In a federal lawsuit filed this week, Apple asserted that nearly all the iPhones, chargers and cables it surreptitiously purchased from online retailer Amazon were fakes.
"As part of its ongoing brand protection efforts, [Apple] has purchased well over 100 iPhone devices, Apple power products, and Lightning cables sold as genuine by sellers on Amazon.com and delivered through Amazon's 'Fulfillment by Amazon' program," Apple's complaint said of a nine-month operation. "Apple's internal examination and testing for these products revealed almost 90% of these products are counterfeit."
Although Apple did not target Amazon in the lawsuit -- instead, Apple sued Mobile Star, a New York-based former supplier to Amazon -- the retailer came off poorly in the complaint.
"Apple makes great efforts to combat the distribution and sale of counterfeit Apple products bearing its trademarks," the Cupertino, Calif. company's lawyers said. "Despite Apple's efforts, fake Apple products continue to flood Amazon.com. Each month, Apple identifies and reports many thousands of listings for counterfeit and infringing Apple products to Amazon.com under its notice and takedown procedures."
Monday's lawsuit took aim at Mobile Star because, after buying a dozen iPhone chargers and cables from Amazon, the e-tailer told Apple the products had been supplied by Mobile Star.
All 12 of the power-related iPhone products had been advertised by Amazon as genuine Apple gear -- often accompanied by product images copyrighted by Apple -- which sometimes came in packaging that mimicked Apple's or sported bogus Apple serial numbers. But each product purchased was counterfeit.
Apple's complaint went beyond damage to its brand or loss of revenue; instead, it steered toward safety.
"Apple tested a number of the Mobile Star-supplied power adapters it had purchased and each one failed the Hipot Test (high potential (high voltage) test), also known as the Dielectric Withstanding Voltage test, confirming that the products lack sufficient insulation and/or spacing between the high voltage and low voltage component and have the potential to overheat or deliver a lethal electric shock to a user of the device," the complaint charged.
"Visual inspection of counterfeit adapters that Apple disassembled showed the counterfeits have improper soldering of internal wiring and some even lack critical safety fuses to protect against overheating in the event of a power surge. To conceal the dangers that these Mobile Star products pose to consumers, many also bear a phony UL safety certification," Apple added.
After Apple told Amazon of its findings, the retailer revealed Mobile Star as the supplier of the hardware, then turned over the rest of the Mobile Star inventory to Apple for testing.
Apple said letters sent to Mobile Star in June initially went unanswered, but when the vendor did respond, it claimed it had bought the goods from "reputable suppliers," then refused to divulge any additional information.
The lawsuit asked the federal court to stop Mobile Star and a host of "John Does" from distributing any more fake Apple products, and award Apple up to $2 million per counterfeit mark.