Apple’s Innovation Falls Short in Product Naming

Apple has a well-earned reputation as an innovator, a company that regularly and repeatedly brings industry-leading designs, products, and technologies to market.

Apparently that innovation does not extend to the naming of its products and technologies. In that area, Apple increasingly displays a covetousness for what other technology companies already have brought to market. At its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) yesterday, Apple had much to announce, including a renamed iPhone OS — now called iOS 4 — and a video-calling service called FaceTime.

As Network World notes, IOS and FaceTime are well-established trademarks in the technology world. Anybody familiar with Cisco Systems will know that IOS has long been an acronym and trademark of its Internetwork Operating System, a multitasking OS that runs on the networking behemoth’s routers and switches. Less known is that FaceTime was the trademarked name of a company that provides security and compliance software for IP-based collaboration and communications, including instant messaging, unified communications, and (more recently) social networking.

To avoid being sued for repurposing commercial names already on the market, Apple has licensed the IOS (or iOS) brand from Cisco (for an amount unknown), and its has acquired the FaceTime trademark from the company formerly known as FaceTime. FaceTime has put the best possible spin on the transaction, the value of which has not been disclosed:

As you’ve probably heard, Apple has announced that it will use “FaceTime” as the trademark for its new video calling application

Our agreement with Apple to transfer the FaceTime trademark to them comes as we are rebranding our company to better reflect our capabilities. We will be announcing a new name in the coming months.

This announcement echoes our long held belief that the Internet is changing the way people communicate. Increasingly the Internet is about communications, collaboration and communities – whether it’s social networking, instant messaging or now video calling, users are bringing these tools into the workplace.

FaceTime Communications helps businesses realize the benefits of the New Internet through enterprise solutions that provide unified security, management and compliance across the broadest set of applications and modalities.

Apple continues to be prolific in ideating and delivering its own designs and technology innovations, but product naming is a different story. In that domain, it is more than willing to pay handsomely for rights to the creative fruits of others.

2 responses to “Apple’s Innovation Falls Short in Product Naming

  1. It’s a buy vs. build for Apple like any other decision. As a former marketeer, I applaud Apple for getting the absolute best names even if they have the pay for them vs. making something stupid up. Would the iPhone be what it is today without that great name bought also incidentally from Cisco as well.


    • Fair enough, Scott.

      The fact is, I think there’s a paucity of good names available for commercial use. I hesitate to say they’re all taken, but it has gotten harder to come up with something original, relevant, and compelling.

      Several years ago, I was part of a corporate rebranding exercise that proved incredibly difficult. The challenge was to devise a new corporate name that would be reflective of the company’s evolution, as well as redolent of its culture, purpose, and aspirations. We’d propose names, then find that the copyrights, trademarks, and URLs for the best ones already had been claimed. We eventually came up with something that worked, but it was an arduous process.

      I can understand why Apple, with the resources at its disposal, would opt to buy an established name rather than come up with one (or two) of its own.

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