Off-colour Trademark Decision Leaves Glaxo Purple With Frustration

In reasons issued late last year, the Federal Court of Appeal has upheld a decision to expunge a trademark registration obtained by Glaxo Group Limited (“Glaxo”) for two-tones of the colour purple as applied to the visible surface of an asthma inhaler. The decision raises interesting questions both about primary and secondary marks, and about the amount of evidence necessary to support a finding that a mark is distinctive.

Inhaler - Front ViewBy way of background, Glaxo registered its mark (depicted right, below) in May of 2007. A collection of generic drug manufacturers brought a Federal Court application to expunge the mark about 6 months later, alleging that the mark was not distinctive.

In its decision, the Federal Court concluded that for the mark to be distinctive the constituency of consumers for the inhaler (including physicians, pharmacists and patients) must relate the trade-mark to a single source, and thereby use the mark to make their prescribing, dispensingInhlaler - Top/Side View and purchasing choices. In market sectors where purchasing decisions are made by or on the advice of professionals, commercial distinctiveness of such marks will be inherently more difficult to establish: such persons will make purchasing or prescription decisions based on the specific properties of the product, and not on the packaging or marks associated with those products. Read more

Ontario Teachers Get A Lesson In Trademarks

The Federal Court of Canada has upheld a 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”.  The application to register this mark was filed by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board.

The Registrar had refused registration of this mark on the basis that it was clearly descriptive of the character of the claimed services, contrary to S. 12(1)(b) of the Trade-marks Act.   On appeal, the Federal Court agreed, finding that the word TEACHERS’ in its plural and possessive form, is a distinguishing feature, and therefore the character, of this pension plan because it is a pension plan for teachers.  It clearly describes a prominent characteristic of the wares or services provided.  According to the Court, providing the applicant with a monopoly on the use of this word would prevent other pension or financial services targeted to or belonging to teachers within Ontario or in other provinces and territories from using the term.

Restaurant Trademarks: Worth their Salt?

The Globe and Mail is reporting on a dispute that has arisen between Vancouver’s Salt Tasting Room, which opened in 2006, and Toronto’s Salt Wine Bar, which opened in the summer of 2010.  The owner of the Vancouver Tasting Room apparently appealed to the Toronto Wine Bar owners to change their name, but without success. 

This dispute highlights the need for businesses, restaurant and otherwise, to register their trademarks in Canada and to register them sooner rather than later, since once a registration issues, it grants the registered owner the exclusive right to use that mark or one that is confusingly similar, throughout Canada in association with the claimed goods and services, even if that owner has only used its mark in one city or region of Canada.

In this case, the Vancouver owner waited until May of 2009 to file applications to register its SALT TASTING ROOM  and SALT marks, even though it claims in both applications to have used those marks since July of 2006.   Because of the timing of the start up of the Toronto restaurant and the current status of those applications, the position of the parties is murkier than it might otherwise be.  What further muddies the waters are several prior registrations for marks in Canada that include the word “Salt” that are registered to other entities.

As another recent article notes, the restaurant industry is no stranger to trademark issues, including the lawsuit recently launched by the Wild Wing restaurant chain in Aurora, Ontario against Buffalo Wild Wings, a United States franchise operator that is expanding into Canada.

The fact that the Salt story involves restaurants in Vancouver and Toronto is also of interest, given that we are waiting to hear how the Supreme Court of Canada will rule in Masterpiece Inc. v. Alavida Lifestyles Inc. where one of the issues is the likelihood of confusion between similar marks used in two geographically distinct areas; in that case, in the context of the ability of an earlier user’s ability to block a later user’s application for registration.

Loss of Control of Trademark Constitutes Damages for Passing Off

This blog previously reported on the Federal Court’s decision in Target Event Production Ltd. v. Paul Cheung and Lions Communications Inc. In that January 11, 2010 decision, the Court considered the trademark and copyright infringement claims of the Plaintiff, Target Event Production, which arose when the Defendants, Paul Cheung and his company Lions Communications, operated a Chinese night market beginning May 2008 in the location where Target had previously run a similar business until late 2007.  Specifically, Target’s claims were based on Lions’ use of a name similar to the “RICHMOND NIGHT MARKET” trademark owned by Target, as well as Lions’ use of a nearly identical site plan and vendor registration form.

The Court found that although Target’s trademark was valid as of January 2007, it was not durable and lost its distinctiveness when Target failed to re-open open a market by 2009.  However, the Court proceeded to find that Lions’ actions in 2008 were confusing to visitors (but not to vendors) of the market in breach of section 6(5) of the Trade-marks Act.  The Court found that since Lions had lost money operating its market, there could be no accounting of profits but only an award of $15,000 in damages for copyright infringement and the tort of passing off.  The Court held Paul Cheung jointly liable with Lions and issued an injunction preventing Paul Cheung and Lions from operating their market in a manner which was a “substantial reproduction” of Target’s site plan.

Paul Cheung and Lions appealed the Court’s decision and a 15 page judgement was issued by the Federal Court of Appeal on October 5, 2010.  Paul Cheung and Lions contended that the Federal Court was mistaken in finding that Target had a valid enforceable trademark, and that Target suffered damage, both of which are necessary for a court to have jurisdiction to entertain a claim for passing off under the Trade-marks Act (the existence of goodwill and deception due to misrepresentation being the other requirements).  Further, Paul Cheung and Lions argued that the Federal Court was mistaken in finding them jointly and severally liable and in enjoining them from operating their market.  Target cross appealed claiming that the Federal Court was mistaken in finding that its trademark lost its distinctiveness by 2009 and in awarding inappropriate injunctive relief. Read more

Contempt of Court: Compounding a Trademark and Copyright Breach

In 9038-3746 Quebec Inc. v. Microsoft Corporation the Federal Court of Appeal upheld a sentence for contempt, one of several court decisions and orders arising from trademark and copyright infringements dating back to the 1990’s. 

