Details of iPhone trademark spat emerge


NEW YORK --Is Steve Jobs ignoring his lawyers?

That's the explanation some are offering for why Apple went ahead on Monday with the much-ballyhooed launch of its iPhone despite failing to close negotiations with Cisco for use of its registered trademark of the term.

Jobs' flashy presentation at the Macworld conference in San Francisco prompted a litigation team from Folger Levin & Kahn to file suit Wednesday in U.S. District Court on behalf of Cisco accusing Apple of trademark infringement. According to the complaint, Cisco assumed the trademark with its 2000 acquisition of InfoGear Technology Corp., which had registered the mark four years earlier.

Looking at the time span, Bruce Sunstein of Bromberg & Sunstein thinks the case is a slam dunk. "Ten years," he says, referring to InfoGear's 1996 registration. "It's not even close. Apple's case is sufficiently weak that it behooves them to pony up to get the rights as quickly as they can."

Others agree, and point to the allegations in the complaint that Apple tried as early as 2001 to acquire or license the rights to "iPhone" from Cisco, even creating a shell company to do so.

Cisco general counsel Mark Chandler told Reuters that licensing talks were ongoing up until the moment Apple made its surprise announcement at Macworld. Another Cisco executive told Digital Music News that "Cisco thought that Apple had agreed to their terms by moving forward with the announcement." Another blamed the "arrogance of Steve Jobs" for going ahead with the presentation.

In responding to the suit, Apple spokespersons called the claim "tenuous at best" and noted that the iPhone name is being used by a number of other companies including Comwave, Nuvio and Teledex.

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher media partner Orin Snyder agrees.

"Have you ever heard of a Cisco product called iPhone?" he asks. "I haven't. Cisco will need to prove its mark is in use and will likely cause confusion among a significant portion of its consumers. That could be difficult."

Snyder points to language in Cisco's complaint whereby the company claims to "continue to use the iPhone mark for its family of voice-over-IP telephones and other telephony equipment."

"I don't know what that means," says Snyder. "Do they actually have products called iPhone? I imagine Apple conducted a legal analysis and concluded they wouldn't be liable."

Cisco's litigation team at Folger includes Michael Kahn, Gregory Call, Michael Kelleher and Beatrice Nguyen in San Francisco.

The case is Cisco Systems Inc. v. Apple Inc., 07cv00198.