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Cisco Hit with Trademark Suit over Catchy Slogan

Cisco Hit with Trademark Suit over Catchy Slogan
January 11, 2013 1:53PM

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A Google search for the slogan "Tomorrow Starts Here" displays it next to East Carolina University's name, and the mark appears on the home page of ECU's Web site. "I'm surprised they missed this. I would have thought Cisco might have gone to the university in advance and try to head this off," said analyst Zeus Kerravala.

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Apple isn't the only one wrangling over names. Cisco just got hit with a federal lawsuit over one of its slogans.

East Carolina University filed a lawsuit in federal court against the networking giant. The university is seeking injunctive relief and damages for the unauthorized use of its federally registered trademark "Tomorrow Starts Here."

"ECU has used the mark 'Tomorrow Starts Here' for over a decade, including in national advertisements and publications such as Forbes and Wired," said ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard. "We feel it is essential to take action to protect that defining trademark of our identity and vision."

Cisco's December Campaign

ECU is taking exception to an advertising campaign Cisco launched in December. The slogan "Tomorrow Starts Here" was at the center of the campaign messaging. ECU's complaint alleges that Cisco's use of the identical mark infringes both ECU's federally registered and common law trademark rights.

ECU's trademark "Tomorrow Starts Here" is a university-wide brand that represents an overlapping field of goods and services when compared with that of Cisco.

For example, research initiatives through ECU's College of Technology and Computer Science have created products and intellectual property that are actively being commercialized. ECU is also a leader in the field of distance education technology that is heavily promoted through ECU's global online education program using the mark "Tomorrow Starts Here."

A Clear Conflict

It's obvious that ECU, a 105-year-old public university and research institution that is nationally recognized for its technological and software development, owns the trademark. A Google search displays the slogan right next to the university's name and the mark appears on the home page of its Web site.

"I'm surprised they missed this. I would have thought Cisco might have gone to the university in advance and try to head this off," Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research, told us. "But I think it will get settled in court."

Although it's rare to see Cisco in an intellectual property suit, this would not be the first time. In 2007, Cisco went after Apple for using the term iPhone. Cisco filed suit against the Mac-maker the day after then-Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled his interpretation of the mobile phone, which he called an iPhone -- in line with the company's string of popular products that begin with the dotted letter.

Cisco demonstrated a confident stance in the just-settled trademark dispute, having acquired legal rights to the iPhone name when it purchased InfoGear in 2000. The networking giant's suit claimed that Apple's use of the iPhone trademark would cause confusion among customers.

Apple disagreed and, as the outcome illustrates, was able to convince Cisco that consumers would know the difference between its mobile phone and Linksys' line of VoIP phones. Linksys has been selling its rendition of iPhones since last year. The company added new models to its lineup as recently as December.

Under the agreement, both companies are free to use the iPhone name on their products.

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