Allegations made by a French reseller about Apple's anti-competitive behaviour could pave the way for a Europe-wide legal spat, it has been claimed.
According to a report on French newspaper Le Figaro's website, Gallic VAR eBizcuss has filed a suit against Apple, claiming the firm has been unfairly favouring its own stores when doling out supplies of new products.
The VAR, which operates 16 retail outlets in France, said third-quarter sales were down 30 per cent because it was denied access to sufficient supplies of the iPad 2 and MacBook Air at launch.
The lawsuit states that product supply problems have dogged the VAR since the vendor opened its first Apple Store in Paris in November 2009.
It also alleged that Apple has been selling products directly to business customers at a lower price than it sells to partners.
In the Le Figaro report, François Prudent, chief executive of eBizcuss, said: "The proposals submitted to Apple commercial enterprises are lower than prices at which we buy the equipment."
Robert Peckham, Apple channel consultant, said the case has attracted the attention of several Apple Premium Resellers (APR) in the UK who have encountered similar problems.
"EBizcuss is the largest Apple reseller in France, so it will be difficult for Apple to ignore this and resellers in this country are already taking notice," he said.
"The conversations I have had with Apple partners suggest that the company could be opening itself up to a pan-European class action, especially if more partners decide to follow eBizcuss' lead and join forces."
Peckham said APRs could take legal action against Apple for restricting trade: "Partners have entered into an agreement to sell Apple's products, and if Apple is operating restrictive practices that prevent them from doing that, they could have a case."
However, Dave Stevinson, sales director of distributor VIP Computers, doubts the case will cause Apple to lose too much sleep.
"Apple Premium partners are aware of the rules of engagement with Apple and know exactly how to make money from selling Apple kit," he explained.
"The revenue will come from fulfilling the iPads and iPhones, but the margin will come from selling extras such as the airtime, service packs, cases and screen protectors."
Apple was unavailable for comment at the time of writing.
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