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Apple swipes student's Wifi Sync app

Apple has proved in the past that it is willing to go to extraordinary lengths to protect its intellectual property as well as its image.

Perhaps our favourite case of Apple's heavy-handedness came about late last year when the Cupertino cabal set its sights on a company called MIC Gadget which was flogging beautifully-crafted action figures of Apple supremo Steve Jobs (opens in new tab), complete with his signature black turtle-neck, Levi Jeans and New Balance shoes.

Apple quoted California law which states that using a person's image without consent is illegal and the iDoll was withdrawn from sale. For the purposes of this article we'll gloss over the fact that MIC also sells cheap Chinese knock-offs of pretty much everything Apple makes.

And it's not just the little guys that Apple bullies in and out of court. The company has gone for Amazon over its App Store-aping Appstore, Samsung for its iPhone clones and HTC for much of the same. The only surprise is that Jobs' Mob hasn't tried to sue God for infringing its logo with his fruit.

When the shoe is on the other foot, however, Apple seems to show little hesitation when it comes to absorbing other people's ideas like the Borg Collective.

The latests person to be assimilated into Apple's well-guarded eco-system is one Greg Hughes, a UK-based Apple fan, iOS developer and inventor of the well-known Wi-Fi Sync app.

We say 'well known', but if you are not among the ranks of Apple-antagonising jailbreakers, you may never have heard of this eminently useful widget.

Wi-Fi Sync allows iDevice owners to sync their iTunes libraries without breaking out a USB cable. A feature missing from the official OS and much bemoaned by a vocal majority.

Hughes submitted the App to the iTunes approval team for inclusion on the iTunes App store but, as many had expected, it was rejected. Apple minions explained that they liked the programmer's work, thought he was onto something good, but couldn't accept the App because it contravened one or more of the Store's 10,000 Commandments requisite to entry. Apple even asked Hughes to drop them a CV, according to the Rogister (opens in new tab), no doubt giving him the impression that, even if he couldn't turn a buck on his App, he might get a job out of it.

In the meantime, unwilling to let the fruits of his labours go unrewarded, Hughes submitted Wi-Fi Sync to the Cydia Store, a marketplace for itinerant Apps rejected by Apple and much loved of the jailbreaking community. The widget soon became a hit and, at ten bucks a pop, and with 50,000 units sold according to some estimates, was no doubt making the coder a healthy chunk of income.

Which must have made it all the more annoying when Apple announced this Monday that a new function called Wi-Fi Sync was to be added to the forthcoming iOS5 upgrade. Same functionality, same name and pretty much the same icon.

Spot the difference: Hughes' logo is on the left Apple's on the right.

Apple will no doubt say that it was planning to add wireless syncing to to iOS all along, and that the name Wi-Fi Sync is the obvious choice, and that the logo was designed using standard icon conventions based on Apple design cues, but all the same.

Apple knows that one lonely student will never be able to take on the might of its legal department and can pretty much ride roughshod over the law, especially when the app was developed using tools and APIs it owns. monitors all leading technology stories and rounds them up to help you save time hunting them down.