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Apple’s Lawyers Keep Busy With iPhone

Posted in Apple,iPhone by Chris Weber on January 15th, 2007

apple lawyers defend iphone against interface pirates clonesThis story could also be titled “Attack of the Clones.” Apple is feverishly trying to fend off imitators and copycat sites that have created user interfaces for other mobile devices that resemble the iPhone’s interface just a little too much. Apple likes attention but not this kind of attention.

One such site, modaco.com, posted a cease and desist email supposedly from Apple’s attorneys. The text of the email says, “It has come to our attention that you have posted a screenshot of Apple’s new iPhone and links that facilitate the installation of that screenshot on a PocketPC device.” It continues, “While we appreciate your interest in the iPhone, the icons and screenshot displayed on your website are copyrighted by Apple, and copyright law explicitly prohibits unauthorized display and distribution of copyrighted works.”

To paraphrase, thank you very much for your kind attention but please don’t rip us off. A very reasonable request. The sincerest form of flattery is imitation, or so they say.

Of course the name of the iPhone is still contested. Cisco claims it owns the right to the name “iPhone.” Only time will tell who will be the winner. My money is that Cisco is holding out for the right amount. They know that Jobs is going to make an oil tanker full of money on the iPhone and they want a nice juicy cut.

According to reports on linuxinsider.com, some of the material Apple is claiming copyright priviledges on may be questionable. Items like the clock and various icons may be hard to claim copyright on as original works. However, the way Apple uses the visual icons in the total presentation of the iPhone’s interface may be patentable.

Steve Rubin, an intellectual property lawyer said, “The beauty of many of Apple’s products is the user interface. I’ve seen media touting Steve Jobs and his UI team as making everything much more simple, easy and fun to use. As a consequence, such user interfaces can, and likely are, also protected by patent.”

Rubin also noted the difference between copyrights and patents. Copyrights are based on original works or creation and may be protected by registering a copyright. Apple could then pursue action against any violators. However a patent must be filed and approved before any action could be taken. Rubin estimated a five year backlog at the patent office. By the time the patent came through the defense of it might no longer be relevant. According to Rubin, “Apple has no rights until the patent actually issue.”