Cisco Sues Apple Over iPhone Trademark

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Folks in the tech and communications industry were rather surprised when a product called the iPhone appeared back in mid-December—but it was a VoIP wireless handset from Cisco subsidiary Linksys, rather than a hybrid iPod/mobile phone from Apple.

So when Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs introduced the company’s forthcoming mobile phone/widescreen iPod/Internet communications device at Macworld yesterday under the name iPhone, more than a few eyebrows shot up. Even though Apple’s device won’t hit market until mid-year, two phone products using the same name looked like a trademark battle waiting to happen. But scuttlebutt as late as this morning indicated everything was kosher: Apple and Cisco had been in negotiations about Apple’s use of the name, an agreement had been worked out, and Cisco expected Apple to sign it imminently.

Apparently, that’s not the case.

Today, Cisco filed a trademark infringement suit against Apple, Inc. over the company’s use of the iPhone trademark. The suit, filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, seeks "injunctive relief" to prevent Apple from copying the iPhone trademark. If granted, that would keep Apple’s iPhone off the market, and even prevent the company from calling it the iPhone before it’s available for sale.

Cisco acknowledged the two companies had been in negotiating with Apple for years over a licensing agreement for the trademark, but Apple lawyers had not signed and returned what Cisco believed was to have been the final contract. "There is no doubt that Apple’s new phone is very exciting, but they should not be using our trademark without our permission," said Mark Chandler, Cisco’s general counsel and senior vice president. "Today’s iPhone is not tomorrow’s iPhone."

The whole suit might turn out to be a tempest in a teapot: if Apple sends over a signed contract tomorrow, Cisco may well withdraw the suit. Trademark law requires trademark holders vigorously defend their marks against misuse; it may be that, given Apple’s very public unveiling of its iPhone at Macworld yesterday, Cisco’s legal counsel felt the company could not simply sit on its hands.

Linksys acquired the iPhone trademark in 2000 when it purchased Infogear, a maker of Internet information appliances. Infogear originally filed for the trademark in March of 1996.

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