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5/7/2010
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iPhone Apps Plagued By Copycats

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and success is the surest bait for imitators.

Think of a famous brand name product and someone is almost certainly selling a knockoff on the streets of a major city.

Less famous brands are being copied too, even in Apple's iTunes App Store. In a blog post on Thursday, Marco Arment, lead developer of Tumblr and Instapaper, observed that several popular iPhone applications have attracted a handful of copycat titles and pseudo-copies that appear to be trying to piggyback on the success of the original.

Two out of ten of the apps displayed in Arment's iPhone App Store search for the title "angry birds" were made by Clickgamer.com, the company first using that name. Two other apps in the search results had different names and appeared to be perfectly legitimate.

"The other six of the top ten results for this game's name are pure spam," observed Arment. "Judging from the number of customer ratings, a lot of people are downloading them -- and, reading the reviews, it looks like they’re mostly scams and ripoffs."

He notes that one company, InTekOne, LLC "has 58 apps, nearly all of which are 'cheats' or 'guides' for top App Store games, violating nearly all of their name and icon trademarks in the process and ripping off thousands of buyers."

Neither Apple nor InTekOne responded to requests for comment.

This isn't a new problem. Successful titles have spawned imitators since Apple opened its App Store. But it appears to be more widespread now than in the past.

One developer, Ben Cousins -- who Arment says "has 86 scammy apps" -- appears to acknowledge the gray area he's operating in by including a lengthy disclaimer on app download pages. The disclaimer states that the trademarks belong other companies and that his company, AceAppSoftware, asserts that using other companies' names and titles is defensible under the Fair Use doctrine.

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