Psystar wants to force Apple to open up

by Mathew on August 30, 2008 · 10 comments

According to an article in Information Week, the Apple clone-maker known as Psystar Systems is counter-suing Apple, claiming that the computer company uses illegal tactics to protect its market share in personal computers, including anti-competitive measures that are prohibited by the Sherman Act, a key piece of U.S. anti-trust legislation. Among other things, the clone-maker argues that Apple employs technology that effectively “bricks” Apple clones when the software detects non-standard hardware, and also that the company is able to charge more for its computers because of such tactics.

As the Information Week article notes, in order for Psystar’s case to have any chance of succeeding, the company has to prove that Apple computers are a separate and distinct market of their own. If they are part of the much larger market known as personal computers, then Apple’s behaviour arguably doesn’t matter, because the company only has about 10 per cent market share (depending on whose numbers you look at). But Psystar claims that Apple computers are actually a separate market, thanks in part to the company’s marketing campaigns, which are aimed at creating a mystique and a feeling of superiority around its products.

The Sherman Act is likely familiar to many because it was used by the U.S. attorney-general’s office to prosecute Microsoft in 2001 for alleged anti-trust practices, including “tied selling” — i.e., requiring that hardware makers include Microsoft software on their PCs in order to get a deal on the cost of Microsoft Windows. Contrary to popular wisdom, the law doesn’t specifically prohibit companies from having a monopoly (provided it was lawfully acquired), but restricts them from certain kinds of behaviour that would amount to using that monopoly improperly.

I’m not an anti-trust lawyer, obviously, but it seems like a bit of a stretch to me to argue that Apple is a monopoly in any real sense of the word, or that Apple products constitute a separate market. Like Allen Harkleroad, however, I am not-so-secretly rooting for Psystar, because I think that the ability to run Apple software on any piece of hardware would be a great thing — and would probably help Apple more than it is likely to hurt. How come I can get a Macbook Pro and run Windows on it, but I can’t buy a Dell Inspiron and run the Mac OS on it? Doesn’t seem right somehow.

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