Global 500 Brand Rankings Feature A Shift At The Top

Brand Finance has recently published its 2017 Global 500 Brand Rankings, where GOOGLE has overtaken APPLE in the number one spot for the world’s most valuable brand.  APPLE’s five year dominance at the number one ranking follows a 27% fall in brand value in the past year.  Bringing up third spot again this year is AMAZON.COM, which showed an impressive 53% growth in its  brand value over the prior year.  The top 10 includes a number of other top tech sector brands such as Microsoft, Samsung and Facebook.  The list also includes a number of fast growing brands from China, including Alibaba, Tencent, WeChat, JD.com and Huawei.

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Trader Joe’s trying to make Pirate Joe’s “walk the plank” in U.S. trade-mark case

In the ongoing dispute between Michael Hallatt, a Vancouver businessman, and U.S. based retailer Trader Joe’s, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (the “Ninth Circuit”) has overruled the 2013 decision of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington (the “District Court”) not to hear Trader Joe’s claim against Hallatt for, among other things, trade-mark infringement, dilution, unfair competition and false advertising.

The dispute arose out of Hallatt’s purchase of products from Trader Joe’s stores in the U.S., particularly in the state of Washington, for resale in Canada (there are no Trader Joe’s stores in Canada).  Hallatt has and continues to mark up and re-sell Trader Joe’s products at his store in Vancouver, named Pirate Joe’s.

The goods are not counterfeit, and the source of the products being sold is not in dispute – the packaging on the products bears Trader Joe’s trade-marks, and Hallatt states on his website that he sells Trader Joe’s products.  Hallatt expressly states on his website that he is not an authorized or affiliated distributor or reseller of Trader Joe’s.  Nevertheless, Trader Joe’s took the view that Hallatt’s conduct violated its U.S. trade-mark rights under the U.S. Lanham Act, and in 2013 it brought a claim against Hallatt in the District Court.

Taking the view that any unlawful conduct by Hallatt would have taken place in Canada rather than the U.S., and that Hallatt’s activities did not cause a cognizable injury to Trader Joe’s in the U.S. or an effect on American foreign commerce, the District Court judge decided in October 2013 that the Court had no subject matter jurisdiction to hear Trader Joe’s claims.  Trader Joe’s appealed that decision to the Ninth Circuit.

The Ninth Circuit disagreed with the District Court judge, opining instead that Hallatt’s activities could affect the goodwill and value of the Trader Joe’s brand in the U.S., and accordingly, its U.S. trade-mark rights.  The Ninth Circuit concluded that the Lanham Act does apply to Hallatt’s allegedly infringing conduct, and in the result, remanded the case back to the District Court for further proceedings.

We will be keeping an eye on this trade-mark case that is likely of particular interest to cross-border shoppers.

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.