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Tuesday, February 22, 2011, 05:00 pm PT (08:00 pm ET)

Apple's employee meeting may expand Genius support to small businesses

A new report suggests that Apple's rumored all-hands employee meeting this weekend will launch a new retail-based service called 'Joint Venture' that will extend the company's Genius Bar services to phone and on-site support for small businesses and prosumers.

AppleInsider was first to report Tuesday that Apple was planning a secretive meeting for its retail employees that was likely related to a new in-store initiative or service.

A new report from BGR claims the meeting, which is expected to take place after stores close on Sunday, February 27th, has been called to unveil a Joint Venture service targeted at providing technical support to enterprise customers. Rumors of the service first emerged last March when it was discovered that Apple had filed for the Joint Venture trademark under "technical support and consulting services."

According to the report, Apple plans to offer subscribers to the new service phone-based one-on-one consultations, troubleshooting and on-site visits from Apple Genius technicians. Apple Geniuses are currently only allowed to provide in-store support.

The new service may explain recent changes made by Apple to its policy for Apple Consultant Network referrals. Certified Apple consultants are reportedly upset with the Cupertino, Calif., company over a new support partnership with repair service provider OnForce that would require repair referrals to be issued to consultants through OnForce's system. According to the report, Apple began testing the system in 2009 and just recently began rolling it out on a nationwide level.

By expanding its Genius Bar services to provide additional technical support to businesses, Apple Retail will soon be in direct competition with certified consultants who offer similar services. Such competition could mirror the problematic relationship that occurred between Apple and its resellers when the Mac maker began opening its own retail stores ten years ago.

Apple has been the target of several lawsuits from resellers as a result of this competition. In 2003, San Francisco-based MACadam Computers sued Apple over alleged unethical or illegal business dealings. MACadam has since closed its doors.

In 2005, several Apple resellers filed a class action lawsuit against Apple accusing the company of unfair and unlawful competition. According to the plaintiffs, Apple stocked its own retail stores before providing inventory to resellers and engaged in unfair pricing policies.