Long-time readers will know that I talk a lot about Apple and it's marketing efforts. Yesterday, another 'incident' with Apple came to my attention, and it adds support to everything I've said in the past.
Back in May, I made the argument that the only difference between an Apple computer and a PC was smart branding. On the technical side of things, they are nearly identical products, capable of running the same software. This is bad for Apple, because customers will eventually catch on and begin to question why they're paying $2,000 for something they can get for $300 down the street. So far, an incredible effort in branding is keeping Apple at the alleged forefront of the ever-moving technology wave and keeping shareholders in the money.
There are times, though, when this is challenged. Apple computers aren't really unique, and a small Florida company named Psystar set out to prove that. They sell something called the OpenComputer, which is a custom-designed computer that can run Windows, Linux, or even the newest Mac OS. The operating systems are completely interchangeable and you can choose which ones come pre-loaded on the machine. While Psystar might be the first company to do this commercially, I know for a fact people have been building their own "Mac clones" for years. When Macs and PCs use the same technology, there's not much to stop you from building your own computer and installing your own OS (You can buy Mac OS X by itself at the Apple Store, by the way).
I don't bring all this up to praise Psystar, but to offer a warning to Apple. Yesterday, I found out that Apple is in fact suing Psystar for copyright infringement. According to well-known lawyer Jorge Espinosa:
The suit alleges counts for violation of its shrink wrap license, trademark and copyright infringement. Psystar has been manufacturing and selling a line of computers which sell pre-installed with Apple’s OSX operating system. Apple’s shrink wrap license which comes with OSX specifically requires that the software be installed only on Apple branded computers. Psystar has previously expressed defiance at claims that it might be violating Apple’s rights.
While standing on somewhat shaky ground, Apple does have a very good point; Psystar is violating the license agreement. By doing so, though, they are proving that there's nothing special about the Apple computer beyond the fact that they're Apples. If Apple had left this alone, chances are good that not much would come of the issue. Psystar is a small company that really doesn't threaten the Apple brand. With a national stage on which to argue its case, though, the Psystar story will have many questioning their credit card bills in the near future.
The story has broke and I don't want to spend too much time second-guessing Apple's decision. Instead, I'd like to ask you, what steps would you take moving forward to protect the Apple brand? Since this is an instance proving the Apple brand isn't quite as unique as we all like to think it is, how would you approach PR in the coming days to protect against Psystar copycats? What arguments would you make in court to defend your license agreement?