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Apple lawyer confirms tablet existence?

By sending a cease-and-desist letter to Gawker regarding its Tablet Scavenger Hunt, an Apple lawyer gives credence to the mass of rumors of the device's existence.

Apple tablet mock-up
No cease and desist for this mock-up of a potential Apple tablet.

Silicon Valley gossip blog Valleywag on Wednesday issued a call for readers to send in photos of the Apple tablet, in exchange for a cash prize of up to $100,000. On Thursday, Apple's own lawyers responded with something almost as good as pictorial evidence of the yet-unannounced device: a cease-and-desist letter.

Attorney Michael C. Spillner of prestigious Silicon Valley firm Orrick, Herrington, and Sutcliffe dashed off a letter to Valleywag's parent company, Gawker Media, beginning with this:

"I am writing on behalf of Apple regarding the notices on and Web sites that Gawker Media will pay someone a financial reward for sending you photos, video, or a sample of an unannounced and highly confidential Apple product."

While it's not actually a confirmation, the letter, chock full of claims of infringements on Apple's trade secrets, does lend credence to the endless speculation that the device--"an unannounced and highly confidential Apple product"--does actually exist.

There are hundreds of bits of speculation that float around the Internet on a daily basis related to Apple. It's not often that the Cupertino, Calif.-based company responds--surely it does not mind all of the free marketing that results from the endless speculation about its products. But when it does respond, particularly with threats of legal action, it's a strong hint that the person or blog is on the right track.

It's happened before: unreleased iPod photos showing up on blogs before the product's official introduction, followed by an Apple C and D letter. It stands to reason that when an image or mock-up of a product appears that isn't real or accurate, the legal department has no cause for concern.

But there's also the issue of inducing people to break a nondisclosure agreement or share trade secrets, which is illegal, as Spillner notes to Gawker:

"As your offer acknowledges, Apple has maintained the types of information and things that you are soliciting--"how it'll work, the size, the name, the software," as well as any possible details about the product's appearance, features, and physical samples--in strict confidence. Anyone who might have access to such information would be bound under the strictest contractual obligations not to disclose the information to third parties."

It's certainly possible that Apple's lawyer's concerns here are not specifically related to Gawker's attempts to possibly induce someone to break their NDA to deliver photo evidence of the tablet, but are more general. Spillner surely knew the letter would become public and could just be trying to discourage similar pay-for-Apple-scoops tactics in the future.

Either way, January 27 is fast approaching, and we should know something more concrete by then.