Cisco Sues Apple Over IPhone Name
Thursday, January 11, 2007; 7:29 PM
SAN FRANCISCO -- What's a name worth? To find out, Cisco Systems Inc. and Apple Inc. may spend millions of dollars in a high-stakes legal battle _ and the winner could walk away with the rights to the coveted name "iPhone."
In a lawsuit filed Wednesday, Cisco asked a judge to forbid Apple from using the name "iPhone," a Cisco trademark since 2000. The case hinges in part on whether Apple's phone _ a sleek, $499 gizmo unveiled Tuesday to much fanfare _ could confuse shoppers looking to buy Cisco's iPhones.
Attorneys specializing in intellectual property said Thursday that Cisco will likely win, if the case goes to court.
"Cisco's argument will hold water," said David Radack, chairman of the intellectual property department at Pittsburgh-based Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott LLC. "It'd be like if I sold spark plugs, then someone else said I'm going to sell carburetors with the same name. Yeah, they're different products _ but they're both sold in auto parts stores, and someone who saw the brand name on a spark plug could reasonably think it was made by the same company."
Last spring, Cisco began selling a line of bulky but inexpensive iPhones that make free long-distance calls over the Internet, a technology known as Voice-over Internet Protocol. Amazon.com sells them for as little as $12, though they require extra software and hardware and are usually sold in kits that start around $70 and can cost $200 or more.
Apple's iPhone is a sleek cellular gadget that delivers e-mail, Web sites, music and movies over the Cingular Wireless network. Apple's iPhone will be available in June for $499 or $599 for a version with more memory.
Earlier this week, Apple spokeswoman Natalie Kerris called the lawsuit "silly," and Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller said other companies have tried to use the name for VoIP phones _ but only Apple's iPhone is a cellular phone.
Despite that distinction, attorneys are curious about what defense Apple may offer, noting that the high-profile case could become the most closely watched naming skirmish since 1989, when Mead Data Central Inc. _ owner of the Lexis legal database _ sued Toyota Motor Corp. over its Lexus luxury brand.
Cisco's trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office describes "computer hardware and software for providing integrated telephone communication with computerized global information networks."
According to the lawsuit, Apple's iPhone is "deceptively and confusingly similar" to Cisco's _ and, as technology advances, both phones could someday operate on the same networks and assume similarities in the user interface, hardware or software.
Cisco is asking Apple to pay Cisco's legal fees and relinquish all profits eventually made on the iPhone. Cisco also demands Apple destroy all labels, signs, packaging and other promotional material that includes the word "iPhone," a product it cost Apple millions to develop.
Apple first asked Cisco in 2001 to acquire or license rights to the name. When Cisco declined, Apple embarked on a campaign of "confusion, mistake and deception" in its effort to secure the rights, the lawsuit claims.