The Friendly Stranger Corporation v. Avalon Sunsplash Ltd.was an appeal of a decision of the Trade-marks Opposition Board refusing several trademark applications filed by the Applicant. The Applicant sells products related to hemp and marijuana through its Toronto store, The Friendly Stranger Cannabis Culture Shop, and sought to register CANNABIS CULTURE SHOP, CANNABIS CULTURE SHOP & Design and FRIENDLY STRANGER CANNABIS CULTURE SHOP & Design. The Opponent, Avalon Sunsplash Ltd., publishes a bi-monthly magazine called “Cannabis Culture”, operates a store in Vancouver and maintains a website at cannabisculture.com.
The Opposition Board had concluded that “the distinctiveness of the Opponent’s mark was sufficient to negate the distinctiveness of the applied for mark”. Notwithstanding additional evidence filed on appeal, the Federal Court agreed, noting the similarity of the wares and services, and that the only difference between the Applicant’s mark, CANNABIS CULTURE SHOP, and the Opponent’s mark, CANNABIS CULTURE was the use of the word “shop”, which was not in itself inherently distinctive.
The Opposition Board had also refused FRIENDLY STRANGER CANNABIS CULTURE SHOP on a balance of probabilities, since it resembled the Opponent’s mark and both parties targeted the same market. However, the Federal Court was satisfied that this mark should be allowed since additional evidence shifted the emphasis to the words “Friendly Stranger” from “Cannabis Culture Shop”.
The Court also considered section 6(2) of the Trade-marks Act, which provides that a trademark causes confusion with another trademark if the use of both trademarks in the same area would lead to the inference that the wares or services associated with the trademarks are marketed by the same person. On this point the Court referenced the finding in United Artist Corp. v. Pink Panther Beauty Corp.  F.C.J. No. 441 that “the question posed by [section 6(2)] does not concern the confusion of the marks, but confusion of goods or services from one source as being from another source”. Although the wares of the parties were similar, the Court was satisfied there was also no confusion as to source since the marketplaces were very different. Friendly Stranger Cannabis Culture shop had a strong presence in Toronto, while the Opponent’s marketplace was Vancouver. Moreover, the internet sales were only a small fraction of what was sold in the stores and the domain names of the parties were very different. Presumably, if the Opponent had had a stronger internet presence the Court might have found confusion on the basis of section 6(2) since it would have then been difficult to differentiate the “marketplaces” in Vancouver and Toronto. However, this was not the case.