When the company had applied for the “iFon” trademark in 2007, Apple was still to announce its iPhone brand. Reuters

Apple confronts yet another trademark issue as an Indian firm has challenged the Cupertino-based technology giant’s “iPhone” brand. iVoice Enterprise, based in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, has claimed that phonetic similarity between the iPhone and the company’s own “iFon” stopped its project even before it started.

Founded in 2007, iVoice created an inexpensive, feature-rich mobile phone, which the company wanted to market in India as “iFon,” the Times Of India, or ToI, a local newspaper, reported Friday, adding that the Indian firm had asked the country’s Intellectual Property Appellate Board, or IPAB, to remove Apple’s “iPhone” trademark from its registry.

“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),” V. P. Balaji, iVoice’s managing director, told ToI.

Although an initial complaint, filed on Oct. 20, was expected to be tossed out, the IPAB took the trademark issue seriously and recently asked Apple to respond to iVoice’s allegations.

“The Appellate Board directed the respondent (Apple Inc.) to file the application for condoning delay and serve the counter statement to the applicant (iVoice Ventures Pvt. Ltd) under intimation to the Registry,” according to an IPAB statement, obtained by PatentlyApple.

According to iVoice, when the company had applied for the “iFon” trademark in 2007, Apple was still to announce its iPhone brand, which was launched only in 2008.

“After Apple Inc filed the petition, investors backed out and sources of funds dried up. Our overseas investors and partners did not support us, leading to irrecoverable financial impact on our business model. As such, we could not launch the phone,” Venkateshwaran Vaiyapuri, iVoice director, told ToI.

Apple, which has until November to reply, faced similar trademark issues in Japan, Brazil, Mexico and the U.S.