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  • Macworld Expo #4: Apple’s Bad Hair Day

    January 12th, 2007

    Think about it. If you take Steve Jobs at his word, Apple was working for two-and-a-half years on the iPhone. Their legal department no doubt told Steve that the rights the iPhone trademark were owned by Cisco Systems.

    After the iPhone was announced, Cisco claimed that Apple was after them for the rights to use the name, and that the agreement was in the final stages of negotiation. If this is true — and you never know when a corporate spin department is fully energized — they expected a contract forthwith.

    So, when it didn’t come, they filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against Apple. Now what really happened?

    Well, we don’t know. Cisco claims, in a blog post, that their last communication with Apple occurred before Monday evening, and they heard nothing more. Consider the fact that Jobs was ready to unleash the iPhone to expectant Mac fanatics and the tech press the very next day, you’d think his legal people would be on top of this matter, and would get the job accomplished.

    Certainly the exact terms of such an agreement are probably not going to be publicized, though it’s possible any cash payments will be referred to in corporate filings. If the agreement hit a snag, did Jobs have a plan “B”? Did they have another name to tout, such as the iPod phone, or did Apple fully expect this matter to be resolved without further delay.

    Whatever really happened, this appears to be an error of moderate proportions. I won’t use the term monumental error, because they say that any publicity is good publicity, and all this does is point more attention to Apple and the iPhone.

    In fact, in a display of corporate brinkmanship, Apple is charging that Cisco’s claim in the iPhone name is, at best, “tenuous,” which may indicate it’s going to be digging in its heels for the long haul.

    In the end, maybe the iPhone will get a new name. People will snicker, the press will join them, and we’ll forget all about it and get on with our lives.

    When the actual gadget is released, the whole story might reappear, depending, of course, on how it’s resolved. If there’s a new name, the reasons why will be explained. If it remains the iPhone, maybe there will be a paragraph way down in the article about the Cisco lawsuit and how it was settled.

    Regardless how it’s resolved, clearly there was a major miscommunication here. Cisco evidently expected the licensing matter to be resolved, and it’s quite possible that Apple did as well, only things got messed up in the rush to make a huge splash at Macworld Expo. So it could, conceivably, be a case of bad timing. That is, of course, assuming all this talk is true.

    At the same time, by filing a legal action the very next day, Cisco behaved a little strangely too. Normally complaints of this sort take years to reach the courts and, even then, the actual trial process tends to be lengthy too. Why did Cisco act so quickly? Did they have the lawyers in readiness just in case that agreement wasn’t signed, with orders to rush over to the appropriate courthouse to get the papers filed in time for the news to reach the press by Wednesday afternoon?

    Certainly, poor, neglected Cisco must be feeling left out in this whole situation, because just about everybody has forgotten about their line of Internet phones that bear the iPhone moniker. Is anyone really buying them aside from a few enthusiasts to whom any VoIP device is something to lust after?

    Apple has to be embarrassed as well, because it doesn’t need to deal with any legal actions at this point. Having apparently ducked the broadsword of SEC complaints over its stock backdating mess, they would have seemed to want to remain clean and green from then on.

    On the other hand, it doesn’t seem as if Wall Street is overly concerned. As I write this, Apple’s stock is down marginally, and Cisco Systems was up slightly. So maybe the market just doesn’t care all that much.

    And maybe that’s how we should all react. Trademark issues are matters for corporations to fret over, not regular people. Besides, if Apple called its new gadget Mudpie, you’d probably like it anyway, although the owners of the Mudpie trademark probably wouldn’t like it.

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