Tokyo court hears lawsuit against Apple over laptop charger pins

Supplier Shimano Manufacturing wants a sales injunction and US$8.4 million for patent infringement

The Tokyo District Court has begun hearing arguments in a lawsuit brought by a Japanese parts maker against Apple over alleged patent infringements.

Shimano Manufacturing filed the suit against Apple in August claiming that it abused its market dominance by demanding unreasonable rebates on parts including pins used in charger cables for the MacBook Pro. It sought an injunction against sales of some Apple laptops in Japan, and compensation.

Shimano is demanding ¥1 billion (US$8.4 million) from Apple for infringing its patent on the pins, as well as an undisclosed amount for possible violations of antitrust laws, according to an article in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

A lawyer for Apple told the court on Monday that Shimano had demanded exorbitant prices for the component based on its own strong market position, according to the article.

"We, as Apple's supplier for around nine years now, have been doing the business with Apple continuously," Shimano said in September. "However, after such long-term cooperation, due to such behaviors which cannot be overlooked, we brought a lawsuit."

According to the Asahi article, the lawsuit states that in 2012, Apple reduced its orders placed with Shimano while outsourcing production with overseas parts makers that were subcontractors to Shimano. But when Shimano protested, Apple demanded large discounts on parts to continue their business relationship, as well as a refund of what it saw as past overpayments. Shimano apparently accepted, paying $1.59 million, but orders from Apple didn't pick up.

Apple Japan declined to comment on the case. A staffer at Shimano would not comment on the case other than confirming the suit has begun at the court.

Apple's MagSafe power connectors feature five tiny spring-loaded pins that provide electricity to the computer while being held in place with a magnetic lock.

Established in 1985, Tokyo-based Shimano makes pins as small as 1.9mm long. While it is not listed in Apple's top 200 supplier list, it is one of many Japanese manufacturers and subcontractors that have provided parts for Apple products. With 139 Apple suppliers, Japan ranks second after China with 349.

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