A Tale of Two Trademark Appeals

In Clic International Inc. v. Convenience Food Industries (Private) Ltd., 2011 FC 1338, Clic International appealed a decision of the Registrar to expunge its trademark. The mark, which was used in association with the company’s line of canned fava beans, consisted of LAZIZA and an accompanying palm-tree design. Under s. 45 of the Trade-marks Act, a trademark may be expunged at the request of a third party if the owner cannot demonstrate use within the last three years. Here, Convenience Foods made the s. 45 request to the Registrar.

Before the Registrar, Clic attempted to show use of its trademark with evidence of the word LAZIZA on a can of fava beans. However, the Registrar noted that Clic had not used the accompanying palm tree logo (which was part of the trademark). The “evidence of modified use” did not constitute “use” for the purposes of s. 45, as far as the Registrar was concerned, and the trademark was expunged.

On appeal, Clic was entitled to provide new evidence and asserted that the change to its logo was within the scope of “cautious variations” that are allowed under current jurisprudence, citing, among other cases, Promafil Canada Ltee v. Munsingwear Inc, [1992] FCJ 611, which held that as long as the dominant features of a trademark are maintained and the differences are “so unimportant as not to mislead an unaware purchaser”, the use of the modified trademark should be enough to satisfy s. 45.

In response, Convenience Food pointed to Bierrsdorf AG v. Becton Dickinsons and Co., (1992), 44 CPR (3d) 151, where use of the word component and an altered design component were sufficient for s. 45, noting that Clic’s design component was done away with altogether.

The Court, agreed with Convenience Food, explaining that the logo being used was quite different than the registered trademark. Not only was there no palm-tree drawing, but LAZIZA was in a different font and was above an oval depicting some Arabic characters. This gave the whole mark quite a different look, which, according to the Court, departed from a “cautious variation”.

The Court was careful to refute Clic’s assertion that the trademark not be expunged because consumers still recognized the mark and associated it with Clic’s fava beans. This had no bearing on the issue of “use” for s. 45, and the correct consideration was whether the mark had been used in a substantially unchanged manner.

*****

In David M. Locke v. Osler, Hoskin & Harbourt LLP, 2011 FC 1390 the Registrar expunged a mark in the initial hearing, but the Court overturned that decision based on new evidence. Here, the Court did not have to consider a modified trademark. Rather the issue was much more straightforward; the trademark holder had not introduced any evidence at the initial hearing, but did on appeal.

The trademark in question here was SPORTSMAN’S CHOICE, which was used in association with a small, home-based sporting goods and pet accessories store. In the original s. 45 hearing, Locke did not put forth any evidence because he had not initially understood the nature of the claim, and only retained legal counsel just prior to the extinguishment of the trademark. The Federal Court held that a failure to adduce evidence during the underlying hearing was not a bar to introducing it on appeal. So, Locke was able to introduce evidence of his use of SPORTMAN’S CHOICE in the appeal, including labels affixed to pet food, labels on hunting clothes and gear, and tags on pet supplies.

In considering this evidence, the Court noted that the threshold for proving “use” is quite low, and a prima facie case of “use” is enough. Indeed, evidence of a single sale can suffice as long as it is not contrived for the purposes of the hearing.

Trademark Expungement Proceedings: Standing as a “Person Interested”

In McCallum Industries Ltd. v. HJ Heinz Co. Australia Ltd., the Federal Court dismissed the applicant’s action to expunge the respondent’s trademark under s. 57(1) of the Trade-marks Act.

Both the applicant and the respondent produced canned and processed meat products in Canada, the applicant under the name “PALM & Device“, and the respondent under the name “OX & PALM”. The applicant was granted a trademark in July 2003, while the respondent was granted a trademark in October 2005.

