iPhone Skype not in Canada due to… Trademark issues?!

Ian Andrew Bell is a Techvibes Guest Contributor and this post was published on his blog earlier today.

Skype for the iPhone is a much-hyped and very cool app that’s not available (legally) for us Canadians despite the fact that it is free and offered by a global company.  There are of course workarounds but this is a kludge and not for the feint-of-heart.

In 2007, a story surfaced to quel rumours of an impending iPhone launch in Canada that the name “iPhone” had been trademarked by a small, Toronto-based VoIP service provider named ComWave.  A salient commenter reminded me of that fact this morning.  Since the Trademarks are legit and recognized in Canada by the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (here, here, and here) Apple would clearly have had to make a settlement agreement with ComWave in order to launch the iPhone with Rogers, as it did (finally) last summer.   If such agreement allowed Apple to use the iPhone trademark in Canada so long as it did not provide VoIP services (which I would expect is the case) then ComWave still holds the keys to whether or not we could ever get Skype legitimately in Canada.  

Now, there’s likely a great reason why ComWave is playing stool pigeon in this case:  money.  ComWave is no stranger to taking on the big guys in Telecom.  It had a dustup in 2006 with Rogers over provisioning, and in parallel with its Apple discussions got into it with Cisco over its own iPhone trademark.  The company apparently created its own iPhone service in 2004, and Canadian Trademark law favours use over registration (ComWave only registered the trademark in January 2007).

Apple has a long history of running afoul of Trademarks — in fact, the company’s own name was the object of a 30-year-long dispute with the Beatles’ record label and holding company, Apple Corps.  Since pre-registries of trademarks and patents by Apple are closely watched, it’s a vista into Apple’s product planning that permeates its dark veil of pre-launch silence — so Apple chooses instead to pay settlements and other penalties after the fact in order to maintain secrecy.

Meanwhile, ComWave has got itself something of a cottage industry camping on the iPhone trademark.  For the indeterminable future, the company will be a key determinant as to what aspects of the iPhone capability we receive in Canada.