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Other forum lawyers, HO! (Legal-ish question)

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Other forum lawyers, HO! (Legal-ish question)

Old 12-01-10, 05:32 PM
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Other forum lawyers, HO! (Legal-ish question)

Purely out of curiosity, I need some legal input on a civil issue (not pertaining to me), and while I'm really well versed on criminal law and moderately well versed on constitutional law, my legal mind in other areas has deteriorated in the near decade since law school.

The situation: Monoprice.com is a reputable business that sells, among other things, cables. My iPhone cable was coming apart, and somebody pointed me to Monoprice; they sold a very nice 6' iPhone cable for like $1.20, compared to the $Texas that Apple charges for a shorter cable. I ended up liking the one I bought so much that I bought a few more for friends as gifts.

Recently, I went back to their site, and I couldn't find the cables anywhere. Doing some digging, it turns out that Monoprice pulled all their iPhone equipment and cables right around the same time Apple started making threats to sue people who sold unlicensed accessories. The conventional wisdom on the Internet is that Monoprice pulled their iPhone accessories either in response to or in anticipation of these threats.

My question is this: what grounds would Apple actually have to stand on if they came after a company for this? Under what branch of law (copyright, patent, etc)? If the company isn't using Apple's designs or logo, and is merely making a product that's compatible with one of Apple's products, how can Apple stop that? Or is it more a matter of "yeah, Monoprice might eventually win the lawsuit, but we'll go bankrupt trying it"?
Old 12-01-10, 05:41 PM
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Re: Other forum lawyers, HO! (Legal-ish question)

No idea, but dealextreme is still selling them... And they're with free shipping.
Old 12-01-10, 05:46 PM
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Re: Other forum lawyers, HO! (Legal-ish question)

Originally Posted by andicus View Post
No idea, but dealextreme is still selling them... And they're with free shipping.
And where is dealextreme located?
Old 12-01-10, 06:00 PM
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Re: Other forum lawyers, HO! (Legal-ish question)

Originally Posted by X View Post
And where is dealextreme located?
Hong Kong, I believe...
Old 12-01-10, 06:02 PM
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Re: Other forum lawyers, HO! (Legal-ish question)

Apple sues unauthorized accessory makers

By Charles Starrett
Senior Editor, iLounge
Published: Friday, July 30, 2010
News Category: iPod Accessories, Apple, iPad Accessories, iPhone Accessories

Apple has filed a lawsuit against several companies selling “unauthorized” electronic accessories for the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. Filed in federal court in San Francisco, the suit against Eforcity Corporation, Accstation, Itrimming, Everydaysource, United Integral, Crazyondigital, and Boxware Corporation claims that the companies are violating as many as 10 of Apple’s patents and additional trademarks.

At issue are electronic accessories, including chargers, speakers, and cables, which have in the past been known to cause damage to iPods when developed without regard to Apple’s specifications. “Many are of inferior quality and reliability, raising significant concerns over compatibility with and damage to Apple’s products,” Apple says in the suit. For a number of years, Apple has run a “Made For iPod” program and iPhone/iPad equivalents as a way to certify that accessories will be compatible with its products, but has also changed specifications when moving from one generation of device to the next, leaving many formerly “Made For” products unable to charge or otherwise work fully with later iPod and iPhone models—including the company’s own iPod Hi-Fi speaker system.
Old 12-01-10, 06:05 PM
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Re: Other forum lawyers, HO! (Legal-ish question)

typical big bully type business from a corporation. reminds me of monster cables.
Old 12-01-10, 06:08 PM
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Re: Other forum lawyers, HO! (Legal-ish question)

A lot of the cheap accessories are shoddily made. I bought a car charger for my ipod that blew out the fuse for my car lighter when I plugged it in.
Old 12-01-10, 06:09 PM
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Re: Other forum lawyers, HO! (Legal-ish question)

Originally Posted by Deftones View Post
typical big bully type business from a corporation. reminds me of monster cables.
Well, yeah. Absolutely. Why should I be able to pay $1.25 for a good quality cable from a reputable US company when I could pay Apple $19 for a cable.

The "we'll protect the customers" is hokum. I'm being directed to Hong Kong now to buy cables... am I better or worse of than before.

So according to the press release, the suit is based in patent and trademark law.
Old 12-01-10, 06:21 PM
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Re: Other forum lawyers, HO! (Legal-ish question)

Originally Posted by cungar View Post
A lot of the cheap accessories are shoddily made. I bought a car charger for my ipod that blew out the fuse for my car lighter when I plugged it in.
I bought a $39 video out iPod cable from a b&m apple store and the wire fell apart at the connection after 2 months.
Old 12-01-10, 06:38 PM
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Re: Other forum lawyers, HO! (Legal-ish question)

Originally Posted by andicus View Post
Hong Kong, I believe...
I don't think they really care what Apple thinks.
Old 12-01-10, 07:11 PM
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Re: Other forum lawyers, HO! (Legal-ish question)

From a technical standpoint, the Apple Dock connector is a proprietary port.
Old 12-01-10, 07:27 PM
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Re: Other forum lawyers, HO! (Legal-ish question)

Originally Posted by X View Post
I don't think they really care what Apple thinks.
No doubt about that.

My comment was intended to direct the OP to a cheap cable, not a comment on Apple flexing it's financial muscle.
Old 12-01-10, 07:44 PM
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Re: Other forum lawyers, HO! (Legal-ish question)

Those accessories sucked. I bought three wall chargers for my iPhone, all three died. I bought six pairs of headphones, they all broke because the wire wrapping is too brittle. All but one of the USB cables I bought can't sync.
Old 12-01-10, 09:43 PM
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Re: Other forum lawyers, HO! (Legal-ish question)

Originally Posted by gmanca View Post
From a technical standpoint, the Apple Dock connector is a proprietary port.
This is what I was going to say. Apple I'm sure has a zillion patents on their products and cables.