Section 57(1) allows “any person interested” to apply to the Federal Court for an order that any entry in the register be struck out or amended on the grounds that at the date of the application the entry as it appears on the register does not accurately express or define the existing rights of the person appearing to be the registered owner of the trademark. The applicant sought expungement of the respondent’s trademark on the grounds that the trademark was confusing to the public, that the respondent was not the person entitled to secure registration of the trademark, and that the trademark was non-distinctive. Read more

Counterfeit Goods: Significant Statutory and Punitive Damages

We have been following the line of cases dealing with counterfeit goods and the resulting damage awards, and note the most recent case from the Federal Court makes clear that a tougher approach to trademark  and copyright infringement can now be expected in Canada.  In Louis Vuitton Malletier S.A. v. Singga Enterprises (Canada) Inc., the Court awarded significant damage awards as well as punitive damages against the three defendant companies and their principals.

The Plaintiffs, Louis Vuitton and Burberry, hired a number of investigators to attend the stores and warehouses of the defendants Singga Enterprises Canada, Altec Productions and Guo (doing business as Carnation Fashion Company), as well as purchase items from their websites. While in attendance at the stores and warehouses, the investigators were shown and purchased a number of counterfeit items including handbags, sunglasses and jewellery, all of which contained unauthorized productions of the Louis Vuitton and Burberry trade-marks. The Plaintiffs were successful in showing that the defendants’ activities of manufacturing, importing, distributing, offering for sale and actual sale of bulk quantities of counterfeit and/or infringing items had been ongoing and, in the case of one of the defendants, had continued after the commencement of the proceeding and the motion for summary trial brought by the Plaintiffs.

The Court noted that none of the defendants, with the exception of the defendant Guo, had filed any materials in response to the motion or attempted to cross-examine any of the Plaintiffs’ affiants on their affidavits. Additionally, none of the defendants, again with the exception of Guo, had attended the hearing of the matter.

Following cases such as Louis Vuitton Malletier S.A. v. Lin Pi-Chu Yang and Louis Vuitton Malletier S.A. et al v. 486353 B.C. Ltd., the Court took a tough stance toward the defendants.  Noting the defendants’ knowing and wilful behaviours, the Court awarded damages for trade-mark infringement of $30,000 for each instance of infringement against the Singga defendants and defendant Guo. Resultantly, the Singga defendants were found liable for a total of $300,000 to the Louis Vuitton Plaintiffs and $180,000 to the Burberry Plaintiffs, and the Guo defendant was required to pay $180,000 to the Louis Vuitton Plaintiffs and $120,000 to the Burberry Plaintiffs.

With regard to the Altec defendants, the evidence showed a high level of importation and inventory turn-over and was held to warrant an award of damages on a turn-over basis rather than simply a per instance basis of infringement. The Altec defendants were required to pay $480,000 in damages to the Louis Vuitton Plaintiffs, and $480,000 to the Burberry Plaintiffs. Additionally, the Singga and Altec defendants were found jointly and severally liable for the activities of the Altec defendants, for which the Singga defendants received a commission, and were required to pay $60,000 to the Louis Vuitton Plaintiffs and $60,000 to the Burberry Plaintiffs.

In addition to the damages awarded for the defendants’ infringement of the Trade-marks Act, Louis Vuitton was found to be entitled to recovery of damages and profits, pursuant to the Copyright Act, in relation to infringement by each of the groups of defendants. Statutory damages for copyright infringement were awarded at the high end of the scale due to the defendants’ bad faith conduct, which was found to be dismissive of law and order, and demonstrating a necessity for deterring future infringements. The Court awarded a total of $40,000 per group of defendants.

Additionally, the Court found that the Plaintiffs were entitled to punitive and exemplary damages as against each of the defendants. Following the earlier cases referenced above, which held that punitive and exemplary damages may be awarded where a defendant’s conduct is “outrageous” or “highly reprehensible” and with little regard for the legal process, the Court awarded punitive and exemplary damages against each of the defendants. The Louis Vuitton Plaintiffs were awarded $200,000 against the Singga defendants, $250,000 against the Altec defendants, and $50,000 payable by the defendant Guo.

