Apple wins in ‘David v Goliath’ right to repair battle

The Apple logo is pictured at the Apple Store in Santa Monica, California, USA. [EPA-EFE/MIKE NELSON]

Norway’s Supreme Court has upheld a decision by the Court of Appeal, ruling in favour of US tech giant Apple and their claim that an independent smartphone repairer had breached trademark rules by using cheaper repair parts. The decision has sparked an outcry from ‘right to repair’ activists.

The news marks the end of a three-year legal battle between Apple and small business owner Henrik Huseby, after Norwegian police seized 63 imported mobile screens which had been making their way to his premises in 2017.

The shipment had arrived at Oslo’s Gardermoen airport from Hong Kong, and each screen had been emblazoned with an Apple logo, according to the local customs administration.

The standoff between the two parties had been billed as a ‘David v Goliath’ battle, after Huseby won at the Oslo District Court in 2018, with the court finding that he didn’t breach Apple’s trademark due to the fact he had never claimed to have been selling original unused parts.

However, 2019 saw the tide turn in favour of the US tech giant, after Norway’s Court of Appeal found that the imported screens were illegal copies.

And on Wednesday (3 June), the country’s Supreme Court upheld the decision, stating that the import of mobile screens which had contained the Apple logo ink coating is a trademark infringement under Section 4 of Norway’s Trademark Act.

For his part, Huseby will be required to hand over €23,000 in legal reparations to Apple, in addition to hefty legal costs.

“This is a big victory for companies like Apple who want to shut down small businesses like mine and control the prices of repair. They can claim that the cost of changing a screen will be the same as buying a new one, so there is no value in repairing. They are blocking their competition and creating a monopoly,” Huseby said.

Wednesday’s ruling provoked a strong reaction from ‘right to repair’ activists in Europe, who rally the environmental benefits for independent engineers to repair products with more easily accessible parts, without having to rely on larger firms as providers.

“Clearly the law is failing people and the planet. It’s time the law catches up,” Chloe Mikolajczak, a campaigner with the European Right to Repair campaign, said in a statement.

“This case was both about Apple using its power to pressure Norwegian authorities and control the process, and about the letter of the law being inappropriate to the moment we are living. Extending mobile lifecycles via repair is the best way to reduce their environmental impact, and refurbished parts are the greenest and cost-effective option.”

Meanwhile in Brussels, as part of the European Commission’s Circular Economy Action plan presented in March, the executive plans to put forward a Circular Electronics Initiative, which aims to encourage longer product lifetimes through ‘reusability’ and ‘reparability.’

Such will include a “right to repair” for products like smartphones and computers by 2021.

Upon announcing the plans, Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans said the new measures were being considered because “many products break down too easily, cannot be reused, repaired or recycled, or are made for single use only,” and new rules could therefore contribute to a more environmentally sustainable Europe.

In addition, a Eurobarometer survey published ahead of the Circular Economy Action Plan, showed that almost eight in 10 respondents think manufacturers should be required to make it easier to repair digital devices. 

The findings also showed that 64% of those who responded to the survey wanted to keep using their current devices for a minimum period of five years, while 85% were willing to recycle their old items.

In light of the Commission’s commitment, the European Right to Repair movement is currently collecting signatures from a cross section of MEPs, in order to “inform them of Apple’s environmentally damaging, anti-competitive win in Norway.”

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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