17 January 2007

Cisco vs. Apple

Controversy over use of the iPhone name

This is not quite as interesting a case as the one involving the patent dispute over the RIM Blackberry's transmission technology, but it still has some surprising twists.

Basically, Cisco registered "iPhone" as a trademark before Apple did. Cisco has sued Apple over the latter's use and alleged that it had been in negotiations over the use of the name when Jobs announced the new iPhone. Cisco's beef is that Jobs released the product before negotiations were complete, and that Apple attempted to acquire the name in bad faith through a front company.
Cisco obtained the iPhone trademark in 2000 when it acquired Infogear, a small Redwood City, Calif., start-up that developed consumer devices that allowed people to easily access the Internet without a PC. Infogear had actually registered the iPhone trademark in March 1996. Cisco's home networking division, Linksys, has been using the iPhone trademark on a new family of voice over IP phones since early last year, Cisco said. And last month, Linksys expanded the iPhone family with additional products.
(CNET "Cisco sues Apple" via BoingBoing)
At the heart of the dispute is the putative ability of Cisco to register what is perilously close to being a common noun. But Apple's position is significantly worse: it argues that it has established an "iFamily" of products, such as the iMac, iPod, and iTunes. Therefore, it has an exclusive right to use the iPhone name, regardless of Cisco's prior use.

Cisco alleges that Apple has set up two shell companies to finagle the trademark away (legal brief). I presume this was based on the idea that Cisco might accept a lower price for the name from a smaller company, or some strategy of flooding the courts with prior use claims

One part of the agreement under negotiation between the firms prior to the product release was some form of interoperability between the two products. This way, the fact that two different telephony products featured the iPhone name would not be misleading. Since the release, negotiations with Cisco have been broken off.

What if Apple loses its legal battle with Cisco? It might be obligated to rename it the jPhone.
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SOURCES: BoingBoing: Cisco vs. Apple: lawsuit over The Jesus Phone. Plus: Zunephone (10 January 2007);

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