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Cobalt won't sue Apple over Cube

The server appliance maker acquired last year by Sun lays to rest any lingering suspicions that it plans to sue Apple over the use of the Cube trademark.

Cobalt Networks, the server appliance maker acquired last year by Sun Microsystems, has laid to rest any lingering suspicions that it plans to sue Apple over the use of the Cube trademark.

Stephen DeWitt, Sun's vice president and general manager for the server appliances business, said the company never intended to sue Apple. "There never was a lawsuit, and there never will be a lawsuit," he said at the company's recent developer conference in Paris.

DeWitt, who was chief executive of Cobalt before the Sun acquisition, suggested at last year's conference that the company would sue Apple over the use of the Cube name because Cobalt owned the trademark. "We will not sit idly by," he said at the time. "They are trying to exert their marketing pressure and will pay for it."

The comments raised a ruckus among the Apple faithful, who bombarded message boards with angry comments and flamed DeWitt with more than 1,400 e-mails before the end of the conference. The suggestion of a lawsuit was not universally unpopular, though, given Apple's own litigious past.

Clarifying the issue for the first time since the original furor, DeWitt said that the argument would have been over the Cube trademark, which Cobalt owns.

If Cobalt had decided to pursue a lawsuit, DeWitt added, it would have been justified.

"In 1998 we brought out the Qube, which measured 7 inches by 7 inches by 8 inches and guess what? Apple later launched a product called the Cube that just happened to measure 7 inches by 7inches by 8 inches." DeWitt noted that shapes cannot be trademarked, but added: "We own the rights to the Cube logo."

The Cube trademark associated with computers has changed hands several times in the past decade. It was first registered by Next Computer, the company founded by Apple chief executive Steve Jobs in the late 1980s, but it subsequently fell into misuse with the discontinuation of the Next Cube, allowing it to be picked up by Cube Computer Corp., which now trades as Xand.

g4 cube Cube Computer Corp. sued Cobalt Networks in December 1998 after the launch by Cobalt of the 7-inch square Qube server appliance, which provides Web server, e-mail and firewall services for consumers and small businesses. The companies settled for a reported $4.1 million in January 2000, and Cobalt acquired rights to the Cube trademark.

DeWitt said Cobalt would have been unlikely to go through with a lawsuit against Apple because Cobalt's four founders had been Apple engineers before leaving to start Cobalt.

Regardless, Apple's Cube has been a slow seller.

Staff writer Matt Loney reported from Paris.