Apple Clamps Down on iPhone Copycats

Apple, Inc. (formerly Apple Computer, Inc.) is known to be über-sensitive about blogs publishing leaked proprietary information, particularly in advance of announcements and keynote speeches at major events. There have been highly publicized legal battles between Apple and bloggers, in which Apple wanted the blogs to disclose the identity of possible Apple insiders who leak trade secrets. This has raised questions on whether bloggers are also accorded rights to hold their sources confidential, much like our counterparts in the mainstream media, and whether protection of intellectual property takes precedence over freedom of speech.

The issue today is not with blogs leaking confidential information, though, but it still involves Apple cracking down on blogs and forums. After Apple’s announcement of its upcoming iPhone at the 2007 MacWorld Expo and Conference, some creative individuals started to release skins and application launchers for various smartphones and PDAs that resembled the the iPhone icons and interface.

To date, versions for Windows Mobile (files have since been taken down, but perhaps you can still find copies elsewhere) and Palm have been created.


Apparently, the icons and general appearance are copyrighted and Apple feels strongly against having these used on other devices.

The skins don’t add any new functionality to the devices, but make use of the iPhone’s copyrighted icons to create a UI that distinctly resembles Apple’s hybrid mobile phone.

Soon after the skins were uploaded to the Brighthand and Xda-developers internet message boards, Apple unleashed its legal team, who sent removal letters to at least one of the websites hosting the files. –Sydney Morning Herald

TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington thinks there may be some merit to going after the creators of the skins, if only to enforce copyright. However, going after bloggers who write about the topic and link to the concerned sites could be overreacting on the part of Apple.

Blogger Paul O’Brien simply linked to this download page and included a screenshot of the user interface and also received a cease & desist letter from Apple’s lawyers.

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I think this is all complete nonsense. If Apple wants to go after the guy that made the Windows Mobile skin that looks like the iPhone, fine. But to bully bloggers who are simply reporting on this is another matter.

It’s clear that Apple is only out to protect its intellectual property. However, the issue with the iPhone makes it seem like Apple has double standards when it comes to intellectual property. On one hand, Apple is quick to the draw against individuals trying to capitalize on brand loyalty, or at least attraction to anything Apple (i.e., Apple “fanboy-dom,” a condition which I must confess I’m also stricken with). On the other hand, however, Apple is using the name iPhone when in fact it’s a trademark held by another company (Cisco).

If Apple continues to be on the offensive with blogs, then I might agree that the positive buzz that the iPhone announcement has created in and out of the blogosphere could well turn into negative publicity. In turn, the company might again see itself portrayed as the bad guy in the blogosphere. To date, “iPhone” is still the number one tag searched for and written about, according to Technorati. Now that might not necessarily be good, depending on the content of the blog write-ups about Apple and the iPhone.

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