It sure seemed like this whole "lost iPhone" saga might be over, but maybe things are just getting interesting: CNET is reporting that Silicon Valley police have launched a probe into the sale of the prototype iPhone left at a bar in Redwood City to Gizmodo.com. Apple has reportedly spoken to police about the incident, and a computer crime task force is on the case, currently investigating whether there's enough evidence of wrongdoing to file charges. It's possible that there isn't, and this really is over, but if police find that laws were broken with the sale of the unreleased property, charges might be filed.
Jonathan Ballerano (via Daring Fireball) has a little more insight on Gizmodo's possible liability. If a case is brought against Gizmodo, says Ballerano, the question will be twofold: whether Apple took reasonable steps to protect their secret (as in, not leaving it in the hands of an engineer who might lose it at a bar), and whether Gizmodo had knowledge that the phone was a trade secret at the time. On the first point, Ballerano says that California law is relatively lenient, and given that Apple needs to field-test the phones, somehow, they could probably make a case for reasonable protection of their secret. On the second point, Ballerano believes that yes, Gizmodo willfully disclosed something they knew was a secret, and expects that if either a suit or a charge is brought, Gizmodo will pay.
But at this point, it's up to the police and Apple to decide how far they can pursue Gizmodo and on what grounds they might go after them. We'll have more legal analysis coming up about the case -- stay tuned.