A lawyer representing Apple Inc. sent a letter to a handful of industry distributors within the past week claiming that some mobile charger products they sell are in violation of patents and trademarks that Apple currently owns.
“It has recently come to Apple’s attention that [your company] is offering for sale and selling promotional items that infringe Apple’s intellectual property rights in its iconic USB power adapters, cables and other accessories,” said the letter, which is signed by Robert Potter from law firm Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP and was obtained by Counselor this week. “Patent law prohibits the unauthorized making, using, selling, offering for sale and/or importing of any products that incorporate a patented invention.”
The products in question are charger cables (both the eight-pronged and 30-pronged ones) that can be plugged into Apple products like iPhones, iPads, and iPods, as well as the square chargers that have a USB opening on one end and plug into an electrical socket on the other. In the letter, Apple claims to have patents on both and is asking companies to immediately stop selling these items if they are unauthorized products. Counselor has reached out to Potter through email and phone messages, but he has yet to respond.
The industry, though, has taken quick notice, as suppliers are scrambling to determine exactly which items could be at risk of violating Apple patents and distributors are trying to limit their own liability. “We’re going to stop selling these items until they’re certified or cleared,” said Larry Cohen, CEO of Top 40 distributor Axis Promotions (asi/128263). “We’ve pulled them out of our catalogs and the Peernet [buying group] catalogs. It’s disturbing because it knocks out a big line of products. This category of products has become a go-to right now.”
While Counselor has contacted more than a half-dozen Top 40 suppliers, no supplier firm has yet to comment on the situation. Distributors said they’re hearing, though, from some suppliers who have already pulled the questionable products from their catalogs. “It’s tough to know at this point exactly what infringes,” said the CEO of one distributor firm that received the letter and who requested anonymity. “But I know suppliers are taking this very seriously. They’re being proactive on whether they should pull products or make certain modifications to the products.”
Ultimately, the letter sent on behalf of Apple is asking industry companies to “stop offering for sale, selling or distributing all infringing products, including without limitation 8-pin and 30-pin products, as well as USB adapters.” It also asks distributors to detail their inventory of these products, as well as sales records of the items and the “identities, locations and contact details of all manufacturers, suppliers or distributors” from which they purchased the allegedly infringing products.
“The speed with which these notices are having an effect is staggering,” Cohen told Counselor. “It’s being taken very seriously, and suppliers are quickly reacting and trying to get ahead of it.”
While industry companies sort out exactly which items could be impacted, an intellectual property lawyer contacted by Counselor says distributors should be vigilant in checking with suppliers about patents and trademarks. “Infringement occurs when one makes or uses or sells. Anyone who does any of those acts has liability if there is infringement,” said Roberta Jacobs-Meadway, an intellectual property lawyer with firm Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, LLC. “Sellers should ask about any patent and trademark searches done, whether the manufacturer has knowledge of any prior claims of infringement, and if the manufacturer has insurance to cover claims of infringement.”