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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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Generic trademarks
By hands on 1/12/2007 12:36:32 PM , Rating: 1
I don't see how iPhone is even as generic as Windows, but that hasn't stopped Microsoft from winning out against competitors who even appear to be using a similar name. Linspire Linux used to be Lindows, but they had to stop using the name in certain geographical areas due to court cases. Eventually, they changed their name entirely for practical reasons.

If Windows isn't too generic, iPhone couldn't possibly be too generic.

RE: Generic trademarks
By smalley83 on 1/12/2007 12:53:29 PM , Rating: 2
How about a piece of software call iSue. It trawls the web looking for potential trademark infringments, checks out the companies bank account to see if it's worth starting a lawsuit. If so it instantly files a suit to the appropriate court, if not it just sends a very frightening letter to scare the hell out of a small business to get them to change the product name.
If anyone steals this idea I'll sue!...darn they've even got me doing it now!

RE: Generic trademarks
By HammerZ on 1/12/2007 7:21:21 PM , Rating: 2
I think Apple has developed this SW already. It was the brainchild behind most of Apple's lawsuits. However, it is in beta so it missed the "iPhone" trademark. :)

RE: Generic trademarks
By patentman on 1/15/2007 8:33:32 AM , Rating: 2
In trademark law, a Generic term is one that has come to mean the product itself, instead of an indication of its source. While the term "Windows," as used in the context of a software discussion immediately conjures to mind the operating system, it also brings to mind Microsoft. Moreover, Microsoft spends lots of money associating the term "Windows" with Microsoft. Indeed, windows is typically marketed as "Microsoft Windows," which is a sure fire way to esnure that the public associates the mark, Windows, with the source, Microsoft. The fact that Windows is a strong mark does not mean it is generic. If this were the case, every strong mark, e.g., Heinz 57, Coca Cola, Pepsi etc., would be generic.

The difference between Windows for software and iPhone for a phone is that the term Windows is not a merely descriptive term for software. iPhone, on the other hand, is very close to being merely descriptive of a phone, as the mark only differs from the term "phone" the product it identifies, by a single letter. As such, I would expect that the term "iPhone" would require a much stronger showing of secondary meaning before it can be registered than was required of "Windows."

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