It was shaping up to be one of the biggest intellectual property feuds of 2007—and a distinctly black mark on the face of Apple’s much-anticipated entry into the mobile phone market—but now it looks like the whole thing might just blow over. Apple and Cisco have agreed to suspend their legal dispute over the use of the iPhone name in hopes of working out an agreement.
The dispute stems from Apple’s much-publicized announcement of its pending iPhone mobile phone, marking the first time the company will make a play in the mobile phone arena. Of course, the iPhone won’t just be a phone: it’ll be a widescreen, video-capable iPod, come with built-in Wi-Fi and a camera, and actually run Mac OS X so users will have a broad range of Internet and organizational capabilties.
But Cisco immediately filed a trademark infringement suit against Apple over the iPhone name. Cisco’s Linksys subsidiary launched a range of cordless VOIP phone handsets under the “iPhone” tag in December, 2006. While acknowledging the two companies had been working on an agreement to let Apple use the iPhone name, no deal got done before Apple’s attention-grabbing Macworld announcement, so Cisco filed suit and started talking trash in order to defend its trademark. Cisco acquired the trademark when it bought up Infogear back in 2000…but Cisco hasn’t been very rigorous about defending its use by other companies marketing VOIP products, which may weaken its complaint against Apple. Apple, in turn, called Cisco’s suit “silly” and characterized Cisco’s trademark claim as “tenuous at best.” While Apple’s iPhone is a mobile phone with media playback and Internet capabilities, Cisco’s iPhones are VOIP handsets—the two products may arguably be different enough that Cisco’s trademark doesn’t apply.
Now, the companies have apparently moved beyond name-calling and are once again willing to try to work out an agreement. A very brief joint statement released by the companies reads “Apple and Cisco have agreed to extend the time for Apple to respond to the lawsuit to allow for discussions between the companies with the aim of reaching agreement on trademark rights and interoperability.”
Apple’s iPhone is due to launch in June; the company would do well to have a clear path to the use of the iPhone name before it begins manufacturing product and marketing materials.
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