In no mood for charity: Federal Court confirms that charities are not necessarily public authorities

The Federal Court of Canada recently confirmed in Starbucks (HK) Limited v. Trinity Television Inc., 2016 FC 790 (the “Decision”) that status as a charity is, in and of itself, insufficient to constitute an entity as a public authority for the purpose of obtaining an official mark.

(For a discussion about official marks and their interplay with regular trade-marks, please see this previous post on our blog.)

The facts leading up to the Decision are straightforward: in 2013, Starbucks (HK) Limited (“Starbucks”) filed an application to register the trade-mark NOW TV & Design.  During prosecution, an official mark for NOWTV, owned by Trinity Television Inc. (“Trinity”), was cited against the Starbucks application.  In response, Starbucks commenced a judicial review application against the Registrar’s decision – made in June 2001 – to give public notice of the adoption and use of NOWTV as an official mark.

In the result, the Court quashed the Registrar’s decision to grant NOWTV as an official mark to Trinity, clearing the path for Starbucks to move ahead with its application.  Of particular interest were the following points made by the Court:

– the law is now clear that status as a charity is, in and of itself, insufficient to constitute an entity as a public authority; and

– it would be patently unfair and completely contrary to the interest of justice if an entity that is not a public authority was permitted to enjoy the exceptional rights conferred on the holder of an official mark.

As a potential point of distinction when it comes to the precedential value of this case, it is noteworthy that Trinity did not participate in the judicial review application; indeed, the Court was advised by counsel for Starbucks that a former president and director of Trinity had advised that Trinity had sold its business to Rogers in 2005.  That being said, given how easily the Court arrived at the conclusion that charitable status does not necessarily equate to being a public authority, it seems unlikely that Trinity’s participation would have changed the result.

From a practical perspective, the Decision serves as a timely reminder to trade-mark applicants that, while robust, official marks can nevertheless be challenged and removed under the right circumstances.  Where an official mark has been cited during prosecution of a regular trade-mark application, it is important to carefully scrutinize the official mark, in order to ascertain any potential vulnerabilities that could lead to its removal.

On the other hand, the Decision is also a reminder to charities holding official marks that those official marks may potentially be at risk, if challenged via judicial review.  To mitigate that risk, those charities ought to consider filing regular applications to register their trade-marks.

What’s Your Evidence? The Danger of Hearsay Evidence in IP Litigation

In Pfizer Canada Inc. v. Teva Canada Limited, 2016 FCA 161, the Federal Court of Appeal (“FCA”) recently overturned a substantial damages award in a pharmaceutical patented medicines action on the basis that the trial judge admitted improper hearsay evidence. This is an important reminder that the hearsay rule of evidence is alive and well.

At trial, only one witness was called to testify in support of damages and he did not have actual firsthand knowledge of the purported facts to which he was testifying. Instead the witness could only testify to the oral and written statements of others.  The FCA ruled that this evidence was hearsay, and therefore inadmissible.

Hearsay evidence is an oral or written statement made by a party who has not come to court to testify. An example of oral hearsay is a witness testifying that “John told me he would give me $100”. This is hearsay because the author or speaker of these statements is not present in court to testify to the truth of the statement. Whether or not the statement is admissible depends on the use of that statement. If the purpose of calling the hearsay evidence is to prove the truth of the statement, then the statement is inadmissible. Therefore, in this example, the proper way to prove that John would give the witness $100 is to call John as a witness to testify to the truth of that statement; otherwise, the statement cannot be used to prove that John would have given the witness any money.

Despite the recent trend of some courts and tribunals to relax the rules of evidence regarding the admissibility of hearsay evidence to allow for more flexibility, here, the Federal Court took a more strict and traditional analysis.

As a result, parties to intellectual property disputes must be aware of the potential inadmissibility of hearsay when collecting evidence. This is particularly germane in trade-mark disputes where evidence of confusion generally comes from second hand sources. The proper collection and documentation of this evidence can make or break a successful infringement or opposition proceeding.