In the 2006 decision, Microsoft Corporation  v. 9038-3746  Quebec Inc., two corporate defendants and an individual found to be the controlling mind, Carmello Cerrelli, were ordered, jointly and severally, to pay statutory damages under the Copyright Act of $500,000 and punitive damages of $100,000 each.  Permanent injunctions were also issued enjoining the defendants from directly or indirectly infringing Microsoft’s trademarks or selling, distributing or advertising counterfeit copies of the twenty-five computer programs that were at issue in the proceedings.  Subsequently, Microsoft was also awarded costs of $1,410,000 plus the Canadian equivalent of $175,715.23 USD.

Notwithstanding these significant awards, the defendants violated the injunctions and continued to sell the software.  Microsoft brought contempt of court proceedings and Cerrelli plead guilty to: (1) violating the Court Order by selling seven counterfeit copies bearing the trademark MICROSOFT and possessing for the purpose of selling 545 counterfeit units bearing the trademark MICROSOFT; and (2) possessing for the purposes of selling 88 counterfeit units that constituted a breach of copyright.

In oral reasons the Federal Court ordered Cerrelli to pay $50,000 for each offence within 120 days, failing which he would serve a 60 day term of imprisonment.  Cerrelli appealed, but the Federal Court of Appeal found no reason to overturn the lower Court’s order, finding that there was no error in principle, failure to consider a relevant factor or overemphasis of the appropriate factors.  Moreover, the sentence was not demonstrably unfit.  The Court of Appeal referred back to the original judgment and the finding that Cerrelli “had little regard for the truth at discovery or trial” and “acted in bad faith”.  It was also noted that Cerrelli had sought to transfer his residential property for $1.00 following the judgment.  In upholding the sentence the Court of Appeal sought to “deter the offender from repeating his unlawful behaviour as well as other persons who would be tempted to commit the same offences”.

Affidavit Struck: US Trademark Decision Not to Be Used as Evidence

The Federal Court recently took the unusual step of striking evidence on an interlocutory application, concluding that the affidavit at issue contained irrelevant or hearsay evidence going to controversial issues and that the objecting party would be prejudiced if admissibility was left to the trier of fact.

In The Chamberlain Group v. Lynx Industries Inc., Chamberlain sought to file an affidavit in support of its appeal of two Opposition Board decisions, the Board having rejected its oppositions to the trade-marks LYNXMASTER and LYNXMASTER & Design.  The Affidavit at issue was sworn by Chamberlain’s U.S. counsel and sought to introduce the decision of the U.S. Trademark and Trial Appeal Board (“TTAB”) which allowed Chamberlain’s opposition to LYNXMASTER and was not appealed by Lynx.

In its decision the Federal Court of Canada specifically noted that Chamberlain was seeking to rely on the TTAB decision as evidence of the likelihood of confusion and not simply as a precedent, concluding that, while the TTAB decision might have precedential value in appropriate circumstances, it was clearly irrelevant to the determination of factual issues in the Canadian trademark proceedings.  Moreover, the fact that Lynx did not appeal the TTAB decision was irrelevant and not something Lynx should be required to explain.

The Court was also concerned that the affidavit sought to summarize evidence given by Lynx’s deponent in the TTAB proceedings, although the same deponent filed affidavits in the Canadian opposition proceedings which Chamberlain declined to cross-examine on.

In light of these concerns the Court chose to exclude the affidavit.

Certification Mark Under the Trade-marks Act Refused: Evidence of Use by Others

In Ministry of Commerce and Industry of the Republic of Cyprus v.  Les Producteurs Laitiers du Canada et al. the Federal Court set aside two decisions of the Registrar of Trade-marks, but allowed a third to stand in part, which was sufficient to prevent registration of the Applicant’s certification mark, HALLOUMI, in association with cheese.

The Registrar concluded that contrary to sections 38(2)(a) and 30(a) of the Trade-marks Act, the Applicant had not discharged its initial burden of proving that it was in fact the authority that issued licences authorizing the use of the Mark in association with cheese.  Section 23(2) of the Act provides that only the owner of a certification mark may authorize others to use the mark in association with wares that meet the defined standard.  Relying on the Applicant’s own affidavit material the Registrar concluded that it was the Ministry of Health, in collaboration with the Department of Veterinary Services of the Ministry of Agriculture, National Resources and the Environment, that issued licences.  On appeal by the Applicant, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, filed additional evidence explaining the internal operations of the Cypriot government in terms of the responsibility for monitoring the use of the Mark.  The Court accepted this evidence, applied a correctness standard of review given the new evidence, and concluded that the Applicant was the authority with the power to authorize use of the Mark.

The Applicant also appealed on the basis that the Registrar incorrectly concluded that the Mark had become recognized in Canada by ordinary and bona fide commercial usage as designating a type of cheese, contrary to sections 38(2)(b), 10 and 12(1)(e) of the Act.  No new evidence was filed on this point and the standard of review was therefore reasonableness.  The Court agreed that one of the Opponents, the Cheese Council, had filed evidence before the Registrar, including packaging from cheese purchased in Ottawa and various cities in Quebec, establishing that marks resembling the Mark and likely to be mistaken for it had been used in Canada to designate a type of cheese.

The other two opponents could not rely on the evidence filed by the Cheese Council and therefore, given the Court’s finding on the other issue, their oppositions failed with the appropriate cost consequences.  Nevertheless, success by the Cheese Council meant the certification mark could not be registered, with costs to the Cheese Council on its opposition.