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Not So Good With Names

Apple Inc, much like its Mac avatar in commercials, is the "hip, with-it" company of the tech world. This behemoth epitomizes innovation and style with CEO Steve Jobs reigning as the god of the must-have gadget universe. Yet, while the iPod is still going strong (21,066,000 iPods were shipped in Q1 2007) putting Gates' Zune to shame, and I listen to my iPod as I write this, there are the frequent news articles about naming rights that should make the Apple avatar a little red in the face.

Founded in 1976, Apple Inc was not so good with names from the start. The company started out as an innovator in the personal computer arena and has since led the way in technology with the iPod. Despite its success with its creative technology, Apple Inc was not the first Apple around — the Beatles (the music group your hippie aunt listened to, not the kind that mingles with ants and the band currently playing on my iPod) named their recording company Apple Corp in 1968.

This similarity has spurned almost 30 years of court battles between the computer giant and its crunchy musical counterpart in the aptly named Apple vs. Apple dispute. The first settlement came in 1991 when Apple Inc. agreed not to enter the music realm. All was quiet until the sleek, white MP3 player, the iPod, hit shelves in 2001 — encroaching on Apple Corp's musical turf and keeping the Fab-Four off of Apple Inc's iTunes music store.

Apple Inc. recently settled with the Beatles' Apple Corp in an undisclosed settlement that seems to have swayed in Jobs' Apple Inc. favor, leaving the doors open for the long-anticipated addition of the Beatles catalog to iTunes.

The most current naming-rights debacle that Apple has entered into is with its highly anticipated iPhone. While it seems only natural that Apple should inherit the iAnything nomenclature, Cisco Systems stumbled upon the ownership of the name after acquiring Infogear. Infogear had patented the name iPhone in 1996.

Cisco has stubbornly pursued its ownership of this name despite it not having an iPhone product to accompany that marker. The company sued Apple on January 10, 2007, the day after Apple introduced the prototype for its entry into the smartphone category.

The companies announced today that there has been a second extension on the deadline for Apple to respond to the lawsuit.

While the iPhone is likely to make a big splash when it finally enters the market, it seems that Apple should spend more time on naming its products and less money fighting over not-so-catchy labels. For what's in a name; that which we call a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet?