The iPhone flap heats up

Peter Burrows

As Arik has reported, Cisco Systems chief counsel Mark Chandler and Apple's corporate communications chief Katie Cotton have traded some barb-tipped quotes today, that suggest the tiff over the iPhone trademark is more than your garden variety corporate legal squabble.

I'm starting to get a sense of why. Chandler tells me Apple first approached Cisco about using the name in 2001 (when Apple's iMac line was well-established, and its iPod was just coming into the world--and a year after Cisco acquired rights to the mark via its acquisition of InfoGear Technology). After a few more attempts by Apple to get the rights in the intervening years, negotiations heated up in 2006. "We had intensive discussions in the last few weeks, on how to share the mark so as to differntiate the products they might offer and the products we might offer, in the future as well as today."

In the course of these talks, Cisco suggested that if Apple wanted to share rights to the name, it would need to agree on some basic levels of interoperability between the companies' products (I'm not sure if this means all Apple and Cisco products, but I'll find out. Chandler wouldn't give specifics, but I'm supposing this could involve, for example, the ability to walk into the house with your cellular iPhone from Apple and have it automatically join into a Linksys home network.) “Cicso is a standards-oriented company, and our goal was to bring to consumers the benefits that inter-operability offers. As we thought about the conditions under which we would share the name, it occurred to us this was an area where there could be fruitful collaboration.”

More after the break.

Evidently, talks were progressing nicely as of Monday night, the eve before Steve Jobs' Macworld keynote. At that point, Chandler says Cisco had made it clear it expected a deal before Apple announced any iPhone at the show. When that didn't happen, Cisco chose not to immediately bring suit, on the assumption that Apple was busy with show-related activity. But after a day, Cisco filed its 24-page complaint for "trademark infringement, unfair competition, false description and infury to business reputation."

As for Apple's claim that Cisco's trademark won't hold up against Apple, given that Apple is the first to use the name in relation to a cell-phone, Chandler has more fighting words. "Our [trade]mark covers all manner of communications, voice and otherwise, through computerized networks. Our registration is not platform dependant. I don’t think anyone would think it reasonable for someone to introduce a product called a video iPod and say they weren’t infringing on Apple because their video iPod [worked via] broadcast networks” rather than via the Internet, a la the iTunes Music Store.

Now, Cisco has filed a 24-page complaint, and is seeking an injunction to prevent Apple from using the iPhone name on its iPhone. I'm reading the case there should be more to come tomorrow.

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