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.

Off to the Marché We Go! – Not Descriptive and Not Confusing

The Federal court recently dismissed an appeal to have a trademark expunged on grounds of descriptiveness and confusion. In Movenpick Holding AG v. Exxon Mobil Corporation and Attorney General of Canada (Registrar of Trade-marks), the Court considered whether Esso’s “Marché Express” mark is too descriptive of the services it provides as a gas-station convenience store. Then it went on to consider whether it was possible to confuse “Marché Express” with Movenpick’s “Marché” mark, which it uses for its chain of restaurants.

Movenpick claimed that “Marché Express” is descriptive of the services Esso offers. Section 12(1)(b) of the Trade-marks Act provides that a trade-mark must not be “clearly descriptive” of the character or quality of the wares or services associated with the mark. So, the question before the Court was whether, in the French language, “Marché Express” was descriptive of a convenience store.

Both sides produced expert evidence of the meaning of the phrase “Marché Express”. The Court was unimpressed with this, favouring evidence of the phrase’s colloquial use rather than academic musings as to its meaning. The Court noted that one must look at the perception of the phrase by regular everyday consumers, not its meaning as derived from a scholarly analysis.

The Court ultimately found that while the word “marché” is used to describe convenience stores (it translates strictly to “market”), the construction “Marché Express” is not something that regularly appears in colloquial French. At best, it could be construed to mean the result produced from shopping at a such a store. Thus, “Marché Express” is not “clearly descriptive”, contrary to s. 12(1)(b).

Movenpick also claimed that Esso’s mark, when used to denote a convenience store, was easily confused with its own registered trademark, “Marché”, which is used in association with the operation of Movenpick’s restaurant. Under s. 12(1)(d), a trade-mark is not registrable if it is confusing with another registered trade-mark.

The Court outlined the test for confusion from Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin v. Boutiques Cliquot Ltée, 2006 SCC 23, wherein the Court must look for confusion in the mind of a “casual consumer somewhat in a hurry” who only has an “imperfect recollection” of the other mark. The Court also carefully considered all of the surrounding circumstances dictated by s. 6(5) of the Act. Most interestingly, the Court agreed with the Registrar’s statement that “Marché” was a weak mark. The term “Marché” is commonly used in the food and beverage industry; thus, consumers are used to seeing it in the marketplace (no pun intended!). When a mark has such a broad usage, the trademark holder cannot expect to have a wide range of protection over the mark. Consumers are able to pick up on slight differences between such weak marks, so the sphere of protection is accordingly narrower. The Court held that the inclusion of “Express” was enough for casual consumers to distinguish the two marks in question.

So, in the end, Esso was able to keep the registration of its trade-mark, and decidedly un-confused consumers are still able to both shop at the Marché Express and dine at Marché restaurants.

Target Settlement

We are following up on a blog we posted in 2011 reporting that Target Brands Inc., the U.S. retailer, was refused an interlocutory injunction in its continuing battle with owner of the Canadian trade-mark registration for TARGET. 

The U.S. retailer has plans to open in Canada beginning in 2013.  However, the owner of the Canadian trade-mark registration, such ownership dating back to 2002,  had begun operating a series of stores in 2010 Canada.  The ongoing battle has been commented on frequently as an example of the importance of policing key trademarks in foreign jurisdictions.

The Globe and Mail is reporting on February 2, 2012 that a settlement has now been reached.  The details are not known, but it is suggested that the settlement may be worth millions of dollars to the Canadian owner, who must cease all use of the TARGET trademark by January 31, 2013.

Putting The Accent On .CA Domains

The Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) has released the results of its first consultation on its proposed implementation of .CA domains with French accent characters (known as the Latin Supplement -1 Unicode characters), such as é à ü and ç.  

Under its initial implementation plan, CIRA proposed a sunrise period during which owners of .CA domain owners could register as many French accented variants of their existing ASCII (non- accented Latin-based script characters, namely the letters a-z) domains as they opted for.  For example, the owner of grace.ca could also register grâce.ca during the sunrise period, before that accented variant of grace.ca (and all other French accent variants) would be opened up for registration to anyone else who otherwise qualifies to own a .CA domain.

As a result of comments received during the first consultation period, many citing concerns about increased costs to .CA domain owners, phishing and the potential for consumer confusion, CIRA is now proposing to do away with any sort of sunrise and landrush periods and instead is proposing that only the owner of a .CA domain name with ASCII characters would have the right to register any or all French accented versions of that .CA domain. In addition, under the new proposal, once a French accented .CA domain name variant has been registered, it cannot be transferred without also transferring the ASCII .CA domain name and all other registered French accented .CA domain name variants.  CIRA refers to this concept as “character bundling”.   In addition, CIRA is also considering the feasibility of some additional French accent characters that are commonly used.

CIRA is seeking input and comments on its revised implementation plan, during a second consultation period, running from January 24 to February 24, 2012.

Sunrise For .xxx Domains Is Now Open

As reported in our recent Knowledge Bytes publication, today marks the beginning of the Sunrise period for the new .xxx domain.   Owners of registered trademarks who are not part of the adult entertainment industry may and should apply to block their registered marks from becoming part of a domain name with the new .xxx generic top level domain.  This Sunrise period is in effect until October 28, 2011.  Different Registrars are charging different amounts for this service, so shop around.

CIPO Approves New Wares and Services Descriptions

The Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) today announced the approval of over 500 new or changed wares (goods) and services descriptions in its online Wares and Services Manual.   This is the Manual that the CIPO Examiners refer to when reviewing applications for registration of trade-marks under the Trade-marks Act (the Act).   Under Section 30(a) of the Act, an applicant is required to describe its claimed wares and services in ordinary commercial terms. 

While certainly not exhaustive of all of the descriptions that an Examiner will consider to be acceptable, if an applicant’s wares and services can fit within the approved descriptions in the Manual, the processing of the application is likely to be much smoother.  

The complete list of descriptions that were approved as of today can be accessed by typing the query “2011-09-07” as a search term in the online Wares and Services Manual.  These changes relate almost entirely to descriptions of wares, with only a few new service descriptions.  Notable changes to the services descriptions include “online social networking services”, “real estate development” and “resort services”.  This is somewhat disappointing in that rapid ongoing changes in online service delivery (e.g. social media, cloud computing, outsourcing and the like) and technology continue to far outpace changes to the Wares and Services Manual and challenges often arise in attempting to obtain approval for descriptions of new wares and services.

Practitioners continue to eagerly await the implementation of many new wares and services descriptions called for in the Trilateral Agreement – see our earlier post on this topic.