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back to article Apple sues three more over power adapter 'knock-offs'

Apple has sued three more outfits for allegedly infringing a Jobsian patent by selling knock-off power adapters for MacBooks and MacBook Pros. According to papers filed with the US District Court or the Northern District of California, Jobs and cult are suing three California-based companies – Brilliant Store, Sunvalleytek …

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Silver badge
Coat

But are they genuine?

Ok, so they advertise that they are selling Genuine Power Adapters.

But, are they?

If they come from the same maker in China then are they the ones that failed QC tests?

These are the sort of questions that need to be answered. This will happen as the lawsuit progresses.

If they are not then Apple is perfectly right to go after them.

Many readers of El Reg that don't like Apple in any shape or form but they spent a lot of time & $$$ to design a really neat Laptop Power connector. They innovated. Why shouldn't they get some financial return for their innovation?

If these places are selling fakes and one catches fire guess what, the customer of the fake will very quickly sue Apple for supplying a faulty device which will provide another 'Hate Apple' headline here/

Apple (like and other H/W maker) has to protect itself from things like this.

Mines the one with a Thinkpad power brick in its pocket.

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Unhappy

sad

They patented a power adapter? I'd be crying if I wasn't so sad... Yes - the world will end, not with a bang but a power adapter ...

I wonder if you can get around the patent by putting a know on top that goes to 11?

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have you seen one??

if you have had the chance to come into contact with the apple PSU then you would see why... its not like a normal laptop psu, more like an oversized phone charger but for a laptop its as close to perfect as I can see... its half the size of the usual black slab and is integrated into the plug... so less crap on the floor... the end of the adapter has little flip out ears for the cable to wrap round and the cable clips to its self - when transporting the adapter you will use a fraction of the space a traditional one takes...

Apple, (for once!) are well within its rights to hunt down those that copied it...

mines the one with a giant Panasonic power brick weighing down one side...

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Gold badge

Magsafe

Apple's laptop power supplies are well designed, attractive. They are much more than just a brick on a rope like other brands. The power connector is magnetic and you don't get a broken power socket if you step on the lead.

It's one reason why I don't care much for normal PC laptops, they spend very little time making their laptops look good as it is. Then they go and ship it with an ugly brick with a very awful power connector.

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FAIL

Quick lesson on American patent law

The patent in question is a design patent, not a utility patent.

A utility patent is what people normally think of when they think of the word "patent"--a patent on some sort of gizmo that someone has invented.

A design patent is a patent awarded on the characteristic appearance of an object, where such design or appearance does not serve a function other than aesthetics. You can get a design patent on anything, provided that its appearance is sufficiently unique. Dizzy Gillespie had a design patent on his iconic bent trumpet.

Apple has not patented the idea of a power adapter. This patent is on the shape and configuration of the power adapter, that's all.

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Flame

Tey patented the connector

Apple PS connector is held by a magnetic catch and not friction like in other manufacturers and in that sense is quite original. It is also better than a let's say classic Dell or Sony power brick connector because it will unhook if you trip over the cable at nearly any angle.

The old-style connectors used by other manufacturers will not unhook if the force is applied at a right angle to the connector so if you trip over the cable the laptop goes flying off the table.

Granted, Apple is exaggerating the advantages of its connector in its marketing. It is however innovative, patentable and worthy of patent protection.

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Flame

The patent quoted by el reg is not the only one

The patent referred in the article is not the only one. There is another one for the laptop side plug and IIRC it is a proper utility one, not a "registered design". The plug is quite innovative on a few counts and is a clear improvement over most other power-brick connectors.

However, coming back to american patent law - it is easier to enforce a design patent in court :)

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Silver badge

You patent means, not ends

If there is no other way that anybody could make a plug that stays in the socket, then they have a right to do so under competition law. Otherwise, nobody but Apple could make power adaptors for Apple computers, which would be anti-competitive behaviour.

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@anton

The the magnetic attachment power supply is not unique since I have a deep fat fryer that is over 10 years old that uses the same type. Its not innovative and it certainly should not have been patententable.

The patent office did not do proper research.. again!

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Anonymous Coward

Business opportunity

Want to make a quick killing? Sell antennas for the iPhone 4 -- Apple will never *dare* claim you're copying their design ...

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Jobs Horns

Next week- "We're launching a second suit."

"These copies are such a perfect copy of such a retarded design they're not fit for purpose!"

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Boffin

Actually a good idea - get a patent now...

