It isn’t easy to open an Apple-certified repair shop. And in some cases, the Cupertino tech giant has come down hard on unauthorized vendors.
Such was the case when Apple lawyers sent a letter to Henrik Huseby last year. The letter called for Huseby, the owner of a small Norway-based electronics repair store, to pay a settlement and stop offering aftermarket iPhone screen repairs with authorization, Motherboard reported.
Apple sent the letter after Norwegian customs officials seized a shipment of 63 replacement iPhone 6 and 6s screens that were on their way to Huseby’s shop from Asia. The officials alerted the company, who said the screens were counterfeit.
To avoid being sued, the letter demanded that the repair shop owner stop using these screens. It also asked for invoices, product lists, and other documentation — including correspondence with the screen supplier.
In addition, it included a settlement agreement that maintained that Huseby
would agree to cease importing, selling or dealing with any products on infringe on Apple’s trademarks. The screens would be destroyed, and if Huseby paid Apple 27,7000 Krone ($3,566), the problem would all go away.
Rather than settling, Huseby opted to fight it. Apple sued him. And, in an interesting turn of events, Huseby won the case.
Apple has appealed the decision to a higher Norwegian court. But it’s not clear whether the courts will honor that appeal at this point.
Normally, importing third-party and aftermarket components from Asia is not illegal under Norwegian law. Similarly, these components aren’t technically “counterfeit” unless they are trying to masquerade as actual first-party products.
The problem with the Huseby case was that those 63 displays actually had Apple logos printed on them, but were covered up with marker ink. Hence the “counterfeit” definition slapped on by Apple
But many aftermarket parts with Apple logos are actually genuine first-party components. Broken parts are oftentimes sent back to China, refurbished in local factories, and reintroduced to the market for independent repair shops and consumers to purchase.
The Norwegian courts still decided to rule in favor of Huseby, larger because those Apple logos would not be visible to the end consumer. Similarly, Huseby says he never markets aftermarket parts as being genuine Apple components — and has no need to do so.
“Apple does not ‘own’ the product after they have sold it,” Huseby’s lawyer, Harald Gjerstad, told Motherboard. “Others have the right to remove the logo and sell it as an unoriginal, compatible part.”
Why This Matters
The results of the court case only apply to Norway, of course. But the implications of it could matter to consumers around the world.
Apple has taken to lobbying against right-to-repair legislation in the U.S. and generally makes it difficult for small electronics shops and product owners to repair their devices. That includes restricting the supply of genuine repair parts and service manuals to authorized shops. Apple also maintains tight control over authorized vendors, setting strict regulations over what type of repairs they can offer and how they carry out those procedures.
While proponents or right-to-repair legislation claim that Apple is doing this to create a monopoly and keep repair prices high. For its part, Apple says that opening up third-party repairs would make it easier for “bad actors” and hackers to abuse Apple product owners.
For better or for worse, this most recent court case indicates that it’s a trend Apple is likely to continue across the world.