As a person who reads Brighthand, you’re surely familiar with Apple’s announcement last week of the iPhone, its first device that will combine the features of an iPod and a smartphone.
But it’s possible you haven’t heard of iPhony, an application for Palm OS or Windows Mobile devices that will allow them to have something of the look and feel of Apple’s next mobile device.
This did not escape the attention of Apple… and it’s lawyers. Monday morning, sites all over the Web, including this one, got a "cease and desist" order telling them to remove all references to iPhony.
The reaction was virtually instantaneous. Many of the sites who had received the orders wrote angry editorials defending their free speech rights.
I know I’m swimming against the tide here, but I actually agree with Apple. I’m not one who generally likes to be pushed around by lawyers, but I can see things from Apple’s perspective.
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It seems to me that the whole point of iPhony is take advantage of Apple’s hard work coming up with a new, unique user interface. I don’t think the developer of the Palm/Pocket PC application was intending to charge for it, but I never like to see one person profit of someone else’s work. Or do anything to take away from the real developer profiting from his efforts.
And, despite what some have said, I think that iPhony could easily take business away from Apple. If you have a Treo that works almost exactly like an iPhone, why would you buy an iPhone?
When it comes right down to it, the most significant differences between a Palm, Pocket PC, BlackBerry, or S60 smartphone are software. The user interface, to be exact. I suspect that many of you have strong feelings about what mobile devices you buy based entirely on the UI. The same is probably true about your desktops and laptops.
So you need to realize that UI’s are very important to companies. They spend huge amounts of time and money working on them.
If you can accept that, you understand why Apple didn’t just laugh iPhony off.
Warning, Legal Stuff Ahead
Also, there’s the legal issue. I’m not a corporate lawyer, but as I understand it, if you don’t actively defend your trademarked materials, you could lose it. I’ve been told that this is one of the things you absolutely have to do to protect your trademark.
You might not consider one single developer working in his basement making an application take looks a lot like iPhone much of a threat to Apple, but how about if it was Motorola? Or Samsung? Or Palm? That could happen, and if Apple went to court to stop this theoretical product, its lawyers would be able to make a strong argument that if Apple didn’t try to stop iPhony, then its trademark should be invalid.
But let’s not get caught up in the legalese. Just because something is legal doesn’t make it right. The whole purpose of trademark law is to encourage companies to create new stuff. If they knew that someone else would immediately turn around and profit off it, why would anyone bother?
That’s why I think Apple had to send out the "cease and desist" orders. Its lawyers probably knew they would be ignored — and think I’m violating one just by writing this — but it serves a larger point.
A Tough Call
Like I said earlier, I don’t like to be pushed around by lawyers, and I support free speech as much as the next guy.
But there’s another side of the coin. Just because a lawyer says it, doesn’t mean that it’s something I should automatically protest against. I try to see the bigger picture.
And, as a final bit, while can’t approve of iPhony, I’m not trying to demonize its developer(s). Actually, I’m pretty sure he/she is just a person who likes Apple and thought it would be nice to share the iPhone user interface with other mobile users.
But perfectly innocent actions can have unintended consequences. That’s why I have to be against iPhony.
I’d like to thank my sister Valerie for her help with this article