Last year, Apple’s lawyers sent Henrik Huseby, the owner of a small electronics repair shop in Norway, a letter demanding that he immediately stop using aftermarket iPhone screens at his repair business and that he pay the company a settlement.
Norway’s customs officials had seized a shipment of 63 iPhone 6 and 6S replacement screens on their way to Henrik’s shop from Asia and alerted Apple; the company said they were counterfeit.
In order to avoid being sued, Apple asked Huseby for “copies of invoices, product lists, order forms, payment information, prints from the internet and other relevant material regarding the purchase [of screens], including copies of any correspondence with the supplier … we reserve the right to request further documentation at a later date.”
The letter, sent by Frank Jorgensen, an attorney at the Njord law firm on behalf of Apple, included a settlement agreement that also notified him the screens would be destroyed. The settlement agreement said that Huseby agrees “not to manufacture, import, sell, market, or otherwise deal with any products that infringe Apple’s trademarks,” and asked required him to pay 27,700 Norwegian Krone ($3,566) to make the problem go away without a trial.
“Intellectual Property Law is a specialized area of law, and seeking legal advice is in many instances recommended,” Jorgensen wrote in the letter accompanying the settlement agreement. “However, we can inform you that further proceedings and costs can be avoided by settling the case.”
Huseby decided to fight the case.
The specifics of Huseby’s legal case apply only in Norway, of course, but his case speaks to a problem faced by independent iPhone repair shops around the world. Apple’s use of the legal system and trademark law turns average repair professionals into criminals and helps the company corner the repair market for Apple products.
In the United States, Apple has worked with the Department of Homeland Security and ICE to seize counterfeit parts in the United States and to raid the shops of independent iPhone repair professionals. ICE’s National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center rejected a Freedom of Information Act request I filed in 2016 regarding Apple’s involvement in its “Operation Chain Reaction” anti counterfeiting team, citing that doing so “could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings.”
“In this case, Apple indirectly proves what they really want,” Par Harald Gjerstad, Huseby’s lawyer, told me in an email. “They want monopoly on repairs so they can keep high prices. And they therefore do not want to sell spare parts to anyone other than ‘to themselves.’”
The legal status of many of these parts remains an unanswered question around the world, but the general consensus seems to be that a part is “counterfeit” if it is masquerading as an original manufacturer part rather than an aftermarket one. Counterfeit parts are “tangible goods that infringe trademarks,” the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a partnership between 35 countries and a United Nations observer, wrote in a report last year.