If the iPhone charger you bought on eBay for 37 cents doesn’t wear Apple’s shiny “Made for iPhone” logo, Steve Jobs and Co. didn’t get their cut of the profit. And they’re none too happy about it. According to Bloomberg, Apple has turned its legal guns on the manufacturers of unlicensed third-party accessories.
The majority of Apple accessories, including the menagerie of white plastic add-ons you might pick up at your local Apple store, are manufactured legally under Apple’s MFi licensing program, which skims 20 to 25 percent of each sale off for Apple in exchange for use of Apple’s intellectual property. Apple also provides manufacturers with technical information, hardware connectors, and testing tools, then certifies each gadget for compatibility.
But in an effort to skip paying the piper, a growing number of companies have forgone Apple’s channels and produced completely unlicensed accessories on the cheap.
It’s not hard to see the appeal. A simple dock connector to USB cable, for instance, goes for $19 at the Apple store, while any number of eBay vendors would be happy to sell a generic version for 99 cents – with free shipping to boot.
In its lawsuit, filed July 22 at a federal court in San Francisco, Apple claims the companies making this type of accessory violate up to 10 of its patents and trademarks. Accessory makers named include Accstation, Boxware Corporation, Crazyondigital, Eforcity Corporation, Everydaysource, Itrimming, and United Integral.
Besides the patent and trademark infringement, Apple alleges that unlicensed accessories often malfunction – for instance, draining a battery instead of charging it.
Still willing to gamble with accessories that cost a fraction of the Apple store price? Don’t expect the grey market to dry up any time soon. Apple’s current suits only target U.S. companies, but many are made overseas in China or Taiwan, out of Apple’s legal reach. Case and point: Apple managed to successfully sue a company making unlicensed MacBook chargers last November, but a quick visit to eBay turns up no shortage of $10 “OEM equivalent” MacBook chargers.