Apple Inc. loses against security start-up Corellium in a precedent-setting case

Apple Inc.
Apple Inc. loses precedent-setting case against Corellium? Pic credit: @Flickr: Butz.2013/ Wikimedia Commons

Apple Inc. has lost an important lawsuit that it had filed against a little-known tech and security research company. Founded merely three years ago, Corellium has not only won against a tech behemoth but the case may set a strong precedent and give strength to small companies.

Corellium dared to stand up against Apple Inc. and a federal judge in Florida has sided with the tech startup. The presiding judge threw out Apple’s claims that Corellium had violated copyright law with its software.

Incidentally, Apple Inc. initially tried to acquire the tech startup, but when acquisition talks broke down, Apple sought to shut down the company using the legal hammer. Now that Corellium has won, Apple Inc. would inevitably try to challenge the ruling, but the case has once again strongly highlighted the monopolistic and dominating behavior of tech giants.

Why did Apple sue a small tech firm founded in 2017?

Corellium makes virtual Apple operating system emulators for security researchers. Husband-and-wife Amanda Gorton and Chris Wade founded the company in 2017. Back then, the security community had hailed the company and its software as a breakthrough in security research.

Corellium gave its customers the ability to run “virtual” iPhones on desktop computers. The software allowed security and ethical hacking groups the ability to virtual take apart and investigate Apple iOS. Previously, researchers needed access to multiple iPhones to conduct their research, which meant the process was very expensive.

The iOS operating system powers all of Apple iPhones. However, just like Windows 10, it is a closed-source operating system. This means Apple doesn’t allow third-party developers to virtually dissect and investigate any component.

How did Apple Inc. lose against Corellium?

In the court, Apple argued Corellium had violated copyright law with its software. Corellium maintained its software helps security researchers find bugs and security holes on Apple’s products.

Judge Rodney Smith, in the case, ruled that Corellium’s creation of virtual iPhones was not a copyright violation. The judge observed that the company’s tools were designed to help improve the security for all iPhone users.

The judge added that Corellium wasn’t creating a competing product for consumers. Rather, it was a research tool for a comparatively small number of customers. He further noted his surprise and called Apple’s argument on those claims “Puzzling, if not disingenuous.”

Apple’s claims rested on the argument that Corellium’s products poised a threat to its users’ privacy and security. The company cautioned that if the startup’s products landed in the wrong hands, they could be used for malicious activities.

Apple has also alleged Corellium circumvented the company’s security measures to create the software, thereby violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Incidentally, the court hasn’t dismissed this claim.

After hearing the arguments, Smith wrote in Tuesday’s order, “Weighing all the necessary factors, the Court finds that Corellium has met its burden of establishing fair use. Thus, its use of iOS in connection with the Corellium Product is permissible.”

Possibly alleviating Apple’s concerns about Corellium products landing in the wrong people’s hands, the Judge noted that the tech startup used a vetting process before selling its products to customers.

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