French reseller sues Apple over unfair competition

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eBizcuss, the largest Apple reseller in France, has sued Apple alleging that the company competes unfairly by favoring its own retail stores with new product inventory and by undercutting proposals to small businesses.

CEO François Prudent has claimed his business, which operates 16 locations throughout France, saw a 30 percent decline in the third quarter of 2011 due to reduced shipments of iPad 2 and MacBook Air units, Le Figaro reports (via ifoAppleStore). He also said that eBizcuss had been unable to obtain iPhone 4S supply during the fourth quarter.

The lawsuit alleges that the shortages began in November 2009 when Apple opened its first retail store in France at the Carousel del Louvre in Paris.

Prudent also complained about spending $6.5 million to meet Apple's strict requirements for resellers. "Since 2007, we revamped our point-of-sale system at the request of Apple to meet Apple’s criteria,” he said.

Additionally, the lawsuit accuses Apple of poaching eBizcuss' business customers. "The proposals submitted to Apple commercial enterprises are lower than prices at which we buy the equipment,” Prudent reportedly claimed.

The executive was, however, quick to point out that he has been an Apple supporter for many years, as he was one of the first importers of the Apple ][ computer in 1977.

Apple resellers the world over have struggled since the company stepped in to fill a gap in the retail distribution of its products more than ten years ago. Long-time Apple reseller MACadam went out of business in 2005 because of alleged "bad behavior" from Apple. In 2008, a reseller in Glasgow, Scotland closed its doors after being unable to compete with an official retail outlet that had opened in the city the year before.

As the Mac maker's retail business has seen continued success, the company has been targeted for legal action by disgruntled resellers. In 2003, three resellers, including MACadam, filed law suits against Apple alleging breach of contract and fraud. In 2005, several resellers banded together to file a class-action lawsuit against Apple, alleging the company had engaged in acts of unfair and unlawful business practices, breach of contract, and misappropriation of trade secrets.

Meanwhile, Apple has for years instructed its employees to remain neutral when speaking of resellers and service providers.

"Neutrally position the various channels through which customers can buy Apple products," the company's employee guidelines read. "They include retail stores, resellers, online Apple Stores, catalog resellers, web-based resellers, Apple telephone representatives, education channels, and government purchase programs."