precedent, the case is garnering more sympathy for Huseby and other small repair shops, particularly since the move seems particularly petty on Apple’s part — the original case involved 63 iPhone screens and requested a settlement equivalent to about $3,566 U.S. dollars. To put this in perspective, that’s less than half the amount of money that the iPhone maker makes in a single second.
Why This is Serious Stuff
The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that Apple does not sell repair parts to independent repair companies, and although that may slowly be changing, it’s still difficult for small shops to get their hands on genuine parts without jumping through the complexities and expenses of becoming an Apple Authorized Service Provider — something that’s beyond the reach of many smaller shops.
Apple’s lawsuit is already having a chilling effect on independent repair shops in the country, many of whom are scared to risk raising the ire of Apple and having to deal with the time and expense of fighting a case like this. If Apple were to win this case, it would set a precedent in Norway that would force many repair shops out of the Apple business entirely, as well as bolstering Apple’s own fight against right to repair legislation in the EU and elsewhere around the world.