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NTT DoCoMo challenges rival

19 марта 2008

NTT DoCoMo, Japan’s biggest mobile phone carrier, accused Softbank, its lower-cost rival, of copying one of its handsets and launched an unprecedented legal challenge to have the model withdrawn from stores.

The action is the first of its kind in Japan’s mobile phone industry, DoCoMo said. It underscores escalating competition in the sector as well as a broad shift in business models that has put more importance on hardware.

DoCoMo and Fujitsu, which manufactures the DoCoMo phone, filed a joint request for an injunction with the Tokyo district court. The companies named Toshiba, maker of the disputed Softbank model, in their filing.

DoCoMo said it was acting under Japan’s Unfair Competition Prevention Law, which protects trade secrets and other intellectual property. It claims Softbank’s handset – a stripped-down model aimed at first-time and elderly mobile users – was “extremely similar” to the latest version of a line it has marketed since 1999.

Softbank introduced its competing model this month. It said in a statement: “We will make a rebuttal after examining the substance of the injunction request and consulting with Toshiba.”

Toshiba said it was examining DoCoMo’s claim but declined further comment.

The case comes amid an intensifying price war sparked by the entry into the market of Softbank, which took over Vodafone’s local operations in 2006, and EMobile, an upstart carrier that will launch this month without traditional subscription fees.

DoCoMo has seen its market share shrink amid a wave of defections to cheaper rivals. The trend has accelerated since 2006 when a rule change enabled consumers to keep their phone numbers when moving accounts between providers.

Unlike in most other countries, handset sales in Japan are controlled by carriers, which brand and market exclusive models supplied by hardware makers.

The phones have generally been sold on the cheap, with carriers picking up much of the cost. Recently, however, providers have been cutting subscription fees while phasing out handset subsidies – making phones more expensive and thus more central to consumers’ choice of phone company.

The phones at the centre of the dispute feature simplified menus and unadorned designs, and are marketed under similar brand names that translate as “easy”.

Источник: Financial Times

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