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

Consultation by CIPO on Madrid and Singapore Treaties

The Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) recently launched a new consultation on possible Canadian accession to the Protocol Relating to the Madrid Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Marks (the Madrid Protocol) and the Singapore Treaty on the Law of Trademarks (the Singapore Treaty).

This is not the first time CIPO has looked at the issue of Canada acceding to the Madrid Protocol.  Five years ago a similar consultation took place.   In response to a request for input, CIPO received feedback  from the Intellectual Property Institute of Canada and from the International Trademark Association, though no further action was taken by CIPO at that time.

According to CIPO’s backgrounder to the current consultation, the intervening five years have seen important trading partners such as the United States join both the Madrid Protocol and the Singapore Treaty.  As a result, according to CIPO, Canada is increasingly seen as isolated in its trademark laws and practices. Read more

High Hurdles to Olympic Trade-mark Use

With six months left until the start of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games, it seems appropriate to highlight another story involving Olympic trademarks.  The Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) is not the only Olympic Committee vigilantly monitoring the use of Olympics related trade-marks.  A recent bulletin chronicles the steps taken by the US Olympic Committee to protect the word OLYMPIC in the US, including obtaining an injunction against the use by Olympic Supply, Inc. of Maryland of the tradename “Olympic News”.

The bulletin summarizes that, in the US,  specific legislation prevents non-licensed use of the word OLYMPIC unless: (1) there was use with the same goods and services prior to September 21, 1950, or (2) it is obvious that the word refers to the Olympic geographic area named prior to February 6, 1998 and the word relates to goods or services that are marketed in the Olympic area and are not substantially marketed outside of that region.

In Canada, though VANOC has different enforcement tools at its disposal to prevent unauthorized persons from marketing their wares and services in association with the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, the results may be largely the same.   For example, the Olympic and Paralympic Marks Act (which we discussed in a previous post) prohibits any person from adopting or using in connection with a business, as a trademark or otherwise, an Olympic or Paralympic mark or a mark that resembles an Olympic or Paralympic mark.  Lists of prohibited marks (including, of course, OLYMPIC) are set out in Schedules 1 and 2 of the Act.

The Act also prohibits anyone from promoting or otherwise directing public attention to a business in such manner as to lead the public into believing that there is a connection with the Canadian Olympic Committee or Canadian Paralympic Committee.   Perhaps most notably, this Act permits VANOC to obtain an interim injunction against alleged infringers without proof of irreparable harm, which is a significant and unprecedented advantage. Read more

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: CIPO Changes Section 45 Procedures

It’s been a busy year for CIPO, and the organization is yet again amending some of its practices.  This time it has s. 45 in its sights.

As regular readers know, s. 45 of the Trade-marks Act provides a mechanism by which an interested party can seek to summarily expunge a registered trade-mark for three years of non-use.  CIPO sought public input on a proposed changes to s. 45 practice earlier this year, and last week introduced its new practice notice, which is slated to come into effect on September 14, 2009.

Like the recent changes to Opposition proceedings, the changes to s. 45 practice appear aimed at streamlining the process.  Most notably, the planned changes limit the extensions of time available for the submission of evidence.  The current standard is an extension of three months with additional extensions available on consent or if exceptional circumstances are shown.  The new standard provides for one extension of four months, and establishes that grants of additional extensions will be rare: neither the the consent of the parties to additional extensions, nor the parties’ engagement in settlement discussions  will be seen by the Office as sufficient reason to provide additional time. Read more

Ch-ch-ch-ch changes!

Following up on one of our earlier posts, the Canadian Intellectual Property Office recently adopted a couple of revisions to its examination practices.

Since June 17, the Office has been providing six month periods to respond to Examiner objections, as opposed to the four month window previously provided.  In addition, the Office is no longer issuing ‘doubtful case’ or ‘courtesy letters’ – those letters that were sent to trade-mark applicants identifying co-pending applications for allegedly confusing marks having a later entitlement date.

This latter change reinforces the importance of both having watch services in place, and regularly reviewing the Trade-marks Journal for the advertisement of marks of interest.