Back to school – Keyword advertising 101

In the 21st century, when advertising is frequently conducted via the Internet, the use of keyword advertising has become an increasingly contentious point of trade-mark law.

In short, keyword advertising is a form of online advertising in which a business selects words or phrases (the “keywords”) that trigger its advertisements to appear when the user of a search engine performs a search using those keywords.  The advertisements typically appear alongside the organic search results produced by the search engine.

Where multiple companies use the same keywords to trigger advertisements, the search engine will use an algorithm to select which company’s advertisements actually appear and in what order, based at least in part on the amount each business is willing to pay for the advertisement.  The difficulty from a trade-mark perspective is that businesses frequently choose competitors’ trade-marks as keywords.

There has been little development in Canadian jurisprudence in the area since the first Canadian decision on keyword advertising in 2010.  Last week, the Supreme Court of British Columbia, writing through Justice Affleck, tackled the issue head-on in Vancouver Community v. Vancouver Career (Burnaby) Inc., 2015 BCSC 1470.

In this case, the Vancouver Community College (“Community”) brought a passing off action against the Vancouver Career College (“Career”) in which it alleged, among other claims, that Career, principally through keyword advertising, misrepresented its educational services as those of Community.  As part of its claims, Community objected to the use of the acronym VCC by Career as part of the latter’s keyword advertising campaign, notwithstanding Community’s unregistered, common law trade-mark rights in VCC.  The evidence showed that Community used VCC as a trade-mark from 1965 until 1990, when it largely abandoned the use of VCC, until 2013, when significant use resumed.

Ultimately, Justice Affleck concluded that there was no passing off by Career, since Community failed to meet the first part of the test for passing off, in that it did not have sufficient goodwill and acquired distinctiveness in its unregistered VCC trade-mark to impart a secondary meaning to consumers.  However, the trial judge went on to discuss the second part of the test, namely, whether Career had caused confusion by misrepresenting its services as those of Community.  In doing so, Justice Affleck made the following comments of interest:

-on bidding by advertisers, and the operation and process of searching using search engines – “a bid on a keyword may send a searcher to the bidder’s landing page, but the process of the search is controlled by the searcher and the search engine, not by the advertiser”.

-on when a first impression is made on the consumer – consistent with the decision in Insurance Corporation of British Columbia v. Stainton Ventures Ltd., 2014 BCCA 296 (the “ICBC Decision”), “the “first impression” cannot arise on a [search] at an earlier time than when the searcher reaches a website […] the “relevant consumer” will “understand that it is necessary to view a website to determine whose site it is” [citing the ICBC Decision].  In my opinion that is the point during a search when the relevant first impression is made”.

-on bidding on another company’s trade-mark as a keyword – “to award damages to the plaintiff or to enjoin the defendant from certain conduct because the defendant bids on the plaintiff’s name for the purposes of keyword advertising would be to disadvantage the defendant in a way that other online advertisers are not”.

In the result, Justice Affleck concluded that Career did not cause confusion by taking advantage of the keyword advertising service offered by Google.

Other than the issue of keyword advertising, which we expect is the point that will garner the most interest and commentary from practitioners, the decision is interesting for:

-Justice Affleck’s reliance on the ICBC Decision, as referenced above, which sparked its own interest for its assessment of when a “first impression” is made upon Internet users;

-Justice Affleck’s disposition of the official mark issue raised by Community in essentially 3 brief paragraphs without going into detail, such as whether Career actually used VCC as a trade-mark prior to publication of Community’s official mark for VCC;

-Justice Affleck’s finding that Community’s VCC mark enjoys “goodwill in the educational services it provides, but [has] not achieved a “secondary meaning” in the marketplace”, which contrasts with the comments of the Trade-marks Opposition Board (the “Board”) with respect to Community’s VCC mark in an earlier decision in which the Board rejected Career’s application to register the trade-mark VCCollege.ca; and

-Justice Affleck’s observation that Community’s action for passing off was an attempt to handicap Career, and was “motivated by a concern that its own inability to invest the necessary funds and expertise to create a sophisticated online advertising program leaves it at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace in comparison with [Career]”.

