Young Entreperneur’s White iPhone Solution Gets Him in Trouble

By  |  Wednesday, November 17, 2010 at 1:40 pm

If Apple can’t produce the white iPhone, apparently a young entrepreneur from Queens, N.Y. can help you convert your black one. 17-year-old Fei Lam has reportedly struck an agreement with Foxconn, the Chinese manufacturer contracted by Apple to produce the iPhone. Under this deal, Foxconn is sending him white iPhone 4 cases for those not willing to wait to see if Apple will ever ship the anticipated model.

We’re not exactly clear on how he accomplished this, but Lam is now selling a conversion kit for $279 which includes the front and back panels along with the home button from his own website, WhiteiPhone4Now. It seems Lam may have had friends in high places, and knew someone within the manufacturer that was willing to wheel and deal with a kid looking to make a quick buck to pay for college.

Lam has sold about $130,000 of the kits — but this soon may be coming to an end: he told the New York Observer he has received a letter accusing him of selling stolen goods from a private investigation firm. Lam believes that his letter is similar to the ones sent to eBay sellers claiming to sell white versions of the iPhone 4.

He’s not backing down, and plans to contact a lawyer. “There are a couple of other sellers online and somehow I’m the ‘focus’ of it all,” he told the Observer. “I think this guy is just trying to scare me into stop selling on behalf of Apple.” The question now is, does he have a legal right to do what he is doing?

Calling Lam’s purchase of parts from Foxconn “selling stolen goods” seems legally weak. Foxconn is the manufacturer of these parts, from which Apple buys them from. In order for it to be stolen, Lam would either need to be stealing them from Foxconn itself, or receiving parts from Apple’s own shipments that it paid for.

If Foxconn is producing additional parts for Lam, the stolen goods defense is moot — and Apple would probably need to look more at trademark infringement if it intends to go after him legally. While I am certainly not defending his activity — I kind of find it somewhat unethical on Foxconn’s part to allow this kind of business dealings, it may be difficult  for Apple to do much if anything.


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6 Comments For This Post

  1. DTP Says:

    I think your opinions about this kid's guilt indicate you don't know anything about the contractual agreements between Foxconn and Apple. When does title to goods produced pass to the customer? Does Apple allow Foxconn to sell any products produced by Foxconn (that are protected by Apple design patents) to any entity other than Apple? Was Fei Lam a legal importer of Apple products?
    He's guilty of something and ignorance of the law doesn't cover it. Let's try not to make this kid the hero and Apple the villain.
    Apple can at least issue a cease and desist based on illegal use of the brand(s) and is probably entitled to go further. Damages wouldn't be difficult to prove.

    Not a Lawyer,
    Disinterested Third Party

  2. DTP Says:

    I did read it and I didn't indicate that you thought he should be "allowed" to do what he did. I suggested you not help canonize him without better information regarding his "supply chain" or Apple's contract with Foxconn. Using "stolen goods" as a defense was not what you meant to write, I think you meant "stolen goods" as the pointy end of Apple's legal stick. I think it is entirely reasonable for Apple to point to the most likely committed offense (and as a criminal charge, the most easily litigated) as the reason the kid should cease and desist his operation. The kid would have to provide a set of invoices going back to a legal sale from Foxconn or Apple to a legal exporter to avoid the "stolen goods" label. The story should have been pointing out how a kid with some nefarious connections and adult assistance stuck his neck up so high from the crowd of gray market players that he caught the attention of the OEM. Oops – maybe…poor kid – unlikely…bad OEM – never.

    Not an Apple Employee or Fanboi,
    Disinterested Third Party

  3. MJPollard Says:

    Two messages from the same person. Both messages sticking up for Apple. The claims of “not an Apple employee or fanboi” and “disinterested third party” ring very hollow from where I’m sitting (in fact, my BS meter is currently off the scale).

  4. Gabriel Says:

    Apple would strike a deal with Foxconn for the production of iPhones, without an exclusivity clause stating that the parts must be given to Apple only? None of this makes sense to me. I call shenanigans.

  5. JohnFen Says:

    My BS meter is pegged too.

    The editorial slant I got from the article was that Apple is playing dirty by charging the kid with theft instead of the charge that would be more applicable, trademark infringement. If the case is as clear-cut as that, then this would indeed make Apple a villain. Supply chains, import laws, and all of that don’t really enter into it.

    There’s no way for me to know if it’s that simple, though. Perhaps theft has actually occurred somewhere. Perhaps a case of these items was stolen by a Foxconn loading-dock worker and the kid is buying them with or without knowing they’re stolen. In such a case, it’s not unheard of for everyone who touched the deal to get accused and let a court shake out the actual crooks.

    In any case, there’s not enough information to decide who the bad guy is (or even if there is one) in this story. It’s premature to accuse Apple, and it’s equally premature to defend them.

  6. JohnFen Says:

    Oh, I forgot to pt a caboose on that train. I don’t think this post was anti-Apple, which is what DTP is saying. I think the post says essentially the same thing as I just did.