The latest on Apple's options mess

During a week that saw Steve Jobs unveil the iPhone, the backdating situation just wouldn't go away.

NEW YORK ( -- For better or worse, Apple chief executive Steve Jobs can't seem to stay out of the headlines.

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday morning that the company is under formal investigation by federal authorities for a stock options grant awarded to Jobs that carried a false October 2001 date.

Apple's groundbreaking, but pricey, iPhone.

Apple (Charts) has admitted that records showing the grant was approved at a special board meeting were falsified, and has taken a $20 million charge reflecting the difference between the grant price and the actual stock price on the date it was issued.

The Securities and Exchange Commission wants to question former Apple attorney Wendy Howell, who allegedly created the false documentation, as well as her old boss, ex-Apple general counsel Nancy Heinen, and ex-CFO Fred Anderson according to the Journal. (Full story)

It's not yet clear whether the options woes are just a speed bump on the road of Apple's stunning rebirth, or whether they're more serious and could cost Jobs his job, dealing a major blow the company he co-founded.

Here's a look at key developments in the saga.

Some shareholders are suing, claiming Apple gave four executives a huge windfall by granting them options to buy nearly a million shares of company stock the day before the then-struggling computer maker announced a $150 million investment by Microsoft in 1997, a news report says. The company restated earnings lower by $84 million, from 1997 to 2005, because of that practice. (Full story: Suit charges Apple with new options woes)

An internal investigation that was concluded in December disclosed that options granted to Jobs and other Apple executives were backdated, but cleared Jobs of any wrongdoing. (Full story: Apple says options probe clears Jobs)

But even before the formal investigation into Steve Jobs' options came to light, not everyone was convinced that Jobs was entirely blameless. (Full story: Apple lets Jobs off easy)

The news of the federal probe comes just days after Jobs' triumphant performance at Macworld, where he unveiled the iPhone. (Full story: Apple: Hello, iPhone)

The combination cell phone and media player device had been anticipated by Apple acolytes for years. (Full story: How Apple kept its iPhone secrets)

The unveiling was, for the most part, greeted enthusiastically by fans and foes alike. But the iPhone, which won't be out until June, is already enduring plenty of critiques. (Full story: Four problems with the iPhone)

And even this latest technological triumph comes with its own legal imbroglio. Before Jobs' two-hour keynote was even finished, the blogosphere was rife with speculation and confusion surrounding his use of the term iPhone, which was widely known to be trademarked by Cisco. (Full story: Apple and Cisco vie for "iPhone")

And in fact, Cisco (Charts) turned around and almost immediately sued Apple over its use of the iPhone name. (Full story: Cisco sues Apple over iPhone name)

But given the increasing gravity of the charges swirling around Apple regarding its options grants, rights to the use of the term iPhone may turn out to be the least of the Cupertino, California company's problems. Top of page