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Apple files suit over iMac knockoff

Apple sues Future Power and Korean conglomerate Daewoo for a computer released by the companies that looks nearly identical to the colorful iMac.

An iMac knockoff released last week at PC Expo in New York drew the attention of swarms of attendees. Now it's drawn a lawsuit from Apple Computer that could impact the future of copyright law.

Apple today filed a complaint against Future Power and Korean conglomerate Daewoo over a $799 computer released by the companies earlier this month that looks nearly identical to Apple's colorful iMac.

The complaint was filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose, California, and seeks to enjoin Future Power and Daewoo from distributing computers that illegally copy Apple's designs. It asks for actual and punitive damages resulting from the alleged illegal conduct.

"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," said Steve Jobs, Apple's interim chief executive, in a statement. "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."

Apple's lawsuit will likely raise a number of important issues about copyright law. Historically, the courts did not extend copyright protection to so-called utilitarian objects. A desk, for instance, could not get copyright protection.

However, courts have begun to grant copyright protection to "stylized" items on the grounds that novel industrial design can communicate or represent a copyrightable idea. Recently, for example, a court held that a Gucci watch in the shape of a large "G" could be protected by copyright because it communicated an idea and was not merely shaped that way for utilitarian purposes.

"It's an evolving area of the law," said Tom Duston, an attorney with Hedlund, Hanley, & John in Chicago. "It represents the collision between trade dress, trademark, patent, and copyright law."

In addition, Apple sources have said, parts of the process involved in tinting the iMac's casing are protected by patents.

Other companies have come out with products that bear the influence of the iMac color scheme. Many of these products were on display last month at the Computex trade show in Taipei, Taiwan.

Bridge Information, for instance, is coming out with a series of 17-inch monitors for PCs in "Amethyst-Purple," "Sapphire-Blue," "Emer-Green," "Ruby-Red," and orange this July. The company has a contract to ship these to a German company in July, the company said.

Fondasonic International is marketing a series of "iCute" color cases for tower computers. There are six colors in all. Also present at the Computex show was Artec, which makes iMac stylized scanners, and Foxconn, which brings a splash of color to four-port hubs. Most of these devices are marketed for the PC market, not the Macintosh market.

Future Power, however, is so far the only company to release a look-alike computer.

Apple refused to comment on the suit.