Cisco Systems Inc is suing Apple over the iPhone trademark just a day after Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced the new iPod/cell phone hybrid.
Cisco filed the complaint in the San Francisco Federal Count stating that Apple’s iPhone “will share an identical sight and sound and strong similarity of meaning” with the iPhone trademark that it owns in the US.
Cisco launched a line of iPhone VoIP phones in mid December. It has owned the iPhone trademark in the US since 2000, when it purchased InfoGear Technology.
Cisco’s complaint also suggests that Apple is associated with Ocean Telecom Services LLC, a company that applied for the iPhone trademark in September 2006.
Apple’s first response was to call the complaint “silly”.
“There are already several companies using the name iPhone for voice over IP products. We believe Cisco’s US trademark registration is tenuous at best,” said Apple spokesperson Steve Dowling.
According to online reports, trademark lawyers are expressing surprise that Apple would announce a product without having clear legal entitlement to the name.
However, you didn’t need to be a trademark lawyer to see that this problem was coming. In a post in mid December I suggested that Apple might have a tough time using the iPhone name in the US where it was clear that Cisco owned the iPhone trademark. Here’s what I wrote:
“While it’s clear that Linksys has launched a family of products called iPhone, and it owns the iPhone trademark in the US, it’s not clear how this will affect Apple’s branding strategy, since it has already made an effort to register the iPhone trademark, and has successfully done so in key markets around the world.”
What’s interesting now is that Apple owns the iPhone trademark in Australia, Canada, the European Union, New Zealand, Singapore, and the United Kingdom.
So does that mean that Apple will countersue Cisco for using the iPhone trademark in the markets where it does own the iPod trademark?
While some pundits are speculating that Apple knows something more, which which is why it took the gamble with the “iPhone” name, my tip is that they’ll be an out-of-court settlement. As we all know, the only winners in these kinds of legal battles are the lawyers.