iPhonegate: Cisco’s sneaky sticker

You can’t throw a dead pixel on the internet without hitting commentary about Apple’s new iPhone. First the “reality-distortion field prompted a torrent of ecstatic, orgasmic cheers. Then the inevitable backlash followed with extensive laundry lists of why the thing might actually suck.

But one of the more interesting aspects of the Macworld announcement is the battle over the name “iPhone.” Because, of course, everyone knows that Cisco came out with an “iPhone” first, in December. And everyone knew Cisco owned the trademark to “iPhone,” since it bought the company that previously owned it (InfoGear) in 2000.

Since Apple had apparently been in serious negotiations with Cisco over the use of the name “iPhone” as late as the day of Steve Jobs’ announcement, Apple’s decision to go ahead and name its own miracle device the “iPhone” has been unilaterally declared an act of pure ego, proof that Jobs and Apple think they can just steamroller anyone in its way.

The smart money was on Cisco prevailing in court. Apple, the bloggers said, will lose or settle for big bucks, forced to eat humble pie.

Not so fast, Cisco.

Ed Burnette over at ZDNet has posted a great analysis of Cisco’s attempts to hold onto the “iPhone” trademark. They missed an important deadline. So to squeak in under the wire of a six-month trademark renewal grace period, they tried to prove the “iPhone” name was in active use by submitting a photo of another product’s box with an cheap Avery address label stuck to it with the word “iPhone” printed on it.

See it for yourself. Search the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office site for registration number 2293011.

It’s so clumsy, I feel sorry for Cisco. It would’ve been awful if their trademark had been declared “abandoned.” But it’s much, much worse for them if they lose it now, after so public a spat with Apple, because of an embarassingly bad faked product shot.

Apple must have thought Cisco’s case was strong, if they were willing to negotiate with them for so long. And the breakdown in those talks may not have been because Apple’s attorney’s decided that Cisco’s hold on the trademark was weaker than first thought.

But it’ll be worth Apple losing the name “iPhone,” just for that box. Especially since people are going to call the Apple device the “iPhone” anyway. They were calling it that in front-page stories for months before it was announced, after all.

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