Cisco Systems' General Counsel Mark Chandler, explaining Friday's blockbuster patent and copyright infringement lawsuits against switching rival Arista Networks (NASDAQ: ANET), emphasized that "I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve initiated suit against a competitor, supplier or customer."
Chandler might be right, but he's probably pretty close to having to resort to his second hand for counting lawsuits. And when Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) does sue, it makes a splash. Remember when the company lawyered up vs. Apple seven years ago over the name of a brand new little device dubbed iPhone?
If you don't, here's a refresher:
Cisco peed in Apple's punch bowl by suing Steve Jobs' company right after it introduced its first smartphone at the Macworld Conference & Expo in San Francisco in January, 2007.
Cisco sought an injunction against Apple using the name iPhone, which it said was a registered trademark of Cisco acquisition Linksys. The home networking business had obtained the iPhone name after it bought a company called Infogear in 2000 and Cisco used the name for its dual-mode cordless VoIP network phones.
Cisco and Apple had been in negotiations for 2 years over the issue but had not signed a licensing agreement before Macworld. Apple had argued that no one was going to confuse the two iPhones (just as no one, years later, would confuse Cisco's doomed Cius tablet computer for the iPad).
At the time, Cisco's Chandler said:
"Cisco entered into negotiations with Apple in good faith after Apple repeatedly asked permission to use Cisco’s iPhone name.
"Today’s iPhone is not tomorrow’s iPhone. The potential for convergence of the home phone, cell phone, work phone and PC is limitless, which is why it is so important for us to protect our brand."
Adam Lashinsky writes in the 2012 book "Inside Apple" (here's the iTunes link to it!) that Apple CEO Jobs tried to work some charm on Cisco execs to help his company get its way. Charles Giancarlo, a Cisco executive a the time, is quoted in the book as saying that Jobs called him and said he wanted the iPhone name: "He didn't offer us anything for it. It was just like a promise he'd be our best friend. And we said, 'No, we're planning on using it.'"
As it turned out, Cisco and Apple in February did come to terms, settling the dispute with an agreement allowing both companies to use the name.
Whew. Many of us would perhaps be now carrying around a smartphone called the Mobi or TelePad instead, according to one former Apple exec.
Not only did Cisco and Apple come to terms over the precious iPhone name, but in 2010 Apple also licensed the iOS trademark from Cisco for its iPhone software. Cisco uses iOS to refer to its routing software.
Meanwhile, it's not as if Cisco's Chandler and cohorts have exactly been twiddling their thumbs over the years.
Cisco and TiVo sued each other over DVR patents back in 2012, and Cisco as well as Google wound up paying TiVo in 2013 for a settlement over the set-up technology kerfuffle.
Cisco -- like any big company -- has also been the target of assorted lawsuits over the years. These include complaints leveled by a diverse collection of outfits, from the Free Software Foundation to East Carolina University.