Update: As of October 13, at least one person is reporting having received his Commodore smartphone on the company’s Facebook page. The company still hasn’t responded to a request for comment.
Back in July, we reported almost gleefully on the return of the fabled Commodore computer brand, which was being resurrected by an enterprising UK-based company for the purpose of selling a nostalgia-fueled smartphone to Gen X geeks just like us. Sure, we thought, it was probably just a rebadged version of a generic Android handset, but that Commodore logo on the home key and “PET” on the back was enough to get our attention … and the preloaded 8- and 16-bit emulators for playing old-school Commodore/Amiga games were enough to push us over the brink. We requested a review device from the new “Commodore Business Machines,” and when informed that the company had no reviews program, we decided it would be worth buying one. So we dropped the requisite $358.52 in CBM’s coffers and prepared ourselves for the return of the Commodore, gushing and podcasting about it like a bunch of BASIC buffs. The phone was slated to launch “later that week” in Europe.
That was in July. As you may have guessed, our Commodore smartphone has yet to arrive.
The month after the initial press frenzy, news dropped that all was not well in the land of cream-colored computer casings. It turns out the holder of the Commodore trademark since 2011, a company named C=Holdings B.V., was none too pleased about the new Commodore Business Machines’ use of its brand. As first reported by amiga-news.de, the trademark holder said:
C=Holdings B.V. hereby announces that it has not granted any rights to CBM for making use of the COMMODORE trademark, nor that C=Holdings B.V. has any involvement in the development and marketing of its products. C=Holdings B.V. will vigorously defend its rights in this matter.
CBM was quick to respond via a press release from its CEO Massimo Canigiani, which stated that Commodore Business Machines was “the only legitimate owner” of the Commodore brand in the smartphone sector, and furthermore that this dispute would have no impact on its business operations:
Commodore Business Machines LTD wishes to assure to its Customers, Partners, media and fans that all the ongoing activities will regularly proceed as planned, and they will not suffer any variation or delay due to this circumstance.
In the midst of all this, a company named Cloanto (owner of the rights to the works created by the original Commodore/Amiga up to 1993) spoke up and said that it, too, had some beef: it had never agreed to licence to CBM the code that the Commodore smartphone’s software emulators were presumably built upon.
For the avoidance of doubt, Cloanto hereby confirms that it has not granted any rights to said UK company for bundling or otherwise distributing the original, copyrighted ROM and OS software code used by the PET, C64 and Amiga systems and their emulations.
All that happened back in August. As of presstime, C=Holdings B.V. is still listed as the owner of the Commodore trademark, CBM’s claim to the same trademark is still listed as “opposed,” and we still have no Commodore smartphone in our hands, nor any indication that we’ll ever receive one.
Most crucially: we could find no sign that anyone who’s ordered a Commodore smartphone from CBM has ever received one. The comments on Canigiani’s blog post include several complaints from people who’ve gotten nothing for their money, and two others we reached out to on Twitter have found themselves in the same boat. CBM’s representatives have been fairly accessible via Twitter and the contact form on their website, but their responses have been limited to requests for patience and, in our case, referral to a shipment “confirmation” with a link to a nonexistent tracking number. Meanwhile the company seems to have no trouble churning out promotional videos ranging from the slick to the bizarrely amateurish, and it’s still more than happy to take your money at the “Buy Now” link.
All this adds up to a picture that could charitably be described as “shady as hell.”
The device itself isn’t entirely vaporware, of course. The videos linked above attest to that, and there was a prototype version floating around as early as July, when Wired published the preview that kicked off the initial press frenzy. And really, we have no reason to believe that Canigiani actively sought to defraud customers when he dreamed up the idea. Listening to him explain the vision for the product, you get the sense that he’s really trying to build something worthy of the vaunted Commodore brand. That’s more than we can say for C=Holdings B.V., which is acting more like a trademark squatter than anything else.
But that squatter has defended its right to the Commodore name before – and won. CBM was foolish when it decided to build a smartphone using trademarks it knew it didn’t have the rights to, running software it didn’t have a license to install. Its naïveté was perhaps forgivable before it started taking payments for a product it has since demonstrated no ability to ship. But now, the reality is that a bunch of people are out $350 with nothing to show for it but some emails asking for patience. In the parlance of the era that gave birth to the original Commodore PET, “that’s pretty Bogue, man.”
Commodore Business Machines did not respond to a request for comment.