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Damn the torpedos — it’s iPhone!

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007

Cisco, which has its own iPhone product (a wi-fi Skype handset) is suing Apple for trademark infringement. Apple says that it has its own trademark claim, and that Cisco’s claim is “silly.” There’s been endless back and forth on this.

Still, it can’t be great for Apple that some of the iPhone thunder is being usurped by these headlines. A lot of people wonder why Apple didn’t just settle with Cisco beforehand. According to a blog item by Cisco’s lawyer (!), Cisco had been negotiating for some time with Apple, and had an agreement on the table on the eve of the keynote speech. But Steve Jobs didn’t sign off, for whatever reason. Instead, he went ahead and publicly trumpeted his new gadget called, defiantly, iPhone.

I don’t know what Apple was thinking when it went ahead with the presentation with that threat hanging — maybe there’s a clue in Cisco’s description of its demand that the iPhone work in a certain way with Cisco technology, which is a direction that Apple might want to consider without pressure. On the other hand, it’s not the first time that Jobs has gone into a keynote with certain rights not cleared. For those of you who have read The Perfect Thing, you may remember my account of a scene that occurred while Jobs was preparing for the launch of the iMac in 1998. You can find it in the book on page 82. Or page 169. Or page 176. Or….oh hell, I better just give you the excerpt after the jump.

[From the Perfect Thing]

. . . On the stage of the auditorium that would hold the event, Jobs stood back and watched as his television production crew screened a video to be screened after he introduced the iMac.. . . Jobs watched with an eagle eye as the sharply edited vignettes ran on the large screen. One of the highlights was a playful reference to the retro-futuristic look of the egg-shaped, lollipop-blue machine, which looked like something from the 1960s animated television series “The Jetsons.” As homage, the video included a five-second clip from the actual series. Though it would be over almost as soon as the crowd recognized it, the clip would be sure to delight the geeky audience.

Then one of the production guys gingerly approached Jobs and warned him of a problem. It seemed that Hanna-Barbera, the animation house that owned the rights to the Jetsons, had yet to sign off. The permission was still stalled with the lawyers. If the issue wasn’t resolved before tomorrow, the nervous media specialist told Jobs, the clip would have to go.
Jobs’s face turned to steel. “Keep it in,” he said.

“Ummmm, Steve, we can’t do that,” said the production guy. He began to explain what Jobs certainly knew from his other job as majority shareholder of the Pixar studio, and thereby the owner of some of the animation world’s most valuable intellectual property: using the clip without permission could incur huge liabilities. Jobs abruptly cut him off. “I don’t care!” he shouted. “We’re using it.”
The clip stayed in the picture. . . .

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