AT&T Suing To Stop Prepaid Phone Unlocking, Resale

from the this-is-a-trademark-violation? dept

It's quite interesting to see the way companies misuse intellectual property law in order to try to prop up what is otherwise a weak business model. We've covered the case of Tracfone, a prepaid mobile phone company, who sells cheap phones hoping to make it up on the service fees. However, when an exception was added to the DMCA allowing phone unlocking, Tracfone flipped out. The company even went so far as to claim that unlocking mobile phones could represent a national security issue. Tracfone, though, is a rather small player in the space. It turns out that AT&T is joining in on the fun and suing to stop prepaid phone unlocking. The company is not going after individual unlockers, but the bulk unlockers. What's interesting, though, is that the lawsuit appears to be over the issue of trademark violation. Why this isn't just a contractual issue isn't clear -- but it seems strange to make it a trademark issue. However, again, all this really shows is that the business model around prepaid phones, relying on subsidized phones, isn't a particularly good one. That's no reason to sue or pass laws that protect it, though.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 7th, 2008 @ 6:34pm


    ...I love your posts, but man, you've got to get some key points OTHER than the Streisand Effect and business models.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 7th, 2008 @ 7:34pm


    The linked article even goes so far as to say that unlocking prepaid phones "amounts to a theft of subsidies" and that the telcos are "working with federal law enforcement officials on the problem". Notice how these companies like to call anything that challenges their business plans "theft"? Sounds like the old "illegal interference with business model" claim to me.

    Gimme a break.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Terry, Feb 7th, 2008 @ 7:36pm

    Theft by Illegal Interference with Business Model - I love it!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Ben, Feb 7th, 2008 @ 8:26pm

    Re: Mike...

    Coward, By trying to draw attention away from the Streisand Effect and business models, you are drawing attention to the Streisand Effect and business models. BTW, nice objective source there, lamenting about theft of subsidies! Nearly fell outta my chair.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Edmond Woychowsky, Feb 8th, 2008 @ 4:37am


    This just shows that Jerry Pournelle was right when he said AT&T couldn't market a cure for death.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    jhunter, Feb 8th, 2008 @ 7:06am


    Maybe they are making a trade mark issue because their logo is on the phone. So when the unlocker sells the unlocked phone it still has an AT&T logo. And I can see how a customer could be confused by this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    cb, Feb 8th, 2008 @ 8:38am

    AT&T: If you don't want your phone unlocked and used for other purposes than don't make it, don't market it or don't sell it. Get a life would you. Move on.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Doug Stewart, Feb 8th, 2008 @ 3:15pm

    Resale of Phones

    This is a battle that AT&T is destined to lose (and good on that I say).

    The Office of Trademarks and Copyrights have already moved that this is a "non-event".

    Remember the Tracphone? These jokers tried playing the same game and lost.

    If AT&T would spend half as much energy trying to meet their customer's needs as trying to screw them. They'd make more money.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    lou, Feb 24th, 2008 @ 10:52am

    tracfone sying on customers

    tarcfone--whose carrier is at&t is allowing its cutomer's calls to be spied on by the govenment agencies...if your outgoing calls on tracfone say---as mine does at all times---"CALL DIVERT SET"---you are a victime of the global, war-mongering overlords. i m an american citizen with no criminal records (after near 60 years of life in the "land of the free") and i--nor my friends and family are any part of the "global terrorist network"...the criminal u.s. gov't. is a big brother andwe are on animal farm...god help us....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Roy, Oct 14th, 2008 @ 7:01pm

    TracFone or AT&T?

    Look at my video showing a side by side comparison of my iPhone and my TracFone... Go figure.

    My AT&T service (Cingular when I started it in March 2002) was so bad and unreliable, I had to purchase a TracFone as a backup. My mom was in Hospice, and I needed to be in touch 27-7... The TracFone was flawless and got "bars" everywhere.

    My TracFone/AT&T "shootout can be seen by typing in my "name" ROYINTEXAS on YouTube.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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