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Apple loses court battle over 'counterfeit' iPhone parts in Norway

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Norwegian repair shop owner Henrik Huseby got a cease-and-desist from Apple letter about his use of imported, aftermarket iPhone screens, was issued a cease and desist order, and threatened with fines — but fought the company in the courts and won.

Huseby, who owns a small electronics repair shop called PCKompaniet in Norway, had had a shipment of 63 iPhone 6 and 6S replacement screens from Asia seized by Norwegian customs agents, according to Motherboard. The Norwegian government notified Apple, and a lawyer represented the company proposing a settlement, which would entail Huseby paying $3,500, destroying the screens, and promising to no longer sell or deal with any products that infringe Apple's trademarks.

Huseby refused the settlement and took Apple to court. The case hinged on the question of how exactly Huseby obtained the Chinese parts, and how they were marked.

A question of the grey market

Huseby, like many repair shop owners and technicians around the world, purchases replacement parts from the Asian grey market. Many parts, such as the ones Huseby used, were broken parts from the original manufacturer that are "refurbished" by a third party. These parts had Apple logos originally, but were covered up by an easily removable media during the sale process.

Whether these count as "counterfeit" is at the crux of the case in Norway. Apple says they are, but Huseby and his team argued otherwise, and the court agreed.

Apple vs. counterfeiters

The ruling was in Norway and does not effect U.S. legal precedent, although Apple has engaged frequently in legal battles in recent years with third-party and unauthorized repair shops. Regardless of the lack of application to U.S. law, how the case plays out after Apple's appeal will still be watched by observers of the battles between Apple and third-party repair shops.

According to U.S. Code, the crime of "Trafficking in counterfeit goods and services" is applied to one who "traffics in goods or services and knowingly uses a counterfeit mark on or in connection with such goods or services, traffics in labels, patches, stickers, wrappers, badges, emblems, medallions, charms, boxes, containers, cans, cases, hangtags, documentation, or packaging of any type or nature, knowing that a counterfeit mark has been applied thereto, the use of which is likely to cause confusion, to cause mistake, or to deceive."

Especially important in this case is whether Huseby had used components with Apple logos. Huseby, according to Vice, bought the screens with the logos covered up, and kept it covered up, since he didn't want to market it as Apple-manufactured or imply that it was such.

Apple has frequently cracked down on suspected counterfeiters, including the seizure of more than $1 million in fake accessories from a London warehouse in 2017 and general warnings about third party and counterfeit power accessories. It's even gone after counterfeit accessories for sale on Amazon.

Apple has also strongly opposed "Right to Repair" laws, which have been proposed in at least 18 U.S. states, although none have passed this year.