Apple-Cisco deal may be about more than just names

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Apple and Cisco put an end to their So-What-Are-We-Gonna-Call-Our-New-Phone-Product-Anyhow? mini-feud late Tuesday, by settling a month-old dispute over the name of Apple’s forthcoming iPhone. Judging by the media reports of the settlement, I expected to flip on the TV this morning and see former President Jimmy Carter locking hands with Steve Jobs and John Chambers and promising peace in our time. A Google News search for “Apple Cisco” turns up 2,400 or so stories, all of which say basically the same thing:

  • Apple announced that it was going to ship a new product in June called the iPhone;
  • Cisco, which was already shipping an iPhone of its own, said “nu-uh,” and filed a lawsuit;
  • Legal experts predicted rack and ruin, or at the very least, uncertainty (which Wall Street hates more than rack and ruin), and no one knew which company would come out on top in this battle of wills…
  • …until just the other day, when Apple and Cisco announced that they’ll continue to call their separate products the iPhone without any further drama, thank you very much.

And really, that was probably how this thing was going to wrap up all along. By most accounts, Apple and Cisco were in talks over the iPhone nomenclature right up until Steve Jobs took the stage at Macworld Expo to unveil the product. Jobs was likely so confident a deal would get done—or maybe he just didn’t want to make last minute changes to his presentation slides—that he went ahead and used the iPhone name anyway. Cisco, understandably unwilling to concede anything until the last “i” had been dotted, probably felt obligated to file a suit just to maintain some degree of leverage. And all that time, talks continued until they resulted in the only logical conclusion—a mutually beneficial settlement.

So nothing to see here, right? Well, pretty much—until you consider some of the fine print in the companies’ joint announcement of the cessation of hostilities:

In addition, Cisco and Apple will explore opportunities for interoperability in the areas of security, and consumer and enterprise communications.

People who follow along with Apple’s assorted legal wranglings—and boy, have those folks had a busy time of it lately, huh?—may recognize this verbiage from settlements past. The company struck a similar conciliatory note when it settled its patent disputes with Creative Technology —Apple agreed to give the electronics maker $100 million, and Apple gets a portion of the proceeds gained if Creative licenses the patent to other companies. In addition, Creative became an official “Made for iPod” vendor—which resulted in a clutch of Creative-branded speaker systems and dock accessories displayed during Macworld Expo last month. (Apple made similar, if vaguer allusions to “future cooperation” with The Beatles’ Apple Corps when announcing that settlement this month, but I’m still waiting on my White Album iTunes downloads.)

iPod accessories are one thing; security products and enterprise communications offerings are a much more intriguing area. Perhaps that statement about “exploring opportunities for interoperability” was little more than corporate make-nice talk, with Apple and Cisco going their separate ways from this point. However, if John Chambers happens to join Steve Jobs on stage during next January’s Expo keynote to announce some jointly-developed product, we’ll know where the genesis of that partnership took place.

At any rate, I’d love to hear your suggestions for a joint Apple-Cisco offering or whether you think this is just a bunch of hot air via press release.

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