Trade-mark holders should be proactive when presented with evidence of confusion. It may not be enough for a representative of the company to swear an affidavit that the company received phone calls from those who say they confused the company’s trade-mark with another. The better evidence is directly from each of those callers who can testify first hand to their confusion. Where feasible, trade-mark holders should have a process in place to document the names and contact information of witnesses and the details of any evidence of confusion. This way, individuals able to give first hand evidence can be contacted if the matter proceeds to litigation or an opposition proceeding. If such evidence is not properly preserved, a trade-mark holder may be left with no admissible evidence to prove its claim.

Nuthin’ but a Leaf Thang – Toronto Maple Leafs take issue with Snoop Dogg’s trade-mark application for LEAFS BY SNOOP Logo

Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Partnership (“MLSE”), the parent company of the National Hockey League’s Toronto Maple Leafs, has requested an extension of time to oppose a U.S. trade-mark application filed by one Calvin Broadus – better known as Snoop Dogg (“Snoop”) – for a logo featuring the words LEAFS BY SNOOP on a leaf-shaped background.

MLSE is the owner of numerous trade-mark applications and registrations in Canada and the U.S. for different iterations of the Toronto Maple Leafs logo, for use with a variety of clothing and souvenir related goods.

For side-by-side comparison, below is Snoop’s logo next to the most recent version of the Toronto Maple Leafs logo.

Mark Image               Mark Image

Snoop’s application covers the goods “cigarette lighters not made of precious metals”.  Snoop also owns a word mark application for LEAFS BY SNOOP, although that application will not be published for opposition by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office until July 19, 2016.

More information about Snoop’s LEAFS BY SNOOP products is available at his website dedicated to that brand.  Interestingly – and perhaps not surprisingly – the products on the website appear to be cannabis and food products including cannabis.

Snoop also owns a Canadian application to register the words LEAFS BY SNOOP for a broader category of goods, including clothing-related products, edible oils, jams, candies, and live plants.  (Although the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (“CIPO”) is usually known for being strict when it comes to the specificity of goods listed in trade-mark applications, in this case, it did not ask Snoop to provide further specificity as to the “edible oils and jams”, nor the “live plants”.)

Snoop’s Canadian application was advertised for opposition on June 8, 2016.  At this time, it is unclear whether MLSE has opposed – or requested an extension of time to oppose – Snoop’s Canadian application.

TSN, the source that broke news of this potential dispute, reached out to lawyers for both MLSE and Snoop, but did not receive a response.  An IP lawyer at the New York University School of Law provided TSN with his thoughts on the matter, generally opining that MLSE would likely face a tough road should it proceed with its opposition in the United States.

The intersection of pop culture and trade-marks is always a fascinating topic for us here at the Canadian Trademark Blog, and we will be watching with interest to see if this leads to an actual opposition-izzle.

Federal Court of Appeal considers “special circumstances” in appeal of trade-mark expungement

In a recent decision of the Federal Court of Appeal (“FCA”), the FCA took the rare opportunity to consider an appeal from a section 45 expungement proceeding. In One Group LLC v Gouverneur Inc, the FCA reviewed the Registrar’s decision not to expunge One Group LLC’s (“One Group”) trade-mark registration for STK (the “Mark”) on the basis of non-use, as well as the subsequent Federal Court (“FC”) decision to overturn the Registrar’s ruling.

One Group operates high end restaurants using the Mark outside of Canada.  In preparation for a new restaurant in Toronto, One Group registered the Mark in Canada. However, due to failed discussions with hotels and developers, a Toronto restaurant never materialized.

In due course, Gouverneur Inc. (“Gouverneur”) brought a section 45 proceeding, alleging that One Group failed to use the Mark in the three preceding years. The Registrar refused to expunge the Mark on the basis that there were special circumstances that excused the non-use, namely that the non-use was not in the control of One Group, and that there was evidence that One Group was close to coming to an agreement with a hotel chain which would see the Mark used in Canada.

