Apple sues copycat iMac firm

Apple Computer Corp. has filed suit against the makers of an iMac look-alike, asking that they be prohibited from distributing the system.

The suit, filed in federal court against Future Power and Daewoo Telecom, complains that the E-Power systems, which are Intel-based, "illegally copy Apple's designs."

"There is a universe of original designs that Future Power and Daewoo could have created for their computers, but instead they chose to copy Apple's designs," Steve Jobs, Apple's interim CEO said in a release. "We've invested a lot of money and effort to create and market our award-winning designs, and we intend to vigorously protect them under the law."

The E-Power systems were debuted last month at PC Expo in the U.S. The all-in-one systems will come in an array of colours -- amethyst, ruby, topaz, emerald, and sapphire -- same as Apple's iMacs. The systems were scheduled to ship in September, starting at $799 for a system using a 466MHz Celeron processor.

Apple famously lost a suit against Microsoft Corp. in the late 1980s, when it charged the software maker with stealing the "look and feel" of the Mac OS. In the current suit, the company is asking the court to prohibit Future Power and Daewoo from distributing the systems and award Apple actual and punitive damages.

On Wednesday, Future Power spokeswoman Michelle Van Jura said that the E-Power's design was the result of convergence, not plagiarism. "There are only so many ways to build an all-in-one computer," Van Jura wrote in an e-mail. "The most natural design to ensure the smallest footprint is a [convex]-shaped unit."

However, Curtis E. Karnow, an intellectual property and computer-law specialist in Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal's San Francisco office, said the E-Power's shape isn't the only issue. "Functionality is a defence in a trade-dress case," which covers the distinctive appearance of a product, "but the court will ask, 'Is it true that [convex] is the only real option for the smallest footprint?' While Future Power might be able to prove that a [convex] shape is the only option for an all-in-one computer like the E-Power, the company would still have to defend other similarities in design to the iMac, such as colour," Karnow said.

Future Power is a joint venture with Daewoo Telecom, based in Santa Clara, California. A spokesman for Future Power was not available for comment.

MacWEEK's Wendy J. Mattson and Matthew Rothenberg contributed to this report

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