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U.K. Ruling Blocks European PS3 Imports

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[Updated: October 24, 2006]

Just as Europeans were beginning to recover from the sting that Sony’s PlayStation 3 game console wouldn’t be available outside Japan and the United States until March 2007, a British court ruling may give Sony the legal tools to keep third-part importers from bringing the game consoles to the continent before their official launch.

Earlier this month, a British judge ruled against Hong Kong’s Lik-Sang.com, a popular “grey market” source of gaming gear, electronics, and accessories not normally distributed—or not yet distributed—outside Asian markets. The ruling bans Lik-Sang from selling the Japanese version of Sony’s PlayStation Portable (PSP) system in Europe.

Sony apparently intends to obtain a U.K. injunction banned Lik-Sang from exporting goods to the European Economic Area (EEA), and the company is now looking to use the ruling to prevent the importation of PlayStation 3 consoles to Europe altogether. “The law is clear, and grey importing PS2, PSP or PS3 into the EU, without the express permission of SCEE is illegal,” said a spokesman for Sony Computer Entertainment Europe (SCEE) to the BBC. “Therefore, we will utilize the full scope of the law to put a stop to any retailers who chose to do this.”

For its part, Lik-Sang maintains the ruling’s possible impact on exports of PlayStation 3 and other PlayStation items to Europe hasn’t been established, and that it is operating within Hong Kong’s laws governing parallel trade. It also says Sony has threatened a separate lawsuit to block Lik-Sang from selling PlayStation 3 consoles in Europe.

Sony’s complaint to the British court centered around possible safety issues with the PSP power supply. The supply is an auto-sensing 110–240V unit which should work almost anywhere it can physically be plugged in; however, without certification by U.K. and EU authorities, Sony was able to build a case that the imported PlayStation-branded items did not meet consumer safety standards. The British judge ruled that since the sales were occurring in the U.K. and Europe, U.K. authority could overrule Hong Kong trade law.

The ruling comes as speculation mounts that Sony won’t be able to meet its goal of shipping 2 million PlayStation 3 units by the end of the 2006 calendar year, with some 500,000 consoles available when the systems go on sale in Japan and the United States in November. When asked about shipping 2 million units by the close of this year, SCE America co-chair Jack Tretton told Bloomberg, “the honest answer is it’s more of a target.”

[Update 24-Oct: Lik-Sang.com has just announced it is going out of business due to multiple lawsuits filed against it by Sony Computer Entertainment. The company is not accepting any new orders, and will refund payments for all existing orders which have been placed, as well as close out accounts with stores, banks, and do right by customers waiting on RMAs, repairs, or shipping matters.]

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