Macintosh clone maker Psystar is feeling the heat. In a suit filed in the U.S. District Court for Northern California in San Francisco on July 3, Apple Computer asked the court to "[require] Psystar to recall all such products sold to the public as a result of Psystar's infringement of Apple's copyrights."

The Miami-based startup began shipping Apple clones to the public in April. Psystar's OpenMac was offered on the company's Web site for $399 -- a bit more than half the price for a similarly equipped Mac. On Wednesday, the company's Web site was still offering its Open Computer alternative with Mac OS X.

David vs. Goliath

Psystar's marketing of a Mac clone is the latest David to go against the Apple Goliath. At the heart of Apple's lawsuit is Psystar's installation of Mac X OS X Leopard on the company's clone. While there may be support on the street for a price-competitive Mac clone, the Mac OS X end-user licensing agreement (EULA) expressly states: "You agree not to install, use or run the Apple software on any non-Apple-labeled computer, or to enable others to do so."

How Psystar will fight a clear violation of the software agreement may have been hinted at early this week when an unidentified company employee asserted that the Apple EULA violates antitrust agreements. However, legal experts have noted that since Apple controls only seven or eight percent of the total desktop PC market, an antitrust charge would be hard to maintain.

Apple's lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages and the removal of Psystar clones from the marketplace. Whether this means purchasers of Psystar units will have to surrender their clones to the court is not clear.

The suit also charges trademark and copyright infringement. Both parties are scheduled for a case-management conference on Oct. 22, but some observers wonder whether there will even be a Psystar by then.

History of Clones

Even Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates suggested that Apple allow clones of its ROM and OS in the 1980s. Many PC industry pundits have pointed to the lack of early proliferation of Apple's OS as a missed opportunity.

By leaving the OS market open to Microsoft, its DOS and then Windows OS became de facto standards. As a result, Apple computers never achieved significant market penetration, and ironically Apple's single-digit share of the PC market may make its tough stand on clones defensible.

Apple has successfully shut down a raft of would-be cloners in the past, including a Brazilian company in the mid-1980s. But Apple actually promoted its own clone initiative in the mid-1990s when it licensed its OS to Motorola, Radius, Zenith Data Systems, and other PC suppliers. This was a late attempt to achieve some form of market parity with the PC clones that had a firm grip on the market by then. Apple aborted the program due to poor sales and CPU shortages.

Apple has a long history of vigorous intellectual-property protection of its products, most recently its hard-line stand on hacking the iPhone.