.CA Domain Names Held To Be Personal Property

A recent Ontario Superior Court of Justice decision (Court File No. CV-13-480391) has held that .CA domain names are personal property and as such are subject to the rules that govern any other type of personal property, including those against wrongful conversion.  Perhaps more importantly, the case appears to stand for the proposition that title in .CA domain names exists independently of the registration of those domain names.

17 .CA domain names were in issue,  including mold.ca and mould.ca.  All were registered by Mr. Sullivan in his own name for the benefit of a company that he co-founded with Mr. Dalrymple, called Mold.Ca Inc.  (Mold.Ca Inc.)  The business of Mold.Ca Inc., not surprisingly, involves  mold inspection and removal services in the Greater Toronto area.  Sullivan purchased the domain names using the company’s credit card but listed himself as the Registrant of all of the domain names, rather than Mold.Ca Inc., unbeknownst to Dalrymple. 

Sullivan parted ways with Dalrymple and Mold.Ca Inc. a year later, while Mold.Ca Inc. continued to carry on its business, as before.  Unbeknownst to Dalrymple, Sullivan retained the domain name registrations and the passwords for the domain name registrations and then subsequently transferred the domain name registrations to a third party (Romelus).   Once Dalrymple found out about the above events, he commenced a Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) Dispute Resolution Proceeding (CDRP) against Romelus.  The CDRP proceeding were unsuccessful because there was no evidence that the domain names had been registered by Romelus in bad faith (they hadn’t been), nor was there evidence that they were being used for other than legitimate purposes by Romelus.

Following the failed CDRP proceeding, Romelus transferred the domain names back to Sullivan and Sullivan began using them in a competing business to that of Mold.Ca Inc.  Undaunted by its loss in the CDRP, this turn of events led to Mold.Ca Inc. to commence proceedings in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.  Finding in favour of Mold.Ca Inc., the Court held that “the issue is a simple matter of property law”, whereby title to the domain names belongs to the company, which had been wrongly converted by Sullivan.  The Court therefore ordered that all of the domain names, including all administrative information and passwords, be transferred to Mold.Ca Inc.

Significant Amendments to Canada’s Trade-marks Act Closer To Reality

Canada’s federal Government introduced Bill C-56 on March 1, 2013 – the Combating Counterfeit Products Act.   The primary focus of this Bill is to improve the ability of copyright and trade-mark owners to combat the manufacture, importation, sale and distribution of counterfeit goods in Canada. 

 While the primary focus of the Bill is on counterfeit goods, the Bill calls for amendments to both the Copyright Act and the Trade-marks Act that will have effects beyond counterfeiting. 

Should this Bill go through as is, the changes to the Trade-marks Act (the “Act”) include the following: 

–         “Wares” will become “goods” and the definition of a “distinguishing guise” will be repealed

–          “distinctive” in relation to a trademark will describe a trademark that actually distinguishes or that is inherently capable of distinguishing the goods and services of the trademark’s owner from those of others

–          The references to “mark(s)” throughout the Act will now be references to a “sign or combination of signs”

–          “sign” will include a word, a personal name, a design, a letter, a numeral, a colour, a figurative element, a three-dimensional shape, a hologram, a moving image, a mode of packaging goods, a sound, a scent, a taste, a texture and the positioning of a sign

–          A trademark will not be registrable if its features are dictated primarily by a utilitarian function (codifying recent case law)

–          In order to make a priority filing date claim, an applicant will no longer be required to have a real and effective industrial or commercial establishment in the country where the first application to register the trademark was filed. 

–          A Counterstatement to a Statement of Opposition will only need to state that the applicant intends to respond to the opposition.

–          It will be made clear that the Trade-marks Opposition Board can, in applicable circumstances, refuse some goods/services and let the remainder of the goods/services through to Registration, when dealing with Opposition proceedings

–          Divisional applications will be permitted, as well as mergers of registrations that stem from an original application that was divided

–         Applications for proposed certification marks will be permitted

–          The Bill contains many provisions relating to offences arising out of manufacturing, sale, possession, importation, distribution, and the like of counterfeit goods, labels and packaging, with fines of up to $1,000,000 or imprisonment for up to 5 years, if convicted on indictment.  There are also a number of provisions dealing with detention and destruction of infringing goods

There are, unfortunately, a number of  other provisions in the Act that could have been modified, deleted or clarified, which this Bill does not currently deal with.  Time will tell what changes are made to this Bill as it proceeds through the legislative process, with input from various committees and special interest groups.

Bodum Gets French Pressed by Federal Court In Trademark Dispute

Canada’s Federal Court has recently handed Bodum USA, Inc. (Bodum) another loss in its ongoing fight to enforce its trademark and other intellectual property rights in this country.  In the most recent decision, the Court has found that the Canadian Registration for the trademark FRENCH PRESS is invalid and unenforceable.  This Registration is owned by Pi Design AG (Pi), a related entity to Bodum and the licensor of the mark to Bodum in Canada and covers wares described as non-electric coffee makers.

