Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick


Filed Under:
apps, beer, copyright, iphone, virtual beer

Companies:
coors, hottrix



Can You Really Own The Idea Of Making Your iPhone Look Like Beer?

from the drink-up! dept

It's time to raise your glasses in a toast to ridiculous intellectual property lawsuits. Or, if you don't have a tasty beverage on hand, perhaps a virtual one, say, on your iPhone? Well, unfortunately for you, that may be a problem -- as the latest ridiculous lawsuit concerns two competing virtual beer applications, both of which make your iPhone look like the side of a full beer glass, that will "drain" the beer, as you tilt the iPhone. Cute, gimmicky app, right? Except if you're a pissed off developer who seems to think that only one person should be allowed to make such an app. A company called Hottrix that made such an app is suing the beer company Coors for an astounding $12.5 million for offering up a similar app of its own.

Hottrix's app, iPint, cost money, whereas Coors (perhaps implicitly recognizing how infinite goods -- the silly app -- can help sell more scarce goods -- beer) gave its app, iBeer, away for free. The Coors version was more involved, as it also included a "game" where you needed to guide a sliding pint across a bar into some waiting hands. Hottrix's lawyers claim that the idea of such a virtual beer glass is copyrightable -- which seems fairly questionable. Concepts can't be covered by copyright. It needs to be the exact implementation, and as long as the Coors version was different, then it's difficult to see the copyright claim. Hottrix also pulls out the bogus argument that iPint hurt iBeer's sales. That's simply incorrect. It wasn't Coors that hurt Hottrix's sales, it was Hottrix, for having a bad business model. Competition isn't illegal.

But, of course, Apple in its infinite (loop) wisdom, removed the Coors app after Hottrix complained, thus protecting Hottrix from its own business model mistake. And yet, Hottrix still wants $12.5 million from Coors for daring to come up with a similar idea. You have to hope this gets thrown out of court quickly.

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  1. identicon
    Lonnie E. Holder, 16 Oct 2008 @ 2:24pm

    Ideas & Intellectual Property

    I kept wondering when anyone would point out that an idea is an "infinite good," to the extent there are infinite goods, and as such does not get any kind of intellectual property protection.

    On the other hand, a computer program obtains a copyright by its existence, and it could potentially have been patented (it does not appear to have been patented).

    However, just because one company has a program that makes a phone look like a can of beer does not mean that one company violated another company's copyright by doing something similar. Of course, if Coors did take the software from Hottrix and make that software its own, we are talking a crime no matter what your definition of "infinite goods" and "scarce goods" may be.

    As for giving away the application for free, it is competition, but inadvertent competition because Coors is a beverage company and not a software company. Many companies have marketing giveaways, and on a per unit basis this one was likely relatively cheap. Though an application is NOT an infinite good, because it takes time to maintain, download and run, and requires storage space, it is a relatively inexpensive "scarce" good once the creation portion is complete.

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