by Mike Masnick
Thu, Feb 7th 2008 6:26pm
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.
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