Following this week's keynote address at the Macworld Expo, where Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced the company's new smartphone, Cisco Systems has filed suit against the Mac-maker in a wrangle over the "iPhone" trademark.
Although Cisco had noted before Apple's smartphone debut that it owned the "iPhone" trademark, the two companies had been in discussions about ways to share the brand. As a response to those negotiations, Cisco reportedly sent over an agreement on January 8.
Apple representatives did not sign it, and are now calling the lawsuit "silly," citing the fact that several other companies have already been using the iPhone name for VoIP phones.
Apple spokesperson Natalie Kerris was quoted in news reports as saying that the company believes Cisco's trademark registration is tenuous, and that Apple is prepared to be challenged.
Cisco obtained the iPhone trademark in 2000 after acquiring InfoGear, the company that had been granted the trademark in 1996.
Even though the brand was in Cisco's portfolio of trademarks, Apple's potential move into cell phones had been talked about unofficially for several years as the iPhone, particularly by bloggers and analysts. Apple registered the domain name iPhone.org in December of 1999.
Apple executives have noted that it tried to obtain the trademark from Cisco in the past, but was ignored. Cisco claims that Apple created a front corporation to try and apply for the application, an allegation that Apple refuses to acknowledge.
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The lawsuit comes as a surprise, said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Jupiter Research. "It just seems strange," he noted. "I would have thought Apple would have it all ironed out before making the announcement."
But it is likely that even if Cisco wins the suit and forces Apple to change the name of the new smartphone, it will not make much of a difference, Gartenberg said. "This is the most anticipated phone since Alexander Graham Bell's," he claimed. "The irony is that whatever they call it, even if it's the Apple PodPhone or something, everyone will end up calling it the iPhone."
Ultimately, he added, the suit is not a big deal, although it is slightly embarrassing for Apple because it takes away from the enormous buzz that it has built up about the phone.
Gartenberg predicted the suit is not likely to have an impact on the device's launch. "If they have to name it something else, it won't sell any less than if it was called iPhone," said Gartenberg.