Deal or No Deal: Apple Edition

If y ou're a huge corporation with lots of cash in the bank, you're inevitably going to be a target for lawsuits. Heck, even if you are a moderately-sized company with next to no cash in reserve, you can expect to be sued on a regular basis.

Apple Inc. is certainly no exception here. Indeed, it may well be the leader of the pack. Some of the lawsuits against Apple have real merit. In a few cases, the complainant may even win. Too often, however, the suits are frivolous and inevitably wind up in the courtroom trash bin.

In case you haven't been following "Deal or No Deal: Apple Edition," I thought I'd give you this recap of recent actions against Apple.

In the "familiarity breeds contempt" category, we have Apple's iPhone. Its phenomenal success has already triggered a spate of lawsuits:

    • Did Apple and AT&T promise more than they delivered with their claims about the speed and reliability of the iPhone's 3G network? According to the lawsuit filed by Jessica Alena Smith, the answer is "Yes." Her lawsuit seeks "unspecified damages, pre-judgement and post-judgement interest on monetary relief, attorney's fees, and that Apple replace or repair the defective iPhone 3G units."

    • Does your iPhone 3G case have hairline cracks? If you are one of the apparently many to have this problem, Avi Koschitski is on the case. His lawsuit seeks a "jury trial, asking for statutory, compensatory and punitive damages." For good measure, the suit also includes complaints about the 3G network performance. So far, Apple is not admitting to any wrong doing.

    • Most of us would welcome a more open iPhone, one that you could easily and legally unlock. At the very least, it would be great if Apple sold the iPhone through carriers other than just AT&T here in the States. Apple's unwillingness to cooperate has led to a lawsuit claiming "unfair competition." There's no final resolution on this one yet.

    • Apple has had better luck dealing with a claim that it didn't sufficiently warn customers that the iPhone's battery will eventually die and need to be replaced. Fraud! Deception! Or not. A judge ruled in favor of Apple, noting that the crucial information was in fact provided -- right on the iPhone's packaging.

Not all lawsuits against Apple deal with the iPhone. And, in some cases, the suit is filed, not by a dissatisfied customer, but by a rival company.

    • IBM has sued Apple over the hiring of Mark Papermaster, a former IBM employee. IBM claims that Mr. Papermaster's acceptance of the job at Apple is in violation of his contract with IBM -- because he would be working at Apple on projects in direct competition with IBM's offerings.

    • In the case of Psystar vs. Apple, it's suit and countersuit. Apple started this ball rolling by suing Psystar, claiming that their Mac "clones" violate the Mac OS X end-user licensing agreement. Psystar disagreed and has now sued Apple, claiming that their prohibition is a violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. Currently, Psystar is losing this battle.

    • ZapMedia Services claims that it showed their technology to Apple in the late 1990's, and that Apple subsequently illegally used this technology as the basis for the iPod and iTunes Store. They're suing.

Moving on, we have a variety of lawsuits that don't fall into any particular category:

    • As of 2008, New York City employees are still after Apple with a suit that dates back to 2006. They claim that Apple's backdating of stock options hurt them as Apple shareholders. A judge continues to rule against them.

    • A former Apple employee claims that he was unfairly denied overtime pay when he was required to be "on call" over a week-end. His suit claims that Apple subjected him and others to "indentured servitude."

    • Finally, as spotted by ars technica, Jonathan Lee Riches sued Apple because someone attempted to sodomize him with an iPhone -- and somehow this was Apple's fault. Not to worry, Mr. Riches subsequently filed a voluntary dismissal for the suit, claiming it was all a dream.

I'm sure Apple wishes that they could wake up and discover that all of their lawsuit headaches were similarly a dream. Unfortunately for them, such is not the case.

These are by no means a complete list. Search the Mac Observer site with the key words "lawsuit 2008" and you'll find many more. Most of them are claims of patent violations and have little chance of success. But they keep food on the table for Apple's legal staff.

I imagine Apple takes this all in stride. As I said, when you are as successful as Apple, you expect to be a legal target. And yes, it's true that anybody can sue anyone over anything. Winning is the hard part. And Apple rarely loses in the end.

In most cases, I simply watch these lawsuits from the sidelines, as a neutral observer. Still, I admit to being irritated when I see almost any problem or possible defect in a product immediately elevated to the level of a lawsuit. Are you having problems with the trackpad on your new MacBook Pro? Why wait for Apple to do something about it when you can sue them? That seems to be the attitude behind many of these filings. I have more patience and tolerance than that. Even if I was ultimately dissatisfied with the outcome of a dispute (as has been the case more than once), it wouldn't mean that I thought Apple did something illegal. I have better things to do with my time than sue Apple over every perceived grievance. Clearly, not everyone shares my view.