Amendment to Trade-marks Act: the Red Crystal Comes to Canada

Though normally a somewhat staid corner of trademark law, prohibited marks have garnered a lot of attention of late particularly as a result of the Olympic and Paralympic Marks Act, which we commented on in several previous posts. However, the Trade-marks Act itself has been recently amended to add a new entrant to the list of prohibited marks.

Bill C-61, titled “An Act to amend the Geneva Conventions Act, An Act to incorporate the Canadian Red Cross Society and the Trade-marks Act” came into force on January 31, 2008. This Act was introduced to account for recent changes in the Red Cross Movement the term used to refer to work performed by the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Over the last decade, efforts have been underway to find a single symbol devoid of any religious, political, ethnic or other connotation that could be used by all nations engaged in the Movement’s humanitarian work. The Red Crystal is the result, and the Trade-marks Act has now been amended to add the Red Crystal to the list of marks whose adoption is prohibited by section 9. The Red Crystal joins the Red Cross, the Red Crescent and the now little-used Red Lion and Sun in the list of emblems that have been used by a variety of nations in humanitarian efforts over the last several centuries, and that are now protected by section 9 of the Act.

The addition of this mark to the prohibited list will be sure to catch the eye of video-game developers several of whom raised the ire of the Canadian Red Cross years ago by depicting the familiar Red Cross emblem in their games. But gamers aren’t the only ones attracting legal trouble from use of the Red Cross emblem: in 2007 the American arm of the Movement found itself in hot water when it was sued by Johnson & Johnson over its licensing of the emblem to for-profit companies to be used on commercial products, notwithstanding that the licensing revenues it received were directed toward humanitarian aid projects.

We’ll keep you posted on developments related to the Red Crystal.

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