Fumbling Towards Accession: Canadian government proposes massive trademark law overhaul

This post is the first in a series discussing proposed changes to Canadian trademark law.

The Canadian Government dropped a bombshell on the trademark community on March 28, 2014, proposing massive changes to the Canadian Trade-marks Act (the Act), such changes being buried in a budget bill—namely, the Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 1 (Bill C-31).  The immediate response from practitioners and other stakeholders in the trademark space was one of consternation: the changes are extensive, and are being introduced with virtually no notice to stakeholders about these changes prior to the introduction of the bill.

According to Federal Government sources,  the changes  are intended to prepare Canada for accession to the Madrid Protocol, the Nice Agreement and the Singapore Treaty—and Canada has telegraphed its planned accession to these agreements for several years.  However, many of the changes required for this purpose were already contained in Bill C-8, the Combating Counterfeit Products Act, which is expected to be enacted in the next few months.  Bill C-31 contains many other proposed revisions to the Act that go far beyond what is required for accession to the above Treaties, and appear to be directed more at cost cutting for the benefit of the Federal Government.

Rather than simply listing some or all of the proposed changes, we have decided to examine, in some detail, the likely impact of the changes in a series of posts.  In this first post, we examine some of the effects that the changes will have on the clearance of trademarks in Canada.  In future posts we will examine the anticipated effects of Bill C-31 on Applications for Registration of trademarks in Canada, on Opposition practice, and on post-registration matters.  We will attempt to do all of this from the perspective of prospective applicants, current applicants (where applications have been filed prior to Bill C-31 coming into force), existing registrants and other interested parties.

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Canadian Government Tables 5 IP Treaties in the House of Commons

The Canadian Government tabled 5 intellectual law Treaties in the House of Commons on January 27, 2014.   The purpose of this action is for Canada to harmonize its trademark, patent and industrial design laws with those of many other countries.

The Treaties tabled are as follows:

The first three Treaties in particular will have significant impacts on the procedures for trademark applications and registrations in Canada.   The tabling of these Treaties is the first procedural step towards their ratification and implementation by the Government of Canada.  Implementation will require amendments to Canada’s existing IP legislation, which could take a long time to be approved.  The Canadian Intellectual Property Office published a paper in January of 2012 on the changes required to the Trade-marks Act in order for Canada to adhere to the Madrid Protocol.  Until such amendments are approved by the Canadian Parliament, none of these Treaties will be binding in Canada. 

 

Amendments to Trade-marks Act Re-introduced in Parliament

On October 28, 2013, the government introduced Bill C-8, An Act to Amend the Copyright Act and the Trade-marks Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.  The short title of Bill C-8 is the Combating Counterfeit Products Act

Bill C-8 is the same as Bill C-56 which was introduced in the previous session of Parliament but did not proceed when Parliament was prorogued.  We previously commented on Bill C-56

Bill C-8 will likely move quite quickly through the House of Commons.  It has already passed second reading and will now go to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.

 

Significant Amendments to Canada’s Trade-marks Act Closer To Reality

Canada’s federal Government introduced Bill C-56 on March 1, 2013 – the Combating Counterfeit Products Act.   The primary focus of this Bill is to improve the ability of copyright and trade-mark owners to combat the manufacture, importation, sale and distribution of counterfeit goods in Canada. 

 While the primary focus of the Bill is on counterfeit goods, the Bill calls for amendments to both the Copyright Act and the Trade-marks Act that will have effects beyond counterfeiting. 

Should this Bill go through as is, the changes to the Trade-marks Act (the “Act”) include the following: 

–         “Wares” will become “goods” and the definition of a “distinguishing guise” will be repealed

–          “distinctive” in relation to a trademark will describe a trademark that actually distinguishes or that is inherently capable of distinguishing the goods and services of the trademark’s owner from those of others

–          The references to “mark(s)” throughout the Act will now be references to a “sign or combination of signs”

–          “sign” will include a word, a personal name, a design, a letter, a numeral, a colour, a figurative element, a three-dimensional shape, a hologram, a moving image, a mode of packaging goods, a sound, a scent, a taste, a texture and the positioning of a sign

–          A trademark will not be registrable if its features are dictated primarily by a utilitarian function (codifying recent case law)

–          In order to make a priority filing date claim, an applicant will no longer be required to have a real and effective industrial or commercial establishment in the country where the first application to register the trademark was filed. 

–          A Counterstatement to a Statement of Opposition will only need to state that the applicant intends to respond to the opposition.

–          It will be made clear that the Trade-marks Opposition Board can, in applicable circumstances, refuse some goods/services and let the remainder of the goods/services through to Registration, when dealing with Opposition proceedings

–          Divisional applications will be permitted, as well as mergers of registrations that stem from an original application that was divided

–         Applications for proposed certification marks will be permitted

–          The Bill contains many provisions relating to offences arising out of manufacturing, sale, possession, importation, distribution, and the like of counterfeit goods, labels and packaging, with fines of up to $1,000,000 or imprisonment for up to 5 years, if convicted on indictment.  There are also a number of provisions dealing with detention and destruction of infringing goods

There are, unfortunately, a number of  other provisions in the Act that could have been modified, deleted or clarified, which this Bill does not currently deal with.  Time will tell what changes are made to this Bill as it proceeds through the legislative process, with input from various committees and special interest groups.

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.