In no mood for charity: Federal Court confirms that charities are not necessarily public authorities

The Federal Court of Canada recently confirmed in Starbucks (HK) Limited v. Trinity Television Inc., 2016 FC 790 (the “Decision”) that status as a charity is, in and of itself, insufficient to constitute an entity as a public authority for the purpose of obtaining an official mark.

(For a discussion about official marks and their interplay with regular trade-marks, please see this previous post on our blog.)

The facts leading up to the Decision are straightforward: in 2013, Starbucks (HK) Limited (“Starbucks”) filed an application to register the trade-mark NOW TV & Design.  During prosecution, an official mark for NOWTV, owned by Trinity Television Inc. (“Trinity”), was cited against the Starbucks application.  In response, Starbucks commenced a judicial review application against the Registrar’s decision – made in June 2001 – to give public notice of the adoption and use of NOWTV as an official mark.

In the result, the Court quashed the Registrar’s decision to grant NOWTV as an official mark to Trinity, clearing the path for Starbucks to move ahead with its application.  Of particular interest were the following points made by the Court:

- the law is now clear that status as a charity is, in and of itself, insufficient to constitute an entity as a public authority; and

- it would be patently unfair and completely contrary to the interest of justice if an entity that is not a public authority was permitted to enjoy the exceptional rights conferred on the holder of an official mark.

As a potential point of distinction when it comes to the precedential value of this case, it is noteworthy that Trinity did not participate in the judicial review application; indeed, the Court was advised by counsel for Starbucks that a former president and director of Trinity had advised that Trinity had sold its business to Rogers in 2005.  That being said, given how easily the Court arrived at the conclusion that charitable status does not necessarily equate to being a public authority, it seems unlikely that Trinity’s participation would have changed the result.

From a practical perspective, the Decision serves as a timely reminder to trade-mark applicants that, while robust, official marks can nevertheless be challenged and removed under the right circumstances.  Where an official mark has been cited during prosecution of a regular trade-mark application, it is important to carefully scrutinize the official mark, in order to ascertain any potential vulnerabilities that could lead to its removal.

On the other hand, the Decision is also a reminder to charities holding official marks that those official marks may potentially be at risk, if challenged via judicial review.  To mitigate that risk, those charities ought to consider filing regular applications to register their trade-marks.

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What’s Your Evidence? The Danger of Hearsay Evidence in IP Litigation

In Pfizer Canada Inc. v. Teva Canada Limited, 2016 FCA 161, the Federal Court of Appeal (“FCA”) recently overturned a substantial damages award in a pharmaceutical patented medicines action on the basis that the trial judge admitted improper hearsay evidence. This is an important reminder that the hearsay rule of evidence is alive and well.

At trial, only one witness was called to testify in support of damages and he did not have actual firsthand knowledge of the purported facts to which he was testifying. Instead the witness could only testify to the oral and written statements of others.  The FCA ruled that this evidence was hearsay, and therefore inadmissible.

Hearsay evidence is an oral or written statement made by a party who has not come to court to testify. An example of oral hearsay is a witness testifying that “John told me he would give me $100”. This is hearsay because the author or speaker of these statements is not present in court to testify to the truth of the statement. Whether or not the statement is admissible depends on the use of that statement. If the purpose of calling the hearsay evidence is to prove the truth of the statement, then the statement is inadmissible. Therefore, in this example, the proper way to prove that John would give the witness $100 is to call John as a witness to testify to the truth of that statement; otherwise, the statement cannot be used to prove that John would have given the witness any money.

Despite the recent trend of some courts and tribunals to relax the rules of evidence regarding the admissibility of hearsay evidence to allow for more flexibility, here, the Federal Court took a more strict and traditional analysis.

As a result, parties to intellectual property disputes must be aware of the potential inadmissibility of hearsay when collecting evidence. This is particularly germane in trade-mark disputes where evidence of confusion generally comes from second hand sources. The proper collection and documentation of this evidence can make or break a successful infringement or opposition proceeding.

Trade-mark holders should be proactive when presented with evidence of confusion. It may not be enough for a representative of the company to swear an affidavit that the company received phone calls from those who say they confused the company’s trade-mark with another. The better evidence is directly from each of those callers who can testify first hand to their confusion. Where feasible, trade-mark holders should have a process in place to document the names and contact information of witnesses and the details of any evidence of confusion. This way, individuals able to give first hand evidence can be contacted if the matter proceeds to litigation or an opposition proceeding. If such evidence is not properly preserved, a trade-mark holder may be left with no admissible evidence to prove its claim.

Nuthin’ but a Leaf Thang – Toronto Maple Leafs take issue with Snoop Dogg’s trade-mark application for LEAFS BY SNOOP Logo

Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Partnership (“MLSE”), the parent company of the National Hockey League’s Toronto Maple Leafs, has requested an extension of time to oppose a U.S. trade-mark application filed by one Calvin Broadus – better known as Snoop Dogg (“Snoop”) – for a logo featuring the words LEAFS BY SNOOP on a leaf-shaped background.

MLSE is the owner of numerous trade-mark applications and registrations in Canada and the U.S. for different iterations of the Toronto Maple Leafs logo, for use with a variety of clothing and souvenir related goods.

For side-by-side comparison, below is Snoop’s logo next to the most recent version of the Toronto Maple Leafs logo.

Mark Image               Mark Image

Snoop’s application covers the goods “cigarette lighters not made of precious metals”.  Snoop also owns a word mark application for LEAFS BY SNOOP, although that application will not be published for opposition by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office until July 19, 2016.

More information about Snoop’s LEAFS BY SNOOP products is available at his website dedicated to that brand.  Interestingly – and perhaps not surprisingly – the products on the website appear to be cannabis and food products including cannabis.

Snoop also owns a Canadian application to register the words LEAFS BY SNOOP for a broader category of goods, including clothing-related products, edible oils, jams, candies, and live plants.  (Although the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (“CIPO”) is usually known for being strict when it comes to the specificity of goods listed in trade-mark applications, in this case, it did not ask Snoop to provide further specificity as to the “edible oils and jams”, nor the “live plants”.)

Snoop’s Canadian application was advertised for opposition on June 8, 2016.  At this time, it is unclear whether MLSE has opposed – or requested an extension of time to oppose – Snoop’s Canadian application.

TSN, the source that broke news of this potential dispute, reached out to lawyers for both MLSE and Snoop, but did not receive a response.  An IP lawyer at the New York University School of Law provided TSN with his thoughts on the matter, generally opining that MLSE would likely face a tough road should it proceed with its opposition in the United States.

The intersection of pop culture and trade-marks is always a fascinating topic for us here at the Canadian Trademark Blog, and we will be watching with interest to see if this leads to an actual opposition-izzle.

About the Blog

The authors of the Canadian Trademark Blog are all members of the Canadian law firm Clark Wilson LLP, based in Vancouver, Canada. Each author's practice focuses–either in whole or in substantial part–on Canadian intellectual property law. Together, they manage the trade-mark portfolios of local, national and international brand owners in nearly all industries and markets.

The Authors