iPhone shows Jobs’ brass cojones - what about Apple TV? | iLounge Backstage

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iPhone shows Jobs’ brass cojones - what about Apple TV?

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By Jeremy Horwitz

Editor-in-Chief, iLounge
Published: Thursday, February 22, 2007
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Permit me this one paragraph timeline. Back in 2000, Cisco obtained the iPhone trademark by buying a company that had been using it since 1996. Enough time passed that virtually everyone forgot about Cisco’s rights to the name. Meanwhile, Apple was rumored to be working on a cell phone, which everyone by default nicknamed iPhone. The rumors continued - for so long that Cisco’s trademark may have expired for lack of use. Then, in late 2006, Cisco came out with a VoIP phone called iPhone, and let Apple know that it would need permission to use the name. Almost immediately thereafter, Apple announced its cell phone, also called iPhone, without Cisco’s permission, claiming that the two products were different enough to both use the same name. Cisco sued. Apple publicly laughed off the suit. Then, yesterday, the companies settled, agreeing to both use the name. Apple won, and Cisco lost, at least, as far as we know.

Why the timeline? It illustrates more fully a point that has been kicking around in my head since the Apple/Cisco settlement was announced: when Apple decides that it really wants something, like a trademark, it tends to make that something happen even if history isn’t on its side. There’s very little doubt that an Apple iPhone wasn’t much more than a faint possibility in Steve Jobs’ mind back in 1996. Or 2000, or even most of 2004. In January, 2007, he said that the iPhone had been in development for around two years - way after Cisco claimed the trademark. Yet he took the stage at Macworld, debuted the product, and said it was named “iPhone.” Subsequent applause aside, that was said in a way that didn’t suggest that the name was changing. Period. And when push came to shove, it didn’t.

Contrast this with the It’s Showtime event in September, 2006. There, Jobs cautiously pre-announced a product tentatively named iTV, apparently the company’s preferred moniker, but he disclaimed its permanence since the lawyers hadn’t yet approved it. Why? There were, of course, Elgato’s EyeTV software package for the Macintosh, and international TV stations with the same iTV name, but no same-named device to connect to a television with these features. Surely, if Apple wanted the iTV name, it could have fought for it. But months later, on the same stage where iPhone was about to be announced, Jobs redubbed iTV “Apple TV,” and that was it. The cautious introduction had given way to a name change.

What was the difference between the bold Apple - proclaimer of iPhone - and the cautious Apple, disclaimer of iTV? Clearly it wasn’t the absence of a legal threat in iPhone’s case: according to numerous reports, Cisco had sent an agreement for Apple to sign prior to the Expo, and expected it to be signed before an iPhone was announced. And I’d have to guess that it wasn’t because Cisco was considered a pushover relative to the potential iTV trademark holders: Cisco’s a big company, was obviously willing to sue, and could possibly have won - and won big.

Perhaps it was the importance of the product. Even though Apple has started marketing Apple TV with a bold claim that it’s the DVD player of the 21st century, there hasn’t been any advance prediction of 10 million units sold in the first year and a half, as with iPhone, which appears to be a much more critical device for the company. My guess is that Apple felt it was worth fighting over and possibly paying for the iPhone name, but not for iTV.

Or perhaps it was that EyeTV - a piece of software with certain features similar to Apple TV - was just too close of a match, whereas the two iPhones were fundamentally different types of products. I’m not sure that I totally buy this one: the key functional difference (one transmits voice over the Internet and the other transmits voice over a cell network and data over the Internet) might be lost on a judge or jury. That said, there might have been another trademark Apple was more concerned about than Elgato’s.

Whatever the reason, my feeling is that there’s an interesting story here that won’t even appear as a footnote in the history books about iPhone: Apple pre-announced a product six months in advance, gave it a name to which it had no prior rights, and still managed to secure those rights after a lawsuit was filed. Whether there was a huge, confidential cash settlement, a realization by Cisco that it wouldn’t prevail in a suit, or some combination of factors, I’m not sure. But I do know one thing: Steve Jobs has brass cojones. And getting kicked in them by a threatened or actual lawsuit isn’t enough to stop him from charging forward - a position you need to be both bold and well-backed financially to pull off. When you consider the alternatives - a product having been announced initially with a different, less appropriate name, or a press release signaling that Apple had given up the iPhone name under threat from Cisco - that’s seriously impressive stuff. Readers, your thoughts?

