Can Apple stop the sale of the Steve Jobs doll?

While Apple officials certainly revere the company’s late CEO Steve Jobs, they have not quite locked up the intellectual property rights associated with Jobs’ profile and image. A Steve Jobs doll, an action figure bearing an uncanny likeness to the IT innovator, is due to go on sale next month.

The 12-inch Jobs doll is being manufactured by a Hong Kong-based company called In Icons. Apple has promised to sue In Icons, but success in court will depend on who can claim ownership to Jobs’ publicity rights. Even securing those rights might not guarantee that Apple can stop action figure sales.

Apple’s legal team warned In Icons that it will bring a lawsuit against the toy maker if sales of the doll move forward in February. The formal letter reportedly declared that any rip off of the Apple logo, its products or the image of its co-founder would be criminal.

Before Jobs’ death from cancer late last year, a different Chinese manufacturer called M.I.C. Gadget tried to put a Jobs doll on the market. The possibility of a lawsuit stopped the plans, but analysts say similar threats have not fazed In Icons.

Company officials at In Icons have publicly stated that the Jobs action figure is in production and on schedule to hit the stores for $99.99. Attorneys for In Icons feel that, as long as the toy maker does not copy the likeness of Apple’s products, it is on safe intellectual property ground.

Apple apparently has not registered a trademark for Steve Jobs’ image or profile. Some analysts say Jobs’ estate should sue In Icons instead.

In California, where Jobs lived and worked, publicity rights pass from an individual to an estate when a person dies. The rights may be given away like property, but it remains to be seen whether Jobs handed over those rights to the company he used to run.

Even if Apple sues In Icons and wins, the victory may only reach as far as the state’s borders. States without the same publicity rights laws or countries without intellectual property agreements would not have to pay attention to the decision of a California judge.

Source: E Commerce Times, “Apple’s Not Playing Around With Steve Jobs Action Figure,” John P. Mello Jr., Jan. 6, 2012