Gouverneur appealed to the FC on the basis that the Registrar misunderstood or misapplied the test for special circumstances. The FC agreed and overturned the decision of the Registrar on the basis that it was not a reasonable finding that special circumstances excused the non-use of the Mark, and ordered the Mark expunged.

One Group then appealed to the FCA. In a relatively brief decision, the FCA allowed the appeal and reinstated the ruling of the Registrar.

This decision highlights a number of points:

  • First, the FCA emphasized that deference must be given to the Registrar in expungement proceedings, as well as in those instances where the Registrar is applying its “home statute”. As a result, courts should not disturb the Registrar’s findings of fact except in those circumstances where such findings are clearly not correct.
  • Second, it appears that there is a general willingness of the Registrar to preserve registrations. Hence, to the extent the Registrar makes factual findings in support of preserving a registration, the court’s deference to those findings on an appeal presents a potentially difficult hurdle to overcome.
  • Third, this case is a reminder that there is a “special circumstances” exception to non-use which can be used to preserve registrations. The criteria for determining if “special circumstances” exist are:

– the length of time during which the trade-mark has not been used;

– whether the reasons for non-use were beyond the registered owner’s control; and

– whether the registered owner has a serious intention to shortly resume use of the trade-mark.

Whether special circumstances exist will be determined by the Registrar from the evidence. Such findings, as stated above, will be given deference by the courts.

With this deference in mind, the FCA found no error in the Registrar’s decision that justified judicial intervention, and restored the decision of the Registrar.

Order prohibiting Google from delivering search results heads to SCC

The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear an appeal from a decision of the B.C. Court of Appeal which upheld a worldwide injunction against Google Inc. (“Google”), wherein Google was ordered to stop delivering search results to its users that pointed to certain websites.

You can find my commentary on the B.C. Court of Appeal’s decision in Equustek Solutions Inc. v. Google Inc., 2015 BCCA 265, here.

The facts underlying the appeal arose from Equustek Solutions Inc.’s (“Equustek”) attempts to enforce its intellectual property rights against a former distributor, Datalink Technologies Gateways Inc. (“Datalink”).  Allegedly, Datalink was passing off Equustek’s products as its own and using Equustek’s confidential information and trade secrets to manufacture a competing product.  Equustek was successful in obtaining various interlocutory orders against Datalink; however, Datalink failed to comply with those orders, and continued “clandestine” operations online to market and sell its infringing products.

In order to more effectively stop Datalink’s infringing activities, Equustek sought an injunction against Google (which was not a party to the dispute), restraining it from publishing search results that included Datalink’s websites, on the basis that this was the only way to give effect to the orders already in place.  The B.C. Supreme Court granted the order, and the B.C. Court of Appeal upheld the order on appeal.

In its brief reasons granting leave to appeal, the Supreme Court of Canada outlined the issues for its consideration:

–          Under what circumstances may a court order a search engine to block search results, having regard to the interest in access to information and freedom of expression, and what limits (either geographic or temporal) must be imposed on those orders?

–          Do Canadian courts have the authority to block search results outside of Canada’s borders?

–          Under what circumstances, if any, is a litigant entitled to an interlocutory injunction against a non-party that is not alleged to have done anything wrong?

Whatever the Supreme Court of Canada decides in this matter will hopefully provide direction and clarify the law regarding the ability of a Canadian Court to grant a worldwide injunction, as well as with respect to access to information and freedom of expression in the digital age.

We will keep you updated.

Location Matters: The Perils of Geographic Names as Trade-marks

When choosing a trade or business name it may seem like a good idea to incorporate the location of your business into the name. There are benefits: it is helpful for marketing, it gives your audience an idea of where your business is and who your market is, it can help establish your business in a neighborhood, and it can help you build a brand based on community and locality.

However, using the location of your business in your trade or business name can cause difficulties when it comes to registering that name as a trade-mark. Under section 12(1) (b) of the Trade-marks Act, a trade-mark is not registerable if it is clearly descriptive or deceptively misdescriptive of the place of origin of the goods or services with which the trade-mark is used, unless that trade-mark has acquired distinctiveness through its use.

