iPhone vs iPhone

Corporate blogs are popularizing a new trend in corporate communications: washing business dirty laundry in public. The latest story in case is Mark Chandler, Cisco's SVP and General Counsel, calling after Apple for the infringement of Cisco's iPhone Trademark on Cisco's blog.

Putting aside, for a moment, any commentary on the merits or base of such action, the communication tactic chosen by Cisco might be a good move, for it is exactly the opposite of the habits of Apple and Steve Jobs, whose secrecy and tightfisted, carefully planned communication methods are well known. It will be very interesting to watch this story unfold, just in terms of corporate communication management. My only guess at the moment is that no Apple exec will reply via their own blog ;-).

Somehow it reminds me of Sun's Jonathan Schwartz moking HP on his blog (evidence), to which HP reacted by sending a legal reply by snail mail. From my perspective, Sun won the battle (and poked some more blog fun that made some wonder about a new kind of war). I'm not sure this is going to be a trend, although execs bloggers seem to be testing the waters here.

On an aside note, my personal feeling is that this isn't going to be a piece of cake for Cisco. IANAL but I have been close enough to IP matters to sniff a few stumbling blocks along the road. It's not enough to register a brand to protect it, you have to exploit it commercially within 5 years and show that you defend it against dilution. In the former case, from what I read in Cisco's defense, it seems there's a big gap (2000-2006) between their acquisition of the brand and the release of a commercial product (and the brand might have been inactive before 2000). For the later issue, the iPhone name has been widely (and wildly) used in public to describe the future Apple phone, to which Cisco didn't object as far as I know and therefore will have a hard time proving that they took proper measures to protect their brand (that requirement of IP laws is frequently misunderstood by open source zealots each time a company makes a necessary defensive move about trademark infringement, in order to have a record of action for future legal cases against its brand). Add to that the iphone.com domain owned by the Internet Phone Company (registered in 1995, I just noticed they changed their whois information recently), and the iphone.org domain owned by Apple (registered in 1999 and which has been redirecting to Apple.com for quite a while). As a consequence, on the contrary, it will be a piece of cake for Apple to demonstrate that for most people the iPhone name is linked to Apple, not Cisco (to which Cisco can argue about brand confusion, then Apple about dilution, etc. Not an easy pick, I'd love an IP-specialist's take on that case). And as for the purpose of the lawsuit, for knowing a little bit Cisco inside, it's a purely financial results-driven company so it's totally about business, i.e. money.

P.S. 1: Vice President of Global Marketing Strategy & Excellence for HP Eric Kintz chimes in to remind me that HP later joined the blog-bandwagon, leveling the game. My expressed feeling that Sun won the battle was due, at a point in time, to their execs being first to start using blogs to push corporate communication to a whole new level while HP had resorted to good old snail mail in reaction.

P.S. 2: I discovered those articles after writing this post: Cisco on brink of losing iPhone name in Europe and Did Cisco lose its right to iPhone trademark last year? which comfort me in thinking that the legal risk is more on Cisco than on Apple.

1 Comment

Francois,

Thanks for this great article. Since you mention Jonathan and his mocking of HP, I thought you would enjoy this response post to the "Acquiring HP's legacy" post -
http://h20325.www2.hp.com/blogs/kintz/archive/2006/08/18/1501.html

Eric

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