Cobalt: There will be no Apple Cube lawsuit

Cobalt clarifies comments made at its developer conference last year over plans to sue Apple for infringement of the Cube trademark
Written by Matt Loney, Contributor

Cobalt Networks, the server appliance manufacturer acquired last year by Sun for £1.2bn, has laid to rest any lingering suspicions that it plans to sue Apple over the use of the Cube trademark.

Speaking at the company's developer conference in Paris last week, Sun's vice president and general manager for the server appliances business, Stephen DeWitt, said the company never intended to sue Apple. "There never was a lawsuit, and there never will be a lawsuit," he said.

DeWitt, who was chief executive of Cobalt before the Sun acquisition, suggested at last year's conference that the company may sue Apple over the use of the Cube name. "We will not sit idly by," he said at the time. "They [Apple] are trying to exert their marketing pressure and will pay for it."

The comments raised a ruckus among the Apple faithful, who bombarded message boards with angry comments and flamed DeWitt with more than 1,400 emails before the end of the conference. The suggestion of a lawsuit was not universally unpopular, though, given Apple's litigious past.

Clarifying the issue last week for the first time since the original furore, DeWitt said that any argument would have been over the Cube logo -- Cobalt now owns rights to the trademark.

And if Cobalt had decided to pursue a lawsuit, added DeWitt, it would have been justified. "In 1998 we brought out the Qube, which measured 7in by 7in by 8in and, guess what? Apple later launched a product called the Cube that just happened to measure 7in by 7in by 8in." DeWitt noted that shapes can not be trademarked, but added: "We own the rights to the Cube logo."

The Cube trademark associated with computers has changed hands several times in the past decade. It was first registered by NeXT Computer, the company founded by Apple chief executive Steve Jobs in the late 1980s, but subsequently fell into misuse with the discontinuation of the NeXT Cube, allowing it to be picked up by Cube Computer Corporation, which now trades as Xand Corporation. Cube Computer Corporation sued Cobalt Networks in December 1998 after the launch by Cobalt of the 7in square Qube server appliance, which provides Web server, email and firewall services for home users and small businesses. The companies settled for a reported $4.1m in January 2000, and Cobalt acquired rights to the Cube trademark.

Speaking to ZDNet UK last week, DeWitt said that Cobalt would have been unlikely to go through with a lawsuit against Apple since the company's four founders had been Apple engineers before leaving to start Cobalt.

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