Make an iPhone 4 case that makes the antenna work when you hold it the PROPER way in your left hand i.e.; an extended antenna built into the case....

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If it walks like a duck

This page

http://www.sunvalleytek.com/compatible-apple-macbook-60w-laptop-ac-adapter-magsafe-p-432.html

seems to me (IANAL) to prove Apple's point.

Apple does have a strong patent on the MagSafe connector.

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Boffin

Apple's innovation.

Apple's MagSafe patent filed on: September 26, 2005

Underwriters Laboratories safe deep frier's connector: July 2001

http://archives.cnn.com/2001/US/07/03/deep.fryers/

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Joke

Apple products - A warning from history?

"Indeed, some of Apple's iconic products have even been featured in museums,"

...right next to the self-euthanasia machine, zyklon gas canisters and dummies of "great" dictators and control freaks of the last couple of millenia, no doubt.

Being in a museum isn't ALWAYS a good thing!

Nurse! My tongue is stuck in my cheek again!

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Conspiracy Alert

Had a look at the linked patent, very little text detail so went took at the images, Firefox needed a plugin to view them, guess which one - Apple Quicktime. I did not corrupt Firefox so cannot see the images.

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Boffin

The knock-offs are better

The Apple power adapter for my iBook G4, due to the supply "hanging" on the poorly designed plug, would lose contact with its plug and fail to charge the iBook. Apple, of course, wanted a ridiculous sum for a new power adapter. For only $15.45, Brilliant Store sells a pretty conventional looking supply that plugs into the wall using a conventional AC power cord that works vastly better than the Apple power adapter. And that's the basis of the suit - Apple designed over priced crap that fails, and these 2nd source places took off-the-shelf supplies, put the correct plug on the end to charge the Apple product, and sold it for a fraction of what Apple would charge.

There is no way my Brilliant Store supply violated Apple's patent. But Apple is counting on the deep pockets method of litigation. Apple knows these suppliers don't have the financial resources to fight, and will settle.

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Anonymous Coward

Looks identical...

I assume your G4 didn't have the mag safe connector. I bought non-apple replacements from my pre-magsafe lap tops. Those power adapters fit the plug but looked nothing like apples adapter. I've never seen an adapter like the mag safe anywhere else, so it wouldn't surprise me that they can protect it- unlike the previous plug. That aside, the adapter on the website looks exactly like apples. No effort whatsoever to avoid getting sued.

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Is it the adaptor or the poor design

of the American mains plug?

In the UK there's certainly no 'hanging'. The adaptors are firmly fixed in the wall.

Alternatively you use the cable extension that Apple provides so that the weight of the adaptor is on the floor or desk and not 'hanging' off the plug.

On the down side, our mains plug is an absolute sod to fit into a laptop bag.

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A title is required

"The Apple power adapter for my iBook G4, due to the supply "hanging" on the poorly designed plug, would lose contact with its plug and fail to charge the iBook."

Your Apple iBook G4 shipped with a cord that could be fitted to the power adapter to fix that problem. Mine did. All the iBook G4s did. Did you lose yours?

"There is no way my Brilliant Store supply violated Apple's patent."

Nope, because your iBook G4 didn't have a MagSafe connector.

Apple has a couple of patents on power supplies: a utility patent on the MagSafe magnetic deal, and a design patent on the white square. Since the power supply you bought was a conventional design without a MagSafe end, you're right, it didn't violate Apple patents.

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Actually, patents stink

Does anyone seriously believe that Apple wouldn't have designed a better power adapter if they couldn't have patent protection on it? No, nor do I. Even without patent protection, they'd still be able to sell their official adapter by telling you how the alternatives will destroy your kit, invalidate your warranty, kill you and eat your kids.

So the argument in favour of patents probably doesn't apply in this case, as in most others. But fortunately, it's so difficult to write a patent that can't be designed around that competitors still have a chance.

However, given the way litigation works, as a competitor you'd better have a good patent portfolio of your own. Either that, or be prepared to fold your business and start afresh next month. In this case, I suspect the competition will adopt the latter tactic.

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Silver badge

Meh...

If it's only the patent linked in the article then it's just a design patent and fairly trivial to work around. If they can win a suit based on that then the companies listed really did do everything they could to make an exact duplicate. If that's the case, Apple should be able to sue over trademark violations as well. A total no brainer since design patent infringement is a pretty obvious call.

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Design patents

It's pretty hard to not violate a design patent if you want to make something which has compatible plug.

