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iPhone advertisement, circa 1996

The battle over the iPhone trademark promises to be messy, to say the least.  Flat Planet Phone Company CEO Moshe Maeir dropped me a quick note this morning to tell me to have a look at his blog, where he has posted a scan of a 1996 magazine advertisement showing an internet phone named iPhone.  Sure enough, you can see the name iPhone quite clearly on something which looks a lot like one of today’s USB handsets for Skype.

Now, I am not a lawyer, but there are two elements of trademark law that I know of in conflict here.  First is the notion that first use allows you to claim a trademark. If you use it first, then it’s yours.  The second is the idea that to preserve a trademark, you must use it.  I believe that continuous use is the standard, but perhaps a lawyer can chime in and clarify.  So there you have it.  Others used iPhone first.  Cisco even bought an iPhone trademark in the late 1990’s.  But Apple argues that they abandoned their claim by not using it.

It’s like watching a couple of dogs take turns marking a hydrant.

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