Apple Sues EMachines Over Computer's Design

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Taking aim at a rival to its wildly popular iMac, Apple Computer on Thursday filed suit against upstart EMachines over the design of the Irvine computer maker's eOne machine.

Apple's suit seeks to block distribution of the eOne, arguing that the computers are causing Apple irreparable harm. It is also seeking unspecified actual and punitive damages resulting from such conduct.

"Priced hundreds of dollars less than the iMac and offering an inferior user experience, the eOne threatens to cause public confusions" and hurt Apple, the Cupertino, Calif.-based company said in the suit filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose.

Privately held EMachines has made a name for itself by offering sub-$1,000 computers. The company is ranked only behind Hewlett-Packard and Compaq Computer in desktop sales through retail stores, according to market researcher PC Data.

The iMac, introduced last August, has received wide recognition for its award-winning egg-shaped design and has been credited with returning to profitability a company once thought dead.

"There is an unlimited number of original designs that EMachines could have created for their computers, but instead they chose to copy Apple's designs," said Steve Jobs, Apple's interim chief executive.

Under the hood, the iMac and eOne are completely different: The iMac uses Apple's unique operating system and has a curved, translucent mouse, and the eOne runs on Microsoft's Windows 98 and has a conventionally shaped mouse.

But physically, the similarities are hard to miss. Both are all-in-one computers--with the monitor and CPU attached--and come in translucent colors.

"The eOne is cool blue, it is translucent, and it is in an all-in-one configuration," said EMachines spokeswoman Pattie Adams. "But it's not a copy of the iMac."

The suit against the maker of low-priced computer clones is its second challenge by a computer maker in the last two months.

EMachines also faces a legal challenge from Compaq, which is accusing the company of violating a series of technical patents with its eTower.

"The company was wanting to be heading for an [initial public offering], and there's nothing like a lawsuit like this to screw that up," said SoundView Technology Group analyst Mark Specker.

Specker said Apple's suit, which follows another against a smaller clone maker, Future Power, is probably strong enough to reach trial. That means the uncertainty will linger over EMachines.

"It's surprising that, given the company's apparent desire to become a public company, that they didn't take more time and effort to fully cover themselves in this issue," Specker said. "It was a foolish choice."

But though Apple has been a pioneer in design and marketing savvy, its courtroom record is less stellar. Its long-running suit against Microsoft, accusing the software giant of misappropriating the "look and feel" of Apple's user interface, sapped some of the company's energy and credibility and ultimately went nowhere.

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