Recently, the term “planned obsolescence” has been frequently used in the media namely relating to Apple products and more specifically all types of iPhone 6.

The company publicly announced on December 28th, 2017 that the batteries of iPhone 6 devices may be slowing down. Apple claims that the company would never intentionally slow down a device and that it is currently working on fixing the problem.

However, the announcement as well as Apple’s initiatives did not appease the consumers. Several cases have been brought on both sides of the Atlantic concerning the company’s policy.

Mathias Avocats will focus on the events taking place in the United-States.

What exactly is planned obsolescence? And why is it an issue?

Planned obsolescence refers to a “policy of producing consumer goods that rapidly become obsolete and so require replacing, achieved by frequent changes in design, termination of the supply of spare parts, and the use of nondurable materials”. Thus, consumers are forced to buy a new product.

Several issues stem from the above definition. Is planned obsolescence ethical? Can companies deceive consumers on the quality of the product they are buying? How can it be proved? What remedies are available to consumers?

In the United-States, there is no specific federal or State law prohibiting planned obsolescence. This is not the case in France. Nonetheless, consumers are protected by other laws.

For example, mandated warranties may be imposed and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has the power to issue durability standards as well as enforce several federal laws if a consumer is harmed by a dangerous product.

Moreover, under the U.S. Code §45 deceptive or unfair business practices are unlawful. The latter wrongfully harm consumers or other businesses. In the context of planned obsolescence, one could argue that forcing consumers to buy a new product by rendering the current product defective at a given time economically harms them.

What is the claim in the Apple cases?

Two separate class actions, from California and Illinois, have been filed against Apple arguing that the company purposefully and knowingly released operating system software updates to a number of generations of the iPhone in an effort to slow their performances. The plaintiffs claim that the updates were intended to force them to buy new devices and that the company did not have their consent to slow down their devices.

In a few words, the plaintiffs argue that Apple purposefully withheld material information on the slowing down of devices after an update to force consumers to buy the latest version of the company’s product.

If it were found that this is the case, Apple could face sanctions for violation of both national and federal law protecting consumers from deceptive business and sales practices.

The plaintiffs are claiming pecuniary compensation for the replacement of an old phone, loss of use and value, purchase of new batteries, and losses in the form of deprivation of the value of their iPhones.

Furthermore, Apple is facing questions from the Senate Commerce Committee regarding its practice of deliberately slowing down iPhones with older batteries. The company should provide answers soon.

Mathias Avocats will be sure to keep you informed of the outcome of the case.