Curtis E. Karnow, an intellectual property and computer law specialist in Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal's San Francisco office, said there are two routes Apple could take if the company decides to go after Future Power's iMac look-alike, dubbed the E-Power.
"The first route involves 'trade dress,' a legal term meaning the distinctive appearance of a product associated with a company in the mind of a consumer, such as the famous Coca-Cola bottle," Karnow said.
"What it comes down to is whether Apple can produce evidence that can convince the court that customers would be confused by a possible affiliation or connection" between the E-Power and the iMac, Karnow said. "If the court thinks that confusion would occur, then it would probably issue a preliminary injunction against sale or distribution of the computer" that resembles the iMac, Karnow said.
While proving the charge of trade dress could be difficult, Apple (Nasdaq:AAPL) could take a second, easier route, Karnow said. "Apple could charge Future Power with trademark dilution, which is much easier to prove than trade dress," Karnow said. Proof of trademark dilution requires no substantive documentation of any confusion customers might experience when they see a product that looks much like the iMac.
A blue-and-white prototype of the E-Power system debuted at PC Expo last week in New York; Future Power, based in Santa Clara, Calif., said it plans to deliver models in five colors, the same number as the iMac. The egg-shaped PC will come in jewel-toned hues: amethyst, emerald, ruby, sapphire and topaz.
Future Power said the all-in-one E-Power system will cost $799. It will run on a 466MHz Celeron chip, pack 64 Mbytes of RAM and come with a 40x CD-ROM drive and an internal 56-Kbps modem as well as a built-in 15-inch display and floppy drive.
Apple declined to comment on Karnow's analysis. Future Power was unavailable for comment.