Apple reportedly wrote In Icons, telling the Chinese manufacturer that any toy that resembles Apple's logo or products, or Job's name or appearance, is a criminal offense.
In Icons looks to sell the figure for $99 online in February, and the company has made it a point to not easily concede to Apple.
Apple can do anything they like. I will not stop, we already started production, said Tandy Cheung, the entrepreneur behind In Icons. I love [Jobs] very much and I think there are a lot of people like me who want to have his action figure.
Cheung reportedly spoke with several lawyers from Hong Kong, who told him that he wasn't in violation unless he decided to brand any of his designs with Apple products or logos.
Steve Jobs is not an actor, he's just a celebrity, Cheung said. There is no copyright protection for a normal person. Steve Jobs is not a product... so I don't think Apple has the copyright of him.
Jobs took many appearances over the years, starting his career as a hairy and barefooted young CEO and transforming later into a slender and bespeckled grandfather figure. Cheung said he chose Job's signature style from his 2007 keynote at MacWorld, where he introduced the iPhone and officially changed the name from Apple Computer, Inc. to Apple, Inc.
Everybody can only recognize Steve Jobs in that style, Cheung said.
Cheung's In Icon doll was originally shown performing all kinds of motions, opening and closing his hand around an Apple, posing on a stool, and even holding up a mini-iPhone and iPad. Those items won't come with the doll, however, because that would violate Apple's copyright.
Before Jobs died on Oct. 5, 2011, Apple had quashed several other attempts to create a Steve Jobs doll. In November 2010, Apple demanded M.I.C. Gadget Store, a Hong Kong-based company, to stop building and selling a Steve Jobs action figure. After Apple gave the same explanation of copyright and trademark protection, M.I.C. re-released the figurine in January 2011, redressing the Apple founder as a ninja, complete with a black belt, mask and ninja stars. The company called the doll, Pineapple CEO.
Not easily fooled, Apple responded with a curt letter:
Mr. Jobs has not consented to the use of his name and/or image in the Product, the company wrote. The figure and its stand are replications of Mr. Jobs's image and Apple's trademark. The thin attempt to 'disguise' the figure in its current iteration does not impact the fact that you are plainly trading on Mr. Jobs's image...
Cheung said he began work on the Steve Jobs action figure long before he knew he was sick with a rare form of pancreatic cancer.
I love Steve Jobs for many years, he said. I didn't know when he would die, but we did have it prepared.
While Apple's copyright infringement claims are questionable, attorneys believe a Steve Jobs action figure released after his death violates the right of publicity, which is a state law that protects one's image, voice, photograph, identity or signature from being used commercially without consent. Furthermore, California's Celebrity Rights Act in 1985 protects a celebrity's personality rights up to 70 years after their death.
[Jobs's estate] has every right to enforce this, said Lawrence Townsend, an attorney with IP firm Owen, Wickersham and Erickson, based in San Francisco. I expect there will be a lawsuit to follow.
Currently, there is no successor-in-interest claim for Steve Jobs in California's special filing registry. However, a claim for Steve Jobs or Steven Paul Jobs can be filed and registered at any time by Jobs's estate.
I think the best way to remember [Jobs] is to make an action figure of him, Cheung said.