Apple endures a week of legal iTrouble

Paul McNamara
22 June, 2011
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Maybe Apple is simply paying a price for trying to hog all the lowercase letter i’s.

Last week saw the maker of the iPhone, iPad, iPod and iOS – to name but the iBiggies – absorb a mildly humiliating defeat in its long-running patent duel with Nokia, the tottering mobile phone giant that hasn’t exactly landed many haymakers of late.

Nokia trumpeted the news on June 14 that it had reached a settlement with Apple that sees the iPhone maker pay both a one-time fee and ongoing royalties to end several years of back-and-forth patent lawsuits and complaints to the U.S. International Trade Commission. Terms of the agreement were not revealed, but estimates from industry watchers were well into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

And Apple strained to minimise the significance of the hit: “Apple and Nokia have agreed to drop all of our current lawsuits and enter into a license covering some of each others’ patents, but not the majority of the innovations that make the iPhone unique,” the company said. “We’re glad to put this behind us and get back to focusing on our respective businesses.”

That last part has to be true.

Meanwhile, a US provider of VoIP services in Arizona announced that it is suing Apple for trademark infringement over the latter’s use of the name iCloud for its new online storage service. The plaintiff, iCloud Communications, has been doing business under that name since 2005.

From the lawsuit: “The goods and services with which Apple intends to use the ‘iCloud’ mark are identical to or closely related to the goods and services that have been offered by iCloud Communications under the iCloud Marks since its formation in 2005. However, due to the worldwide media coverage given to and generated by Apple’s announcement of its ‘iCloud’ services and the ensuing saturation advertising campaign pursued by Apple, the media and the general public have quickly come to associate the mark ‘iCloud’ with Apple, rather than iCloud Communications.”

The latter is indisputable, although a judge may have to decide if the ‘identical or closely related’ contentions hold water.

According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff company’s formal name is I Cloud Communications, LLC, without the more Apple-like iCloud convention. However, the Internet Archive Wayback Machine shows iCloud Communications using the iCloud name in that manner on its current Web address,, since March 9, 2007, although the suit says such has been the case since 2005.

That Apple has apparently allowed it to do so may speak to Apple’s belief that customers are unlikely to confuse the two companies or their products, but that’s mere speculation on my part. Undermining that theory is the fact that companies of Apple’s stature are more often fiercely protective of their trademarks.

Let’s speculate further: One can assume that Apple knew of the existence of iCloud Communications before launching its own iCloud service because Apple doesn’t employ idiots, by and large. So either Apple’s lawyers considered use of the iCloud name fair game anyway, or approached iCloud Communications to see if some kind of mutually agreeable deal could be struck … without success.

We do know that Apple did acquire the rights to from a Swedish company called Xcerion shortly before announcing its iCloud service.

Buying a vowel isn’t always as easy as they make it look on Wheel of Fortune.

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