The Federal Court of Appeal Rules on Appeals from Decisions of the Registrar

In Sadhu Singh Hamdard Trust v. The Registrar of Trade-marks, the Federal Court of Appeal refused to interfere with a decision of the Registrar allowing the registration of a trademark, particularly where the Appellant had not exercised another more appropriate remedy.

When the trademark at issue was advertised the Appellant requested a two-month extension to file a Statement of Opposition. However, the request for an extension was overlooked by the Registrar and the trademark was allowed.

The Appellant then sought to appeal the Registrar’s decision to the Federal Court under section 56 of the Trade-marks Act. The Trial Court concluded there was no decision of the Registrar to be challenged and the Federal Court of Appeal agreed.

The Appellant had failed to invoke its right under section 39(3) of the Act which specifically provides that the Registrar may withdraw an allowance where it has failed to consider a previously filed request for an extension of time to file an opposition.

The Appellant, relying on the earlier case of Ault Foods v. Canada (Registrar of Trade-marks), argued that it was still open to the Court to rely on its discretionary power under section 18 of the Federal Court Act and set aside the registration.

However, the Court of Appeal noted that following Ault Foods, the Trade-marks Act was amended so as to add section 39(3).

The Court also noted that in seeking to set aside the Registrar’s decision the Appellant was in effect seeking expungement, which required a challenge on substantive grounds under section 57. In Bacardi & Co. v. Havana Club Holding S.A. the Court held that a registration may not be brought into question in the course of opposition proceedings, which was what the Appellant was seeking to do by appealing the Registrar’s decision under section 56.

City and Mayor Settle Up

In our posting of June 25, 2007 we reported on an application by the Mayor of the City of Vancouver to register the mark ECODENSITY in his own name. The application raised a few eyebrows because on the face of it, the program that the mark related to appeared to be one that the City had funded and it wasn’t clear why the Mayor would be filing an application in his own name rather than in the name of the City.

Following the advertisement of that application, the City of Vancouver Councillor’s Office filed an Opposition. According to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office online database, matters seem to finally have been resolved between the City and its Mayor, as the application has now been assigned to the City. As one of our readers has noted, the open question now is whether that application, which was based on proposed use, or any resulting registration will be valid, if in fact the Mayor, as he claimed in a news report at the time, never had the intention to use the mark himself.

Penny For Your Thoughts

The lowly Canadian penny (to be fair, it’s currently worth more than it’s American counterpart) has been the subject of some intense legal discussions lately, according to a recent story in the Globe and Mail. This story highlights the importance of protection for trademarks under both trademark and copyright law in Canada.

 The Royal Canadian Mint has taken issue with the apparently unauthorized use of a Canadian penny design by the City of Toronto as part of an ad campaign which appears on posters on buses and in bus shelters and on bumper stickers and buttons. The campaign is part of the City’s attempt to convince the Federal Government to provide more funding to municipalities, specifically one cent out of every six collected by the Federal Government through the Goods and Services Tax. The penny design is also featured on the City’s Onecentnow.ca webpage

According to the story, the Mint claims ownership of intellectual property rights  in the design of the penny and is demanding that the City stop all use of its design and payment of a licensing fee for past use. While the news story doesn’t get into the legal specifics, the Mint is likely  relying on both copyright and its Official Mark status for the penny design. The Mint caused the Registrar of Trade-marks to publish a notice in the Trade-marks Journal on June 2, 2004, of the Mint’s adoption and use of the penny design as an Official Mark. Once such notice is published, Section 9 of the Trade-marks Act prohibits any other person from adopting, using or registering that mark in connection with a business, as a trademark or otherwise – a very strong form of protection available only to Canadian public authorities – basically government entities and entities over which there is significant ongoing governmental control – and universities. From the article, it appears the City is asserting a defence that it is using the penny design for educational purposes, but it’s not clear that even educational use is permitted under Section 9 without the consent of the owner.

The Mint may also be able to assert its copyright against the City, irrespective of the Official Mark issue, assuming ownership, originality, subject matter, fair dealing and related issues are not a problem. Copyright provides a very different cause of action than trademark – once a copyright protected work is copied, it’s irrelevant to a claim of infringement whether the copy is being used in association with any wares or services.

Of London, Lithuania And A Popular Tree

A recent story in the London Free Press shows just how powerful Canadian trade-marks are becoming throughout the world – causing a country half a world away to drop a tree design that it had recently chosen to be the symbol for its latest tourism campaign. A similar tree design is the subject of an Official Mark Request advertised by the Canadian Registrar of Trade-marks at the request of the City of London, Ontario, known primarily, until now, as a centre for the insurance industry in Canada and as a University town. The design appears prominently on the City of London’s website.

Once notice of adoption and use of an Official Mark by a public authority has been advertised by the Registrar, the effect is that no other person is entitled, without the consent of that public authority, to adopt, use or register, in Canada, a mark that resembles the Official Mark, regardless of what wares or services that Official Mark is used in association with. The effect of such status is, however, limited to Canada.

