A Sprint holding company is claiming trademark infringement and has filed a lawsuit to prevent a Nextel-branded mobile service from launching.

Sue Marek, Special Contributor

March 21, 2022

4 Min Read
Retrobrands wants to revive the Nextel brand as an MVNO

Florida-based Retrobrands, which claims to be the owner of the Nextel brand, is trying to raise money so it can revive the brand and operate it as a US-based MVNO.

Jeffrey Kaplan, CEO of Nextel Mobile Worldwide and owner of Retrobrands USA, launched a crowdfunding effort through startengine.com to try to raise money for the effort. So far, the campaign has raised a little over $13,000 with contributions from 16 investors. The minimum investment is $300.

Nextel Mobile Worldwide is already operating as what Kaplan calls a "light MVNO." The company doesn't have an MVNO deal with any operator. Instead, it buys SIM cards in bulk with airtime from AT&T and resells them with devices to customers. Kaplan says the company has more than 9,000 subscribers but notes that the purchasing and reselling of SIM cards isn't sustainable because the book-keeping process is "horrendous."

Kaplan said he initiated the crowdfunding effort to raise money so that Nextel Mobile Worldwide can attain full MVNO status, expand its product line and attract a larger number of customers. Kaplan said the company made $1.53 million in revenue in 2021 by operating as a light MVNO and that it has more than 100 distributors on a waitlist that are ready to resell the product.

Figure 1: Former Sprint CEO Gary D. Forsee speaks at a press conference to announce the operator's $35 billion purchase of Nextel in 2004. (Source: REUTERS/Alamy Stock Photo) Former Sprint CEO Gary D. Forsee speaks at a press conference to announce the operator's $35 billion purchase of Nextel in 2004.
(Source: REUTERS/Alamy Stock Photo)

"The enterprise market is wide open," Kaplan said, adding that he's got major corporations that want devices and services from him.

A legal dispute with T-Mobile

But Kaplan acknowledges that he's not likely to raise enough money through his crowdfunding efforts to make Nextel a legitimate MVNO with an MVNO deal from a major network operator. The reason he can't attract big investors, he said, is because Retrobrands is embroiled in a legal battle with Sprint, which is now owned by T-Mobile, over the Nextel trademark. Sprint alleges trademark infringement and claims that Retrobrands is attempting to profit from a well-known consumer brand. Retrobrands, meanwhile, claims that the Nextel brand has been abandoned by its former owner.

Kaplan has lots of experience with retired and abandoned brands. His company, Retrobrands, has revived numerous abandoned brands, including Chipwich ice cream sandwiches, by capitalizing on a US code that says that a trademark is considered abandoned when the owner stops using it for three years in a row without intending to use it again. After three years of non-use, the owner must show evidence to counter a registration attempt by someone else.

Kaplan said that when Sprint filed a temporary injunction in 2018 to prevent him from using the trademark, the judge ruled in Retrobrands' favor, which is why he is still able to operate Nextel Worldwide. But the lawsuit wasn't dismissed and the dispute is now set for trial in April.

Officials from T-Mobile haven't responded to inquiries about the lawsuit. T-Mobile purchased Sprint in 2020, two years after Sprint's initial lawsuit was filed.

Kaplan is hopeful that a settlement will be reached before the April trial so that he can raise money to create a Nextel-branded MVNO.

Nextel's complicated history

Nextel, originally called FleetCall, started in the late 1980s and used a network technology developed by Motorola called iDEN. The network operated in the 800MHz spectrum band and offered a push-to-talk feature in addition to regular voice calls. The company's push-to-talk service was very popular with industrial and enterprise users and the company amassed more than 15 million subscribers when it was purchased by Sprint in 2005 for $36 billion.

Sprint's acquisition of Nextel was widely considered a disaster for both companies because the networks were incompatible. Sprint ultimately shut down Nextel's network in 2013 and retired the Nextel brand. Then, in 2020, T-Mobile purchased Sprint for $26 billion and has largely discontinued the Sprint brand since.

— Sue Marek, special to Light Reading. Follow her @suemarek.

About the Author(s)

Sue Marek

Special Contributor

Follow Sue on Twitter @suemarek

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