Norwegian court rules on ‘counterfeit’ iPhone parts

Tech giant Apple has lost its lawsuit against a Norwegian shop owner over allegations he was selling counterfeit smartphone parts.

The ruling was based on a technicality around trademark law and the import of grey market goods but shines a light on Apple’s dominance over the right to repair.

The case centres on Henrik Huseby and his small electronics repair shop PCKompaniet in Norway, which provides, among other things, replacement screens for iPhones, although he is not an authorised Apple repair company.  

In July 2017, Norway’s customs officials seized a mail shipment from Hong Kong destined for Huseby, which contained 63 iPhone mobile screens featuring the Apple logo, which had been blanked out by a marker pen.

The logos were on the inside and would not have been visible when assembled, while the marker could easily be removed.

Apple was alerted by customs and the company deemed the products to be counterfeit.

Huseby was sent a cease and desist letter from the tech giant, which also asked for the goods to be destroyed and sought a settlement of 27,700 Norwegian Krone ($3,565) to avoid trial.

Huseby, who claimed the seized screens were refurbished originals, rejected the letter and the case was brought to court.

According to Apple, in court documents (in Norwegian), Huseby’s import of fake iPhone parts from Asia was considered an infringement of Apple’s trademark and the fact that the logo had been covered indicated the imports were designed to avoid detection from customs officials. 

Apple said the screens had not been manufactured by or on behalf of Apple but even if the screens had been refurbished originals the fact they were imported from Asia, without Apple’s consent, was against EEA resale legislation, the tech firm claimed.

Huseby argued the case claiming that Apple was seeking a monopoly to repair its own products where it would not sell original Apple parts to anyone other than authorised Apple repairers, resulting in high prices for repairs.

This meant many repair companies were dependent on purchasing compatible parts from other firms, many of which are located in Asia.

In addition, Huseby claimed he would also send used and broken iPhone displays to Asia to be repaired and then sent back as original refurbished parts.

In regards to the covering of the Apple logo, Huseby argued the logo was not relevant for the marketing of the product because of its use in phone repair, while the repair shop did not pretend or promote itself as an authorised Apple repair shop and did not indicate that any repair had an Apple warranty. As a result, Huseby claimed that this did not constitute trademark infringement.

Huseby sought 63,000 Norwegian Krone ($8,100) for lost sales as a result of the seizure.

The court concluded that there were issues with Huseby’s arguments, such as his unwillingness to submit documentation regarding the suppliers and import channels he used. This meant it was “difficult for the court to feel convinced that Huseby’s interests in the matter are fully legitimate”.

That being said however, based on the location and function of the Apple brand on the seized aftermarket parts, the court ruled that Huseby had not infringed Apple’s trademark. In addition, the court decided that in this case Huseby had not violated Norwegian law by importing refurbished parts from outside the EEA because the Apple logo was not visible nor used in in marketing.

Furthermore, it noted that for Huseby to operate as a non-authorised iPhone repairer, imported screens required having logos covered.

Apple has appealed the decision.

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