A trademark wrangle is threatening the European debut of the popular Japanese mobile data service i-mode.
Different companies are battling over the name 'i-mode', which is expected to appear on the European market during the next year.
BT Cellnet is one of those companies, having filed for trademark on 16 different versions of the name 'i-mode' in December last year.
For example, BT Cellnet applied for a European trademark on the name 'I MODE' - with a space between the I and the M - last year.
Meanwhile Sven Laepple, a former internet consultant living in Frankfurt, Germany, has applied to register 'I-MODE' as a pan-European trademark.
When he chose the name, he was unaware of the existence of the Japanese i-mode. "I want to launch an SMS service similar to Iobox. I also looked at the success of iVillage, so I decided to call it i-mode," Laepple told silicon.com. He plans to launch in Austria next year.
But he said that he is not committed to launching his services under the name 'I-MODE', and would be interested in talking to anyone who wished to buy the trademark from him.
As things stand, Mr Laepple will not be successful in his application for a European trademark. If applications for a trademark at national and international level are both granted, the application which was filed earlier is given precedence.
BT Cellnet filed its application in December 1999, and Laepple only filed his in September 2000. However, BT Cellnet has not applied for a European trademark on 'I-mode', with a hyphen, and Mr Laepple's Austrian trademark application may make it impossible for the company to do so.
Furthermore, the BT Cellnet trademarks have taken longer than the usual six months to be approved, leading to speculation that there may be some legal hurdle halting its progress.
NTT DoCoMo, which markets the i-mode service in Japan, is due to launch a European i-mode service in Europe next year. DoCoMo was unavailable for comment at the time of publication.
No one was prepared to hazard a guess at what will happen, but one thing is certain - the situation will take time to resolve, possibly delaying the launch of i-mode in Europe.
Ken Storey, spokesman for the Institute of Trademark Attorneys, said: "These companies can market services at the same time, but the eventual loser will have to withdraw the offending articles and services from the market.
"Our advice is always that businesses make sure that they are absolutely entitled to use their trademarks before they launch a product on the market," he added.
BT Cellnet was not available for comment.