Community has until September 19, 2015 to appeal Justice Affleck’s decision to the British Columbia Court of Appeal.

Combating Counterfeit Products Act Receives Royal Assent

On December 9,2014 Royal Assent was given to Bill C-8, the Combating Counterfeit Products Act. The intention of Bill C-8 is to give the government and holders of trade-marks and copyrights new mechanisms for enforcement, along with substantial remedies, in order to combat counterfeit and black-market goods. Before the introduction of Bill C-8, Canada had been criticized for not having meaningful policies to combat the global problem of counterfeit trafficking which flowed across Canadian borders.

Specific enforcement mechanisms contained in Bill C-8 include:

  • new civil prohibitions under the Trade-marks Act and Copyright Act giving rights holders the ability to start civil actions against those who infringe their trade-mark or copyright by possessing, manufacturing, distributing or trafficking goods for commercial purposes;
  • new criminal offences under the Trade-marks Act and Copyright Act for possessing, manufacturing, distributing or trafficking counterfeit goods for commercial purposes;
  • new provisions giving customs officials ex officio power to independently seize and detain suspected counterfeit goods. This includes the ability for copyright and trade-mark owners to file a “request for assistance” with customs officials to increase the information available to customs regarding possible counterfeit goods.

For a deeper review of the changes contained in Bill C-8, please see our previous post written in March 2013 when the bill was first introduced as Bill C-56.

While the Bill has obtained Royal Assent, it is only partially in force. Changes currently in force include:

  • the introduction of the new criminal provisions;
  • the deletion of section 7(e) of the Trade-marks Act; and
  • amendments to Section 20 of the Trade-marks Act dealing with infringement.

The majority of the amendments to the Trade-marks Act and Copyright Act, including the provisions relating to importation and exportation and ex officio powers of custom officials, will be brought into force by regulation. It is not clear when this will occur. However, it is thought that implementation will be in step with Bill C-31, the Budget Implementation Act, which is also waiting to come into force sometime in 2015 early 2016 and contains further significant amendments to the Trade-marks Act.

We will keep you updated as coming into force dates are announced and these legal tools become available to trade-mark and copyright owners.

Canadian Intellectual Property Office posts proposed amendments to Trade-marks Regulations

The Canadian Intellectual Property Office has today posted proposed amendments to the Trade-marks Regulations at http://bit.ly/1xCOIEj  The consultation period for these proposed amendments is from October 1 to November 30, 2014.   As quoted in CIPO’s press release:

“The proposed regulatory amendments to the Trade-marks Regulations are required to enable Canada to accede to the Singapore Treaty on the Law of Trademarks, the Protocol relating to the Madrid Agreement concerning the International Registration of Marks and the Nice Agreement concerning the International Classification of Goods and Services for the Purposes of the Registration of Marks.

The new regulations reflect the requirements of the trade-mark treaties and aim to increase legal certainty, streamline and clarify CIPO’s procedures, and align Canada’s trade-mark protection regime with international norms. The proposed amendments also include measures relating to the opposition regime and summary cancellation proceedings.”

 

CIPO’s acceptable wares and services entries: added to TMClass, made Trilateral friendly

CIPO has announced two interesting changes regarding its Wares and Services Manual.

TMClass

First, CIPO-approved entries have now been added to TMClass, a multi-jurisdictional database of acceptable goods and services claims maintained by  Europe’s Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM).  TMClass now contains acceptable goods and services descriptions for nearly 40 different jurisdictions in 29 different languages, making it an increasingly useful resource for practitioners who are crafting IDs with an eye to minimizing or altogether avoiding local ID objections.

