Latest lawsuit attacks Apple's warranty conditions

Updated: 2012-08-06 07:50

By He Wei in Shanghai (China Daily)

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Apple Inc has come under renewed fire in China for not abiding by the country's consumer protection laws, after a local court accepted the first lawsuit filed by users against its after-sales services.

The Lixia District People's Court in Jinan, capital of East China's Shandong province, confirmed it had received a petition from an iPod user claiming the US tech giant violated his consumer rights by refusing to update the warranty after repairing two devices he had bought.

The court will hear the case on Sept 14, Liu Ke, the court's public relations officer, told China Daily on Friday.

The buyer Bi Jiao said his gadgets malfunctioned last year and he had them fixed by Apple. But the warranty periods for the new devices were both shortened to three months afterwards, violating the regulatory requirement of at least one year.

Ma Liwu, Bi's lawyer at the Shandong-based Kang Qiao Law Firm, said Chinese law requires that when companies replace damaged products, they need to update the warranty period accordingly.

"But in this case, Apple failed to renew the warranty, citing the firm's internal rules. That limits the customer's rights and violates Chinese law," Ma said. Apple's franchised maintenance contractor in Shandong, Bybon Electronics Technology Co Ltd, had suggested the dispute be settled in private last month, Ma said, but Bi refused.

Ma claimed the latest move marks a major step toward fighting what many think are unfair market practices by the American company in China.

Sales of iPhone products in China have rocketed four fold since last year, according to Apple's second-quarter results.

In June, China Consumers' Association condemned the company for replacing damaged parts in iPhones with other used or remanufactured parts. The company claimed that "consumers are deemed to have given up the ownership of a product if they fail to collect repaired products from Apple within a certain period of time".

A report co-released by the association and local associations in Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Chongqing, Jiangsu and Shandong, a claimed that some of the terms it includes in its customer agreements "reduce or exempt Apple's compensation liability and limit consumers' rights".

Last week, the association released another report suggesting that Apple had violated consumer protection laws through offering insufficient after-sales care service.

That study referred specifically to an iPhone owner who found his smartphone broke down during the warranty period; the company replaced many of the device's parts, except for the case and battery charger, but refused to renew the warranty.

Also in July, a consumer advocacy group in the southern province of Guangdong blacklisted Apple for abusing its conditions of sale.

Liu Junhai, vice-chairman of the consumers' association, said that it was "highly disturbing" that Apple has now been accused of failing to apply a universal standard for its maintenance terms.

"In certain countries such as Japan and Australia, Apple adopted unique rules to bring the company in line with local laws and regulations. Apparently they have double standards, " he said.

In another similar case, a lawsuit was filed by an iMac user in March who complained of a dust problem on his computer screen.

Apple claimed the problem was caused by the dust in the air in China, rather than a quality or design flaw.

Such disputes are not specific to China, said Wang Zhiyuan, a consumer-right specialist at the consumers' association in Shandong.

(China Daily 08/06/2012 page14)