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.

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.

CIPO Wares and Services Manual Contracts Again

In an update to this story, this morning CIPO announced its discovery that a number of the entries it added to the Wares and Services Manual as a result of Canada’s participation in the trademark identification harmonization project conducted by the Trilateral Partners do not comply with Canadian trademark requirements.

As such, the over 12,000 Trilateral-approved entries that were added to the Wares and Services Manual yesterday are being removed today.  CIPO has provided no official word on possible solutions, or a timetable for the (re)implementation of Trilateral-approved identification entries.

Bigger! Better! Wares and Services Manual Expands

After a long wait, Canadian practitioners were delighted to learn this morning that CIPO has finally approved and activated more than 12,000 new entries in the Wares and Services Manual.

By way of background, in 2009 CIPO signed a memorandum of co-operation with the United States Patent and Trademarks Office, the Japan Patent Office and the Office for the Harmonization of the Internal Market (responsible for overseeing the CTM system).  These entities – known as the Trilateral Partners – have worked in a loose association over the last few decades to promote and effect harmonization in their IP registration systems.

The Memorandum saw CIPO join the Trilateral Partners’ trademark identification project: the Partners maintain a list of identifications of goods and services that, if entered in an application for the registration of a trademark in any Partner country, will be accepted in that country.

As a condition of its accession to the Memorandum, Canada was permitted to assess the Trilateral list, and to reject a small percentage of identifications that it did not believe reflected Canadian requirements.  With today’s announcement, that process is now complete, and the acceptable terms have been added to the Wares and Services Manual.

You Know The Olympics Are Over When…

The Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) sent out a reminder today, advising that pursuant to the Olympic and Paralympic Marks Act (OPMA), marks and expressions listed on Schedules 2 and 3 of that Act will expire on December 31, 2010.   As a result, commencing on January 1, 2011, CIPO will no longer raise an objection pursuant to Section 12(1)(i) of the Trade-marks Act on the basis that an applied for mark consists of or so nearly resembles as to be mistaken for a mark or expresssion found in either of those Schedules. 

As regular readers of this blog will recall, the Canadian government enacted this legislation well in advance of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games (Vancouver Games), to provide the organizers of the Vancouver Games (VANOC) with another very useful tool in their fight against unauthorized use of numerous trademarks and symbols that are associated with the Olympics generally and more specifically those associated with the Vancouver Games.  Schedule 1 to the OPMA, which sets out various Olympic marks that are not specific to any particular Olympic Games, will remain in force.  Schedules 2 and 3 set out various marks and expressions that are specific to the Vancouver Games and as those games are now part of history, the need to protect those marks and expressions is no longer justifiable.

It was Schedule 3 in particular that raised the ire of some pundits, since it specified that a combination of words from Part 1 with words from Part 2 of that Schedule – including seemingly innocuous combinations of words such as “21st” or “Tenth”, with words such as “Winter” or “Whistler” – could be used as evidence in support of a finding that a person was promoting their business, goods or services in a manner likely to mislead the public into believing that there was an approval, authorization or endorsement by, or a business association with, the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) or the Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC).  This, coupled with the ability of VANOC or the COC/CPC to obtain an interlocutory injunction without having to prove that they would suffer irreparable harm, made the effect of these provisions very far reaching.

When Prior Use is not Prior Use

In an update to an earlier post, the Supreme Court of Canada has recently granted leave to appeal in the case of Masterpiece Inc. v. Alavida Lifestyles Inc.    Both the Federal Court Trial Division and the Federal Court of Appeal held that, in a proceeding to expunge a Registration, the relevant date for determining whether there was confusion with a mark previously used in Canada is the date that the application was filed, and that likelihood of confusion at a point in the future is not a relevant consideration. 

In addition, both of the earlier decisions stated that in order for prior use of a mark in Canada to be grounds for successfully expunging a registration, such prior use must have occurred in the same geographic area where the applicant used its mark; otherwise there could have been no likelihood of confusion at the time the application was filed.   In coming to the latter conclusion, both Courts appear, at least with respect to an action for expungement of a registration, to have imported into the test for likelihood of confusion, the test for common law passing off.   Given this, the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada on this issue will be eagerly awaited by practitioners.

Books Titles Unregistrable as Trademarks in Canada

In a decision that could significantly impact rights-holders in the media and entertainment industries, the Federal Court has suggested that book titles are, prima facie, not properly registrable as trademarks in Canada.

In Drolet v. Stiftung Gralsbotchaft (2009 FC 17) the court was tasked with considering a range of copyright and trademark issues.  The litigants were all involved in the Grail Message movement—a religious movement centred around a series of writings prepared in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s. The plaintiff sought to expunge the defendant’s Canadian trademark registrations pertaining to the title of a book central to the movement for reasons relating to descriptiveness.

First applying the conventional analysis proscribed under s. 12(1)(b) of the Trade-marks Act (the “Act”) to determine if the mark was “clearly descriptive”, the court concluded the mark did not meet this test, as the title did not convey to a consumer a clear indication of the book’s contents or subject matter.  However, writing for the court Mr. Justice de Montigny went on to assert: Read more