As a result,  Bodum’s infringement claims against Meyer Housewares Canada Inc. (Meyer) over its use of the FRENCH PRESS mark have been dismissed.  Even worse for Bodum, the Registration for FRENCH PRESS has been ordered expunged on the grounds that it should never have been issued in the first place and even if it was properly registered, that Registration is now invalid on the basis that the mark is descriptive and not distinctive of Bodum as the sole source of the goods that this mark is registered in association with.

When assessing the evidence presented by the parties, the Court found that the term “French Press” was already in widespread use in North America as a generic term describing a popular type of coffee making device in 1995, which Pi was aware of when it sought to register the mark in Canada and thereby claim exclusive rights to the mark.  The Registration for this mark issued in 1997.

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In Honour of Black Friday – Big Brand Retailers Fight Quebec Language Law

CBC reports that a group of  well-known retailers, including  WALMART, COSTCO and BESTBUY, are taking the Quebec Government’s French language watchdog to Court over its recent requirement that all retailers have signs that include either a generic French name or add a slogan or explanation to reflect what they are selling.  For example, rather than featuring signage with just the well-known WALMART mark, the Quebec government wants that retailer’s signs to now read “Le Magasin WALMART” or something to that effect.

While Quebec’s French Language Charter requires the name of a business to be in French, until now this requirement hasn’t been applied to registered trademarks by the Office Québécois de la Langue Française (OQLF).  There has been some debate over the last few years about whether unregistered trademarks should be treated the same as registered trademarks in terms of this exemption.  The OQLF is now requiring all signs to include French language, whether or not registered or unregistered trademarks are involved.

For their part, the retailers (also including GAP, OLD NAVY and GUESS) argue that there has been no formal change to the applicable provision of the language law.  Further, they argue that the OQLF has no right to change the application of the existing law and that by changing its policy, it is in effect changing the law.  The retailers also point out that these are all famous brands and through extensive long term use they have come to identify the businesses behind them, such that no one in Quebec needs the assistance of the language law to know what these businesses sell or represent.

Some other popular brand owners, such as KFC or “Poulet Frit Kentucky” as it’s known in Quebec, have already opted to adopt Quebec specific branding, rather than carry on with an English business name.

A trial of this matter is unlikely to take place before the end of 2013.

RIM Wins Right To Continue Using BBM Trademark

Research in Motion Ltd. received some good news late last week, in the form of a Federal Court of Canada ruling that allows it to keep the BBM trademark for its popular messenger service.  BBM Canada, a Canadian television and radio research firm  that has been using the BBM mark for 60 years, commenced infringement proceedings on the basis that RIM’s use of the BBM mark  confused the public.  The Court disagreed, ruling that RIM’s use of the mark could peacefully co-exist with BBM’s use, which the Court said extended only to the field of broadcast measurement services.  News reports on the decisions suggest that BBM will appeal the decision.

I Hear You Calling – Sound Mark Applications Now Being Accepted

In a reversal of it’s long held position, the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) has today announced that it is now accepting applications to register sound marks.  This announcement apparently comes as a result of ongoing Federal Court of Canada proceedings regarding an application filed in 1992 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. (MGM) to register as a trade-mark in Canada, the sound of a roaring lion that precedes most, if not all, of their film productions.  

For many years, CIPO’s blanket policy has been to refuse all applications for sound marks on the basis that Section 30(h) of the Trade-marks Act requires “a drawing of the trade-mark and such number of accurate representations of the trade-mark as may be prescribed” unless the application is for a word or words not depicted in a special form.  The MGM case is the first where the issue of the registrability of sound marks has been dealt with by the Federal Court.

CIPO’s new Practice Notice on applications for sound marks states that “The application for the registration of a trade-mark consisting of a sound should:

  1. state that the application is for the registration of a sound mark;
  2. contain a drawing that graphically represents the sound;
  3. contain a description of the sound; and
  4. contain an electronic recording of the sound.”

This change of tune for CIPO comes on the heels of a recent (and still outstanding) consultation on a number of proposed changes to the Trade-marks Act Regulations, including a proposal to permit registration of non-traditional marks, such as sound marks, motion marks and holograms.  Time will tell how many applicants decide to take advantage of this change of policy.  Certainly, there are a number of well known sound marks in the marketplace and registration of such marks has been possible in other important jurisdictions, such as the United States, for many years.

Teachers Get Schooled In Trademarks – Again

In a previous post, we reported on a Federal Court of Canada decision, upholding the decision of the Registrar of Trademarks to refuse registration of the mark TEACHERS in association with services described as “administration of a pension plan, management and investment of a pension for teachers in Ontario”.  Undaunted, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board decided to appeal that decision to the Federal Court of Appeal.  

The Federal Court of Appeal has now issued its own decision in this matter, upholding the lower Court’s ruling and again refusing registration, on the basis that the mark is clearly descriptive of the character of the claimed services.  In dismissing the Applicant’s arguments on Appeal, the Court of Appeal found that “the word TEACHERS’, which clearly describes those whose pension plan the appellant administers and in whose benefit the management and investment services of the pension fund are rendered, describes a highly prominent feature, trait or characteristic belonging to the appellant’s services.”

It remains to be seen whether the Applicant has learned its lesson or will seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.