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Gold badge

Re: Design patents

Au contraire, a design patent cannot cover any detail that is essential to operation, so the shape of the connectors isn't covered. So yes, if the disputed adaptors actually look like the Apple oringinals then this is an open and shut case of passing off.

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Silver badge

I don't care either way.

I've long since gone out of my way to make sure any box I buy does NOT have a vendor brand only power adaptor.

No Dells, no Apples, no worries.

If I want to buy an el-cheapo third party option, then damn it, I'll do that.

If I want to buy a second, for work, home, car, whatever, then damn it, I'll do that.

Basically, I will *not* be held to randsom to have to buy the vendors' overpriced boxes.

That said, if the third party knockoffs are sold at the same price as the Apple native adaptors, then said retailers deserve what they get. Sell a third party el-cheapo if you want, but price it accordingly.

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Jobs Horns

Apple power blocks are special!

Unlike the cheap power blocks available all over, undoubtedly Apple blocks are different ... they catch fire or cause fire in the products to which they ate connected.

The cheaper blocks are super reliable and conform to all required international standards.

Maybe Apple will take a patent out on how to set screws - all their slots aligned in a single direction. Or how about a patent on the plug pins? Apple is a patent happy entity whose time would be better spent on figuring out why their products have such poor safety performance.

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Bronze badge

Only Apple?

It sounds like Apple at least have a good reason for selling proprietary power adaptors.

I'm sick to death of companies that charge a significant proportion of the cost of a new device to replace an inexpensive component- and power adaptors are the worst. Each one has a minor difference to all the others , for no purpose other than protecting the rip off sales of spares.

A third party device may cost a few pounds/dollars, but an original a few tens of dollars - and it's the same brick!.

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Bronze badge

Spelling (no, not Aaron)

Looks like they corrected the spelling of original, but check out this doozy from the description:

New genuine Apple parts!! Not fake! Quickly availably!

Someone skipped their spelling bees as a kid.

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FAIL

No they didn't

It still says oringinal.

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US Patents

Section 8: The Congress shall have power ... To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;

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Silver badge
Stop

Yes, but

that could be construed as meaning only insofar as the grant of exclusive rights does actually promote the progress of science and the useful arts. It is not clear how forcing people to buy parts from a single supplier promotes the progress of science or the useful arts.

Given the case law relating to the fourth amendment about how a search warrant only authorises a search for specific things, it may well be the case that a patent which can be shown to have failed in the cause of promoting the progress of science and the useful arts could be overturned as unconstitutional.

But, I am neither a lawyer nor an American. (Psst ..... we need an IANAL icon.)

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WTF?

Seems perfectly reasonable to me.

I'm neither a fanboi or the opposite... shall we call them hatebois?

This is no different from Gucci going after people who sell fake handbags etc. Whether it is a handbag or a power supply, the company has spent time and effort designing something well made and useful, so they should benefit from it and not have to put up with a-holes copying and producing inferior knock-offs.

Some people here seem to see "Apple" (or Miccysoft or Google for that matter) and immediately react without actually engaging a brain!

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I'd be a lot more impressed if...

...Apple would license the magsafe connector to companies, so that some leads that do not exist can be created.

As it is, there is an artificial restriction put in the airplane connector lead - IN THE CHIP PUT IN THE CONNECTOR - that tells the computer not to enable charging. If you want a magsafe connector to enable charging, if, say, you wanted a solar charger for your laptop, the ONLY way to do this is to buy another apple power supply and cut the end off, to get a magsafe connector that has a chip that allows charging.

This is the only reason the magsafe connector has 4 pins and not 3...

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FAIL

Keep on failing

and you can't replace the plug.

My daughter's MacBook.... Apple's relatively expensive patented power brick number 3

This time I wrapped it in shrink wrap to give it the extra strength (it needs)

Could I patent that?

It pops off if you are stupid enough to trip over your power supply feed.

There is a better way... just don't fall over your overly expensive MacBook in the first place :-))

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Paris Hilton

Cry Me A River

Before I abandoned Apple products after three g4 laptop years, I had two of Apple's power supplies burn out. I replaced them with a non-apple PSU which not only outlasted both of them, but did so at a price that was HALF what Apple charged.

Dunno how it is in the magsafe era, but a few years ago Apple's units were notoriously short-lived and grossly overpriced.

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Magsafe is hardly innovative, how did it get a patent?

How did Apple even get a patent on their "magsafe" connector? They have been required on kettles in Japan for years, to stop children pulling them off the bench and onto themselves. Using the same connector for a PC is hardly innovation -- the patent really should go to the person who thought to use it for a kettle.

