World of Webkinz

Webkinz, the little stuffed animal toys which may be activated through a code to enter the on-line Webkinz world, are drawing more and more children and tweens into the realm of virtual reality. In the past, many companies have been reluctant to charge children for website access for fear of alienating parents. But the Toronto based Canadian company Ganz may have solved this problem through the powerful brand that is the Webkinz cuddly toy and on-line environment.

Visitors to the free Webkinz website  spent more than one million hours there in November, with the average child clocking up an average of two hours per visit. However, in order to fully access the Webkinz world, parents must pay approximately $15 for a Webkinz real-world pet toy which children may then “adopt” and care for on-line. Users give each toy a gender and a name and can spend “kinz cash” to buy food, clothes and furniture or even to take neglected pets to a virtual doctor.

Ganz have now launched a line of accessories such as cosmetics and clothing items with codes that redeem a prize for the pets’ on-line avatars in order to ensure that the company capitalizes on children’s web time.

Turning Over A New …Sheaf?

Thanks for the warm welcome, all. For my first post, I thought it apropos to cover a story originating in the province of my birth, Saskatchewan.

A recent attempt by Saskatchewan’s new government to introduce a new provincial logo clearly demonstrates the need to have a clear and coherent branding strategy in place before rushing headlong down the path to change.

In early December, members of the province’s governing party, the Saskatchewan Party, announced their intention to change the province’s logo. In a move reminiscent of the Tory’s adoption of the Canada’s New Government slogan shortly after they took power in 2006, Saskatchewan’s new government decided that the iconic wheat sheaf symbol had to go. Deputy Premier Ken Krawetz criticized the logo, calling it “dated” and claiming it was no longer an accurate reflection of the province and its broad-based economic boom. (The logo was originally introduced by an NDP-led government under Allen Blakeney in the 1970s, though public notice of the province’s adoption of the sheaf was not issued until 1982.)

In a somewhat curious twist, Krawetz did not introduce a replacement for the sheaf; instead, he urged government ministries to use the province’s shield of arms or its coat of arms until a new logo was developed. Ironically, these marks each prominently depict three wheat sheaves.

However, Krawetz’s announcement was met with, to put it lightly, something less than broad-based enthusiasm. Despite a few local newspaper editorials plugging the proposal, it appeared Saskatchewanians were wildly unenthused by the change. Local call-in shows and newspaper editorial boards were flooded by citizens attached to the dear olde sheaf and unhappy with the use of their tax dollars to fund the new logo. (Some citizens, however, took the opportunity to take logo lemons and make lemonaid, proposing that a new au courant logo might include a genetically modified wheat sheaf, a nuclear power reactor, or a Saskatchewan Roughrider puffing a cigar. Personally, I’ve always been partial to this mark but admittedly, it may not be appropriate for the Premier’s letterhead.)

Five days later, after all of the wheat sheaf images were removed from the Government of Saskatchewan’s website, the government succumbed to public pressure and announced it had decided not to change the logo, at least for now. In a confusing and inadvertently humorous news release titled “Wheat Sheaf Logo To Be Retained: New Saskatchewan Government Listens To Public”, Krawetz stated that while he understood some Saskatchewanians were against the change, the logo change had never been a governmental priority, and that for those who oppose changing, it’s not really a matter of whether or not they like the wheat sheaf logo. It was a question of priorities. Whatever that means.

In any event, this story illustrates that altering a brand is a big step that should not be undertaken lightly, particularly when that brand includes a prominent symbol historically associated with the hopes and dreams of an entire province.

Hockey Nostalgia and Trademarks in Québec

A recent discussion of the Federal Court of Appeals shows that Québec City’s former National Hockey Team, the Quebec Nordiques, continues to attract the nostalgia of the city’s population.

In Accessoires D’Autos Nordiques v. Canadian Tire Corp., the Federal Court of Appeal refused to overturn a Federal Court decision and allowed Canadian Tire’s application to register the mark NORDIC & Snowflake Design for use in association with tires.

Accessoires D’Autos Nordiques had successfully opposed Canadian Tire’s application before the Trademark Opposition Board, on the basis of Accessoires’ previously registered and previously used NORDIQUES trademark and trade-name, used in association with automobile parts and accessories.

The Opposition Board refused Canadian Tire’s application on the basis that the trademarks NORDIC and NORDIQUES were phonetically identical to a monolingual French speaking person, and accordingly, constituted confusion under section 6(5) of the Trade-marks Act. The Trial Division and the Court of Appeal concluded, however, that when considering the possibility of confusion between two trademarks, each particular trademark must be considered as a whole and not broken into its component parts to highlight differences. The Appeal Court agreed that the evidence presented by Canadian Tire showed that the trademark NORDIC evoked amongst the French speaking population in Québec, the name of the now-defunct Naitonal Hockey Team league, Quebec Nordiques, and not the tire-concessionaire’s trade-mark NORDIQUES. The Appeal Court held that as the two trademarks were dissimilar in appearance and brought to mind different ideas, on the balance of probabilities, registration of the NORDIC trademark was unlikely to create confusion.

The decision highlights the danger in choosing a trademark which is already well-known in respect of other wares or services. As the Appellant in this case discovered to its peril, the general public associated the trade-mark with Québec City’s former National Hockey Team, rather than with the Appellant’s wares and services.

Another RIM Trademark Suit

In a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Research In Motion (“RIM”) based in Waterloo, Ontario, is again alleging that another company is using trademarks that are similar to those used by RIM. In this most recent complaint, RIM seeks to prevent LG Electronics Inc. from using such names as Black Label, Strawberry and Black Cherry. An earlier claim brought against Samsung Electronics regarding its use of the mark BlackJack was settled earlier this year.

Canucks Unveil New Logo

Only in a Canadian city, would the unveiling of a new logo for the local hockey team be the subject of such anticipation and discussion – particularly as the start of the season is over a month away. Today, before 8,000, yes 8,000 fans inside General Motors Place in downtown Vancouver, on one of the rare sunny and warm days the city has seen this summer, the Canucks finally unveiled their new jerseys to the adoring throngs.

Though nothing is showing up on the Canadian Intellectual Property Office online trade-marks database yet, no doubt, applications to register the new logo as a trade-mark have already been filed at the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.

EcoDensity and the Mayor

An Article in the Vancouver Sun this past weekend raises questions about why the Mayor of the City of Vancouver has applied to register in his own name, the mark ECODENSITY for a housing density initiative that is funded and run by the City. The Mayor indicates in the story that he filed the proposed use application a few days before the initiative was publicly unveiled in order to stop others from doing so.

As the mark was not used by the City at the time the Mayor’s application was filed, the City would have been unable to properly request at that time, that the Registrar give public notice of the City’s adoption and use, as a public authority, of the mark as an Official Mark, pursuant to Section 9 of the Trade-marks Act. Official Mark requests are commonly submitted by all levels of government in Canada, including the City of Vancouver itself, to protect what they consider to be their proprietary marks.

An alternative to filing an application in the Mayor’s own name, would have been to file the proposed use application in the name of the City, as such an application doesn’t require prior adoption and use by the City. It’s also not clear why, now that the City has publicly started promoting its EcoDensity Plan, it has not submitted an Official Mark Request to the Registrar.

In a follow up story today, the Vancouver Sun reports that Vision Vancouver, the opposition civic party, will request an extension of time to oppose the Mayor’s application on or before the deadline to do so.