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Food fight! Palm and Apple out of sync!

Palm adds back iTunes syncing to Pre; Will Apple retaliate?

July 24, 2009 01:53 PM ET

Computerworld - Palm Inc.'s decision to re-enable syncing to iTunes in its new Web OS update has an element of Palm taunting Apple Inc.

But could it lead to a legal battle? At least one expert in intellectual property rights thinks so.

"Palm has a fairly large market share and is doing this [sync to iTunes] so visibly, which leads me to believe Apple has no choice but to retaliate, probably through litigation," said Ivan Zatkovich, an engineer who provides consulting help to attorneys involved in intellectual property disputes. He works for EComp Consultants in Tampa, Fla., and has been closely watching the tussle between Apple and Palm over the sync from the iTunes media player to the WebOS and Palm Pre.

The iTunes media player is "valuable property" to Apple, Zatkovich added, "I understand why Apple is protecting it." Apple also has a fairly long history of fighting to protect its IP that dates back to its Macintosh computer in the 1980s and its involvement in digital rights management battles with the creation of the iPod this decade, he said.

Still, Zatkovich said that if Apple doesn't take more steps to protect iTunes sync through its intellectual property rights, then "Palm is perfectly within its rights to provide the [iTunes sync] functionality as well," Zatkovich added.

If Apple doesn't take a concrete step to stop Palm, it is also tacitly inviting other companies to do what Palm has done by emulating the iTunes player capability, Zatkovich said. Even though there are other media players on the market, iTunes is highly successful and syncing with iTunes is probably considered lucrative to Palm, he added. "If Palm gets away with it, it invites others," he said.

But Tal Lavian, an industrial fellow at the University of California at Berkeley who holds a Ph.D in computer science, said he was not sure that Apple could take legal action against Palm over the sync capability, partly because Palm hasn't disrupted Apple's software, only its own software.

"I'm not sure Apple can take legal action against Palm, and I'm not sure it's in their best interest to do so," he said in an interview. "What type of legal action would they take and would there be any validity to it? Palm is not changing anything in software from Apple. It's just the Pre. Apple doesn't have the option to sue over digital rights management or copyright. Maybe there would be a lawsuit if Palm took something from Apple or changed or modified Apple software, but Palm didn't do any of this."

Apple's alternative seems to be to delay the Palm and its WebOS, Lavian said, since the Pre has a multithreaded touchscreen device that poses a threat to the iPhone. "Apple and Palm are going head to head and Apple is doing whatever it can to delay Pre's success," he said.

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