The Federal Court of Appeal recently reviewed section 12(1)(b), and considered the issue of whether a service provider can register, as a trade-mark, the name of a geographic location, purely in relation to its services.

In 2012, a dental practice owned by Dr. Cragg applied to register the trade-mark OCEAN PARK (the “Mark”) in association with dental services based on use since as early as 2000. The Mark was registered for use in association with “dental clinics” in 2013.

Prior to Dr. Cragg applying to register the Mark, another dentist, Dr. Lum purchased an existing dental practice a block away from Dr. Cragg’s and changed the name of the practice to “Ocean Park Dental Group”. Then, after moving the practice, Dr. Lum changed the name to “Ocean Park Village Dental”, and advertised and displayed signage using the trade-name “Village Dental in Ocean Park”.

In early 2014 Dr. Cragg brought an action against Dr. Lum for infringement of the Mark. In response, Dr. Lum brought an action seeking to invalidate the Mark on the grounds that it was not registerable under section 12(1)(b) of the Trade-marks Act.

In the court below, the trial judge held that in order to prove that a trade-mark is not registerable under section 12(1)(b), a plaintiff has to show (1) that a trade-mark refers to a geographic location; and (2) that the location was indigenous to the services in question. Under this analysis, in order for the Mark to be non-registerable, a reasonable person would have equate the geographic location “Ocean Park” with dental services.  Based on the evidence, the trial judge found that this was not the case, and the court dismissed the action to invalidate the Mark.

However, the Court of Appeal held that this was not the correct analysis.  Instead, the analysis under section 12(1)(b) is to focus on:

–          the type of services involved;

–          the average consumers to whom the services are offered; and

–          the character of the geographic location.

Under this analysis, if the trade-mark is the name of the geographic location where the services or goods are provided, then the trade-mark is descriptive within the meaning of 12(1)(b) and non-registerable because the trade-mark is descriptive of the origin of the services or goods.

The Court of Appeal reminded us that the reason why trade-marks that are descriptive of geographic locations are not registerable or protectable is to prevent a single service provider from monopolizing the name of a geographic location, so as to prevent other service providers from using that name to describe their own services.

On the issue of acquired distinctiveness, the problem identified by the Court of Appeal was that while geographic locations can be used in business names and for other purposes, they often do not meet the key requirement of a registerable trade-mark: distinctiveness. In this case, the Mark as registered, OCEAN PARK, was never used by itself in association with dental services. It was always used in the context of the name Ocean Park Dental. In this case, upon hearing “Ocean Park”, consumers would not think about Dr. Cragg’s dental services; as such, it could not be said that the Mark had acquired distinctiveness. Therefore, the Mark was declared invalid and struck from the Trade-mark Register.

This case warns businesses to be careful when choosing geographic locations as business or trade names which they may wish to register as a trade-mark. The use of a geographic location within the context of a broader trade-mark may be permissible. However, it is unlikely that a business can expect to register a trade-mark consisting purely of a geographic location, unless that business and the trade-mark have acquired significant distinctiveness through lengthy and extensive advertising and use.

Implementation of Trademarks Act amendments pushed back to 2018

Since the Canadian Government announced massive changes to the Canadian Trademarks Act (the “Act”) in 2014, practitioners and other stakeholders in the trademark space have been anxiously awaiting its implementation.

Unfortunately we are all going to have to wait a little longer.

It is now expected that the amendments to the Act which have been passed but not yet implemented will not be implemented until sometime in 2018. This pushes out the implementation date again, from an original (and optimistic) implementation date of late 2015, and a revised implementation date of  2017, to 2018.

The implementation of the remaining amendments is expected to coincide with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office’s implementation of the Madrid Protocol, the Nice Agreement and the Singapore Treaty.

We will provide further updates here on the timeline for implementation as more information becomes available.