Cisco VP lays out case against Apple

The sugar buzz surrounding the announcement of Apple's sweet iPhone at Macworld promptly crashed with Cisco's trademark infringement lawsuit against the company.

Tempting -- or instinctive -- as it may be for die-hard members of the Apple Nation to hurl accusations of "sour grapes" at Cisco, the fact remains that Apple has quite brazenly (though not necessarily illegally, some argue) appropriated the trademarked iPhone moniker.

Cisco's senior vice president and chief counsel Mark Chandler has published a public statement about the issue, and it's well worth examing, as he intelligently lays out Cisco's case against Apple.

Cisco, he notes, has held the iPhone trademark since 2000 when it purchased Infogear Technology. (InfoGear registered the term in 1996.)

Cisco has supported the iPhone product for years, has "been shipping new, updated iPhone products since last spring, and had a formal launch late last year," Chandler writes.

Apple was aware that Cisco had rights to the name "iPhone" and approached Cisco to negotiate usage starting back in 2001, according to Chandler.

"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.'"

So there you have it. Cisco held the trademark. Cisco was willing to sit down with Apple to work out a agreement. Yet Apple opted to move foward before that agreement was reached and market its newest gadget under a name it very likely had no legal right to use.

Apple's response to the lawsuit has been dismissive, according to reports.

Apple spokesman Steve Dowling called the Cisco lawsuit "silly,' adding there are several companies using the term iPhone for VOIP products, and Cisco's trademark is "tenuous at best." "We're the first company to ever use the iPhone name for a cellphone," he said. "If Cisco wants to challenge us on it, we're very confident we'll prevail."

While my colleague Ephraim Schwartz has suggested a crafty underlying strategy behind Apple's seemingly calculated trademark infringement, I'm frankly a bit disgusted in Apple and its utter hypocrisy. The company has a reputation of working overtime to protect its own trademarks. For example, it unsuccessfully sued Luxpro for marketing a portable MP3 player originally called Super Shuffle that in many ways resembled the iPod Shuffle.

So as Ciso's Chandler notes, were the shoe in the other foot -- if Cisco, or Microsoft, or any other company out there audaciously released a product bearing a name knowlingy swiped from an existing Apple product -- you can bet your bottom dollar (if you haven't spent it on an iTunes download) that Apple would sic its legal team on the offending company.

I'll close with this thought. Apple has a reputation for being admirably creative and innovative with its products. But it also has a reputation for rigidity. It's unfortunate that the company couldn't apply some of the former traits to either coming up with an alternative name or developing suitable terms of use for the iPhone name with Cisco. Rather, it would seem that Apple opted to stubbornly adhere to the course it had set for itself. Even if Cisco's lawsuit isn't successful in the end due to technicalities, this incident will still cost Apple resources and credibility.