FWIW, wife was always complaining about never being able to find a cable, so I bought her a kit of 3 off brand cables. Only one of the 3 worked at all.

I'm not defending Apple by any means.
Old 12-01-10, 09:55 PM
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Re: Other forum lawyers, HO! (Legal-ish question)

I also bought 2 and only 1 worked. Only saved $13 as a result.
Old 12-01-10, 11:11 PM
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Re: Other forum lawyers, HO! (Legal-ish question)

couldn't someone reverse engineer it and bypass any copyright/patent issues?
Old 12-02-10, 09:33 AM
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Re: Other forum lawyers, HO! (Legal-ish question)

To me it reminds me of lens mounts on SLR camera's.

Nike has it's own mounts and has a patent. They have used the same mount for years and year. Other 3rd party lens makers make lenes for Nikon, but I'm sure that is because Nikon license them to do so. I can't imagine them being able to make that lens mount for their products without their permission. And of course there are some really cheap lenes that suck that you have to wonder if they got permission.

To me it is not like a "universal" connection. I do wish iPhones and iPods just used a damn USB connection. But they don't. I'm sure part of it is so Apple can be greedy and part so they can do the things they want to do with it.
Old 12-02-10, 09:33 AM
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Re: Other forum lawyers, HO! (Legal-ish question)

Originally Posted by CaptainMarvel View Post
So according to the press release, the suit is based in patent and trademark law.
This would be the basis. The companies are allegedly utlizing proprietary and patented technology in developing and marketing their products and the marketing of such products uses Apple trademarks for commercial purposes without a license.

Now the question is whether those are winning claims. My guess is that the trademark claims are losers, as the companies are likely using the marks to identify compatibility and not for commercialization of the mark itself. I'd guess this claim is at best a 30% chance of success and would be strongest against those retailers who use the Apple brand IDs in ways excessive for the purpose of advertising compatibility (a fine line distinction).

The patent/proprietary information claims may be a bit stronger, but are tough to prove. However, it appears that anybody can file a patent claim in certain parts of Texas and win, so this is likely why these companies decided to comply by removing the products from the market.
Old 12-02-10, 09:37 AM
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Re: Other forum lawyers, HO! (Legal-ish question)

When my mom bought my daughter a Touch for her birthday, she also got her one of those "starter" kits from Amazon. It had 2-3 cases, a wall charger (USB connect), car charger (usb connect), armband, 2 screen protectors and several other items. What was missing? An actual sync cable! Again, I'm guessing that is the piece that you need a license for.
Old 12-02-10, 09:43 AM
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Re: Other forum lawyers, HO! (Legal-ish question)

Originally Posted by wlmowery View Post
This would be the basis. The companies are allegedly utlizing proprietary and patented technology in developing and marketing their products and the marketing of such products uses Apple trademarks for commercial purposes without a license.

Now the question is whether those are winning claims. My guess is that the trademark claims are losers, as the companies are likely using the marks to identify compatibility and not for commercialization of the mark itself. I'd guess this claim is at best a 30% chance of success and would be strongest against those retailers who use the Apple brand IDs in ways excessive for the purpose of advertising compatibility (a fine line distinction).

The patent/proprietary information claims may be a bit stronger, but are tough to prove. However, it appears that anybody can file a patent claim in certain parts of Texas and win, so this is likely why these companies decided to comply by removing the products from the market.
But how could you claim to be making a cable that ONLY works with Apple products but not be using the Apple name, reputation, image (literal or not) to sell your product? And that the cable that ONLY works on Apple products isn't making money because of Apple?

Lets say you made a USB cable. You would only say it work with USB devises. You wouldn't mention or try to push that this is a "Droid" plug.

I think a better chance is if people who made this cable advertised "16 pin connector sync cords, that work with any 16 pin devise". Problem is there is still only one devise that does and 2nd, few people would know what that means.
Old 12-02-10, 10:04 AM
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Re: Other forum lawyers, HO! (Legal-ish question)

Originally Posted by Sdallnct View Post
But how could you claim to be making a cable that ONLY works with Apple products but not be using the Apple name, reputation, image (literal or not) to sell your product? And that the cable that ONLY works on Apple products isn't making money because of Apple?

Lets say you made a USB cable. You would only say it work with USB devises. You wouldn't mention or try to push that this is a "Droid" plug.

I think a better chance is if people who made this cable advertised "16 pin connector sync cords, that work with any 16 pin devise". Problem is there is still only one devise that does and 2nd, few people would know what that means.
Trademark law will allow you to use another's mark to inform the consumer of a necessary point about your product (such as compatibility). However, if you overuse the mark so that its use is not to advertise compatibility (or comparison, or one of the other permissible uses) but to trade off of the goodwill in the other party's mark. you can still be liable for trademark infringement. Where is that line? It's a gray issue, but as an example. They could market a 16 pin dock connector with standard USB connector and say "Compatible with Apple iPod, iPhone, iPad." However, if they used the following text with a large block header "iPod Cables For Less" and ad print that said, "Get your iPod cable here for less, Apple products for less than Apple prices. Don't overpay for your iDevice needs. Make your iPod connection for less....", that may be over the line....

Again, I think in most of these cases, the trademark claim is a loser. However, having seen what passes for marketing on low-cost computer peripheral e-commerce sites, I can see some getting carried away and crossing that nebulous line.

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