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Pint

@Ivan Headache

> On the down side, our mains plug is an absolute sod to fit into a laptop bag

http://www.slimplug.com/

I got one from Maplin. Don't know if they still sell them.

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Already have some.

They are fine with Apple's PSU but can't be used on Ivana's work povided HP because it needs an earth connection.

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title

Some posters seem to be confusing the iphone power adapter (which is a USB adapter moulded into the plug) with the laptop power adapters (which are a standard brick on a rope, but in white instead of black). Nothing wrong with that.. it's a design that works. But it's hardly special.

The magsafe adapter is an innovation, granted - although one personally I could do without as I'm sick of seeing 'low battery' warnings because the cable has fallen out yet again. Nothing a bit of sellotape doesn't fix..

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Stop

@ TonyHoyle

"The magsafe adapter is an innovation"

No it was copied off of a deep fat fryer and as such should lose patent protection.

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Dead Vulture

If El Reg doesn't fact check...

...surely the commentors don't need to, too.

People, please: To me it looks like ALL of the sued companies sold FAKE Apple power bricks for the almost-cost of the original boutique spare parts offerings. I like my 3rd party option as much as you but this, for once, is good news.

Take a look at hootoo.com's offerings:

http://www.hootoo.com/index.php?categories_id=&keyword=macbook+adapter&main_page=advanced_search_result&inc_subcat=1&search_in_description=0

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Anonymous Coward

Patent Schmatent

In this case I think the whole issue of patents is a small scarlet fish. Whether or not you think Apple should be granted the patent you must surely agree that it's dodgy selling something as a "genuine Apple part" when it isn't.

Here's a parallel. I have a fault on my car and I need to replace a part. I can buy a geniun part for £57 or I can buy a pattern part for £35. If you're not familiar witht he term a pattern part is a copy of an original, not made from the original blueprints but copied (reverse engineered if you like) from an original part. If you buy pattern you accept the risk that the part may not be built to the same tolerances as an original and the materials may not be as good. After work I need to way up the cost against the risk and make what I hope is an informed decision. That's fair enough because it's my decision. If however one factor was offering a factory part for £57 and the other was claiming that their £35 part was a genuine factory part then they would be ripping me off and trading on a motor manufacturer's name while risking the reputation of that manufacturer by selling a potentially inferior part.

A few years ago the SMMT tried to get patern parts banned and thankfully failed. We should all have the right to choose to buy non original spares for whatever product we want. However traders should not have the right to sell fake parts as real.

Some of the commentards here bashing Apple and supporting the traders are making the assumption that the supplies for sale are functionally identical to the Apple part. I would not be at all suprised if they are made from inferior materials and components to less stringent tolerances. These posters are also making the assumption that these traders are doing buyers a favour by offering these products at a lower markup. Again I would not be mildly shocked if it turned out that the dodgy items are actually selling at a bigger marging than the Apple originals. And while an OE part might come with a warranty what do you suppose you get with one of these "genuine Apple parts"?

A while ago a friend bough a PSU that was supposedly identical to a Compaq one. When he received it was getting very hot in use, so I opened it up alongside his original. The original was quite a sophisticated switched mode item, the "identical" product contained a simple transformer, rectifier and regulator along with a rather small smoothing cap. On the bench the output was showed to be as lumpy as school gravy and voltage dropped significantly as current increased. The original part suffered neither of these problems. OK so the replacement part was £30 (plus £10 p&P) from ebay versus almost £60 for an OE part, however a bit of brain application would have found a proper switched mode unit to a similar spec was available from Maplin for less than either. Maplin were not selling their item as "genuine" not were they actually claiming it was identical, they just sold it as able to do the job.

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Apple's laptop power supplies are well designed, attractive??????

Whoever said that does not have a Macbook!

My Macbook pro is on its fourth power supply in four years. I move around a lot and the computer comes with me and I plug in anywhere I can to get a recharge. I accept that my usage is a lot heavier than a static machine.

The problem is that the cord frays at both ends. There are plenty of examples on Youtube. The plastic is very soft and easily damaged. I bought one genuine replacement and the last two were chinese from ebay and work very well (but are so genuine that they have the same problem with the cord). Eventually I found replacement cords on eBay which are not trivial to fit but do the job well.

So do I have a conscience about ripping off Apple? No of course not. And do they have a conscience about refusing to repair the psu or sell replacement cords. I doubt it.

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