When Steve Jobs heralded the iPhone as being as revolutionary as the iPod during his MacWorld keynote in San Francisco on Tuesday, he must have known that it was going to be a bloody revolution. Sure enough, Cisco has now fired the first shots with a lawsuit in the US District Court for the Northern District of California which cites preventing Apple “from infringing upon and deliberately copying and using Cisco’s registered iPhone trademark.”
The device is not earth shatteringly different from that which has gone before, and to be brutally honest its biggest value comes by way of the brand association. If this were the ‘Apple Smartphone’ or the ‘MacMobile’ it simply would not be generating the kind of totally to be expected hyperbole that it is. However, because it is another ‘i’ device, the iPod evolved, a lifestyle and cultural icon taken to the next stage of development, there can be little doubt it will sell well. Assuming , of course, it is allowed to be called an iPhone , and that is in serious doubt.
Linskys, a division of Cisco, acquired the iPhone trademark along with a company called Infogear back in 2000. The original trademark request was filed way back in March 1996. There is no way that Apple can contend it was unaware of this, and no way a court will find in its favor. Just to compound matters, a senior vice president and general counsel at Cisco, Mark Chandler, has revealed that “Cisco entered into negotiations with Apple in good faith after Apple repeatedly asked permission to use Cisco's iPhone name… they should not be using our trademark without our permission.” Indeed, as Chandler points out “today's iPhone is not tomorrow's iPhone.” Cisco, via Linksys, already have an iPhone for sale and it intends to protect that product, that brand, as vigorously as Apple protects its brands.
Apple are not coming out of this one very well, it has to be said, not least because it has been particularly ferocious in issuing ‘cease and desist’ orders for products using the word ‘pod’ as Mach5Products discovered last year when they got one regarding an infrared data collection system called Profit Pod. Now, this could hardly be confused with an iPod either in name or purpose, despite Apple arguing at the time that both devices received and transmitted data, both were connected with videogames and the Profit Pod was a small, flat, round-cornered rectangular device.
The Apple iPhone, though, is undeniably a phone, just like the Linksys iPhone. Funnily enough, that device started shipping last spring and was officially launched in December. Apple started negotiations for licensing the name ‘several years’ ago according to a Cisco spokesperson, but those talks broke down literally hours before the Steve Jobs keynote speech. Apparently, Apple had until the end of the business day to sign the contracts and seal the deal, something it did not do, hence the lawsuit.
What is really funny though, given the Profit Pod debacle, is that Apple is arguing that the lawsuit is silly because the products are materially different. An Apple spokesperson stating that it was “first to use the iPhone name for a cellphone” and concluding that “if Cisco wants to challenge us, we’re very confident we will prevail.”
Yeah right, this one will never go to court. The Apple iPhone brand is way too important to risk loss. This one will get settled out of court, very quickly, and for a huge amount of money.