We all lose in the case that Apple won

By Maja van der Velden, 17 July 2019.


Associate Professor Maja van der Velden
Repairing things is one of the most sustainable things consumers can do. Using refurbished parts to repair is even better. That is why the case against a small iPhone repair shop in Norway is so important.

After Apple lost its case in the Norwegian court in February last year, it recently won the case on appeal against iPhone repairer Henrik Huseby and his one-man company PCKompaniet in Ski, Norway. 

Apple sued Huseby, because it claimed he violated their trademark by using refurbished screens imported from Hong Kong. 

While the Oslo District Court ruled that Huseby did not violate Apple’s trademark, because Huseby never claimed to be using unused original spare parts, the Court of Appeal ruled that the imported screens are illegal copies.

Right to Repair

The court case received lots of international attention. The core of the case is the right of repairers to access spare parts without Apple approval. This right is under attack by Apple’s drive to control how and whom can repair the Apple products you own.

When the glass on your smartphone is broken, the rest of the display unit is often still functioning. That is why it is possible to repair the display unit by replacing the broken glass. Some companies have now specialised in refurbishing iPhone display units with broken glass. Many also sell these back to repair shops in the U.S. and Europe.

Apple has been resisting the right to repair for quite a while now. Only a small group of authorized Apple repairers have access to spare parts and repair manuals. Apple refuses to sell spare parts to independent repairers.

Authorised Apple repairers are not allowed to repair the display unit; they have to replace the whole unit when the glass is broken.

In addition, it has been shown that Apple overpriced its repairs, deliberately slowed down older model iPhones, and used so-called software locks to render independent repairs on MacBooks useless.

Apple has also made it difficult to repair your own products. The use of glue is one of the main obstacles for people to repair their own iPads and iPhones.

Apple has fought repair legislation in Europe and in the USA that will make it easier to repair electronics and has, according to the European Environmental Bureau, used the services of European lobby groups to weaken new EU repair legislation.

Apple's strategy

The Huseby case is part of what appears to be a strategy to discourage repair, by going after repairers in the U.S. and Europe, as opposed to going after those making spare parts in China and elsewhere. There is good reason for this: legal actions against the producers of spare parts probably wouldn’t work.

In most countries, repairing, refurbishing or even making spare parts is not a violation of trademark. Nor do such activities usually stay under the control of one company.

The larger picture

All this suggests that in the case of Apple versus Huseby, the Court of Appeal did not take into account the bigger picture, and that is a big problem for sustainability. Our research in the EU-financed SMART project, which is led by the University of Oslo, shows that the end of life of electronic products is associated with severe social and environmental impacts.

Electronic waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the world. We produced more than 44 million metric tonnes e-waste globally in 2016, with Norway producing the highest amount of e-waste per capita.

Repair shops provide an important service to the emerging circular economy in Norway. They make phone repair more affordable and they offer repair solutions that have a much lower environmental impact than the ones offered by companies like Apple.

Hindering repair through legal actions, design, a lack of spare parts, and high repair fees, will only undermine the shift to a sustainable circular economy. We all stand to lose when technology giants can dictate the conditions under which we use and repair our electronics.


This article was first published in Norwegian in Dagens Næringsliv, Norway’s leading business daily, on July 16, 2019.

Tags: Circular economy, Sustainability, SMART
Published May 8, 2020 12:13 PM - Last modified Aug. 14, 2020 2:58 PM

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