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Judge may rule that the term "iPhone" is too generic for one company to own

A day after Apple announced the iPhone, Cisco Systems quickly filed a lawsuit against Apple, claiming that the computer company infringed on its trademark. True enough, Cisco's consumer arm Linksys had released a product called the iPhone earlier than Apple, and the trademark name "iPhone" had been owned by Cisco for several years already. Despite all this, Apple decided to launch its mobile communications device under the iPhone name anyway -- a move declared as extremely bold by many analysts.

In a report, Cisco mentioned that Apple had repeatedly approached it for permission to use the iPhone name, but no solid agreement had ever come to realization. Now, however, it could be possible that both companies will be allowed to use the iPhone name -- and so would everyone else, says a trademark expert.

According to Brian Banner, a seasoned attorney dealing with intellectual property and trademarks at Rothwell Figg, the "iPhone" name may actually be generic enough that a judge will rule it usable by both Apple and Cisco. The ruling will be under condition however, that a company name be attached to the term "iPhone," like "Apple iPhone" or "Cisco iPhone." Banner mentioned that the term may also be deemed generic enough to use by any company.

"They must have figured the reward would be greater than the risk. They probably did a lot of homework before calling it the iPhone and figured that the registration Cisco has is not a serious impediment," says Banner. But this is definitely not what Cisco thinks. Cisco representatives indicated that it will vigorously defend what it owns. Apple on the other hand disagrees with Cisco. "We believe that Cisco's U.S. trademark is tenuous at best," said Apple representative Katie Cotton. "We are the first company to use the iPhone name for a cell phone and we're confident we will prevail."

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I Disagree
By TomZ on 1/12/2007 10:58:42 AM , Rating: 2
I disagree, based on a common-sense argument, with the idea that "iPhone" is too generic to have as an exclusive trademark. "iPhone" is a made-up word that customers will have to learn and associate it with a type of product, and in my view, only one company can have the right to name their phone-related product using that name. Anything else, such as the view expressed in the article that both companies could use the brand name, will be confusing for customers, period. That is exactly the purpose for having trademarks in the first place - to avoid such confusion.

On the other hand, Microsoft is right to trademark "Windows Vista" instead of "Vista." Because "vista" is an existing word, you can call your product "Vista" if you want, but you can't claim an exclusive trademark. This is good common sense.

RE: I Disagree
By TomZ on 1/12/2007 11:04:11 AM , Rating: 2
I should add, that the only case that makes sense to me of Cisco and Apple sharing the iPhone registered trademark, is that the two companies agree to a license agreement to share the name. IMO, Apple will not be able to use the iPhone name by making legal arguments in court. A negiotiated agreement is the only way out for them (or to use a different name).

RE: I Disagree
By masher2 on 1/12/2007 11:49:07 AM , Rating: 2
> "Because "vista" is an existing word, you can call your product "Vista" if you want, but you can't claim an exclusive trademark...."

You can, in most cases, receive an exclusive trademark on a dictionary word....just not in a market which assumes its original meaning. See my example on "Apple", above.

RE: I Disagree
By djcameron on 1/12/2007 11:56:39 AM , Rating: 2
I would think that the
in iPhone implies that it is an internet phone, not a cell phone. Cisco's iPhone is an internet phone. Apple should name their phone a cPhone or wPhone, not iPhone.

"Mac OS X is like living in a farmhouse in the country with no locks, and Windows is living in a house with bars on the windows in the bad part of town." -- Charlie Miller
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