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Apple iPhone, Cisco iPhone?

Posted in Apple,Cisco,iPhone,News by Darrin Olson on January 12th, 2007

Could Apple and Cisco both have a product branded as iPhone?Within 24 hours of the release of the Apple iPhone announcement by Steve Jobs at Macworld earlier this week, Cisco filed a law suit against Apple for the use of the iPhone name, despite talks between the two companies that had apparently fell through. Cisco had owned the iPhone trademark for a number of years, and Jobs’ announcement with the name was what many are calling a bold move.

Many speculations have been floating around about what the result of the lawsuit will be, one of which is that both companies will be able to use the somewhat generic term “iPhone” in conjunction with their respective products, branding one the “Apple iPhone”, and the other the “Cisco iPhone” or “Linksys iPhone”.

A dual ownership would be a good potential outcome for Apple according to Bruce Sunstein, co-founder of the Boston law firm Bromberg & Sunstein via News.com. “Cisco holds a clear advantage in the legal dispute as the trademark holder of record and having already released products using the iPhone name” said Sunstein. “The one who has a registration is in a better position than the one who does not. Apple’s only choice is to argue that its ‘iFamily’ of trademarks such as iPod, iTunes and iMac create confusion in a customer’s mind as to who makes the iPhone”.

In addition, according to Sustein the ownership of the iPhone trademark in other countries has no bearing on Apple’s grip on it in the US. “The fact that Apple may have superior rights in Australia doesn’t (give) them any rights in the U.S.,” he said.

Katie Cotton, a spokeswoman for Apple had a little different take on the situation in an article with the New York times, saying that Apple was confident it had the strongest claim to the name. “We believe that Cisco’s U.S. trademark is tenuous at best,” Cotton told The New York Times. “We are the first company to use the iPhone name for a cell phone and we’re confident we will prevail.” Another Apple spokeswoman named Natalie Kerris called the lawsuit “silly” earlier this week.

Well, it appears that Cisco doesn’t think it’s silly, and a company the size of Cisco is not to be taken lightly, even by the likes of Apple. According to the lawsuit, Cisco described the Apple iPhone to be “deceptively and confusingly similar” to that of Cisco’s iPhone. Now, Cisco is a very prominent and popular company, especially in the tech industry, but it seems odd to hear Cisco referring to Apple’s iPhone as if it is potentially a knock-off of the iPhone offered by Linksys, since Apple’s version seems to have had a lot more anticipation and hype. Clearly Cisco couldn’t be implying that Apple is trying to take advantage of the popularity surrounding the Linksys VoIP handset? Of course, Cisco did have their version of the iPhone out first and they did have the trademark registered.

Both companies have pretty deep pockets and are perfectly capable of battling out a large drawn out case, but to what end? Losing the iPhone name would certainly be a chink in Apple’s armor of product lines, but maybe it would have been anyway? At least through this process they made a strong public effort to brand their product the iPhone, and it’s very possible that despite losing a lawsuit it would continue to be dubbed ‘iPhone’ by consumers just as it had before its launch.