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Comments

1

It appears to me that Steve Jobs was reasonably sure he would reach an amicable agreement with Cisco prior to announcing the name.  They were already in negotiations, and probably just had to hammer out the details.  He had a hard deadline to meet with MacWorld, so he probably just made the announcment ahead of the lawyers.  Big deal.  Did everyone not know this would be resolved at some point?

Posted by Bob Marley on February 22, 2007 at 5:43 PM (PDT)

2

I think it’s because non-apple iTV has too great a visibility already.

Cisco’s iPhone does not have anywhere near the visibility around the world like the various existing versions of iTV.

Also, at least some of the non-apple iTVs have been around for years and are well established. That’s very different to the new product characteristics of Cisco’s iPhone.

Posted by Michael on February 22, 2007 at 6:01 PM (PDT)

3

Marketing strategy / Double winners.

Posted by Mike on February 22, 2007 at 6:32 PM (PDT)

4

 iPhone now… and we started by calling it “Apple” iPhone…

Posted by Robert Pritchett on February 22, 2007 at 7:27 PM (PDT)

5

You forgot something very, very important. The Cisco SIP phone shrinkwrap had an iPhone sticker on the outside of the box that was put on as an afterthought. And no less than a dozen other companies also had the “iPhone” in their product names as well, bu tCisco didn’t go after any of them, so the legal beagles kneejerked to get industry buzz. It worked. And Apple had the “iPhone” trademark sewed up outside the US in a few other countries.

Posted by Robert Pritchett on February 22, 2007 at 7:36 PM (PDT)

6

Oh, I think that iPhone is a *much* more important product for Apple than tv.  It’s an entire product category, and a product category that promises to outnumber PCs.

tv, on other hand, is a nifty but much more specialized and limited device.  It exists to stream content from your computer to your tv, and only iTunes content at that.  That’s about it.

Also, Cisco’s claim for the iPhone trademark, as it turns out, was surprisingly weak.

Posted by lookmark on February 22, 2007 at 7:44 PM (PDT)

7

“shows jobs’ brass balls”


pics or it didn’t happen.

oh.  wait.  nevermind.

Posted by OnlyShawn on February 22, 2007 at 7:56 PM (PDT)

8

I’m sure Apple/Steve had very good patent/trademark lawyer advice before announcing the iPhone. Cisco had allowed the TM to lapse. If you apply for a TM, you must show public use of the mark. Apple did that at MacWorld. Probably just as the legal advisors told them.

Posted by AG on February 22, 2007 at 9:10 PM (PDT)

9

Yea, I think you’re right in the iphone name is/was more important to Apple but it’s also pretty clear that Cisco’s hold on the name was legally fairly weak. They barely remembered to re-register it (they release NOTHING with the name of it ) until a week before it was considered “abandoned” and then sent in a photoshop jpeg of a box with a sticker on it - hardly a Supreme Court case. Further evidence of a hasty temp-job. Other than the sticker on the box, the website and the instruction manual contiunued to call it a CS-56527 or whatever the number. Then add in the fact that others were also using the iphone name - Cisco & Apple realized they could spend $5 million on legal and years to reach no conclusion or as others point out, both lose. The iphone is a succinct name that is closely related to the ipod & imac - both we;ll branded.

itv on the other hand would’ve been a legal fight (it sounds way too similiar and it’s a similiar product!) for Apple to conclusively win but also, it’s a great Mac only product so in the end, they most likely would’ve lost the trademark case and pissed off a complementary Mac accessory maker. And for what? Hardly seems worth it for a name that has pretty zero resonance - why not futher brand Apple - cheaper and less antagonistic.

Posted by jbelkin on February 22, 2007 at 9:11 PM (PDT)

10

RE: AppleTV Name change. Maybe it was asomething to do with the UK TV Network ITV (Independant TeleVision) which has been running since… the 1950’s or so I think.  Possibly they could argue that people wouldn’t get ITV and Eye TV confused, but I doubt any judge would take the same argument between iTV and ITV.

Posted by Jonathan White on February 28, 2007 at 12:38 PM (PDT)

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