Intellectual Property

Apple GC Asks Website to Return Its Secret Prototype iPhone

Apple’s general counsel Bruce Sewell wants a technology website to return the company’s iPhone.

It’s not just any iPhone. According to Gizmodo, the website that paid $5,000 for the gadget, the phone is Apple’s secret next-generation iPhone. An Apple engineer left the phone in a Redwood City, Calif., bar, Gizmodo says.

The New York Times explained what happened next. Gizmodo posted pictures of the phone and its editors “ripped it apart—as if it were an alien from another planet—to dissect its features.” Gizmodo’s story highlights the changes, including a front-facing video chat camera and improved display.

Gizmodo posted Sewell’s one-paragraph letter. “It has come to our attention that Gizmodo is currently in possession of a device that belongs to Apple. This letter constitutes a formal request that you return the device to Apple. Please let me know where to pick up the unit.”

Gizmodo said it would comply now that Apple has verified that the phone is real. “Warm, fuzzy, huggy feelings of legal compliance,” Gizmodo wrote.

Barry Cohen, an intellectual property attorney at Thorp Reed & Armstrong, told Computerworld that Gizmodo’s disclosure isn’t the same as a trade secrets leak. He pointed out that Apple may release the device in just a few months. “This isn’t the Coca-Cola formula, that’s been secret for forever,” he said. And if the device was lost, rather than stolen, there is likely no criminal liability, he said.

Nick Denton, head of Gawker Media, told Computerworld he’s not too worried about legal threats by Apple. He noted a January 2008 lawsuit by the Church of Scientology against Gawker for posting video clips of a private religious event. “Formidable though Steve Jobs may be, the Church of Scientology has a more vicious reputation for litigation,” Denton said.

Hat tip to Daring Fireball.

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