Molson Canada 2005 v. Anheuser-Busch, Incorporated, a decision of the Federal Court and another case in an ongoing “beer war”, provides an interesting analysis of the jurisdiction of the Opposition Board. The Opponent before the Opposition Board, Molson, through a predecessor in title, held the registered trademark for the label for Standard Lager:
(“the Standard Lager Mark”) a beer continuously sold in Canada since 1926, but almost exclusively in the province of Manitoba. Anheuser-Busch, the Applicant before the Opposition Board, had two labels that were registered as trade-marks:
(“the Registered Anheuser-Busch Marks”). The opposition arose when Anheuser-Busch sought to register an “updated” version of its two previously registered marks (“the Proposed Anheuser-Busch Marks”).
The Federal Court reviewed the litigation history arising in respect of the earlier registered marks, including a 1986 Federal Court of Appeal decision, Carling O’Keefe Breweries of Canada Ltd. v. Anheuser-Busch Inc., which concluded that the Standard Lager Mark and the Registered Anheuser-Busch Marks were confusing, that there was some sort of impropriety when the Standard Lager Mark was originally registered in 1929 since it was inspired by and designed with knowledge of the BUDWEISER label, but Carling (Molson’s predecessor in title) could rely on the equitable defence of laches and thus there was no basis for expunging either the Standard Lager Mark or the Registered Anheuser-Busch Marks.
The Opposition Board allowed the registration of the Proposed Anheuser-Busch Mark as it applied to clothing since Molson had not established that the ambit of protection accorded to the Standard Lager Mark included wares other than beer. With regards to use in association with beer the Opposition Board determined that it could limit the scope of protection afforded the Standard Lager Mark since the Court of Appeal had determined it was wrongfully obtained. Thus, Molson’s opposition with regards to use in association with beer was rejected.
The Federal Court disagreed and allowed the opposition with regards to use in association with beer. The Court was particularly concerned that the Opposition Board had exceeded its jurisdiction, since it is limited in an opposition proceeding to determining if a trademark is or is not registrable. Thus, for example, if there is a confusing mark on the register, the new mark cannot be registered. However, if the existing registration of an invalid trademark is interfering with the registration of a new trademark, it is up to the applicant for the new mark to take the necessary steps, usually an expungement application to the Federal Court, to get the register corrected. In an opposition proceeding, the validity of an opponent’s registered mark is not in issue.
The Federal Court was concerned that the Opposition Board could not limit the ambit of protection afforded the Standard Lager Mark on the basis that the Court of Appeal had questioned the lawfulness of the registration. Indeed, the Court of Appeal had not found the registration of the Standard Lager Mark was unlawful, but had instead found that the registration was not a nullity. Thus, Molson was relying on a valid registration and the question to be answered was whether the Proposed Anheuser-Busch Mark was confusing with the Standard Lager Mark. The Federal Court concluded they were confusing, applying the test in section 6(5) of the Trade-marks Act and giving particular weight to two surrounding circumstances: (1) that the Court of Appeal had found the Registered Anheuser-Busch Marks confusing; and (2) an acknowledgement in the Memorandums of Fact and Law filed by both the parties that the marks were confusing.
The beer wars continue and we may very well see an appeal.