Lithuania recently held a contest to choose a new symbol for its tourism campaign. The unofficial winner was submitted by a local advertising business. The winning design contains a tree design similar to the City of London’s tree design. Once this similarity was brought to the attention of the Lithuanian authorities, they, being courteous and perhaps overly cautious people, sought the consent of the City of London to use the tree design.  

Curiously, the response from the City of London was apparently a statement that such use would constitute infringement of the Official Mark – it’s not clear if they meant copyright or trade-mark infringement. Hard to reconcile that response with the territorial limitations of London’s Official Mark, at least on the trade-mark front, but the ever polite Lithuanians have apparently decided to ditch the tree design and run another contest. They say that they want something unique (which begs the question, why choose a tree design in the first place?) and don’t want to step on any political toes. The only problem is that the winner of the contest that submitted the tree design is now insisting it didn’t copy the design and is threatening to sue if their design is not chosen the winner.

Canucks Unveil New Logo

Only in a Canadian city, would the unveiling of a new logo for the local hockey team be the subject of such anticipation and discussion – particularly as the start of the season is over a month away. Today, before 8,000, yes 8,000 fans inside General Motors Place in downtown Vancouver, on one of the rare sunny and warm days the city has seen this summer, the Canucks finally unveiled their new jerseys to the adoring throngs.

Though nothing is showing up on the Canadian Intellectual Property Office online trade-marks database yet, no doubt, applications to register the new logo as a trade-mark have already been filed at the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.

EcoDensity and the Mayor

An Article in the Vancouver Sun this past weekend raises questions about why the Mayor of the City of Vancouver has applied to register in his own name, the mark ECODENSITY for a housing density initiative that is funded and run by the City. The Mayor indicates in the story that he filed the proposed use application a few days before the initiative was publicly unveiled in order to stop others from doing so.

As the mark was not used by the City at the time the Mayor’s application was filed, the City would have been unable to properly request at that time, that the Registrar give public notice of the City’s adoption and use, as a public authority, of the mark as an Official Mark, pursuant to Section 9 of the Trade-marks Act. Official Mark requests are commonly submitted by all levels of government in Canada, including the City of Vancouver itself, to protect what they consider to be their proprietary marks.

An alternative to filing an application in the Mayor’s own name, would have been to file the proposed use application in the name of the City, as such an application doesn’t require prior adoption and use by the City. It’s also not clear why, now that the City has publicly started promoting its EcoDensity Plan, it has not submitted an Official Mark Request to the Registrar.

In a follow up story today, the Vancouver Sun reports that Vision Vancouver, the opposition civic party, will request an extension of time to oppose the Mayor’s application on or before the deadline to do so.

Establishing a Trademark’s Distinctiveness: Recent Case Law

In Cross-Canada Auto Body Supply (Windsor) Limited v. Hyundai Motor America, the Applicant (the reseller of automotive parts and accessories and the Defendant in an ongoing trademark action brought by the Respondent) sought to expunge five of the Respondent’s trademark registrations: HD Design, HD & HYUNDAI Design, HMC Design, HYUNDAI and SONATA. In 1985 the Respondent’s parent company had assigned three of the marks to the Respondent’s predecessor, which in turn assigned the marks to the Respondents, in 1996, but the assignment was only registered in August 2004. The other two marks were assigned to the Respondent in September 2004.

The Applicant argued that the marks were not distinctive of the Respondent, the relevant date for determining distinctiveness in this case being the date the expungement action was commenced, because the the consuming public was not advised during the 1985 -2004 period of the change in ownership.

The Court noted that distinctiveness is the cardinal requirement of a trademark and it is a question of fact whether a clear message has been given to the public that the wares associated with the mark are those of the trademark owner and not those of another party. Relying on survey evidence, the Court concluded that the purchasing public was not confused about the source of the wares and always understood the Respondent to be the source of the vehicles, even though they were sold through dealers.

Moreover, since 1985 the Respondent and its predecessor, although they had not officially registered the assignment, had built up goodwill through extensive advertising.

The Court distinguished the Respondent’s situation from the earlier cases (Wilkinson Sword (Canada) Ltd. v. Juda and Breck’s Sporting Goods Co. v. Magder ) where a transfer of marks by a foreign parent company to its Canadian subsidiary and sales in Canada by a third party of wares purchased from the parent company resulted in a loss of distinctiveness. In the earlier cases there was no evidence that the source of the goods had become identified with the Canadian subsidiary. In this case, however, the Court was convinced by the expert evidence that the consuming public identified the source of the goods as the Canadian subsidiary.

There was delay in the registration of the assignment, but no reliable evidence of any public confusion that the source of the goods was other than the Respondent.

The Court was, however, convinced that one of the marks had been abandoned, not having been used in Canada for a long time and there being no justifiable excuse for non-use. The other four marks had not been abandoned and thus the Respondent was successful and awarded costs.