Over "iPhone," will Apple enter into international trademark war with Cisco?

Well, Gizmodo's Brian Lam was right (that an iPhone was going to ship yesterday). He also dropped a major hint when he said "I guarantee it.

Well, Gizmodo's Brian Lam was right (that an iPhone was going to ship yesterday). He also dropped a major hint when he said "I guarantee it. It isn't what I expected at all. And I've already said too much.."  And Om Malik may have known too much as well when he said "Just pointing out that the teaser doesn’t mention Apple. And no, Steve Jobs & Co. are not crazy to release what could be a hot device mere nine days before Christmas. In other words don’t expect an iPhone from Apple. In fact, I am confident enough to bet another 10-pounds on it."  In fact, an iPhone did get announced yesterday. It just wasn't from Apple. Instead, it camp from non-other than Linksys (a division of Cisco). Over on ZDNet's Between the Lines, Larry has some of the details.

Perhaps now it's a bit clearer why Apple sought a trademark on "iPhone" in the Far East. According to AppleInsider (back when the filingfirst appeared):

In the September 15th filing, Apple describes iPhone as "handheld and mobile digital electronic devices for the sending and receiving of telephone calls, faxes, electronic mail, and other digital data; MP3 and other digital format audio players.".....Apple originally sought the iPhone trademark back in March, when it filed a similar request with a trademark office in a nation off the coast of South America.

It's not an entirely unheard of tactic to secretively file for trademarks in places where such filings may escape the prying eyes of those keeping vigil over trademark and patent applications at the US Patent and Trademark Office. But now, maybe the real reason for Apple's far-off applications has revealed itself: perhaps the trademark simply isn't available here in the US. In terms of squatting rights, The Inquirer noted on Dec 6 that a company called Comwave may have  squatters' rights to the term "iPhone" (having been using it in the US and Canada for about two years). The story also notes that:

....if you go to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (kind of like military intelligence but more evil) and so a search under Trade-Marks for iPhone, you will see three documents, an opposition, a search and an abandonment by Cisco....he US PTO also lists two of note, one by Ocean Telecom Services and the other by Teledex LLC. It is pretty certain that the Ocean application is from Apple, but the Teledex one beat it by a year.

Here in the US, iPhone is indeed trademarked. But not by Apple. In response to the iPhone annoucement, there are several reports on the Web that the trademark is held by a company named Ocean Telecom Services. But that's actually not entirely true. According to the USPTO, Ocean Telecom Services has an application for the mark on file. But not only hasn't it been approved, the application has yet to be assigned to a USPTO attorney for examination. The filing, dated Sept 26, 2006 includes the following description:

handheld and mobile digital electronic devices for the sending and receiving of telephone calls, faxes, electronic mail, and other digital data; MP3 and other digital format audio players; handheld computers, personal digital assistants, electronic organizers, electronic notepads; magnetic data carriers; telephones, mobile phones, computer gaming machines, videophones, cameras; prerecorded computer programs for personal information management, database management software, electronic mail and messaging software, paging software, database synchronization software, computer programs for accessing, browsing and searching online databases, computer software and firmware, namely operating system programs, data synchronization programs, and application development tool programs for personal and handheld computers; electronic handheld units for the wireless receipt and/or transmission of data that enable the user to keep track of or manage personal information; software for the redirection of messages, Internet e-mail, and/or other data to one or more electronic handheld devices from a data store on or associated with a personal computer or a server; and software for the synchronization of data between a remote station or device and a fixed or remote station or device; computer hardware and software for providing integrated telephone communication with computerized global information networks

That sure sounds a lot like what you'd expect out of an iPhone from Apple. But the application is almost certain to be denied. That's because a search of the USPTO's online database also reveals that an application for the same trademark was originally filed by Teledex in March 2005. According to application's description of the mark, the iPhone is a:

Telephone that integrates a display and interactive abilities with an IP-based network to deliver both voice communication and graphic-based content and services to hotel guestrooms.

However, Teledex's application has also yet to be approved. I'm not an expert at mining the USPTO's database, but one page (not linkable) related to the application, the USPTO reports the following current status:

A non-final action has been mailed. This is a letter from the examining attorney requesting additional information and/or making an initial refusal. However, no final determination as to the registrability of the mark has been made.

So, reports that Teledex has the trademark are also incorrect. In fact, if I had to take a guess on which of the two actions the USPTO took, it was probably refusal. That's because Cisco does indeed have the trademark under the following description (#75076573):

Computer hardware and software for providing integrated telephone communication with computerized global information networks. 

The USPTO record shows that Infogear Technology Corporation originally applied for the trademark on March 20, 1996. The mark was "published for opposition" on December 29, 1998 and officially recorded (registered) as a trademark on November 16, 1999. The "last listed owner" of the mark is listed as "Cisco Technology, Inc."

Does this mean that it's a shut and closed case? If you ask me, at the very least, domestically, the answer is yes. Other applicants could argue that Cisco's description is not broad enough so as to include the sort of functionality described in the Ocean Telecom application. But it's clear that the USPTO already had some questions or objections to the newer applications (perhaps indicating a potential conflict with Cisco's registered mark) and Cisco lawyers are guaranteed not to be your run-of-the-mill technology attorneys. At the very least, any argument over the trademark (again, domestically) could get tied up in court for a decade.

That said, it's unclear what will happen on the international stage. There are several reports indicating that Apple's applications in other far-off places were actually approved.  One of the blog posts says:

But the really interesting thing is that Apple has applied for and has been granted a trademark to the iPhone brand in several key markets, including Australia, Canada, the European Union, New Zealand, Singapore, and the United Kingdom. In the US, the iPhone trademark has been awarded to a company called Ocean Telecom Services, which filed to apply for the trade mark on the 26th of September this year.

While the Ocean Telecom Services bit is flat out false, the other assertion (that the trademark is either granted or applied for) in the other listed countries appears to be true (you can click through the first link and find your way to some links that allow you to do your own searches in those countries). It appears as though the trademark has indeed been granted to Apple in the UK, Singapore, and Australia. Meanwhile, the applications are still outstanding in Canada, the European Union, and New Zealand.

So, Cisco has it here. Apple has it there. It's anybody else's guess what happens next. Meanwhile, in Larry's post, he has a poll that asks you what you think Apple should call its alleged iPhone. At least here in the US.