By Scott Nyman
It’s no surprise that Apple holds a large portfolio of intellectual properties. In fact, there are websites dedicated to tracking new patents and trademarks issued to Apple, such as www.patentlyapple.com. It should come to no further surprise that the company would desire to control and profit from such intellectual properties.
A few years ago, Apple began a licensing program as a requirement to market and sell iPod, called the “Made For Apple” program. This program has since transformed into the “MFi Program,” which has expanded licencing to include Apple’s iPod, iPhone, and iPad. Apple describes the MFi as a “licensing program to develop electronic accessories that connect to iPod, iPhone, and iPad” and allow “licensed developers gain access to technical documentation, hardware components, technical support and certification logos.”
Joining the program allows a developer a license to market and use Apple’s patented technologies without provoking the wrath of the company’s litigation department. Of course, Apple charges for the licenses it provides, and sometimes for each device manufactured. For example, when the program was still called “Made for Apple,” accessory makers were required pay $4.00 for each unit that used Apple’s proprietary connector.
Some companies, including eForCity, decided to manufacture and distribute accessories for Apple’s iDevices without bothering with those pesky licensing fees. I don’t know if these companies thought they could fly under Apple’s radar or just didn’t care, but Apple noticed. In fact, this past July Apple filed a complaint with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California alleging infringement on their patents and trademarks and unfair competition. The defendants attempted to have the suit dismissed on procedural issue, but District Judge Jeremy Fogel has since ordered the case to proceed.
Where the case goes from here is anyone’s guess. Patent and trademark litigation can get very expensive very fast, and I am in no position to guess the financial ability of the Defendant companies to put up a fight against Apple. If history is any indication, eForCity and the others may look to settlement as the best alternative, as similar other Defendants have over an alleged infringement of Apple’s “MagSafe” power connector.