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Apple may face iPhone trademark battle in India as local firm asserts 'iFon' mark

Apple is once again facing "iPhone" naming writes woes, this time in a challenge coming from Indian firm iVoice Enterprises, which claims the phonetic similarity between iPhone and its own "iFon" destroyed the project before it got off the ground.

According to iVoice managing director V. P. Balaji, the Erode-based company was founded in 2007 to create a low-priced, feature-rich mobile phones to be marketed in India as "iFon," reports The Time of India.

iVoice is petitioning India's Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB) to remove Apple's "iPhone" trademark from its registry, and the agency recently asked for an official response, suggesting the opposition may have a chance at being reviewed.

"The manufacturing and design of the phones were to be outsourced to companies in China and Taiwan. As we wanted to bring out an affordable phone for people across the country, we named it India Phone (iFon)," Balaji said.

Shortly after Apple introduced the iPhone at the Macworld expo in 2007, iVoice's iFon initiative disintegrated as financial bakers pulled out and overseas partners withdrew support. The result was devastating to iVoice's business.

The report claims Apple petitioned the city's Trade Mark Registry (TMR) to drop the iFon mark in 2008, citing phonetic similarity with iPhone, but the exact timeline of events is murky.

"When we had applied for the mark in May 2007, Apple Inc was still to announce its iPhone brand. It was only in 2008 that it launched its product with the mark. The phone was launched in India only in 2009," said iVoice director Venkateshwaran Vaiyapuri.

While Apple did indeed launch the iPhone 3GS in India in 2009, Vaiyapuri's comment on a 2008 iPhone is less clear. The director could be referring to the launch of an iPhone with trademark protection in India.

In any case, iVoice filed its counter to Apple's petition in 2010 and a subsequent IPAB request for removal in 2013, but has yet to bring the iFon to market.

The legal challenge is nothing new for Apple, which over the years fielded multiple threats to the iPhone name, including trademark disputes in Japan, Brazil, Mexico (which coincidentally has a division called "iVoice") and even the U.S.

The history of Apple's iPhone moniker goes back to at least June 2006, when AppleInsider was first to spot a company filing in a Far East trademark office. At the time, little was known about the handset, which would go on to become Apple's single most important consumer product, accounting for well over half of all revenue for the company's fourth quarter of 2014.