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Cisco faces iPhone trademark challenge in Canada

As Cisco battles Apple for the iPhone trademark, telecommunications company alleges Cisco is stepping on its use of the brand.

A Canadian telecommunications company has sent Cisco Systems a letter of warning alleging the networking giant is stepping on its use of the iPhone brand.

The issue could be particularly sticky for Cisco because earlier this month it filed its own iPhone trademark infringement lawsuit against Apple in U.S. federal court. In the Canadian dispute with Comwave Telecom, Cisco is more circumspect.

"We recently became aware of Comwave and we're investigating the issue thoroughly," said Cisco spokesman John Noh.

Comwave, the second largest VoIP service in Canada, has been using the iPhone name for the service since 2004.

"Our legal department has put Cisco on notice," said Yuval Barzakay, president of Toronto-based Comwave. "We will see how they react and then gauge our next action."

Comwave does not hold a registered trademark for iPhone, but has filed an application for one. The Canadian Intellectual Property Office bases its trademark awards on such issues as who was first in using the brand name in Canada or in applying to register the name, say experts in the trademark registration field.

"There has been a Comwave iPhone for years, and, (according to)Canadian law on first use, iPhone is ours," Barzakay said.

Cisco began shipping iPhone VoIP devices worldwide last year and accelerated its global marketing campaign when it introduced two new iPhone products last month, Noh said. Previously, iPhone was sold by Infogear, which Cisco acquired in 2000. It is not clear whether the Cisco's iPhone products were only sold in the U.S., or in Canada, as well.

According to records with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, Cisco, via Infogear, had filed an application to obtain a trademark for the iPhone name in 1998, but abandoned those efforts in mid-2003.

In 2004, Apple filed an application for use of the name iPhone with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. And within several months, Comwave filed a motion to oppose that application, Barzakay said.

Comwave, which filed its own application to register the trademark in 2005, alleges it has had the longest use of the name--over Apple and Cisco.

Canadian trademark experts note it will likely take another two to three years before the Canadian Intellectual Property Office awards the trademark.

"I find it peculiar that Apple would launch a flagship product without securing its own trademark first," Barzakay said. "They certainly could have used a lot of other names."

In its U.S. lawsuit, Cisco alleges Apple debuted its iPhone mobile device, even though it had warned the computer maker it would infringe on Cisco's trademark for its VoIP phones. Apple is planning to ship the iPhones in June.

Apple was not immediately available for comment.