Cisco Sues Apple Over “iPhone” Trademark

Filed as News on January 11, 2007 7:54 am

The iPhone is perhaps the most blogged-about and searched topic these days, in the wake of Apple, Inc. CEO Steve Jobs’ keynote speech at the Macworld Conference & Expo in San Francisco. In fact, Technorati says so, with “iPhone” being the top-searched and top-tagged today.

The first thought that came to my mind when I read about Jobs’ keynote was that Whoa! The iPhone is cool! I want one. Then, the second was Oh wait, doesn’t Cisco own the “iPhone” trademark?


It isn’t such a secret that Cisco does, in fact, own the “iPhone” trademark, with its purchase if Infogear in 2000. Cisco has supported the “iPhone” since that time, and has launched a new set of iPhones under the Linksys brand in December of 2006.

With the Macworld keynote, though, issues of trademark ownership came up, and it was revealed that Apple and Cisco had been in discussions about the use of “iPhone” since 2001. However, the two have not reached a final agreement, and apparently Cisco is not too happy with Apple haphazardly going ahead with announcing its upcoming “iPhone” at the Conference.

Cisco is now suing Apple seeking to prevent the latter from using the trademark.

SAN JOSE, Calif., January 10, 2007 – Cisco® today announced that it has filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California against Apple, Inc., seeking to prevent Apple from infringing upon and deliberately copying and using Cisco’s registered iPhone trademark.

Cisco obtained the iPhone trademark in 2000 after completing the acquisition of Infogear, which previously owned the mark and sold iPhone products for several years. Infogear’s original filing for the trademark dates to March 20, 1996. Linksys, a division of Cisco, has been shipping a new family of iPhone products since early last year. On Dec. 18, Linksys expanded the iPhone® family with additional products.

Cisco’s Senior VP and general counsel Mark Chandler has also written a commentary giving insights about the failure of the two parties to come at an agreement.

Most importantly, this is not a suit against Apple’s innovation, their modern design, or their cool phone. It is not a suit about money or royalties. This is a suit about trademark infringement.

For the last few weeks, we have been in serious discussions with Apple over how the two companies could work together and share the iPhone trademark. We genuinely believed that we were going to be able to reach an agreement and Apple’s communications with us suggested they supported that goal. We negotiated in good faith with every intention to reach a reasonable agreement with Apple by which we would share the iPhone brand.

So, I was surprised and disappointed when Apple decided to go ahead and announce their new product with our trademarked name without reaching an agreement. It was essentially the equivalent of “we’re too busy.”

Apple seems to think that the lawsuit will not hold water, if the statement by an Apple spokesperson in a BBC article would be taken as the company’s official stance.

“We think Cisco’s trademark lawsuit is silly,” Apple spokesman Alan Hely said. “There are already several companies using the name iPhone for Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) products.”

“We are the first company to ever use the iPhone name for a cell phone, and if Cisco wants to challenge us on it we are very confident we will prevail.”

Trademarks are about names, though, and not technology (that’s what patents are for), and it is the “iPhone” name that is in dispute here, not whether it’s a mobile phone or a VoIP phone.

I do agree with some observers that there is a publicity aspect to this news, and it might be viewed as deliberate on the part of either side (look how popular the term “iPhone” is today). For one, Steve Jobs is more marketing maven than tech genius, and is known to act deliberately (oh yes, apparently he’s also stubborn and unrelenting). And Cisco, an undeniably more massive company than Apple, seems to be playing the underdog.

Still, no matter which side you’re on, this would make for good reading over the course of the next few days. Let’s see how it goes.

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  1. By Huw Leslie posted on January 11, 2007 at 10:10 am
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    Actually, it could be relevent whether the name ‘iPhone’ has ever been used as a trademark before – trademarks do not apply across all areas. For example, I could possibly use the name ‘blog herald’ if it referred to some sort of notification software, even if you had registered it as a trademark.

    Obviously the precise rules vary accross national boundaries, though.

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