CIPO’s entries were added to the TMClass database on August 25, 2014, and are denoted in the database by a “CIPO – OPIC” tag.

Trilateral Partnership

Additionally, CIPO has now updated its own database to denote IDs  that are acceptable to local authorities in the US, Japan, Korea and under the OHIM regime.

By way of background, in 2009 CIPO signed a memorandum of co-operation with the “Trilateral Partners” – a loosely organized group of jurisdictions  who have worked to promote and effect harmonization in their IP registration systems over the last few decades.

The Memorandum saw CIPO join the Partners’ trademark identification project. The goal of the project was to create and maintain a list of IDs for goods and services that, if entered in an application for the registration of a trademark in any Partner country, would be accepted.

Read more

Just in time for the Olympics – a Race to the Trademark Podium

As we approach the opening ceremonies of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) has launched a lawsuit against outdoor apparel maker The North Face in the British Columbia Supreme Court, over allegations that it is infringing on Olympic trademarks through ambush marketing techniques.

The COC is seeking an injunction against The North Face and unspecified damages.  Readers of this blog will recall that the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver/Whistler featured many similar skirmishes and special legislation enacted to assist the COC in its ongoing battle against ambush marketing.

As reported in the Globe and Mail, the North Face is not a sponsor of the Olympic games, but introduced a new line of clothing in November 2013.  The clothing line, originally launched as the Villagewear Collection, was renamed as the International Collection in response to complaints by the COC. 

The clothing line, which includes jackets, toques and bags, is decorated with the colours and flags of various countries. This includes items bearing the Canadian flag which feature the colours red and white.  Some items featured a patch with the symbol “RU 14” which, according to the COC, is a reference to the Winter Olympic games in Sochi, Russia.  Other merchandise showed a world map with a red star where Sochi is located.  A t-shirt featured the date of the opening ceremonies for the Games.

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.

 

Trademark Interlocutory Injunction Denied

A recent decision of the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, setting aside the interlocutory injunction granted by the Chambers judge, illustrates how difficult it is to obtain an interlocutory injunction absent convincing evidence that satisfies the three part test for an interlocutory injunction.  In Kulyk v. Wildman (Weight Loss Forever Consulting), the Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench granted the plaintiff an interlocutory injunction precluding the defendant from using or carrying on business under the plaintiff’s alleged business name and trademark, “Global Healthcare Connections” and directing the defendant to remove all references to the plaintiff’s mark on social media sources.  In assessing the plaintiff’s application, the Chambers judge looked to Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc. v. Mosaic Potash Esterhazy Limited Partnership which set out the well‑established test for an interlocutory injunction:  

(1) the strength of the plaintiff’s case;

(2) the presence of a meaningful risk of irreparable harm if the injunction is not granted; and,

(3) whether the balance of convenience favours the granting of the injunction. 

The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and held that the plaintiff’s application for injunctive relief was based on the common law tort of passing off, which in turn, required evidence of goodwill, deception of the public due to misrepresentation, and actual or potential damage to the plaintiff.  The Court stated that the plaintiff’s case was weak because she failed to put forth any evidence to establish the existence of goodwill associated with the name Global Healthcare Connections.  The plaintiff’s affidavit referred to various steps she had taken to launch her business, but it also stated that she had had difficulty launching her business because of the defendant’s actions.  Thus, there was no evidence that the plaintiff or her services were known in the market.

The Court found it unnecessary to assess the remaining elements of the common law tort, although it did comment on these.  With respect to the element of irreparable harm, the Court disagreed with the Chambers judge’s finding that the plaintiff had suffered loss of business, finding instead, that the similarity between the names used by the parties would likely result in a benefit rather than harm to the plaintiff’s business.  Noting that a balance of convenience analysis could be “compendious”, the Court was satisfied that the balance of convenience also favoured the defendant, given the weakness of the plaintiff’s case and given that irreparable harm favoured the defendant.  Thus, the Chambers judge’s decision could not stand.