Whose iPhone is this?

By Joseph Mandour on February 9, 2007

apple-store Cisco Systems is suing Apple over the computer maker’s use of the iPhone trademark. The two companies hadn’t finished negotiations over the term when Apple’s iPhone debuted at Macworld Expo. Now Cisco is seeking an injunction that will prevent Apple from using the name as well as damages from the company.

Cisco said in the complaint that Apple had attempted to get rights to the iPhone name several times, but after Cisco refused, the company created a front company to try to acquire the rights another way, according to the lawsuit (PDF: Cisco’s trademark complaint.)

“We think Cisco’s trademark suit is silly…We believe (their) trademark registration is tenuous at best,” said Natalie Kerris, an Apple spokeswoman. “There are already several companies using the iPhone name for VoIP (voice over IP) products,” Kerris said. “We’re the first company ever to use iPhone for a cell phone. If Cisco wants to challenge us on it, we’re confident we’ll prevail.”

Cisco said in its complaint that Apple had first approached the company about acquiring the rights to the iPhone trademark in 2001. Over the years, Apple continued to make requests for the rights, including several attempts in 2006, Cisco said.

“Each time, Apple was told that Cisco was not interested in ceding the mark to Apple,” Cisco’s complaint reads. Apple apparently was not willing to accept Cisco’s decision, so it created a Wilmington, Del.-based front company called Ocean Telecom Services that applied to use the trademark in the U.S. on September 26, 2006, according to Cisco’s complaint. That company, Cisco says in the filing, is “owned or otherwise controlled by Apple and is the alter ego of Apple.”

“This was just brass balls on the part of Steve (Jobs), to go in there and just grab that trademark and not pay a license for it or negotiate. It’s the height of arrogance,” Kay said. “He basically thinks he can get away with it.”

However, it’s likely that the two companies will settle their differences, as prolonged litigation doesn’t really serve either company, Kay said. “Apple is playing chicken with Cisco, and there’s other companies I’d rather play chicken with,” he said, referring to Cisco’s deep pockets.

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