Look Yonder – The White Unicorn!

Duuuuuuude! You could get into troubllllle! Or maybe not. An American high school kid named Fei Lam found the key to a nice little treasure chest when he responded to a piece of SPAM that was advertising OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) replacement parts for the Apple iPhone. The parts of interest were white exterior case components, making it entirely possible to create the elusive and officially unavailable “white iPhone.” The source turned out to be a supplier from China, and Fei didn’t see any reason he couldn’t be the one to satisfy the strangely desperate public outcry for white phones. He simply selected the parts and began offering them for sale as a package. He whipped up a little website called “WhiteiPhone4Now.com,” and the rest is recent history. You can buy the full conversion kit for $279, just the front for $169 or just the back panel for $135. At this point, Fei claims to have shipped more than 470 kits, and has raked in more than $130,000. He’s even been featured on CNN Money.com, CNET and several other very credible sites. In doing so, he’s also popped up on the radar as a threat. Private investigators are creeping around, and lawyers are advising him on the legal ramifications of selling the parts – oddly, many are telling him he’s in the clear. It’s true that the parts bear the Apple logo, along with all the correct iPhone markings. But Fei didn’t manufacture any of that, and is just re-selling a product he purchased. Asian manufacturing becomes kind of murky these days, because so many of the premium products American companies sell are made there – and we suspect they’re made inside the same factories and perhaps on the same assembly lines as the “knockoffs” the Federal Trade Commission tries so mightily to contain. Almost everything from purses to jewelry exists in a brand-approved form and in a shadier street version. Most people can’t tell the difference, which is what makes the whole thing so infuriating for the brands that pour millions of dollars into their marketing and advertising. On one hand, this underscores the power of a brand and its ability to persuade people to pay to bask in its radiant glow. It also highlights the fact that many brands sell themselves based on very little to make them any different than other products (also known as the lack of a unique selling proposition). After all, if the quality difference of a knockoff is undetectable to the average consumer, what real difference is there beyond the logo and style? Apple, by the way, is not one of those brands. The wizards from Cupertino create products that set the standard for all the wannabes, and have done much to advance computer and phone technology. But gadgets from companies like Apple are in such hot demand that they become targets for leaches who would gladly cash in on a brand they didn’t build. To date, I believe only Steve Jobs has sported a white factory-birthed iPhone 4, but I’m betting this particular white unicorn becomes a reality very soon. Otherwise, a quick-thinking high school kid is going to steal all the thunder – not to mention all the profit.

Unicorn!

L/L wants to know what you think. Is Fei Lam a young genius? Or is this just wrong, wrong, wrong? And is the whole thing so different than when manufacturers create custom wheels or bumper guards for vehicles? Oh, the ethical implications!

Fast Company’s view here:

http://www.fastcompany.com/1703553/exclusive-qa-white-iphone-4-seller-on-trademark-infringement-apple-foxconn-private-investiga

Fei Lam’s little money machine: http://www.whiteiphone4now.com/

Comments

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