Finally, citing the Louis Vuitton cases mentioned above, the Court awarded solicitor and client costs due to the defendants “disrespectful disregard” for the process of the Court, and the higher legal fees and disbursements incurred by the Plaintiffs as a result.

An appeal has now been filed by the Singga defendants, which means that there may eventually be a Federal Court of Appeal decision regarding the awards. We will continue to follow this story.

Sunrise For .xxx Domains Is Now Open

As reported in our recent Knowledge Bytes publication, today marks the beginning of the Sunrise period for the new .xxx domain.   Owners of registered trademarks who are not part of the adult entertainment industry may and should apply to block their registered marks from becoming part of a domain name with the new .xxx generic top level domain.  This Sunrise period is in effect until October 28, 2011.  Different Registrars are charging different amounts for this service, so shop around.

Stanley Cup Playoffs Spark Trademark Activity

The final round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs is about to kick off here in Vancouver, with the hometown Canucks facing off for the first time ever in the playoffs against the storied Boston Bruins.   Perhaps not surprisingly, local businesses in Vancouver are looking to capitalize on this historic event in different ways.

For example, the Vancouver Province is reporting that the Boston Pizza chain has temporarily (and wisely) rebranded itself as Vancouver Pizza, for the duration of the series. 

Earlier in the playoffs, a local automobile dealership that was using the phrase “Go Canucks Go” and the team’s logo on the window of the dealership premises, received a cease and desist letter from the offices of the National Hockey League, demanding that the references to the CANUCKS word mark and logo be removed from their window.

No doubt as the series cranks up, other local businesses will find equally creative ways to get in on the action.

PETA’s Use Of Canadian Club Trademark Gets Whacked

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is in the news again for its cheeky ad campaigns, which sometimes use well known trademarks of other parties to garner exposure for its views on Canada’s seal hunt.  We previously blogged about the use by PETA of an ad featuring the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games mascots. 

A recent Globe & Mail article reports that PETA had been distributing postcards in a number of bars in Toronto, with plans to roll out the campaign across the country.  The postcards pictured on one side, a cartoon featuring a seal sitting at a bar and asking  the bartender for “Anything but a Canadian Club”.  The other side of the postcard featured a photograph of a hunter about to club a seal.

The North American distributor of Canadian Club Whisky didn’t see the humour in PETA’s cartoon and sent a cease and desist letter, claiming that the publication had caused degradation of Canadian Club’s corporate image and damage to its brand and trademark.

In response to the demand letter PETA agreed not to send out more postcards and to remove the cartoon from its website.   Notwithstanding its compliance with the demand, a spokesperson for PETA argued that it had the doctrine of fair use on its side, to permit the use of trademarks for parody or satire.  Unfortunately for PETA, fair use is a U.S. doctrine that doesn’t apply in Canada in the context of either copyright or trademarks.

Off-colour Trademark Decision Leaves Glaxo Purple With Frustration

In reasons issued late last year, the Federal Court of Appeal has upheld a decision to expunge a trademark registration obtained by Glaxo Group Limited (“Glaxo”) for two-tones of the colour purple as applied to the visible surface of an asthma inhaler. The decision raises interesting questions both about primary and secondary marks, and about the amount of evidence necessary to support a finding that a mark is distinctive.

Inhaler - Front ViewBy way of background, Glaxo registered its mark (depicted right, below) in May of 2007. A collection of generic drug manufacturers brought a Federal Court application to expunge the mark about 6 months later, alleging that the mark was not distinctive.

In its decision, the Federal Court concluded that for the mark to be distinctive the constituency of consumers for the inhaler (including physicians, pharmacists and patients) must relate the trade-mark to a single source, and thereby use the mark to make their prescribing, dispensingInhlaler - Top/Side View and purchasing choices. In market sectors where purchasing decisions are made by or on the advice of professionals, commercial distinctiveness of such marks will be inherently more difficult to establish: such persons will make purchasing or prescription decisions based on the specific properties of the product, and not on the packaging or marks associated with those products. Read more