Smartphone maker Palm has filed a complaint with the USB Implementers Forum, a nonprofit corporation founded by the group of companies that developed the Universal Serial Bus specification, charging that Apple is infringing on its trade by not allowing the company’s smartphone, the Pre, to connect to Apple’s popular iTunes application.
The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Palm filed the complaint, which argues Apple is “hampering competition” by locking the Pre, which tricks iTunes into believing it is connected to an iPod instead. In a letter obtained by the Times to the USB Implementers Forum, Palm Senior Director of Product Technologies Kevin Morishige charges Apple is using its USB vendor ID as a lockout code.
“Over the years, those that have implemented the USB standard have clearly benefited from the interoperability and competition among devices fostered by the standard,” he wrote. “For example, the explosive growth of the market for Apple iPods and iPhones has been attributed in significant part to Apple’s decision to implement the USB standard for these products, rendering them compatible with PCs as well as Apple computers.”
Morishige said by opting to use its USB vendor ID number to limit access to iTunes, Apple is in effect turning the ID into a lockout code. “This exclusionary use is not contemplated by the USB standard, which is clearly intended to facilitate interoperability between USB devices, not to regulate the content that flows between them,” he wrote. “Moreover, it is inconsistent with the letter and the spirit of the USB-IF Membership Agreement, including the Antitrust Guidelines.”
Mike Abramsky, an analyst with investment firm RBC Capital Markets, told the New York Times there isn’t much precedent for this type of case, so predicting an outcome will be difficult. “It’s breaking new ground,” he said. “In my mind, ultimately the users are the arbiters in the outcome of these situations.”
The cat-and-mouse game between Palm and Apple took another turn last week, when Palm updated the operating system for the Pre. Palm webOS 1.1, which the company hopes will make the Palm Pre smartphone more appealing to businesses, was widely seen as an excuse for the company to reconnect Pre users to Version 8.2.1 of Apple’s iTunes application. In May, early tests of the Palm Pre made it known that Palm’s upcoming Pre WebOS will include an application called Palm Media Sync, which will synchronize with iTunes and allow users to transfer DRM-free music, photos and video onto the Pre.
On July 15, Apple updated iTunes, and the newest version prevented the Palm Pre from syncing with Apple’s proprietary music app. Months before, during a Jan. 21 earnings call, Apple COO Tim Cook, declining to name Palm specifically, said, “We will not stand for having our IP ripped off, and we’ll use whatever weapons that we have at our disposal.”