Maintained by Clark Wilson LLP

Ontario Teachers Get A Lesson In Trademarks

The Federal Court of Canada has upheld a decision of the Registrar of Trademarks to refuse registration of the mark TEACHERS’ in association with services described as “administration of a pension plan, management and investment of a pension for teachers in Ontario”.  The application to register this mark was filed by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board.

The Registrar had refused registration of this mark on the basis that it was clearly descriptive of the character of the claimed services, contrary to S. 12(1)(b) of the Trade-marks Act.   On appeal, the Federal Court agreed, finding that the word TEACHERS’ in its plural and possessive form, is a distinguishing feature, and therefore the character, of this pension plan because it is a pension plan for teachers.  It clearly describes a prominent characteristic of the wares or services provided.  According to the Court, providing the applicant with a monopoly on the use of this word would prevent other pension or financial services targeted to or belonging to teachers within Ontario or in other provinces and territories from using the term.

Restaurant Trademarks: Worth their Salt?

The Globe and Mail is reporting on a dispute that has arisen between Vancouver’s Salt Tasting Room, which opened in 2006, and Toronto’s Salt Wine Bar, which opened in the summer of 2010.  The owner of the Vancouver Tasting Room apparently appealed to the Toronto Wine Bar owners to change their name, but without success. 

This dispute highlights the need for businesses, restaurant and otherwise, to register their trademarks in Canada and to register them sooner rather than later, since once a registration issues, it grants the registered owner the exclusive right to use that mark or one that is confusingly similar, throughout Canada in association with the claimed goods and services, even if that owner has only used its mark in one city or region of Canada.

In this case, the Vancouver owner waited until May of 2009 to file applications to register its SALT TASTING ROOM  and SALT marks, even though it claims in both applications to have used those marks since July of 2006.   Because of the timing of the start up of the Toronto restaurant and the current status of those applications, the position of the parties is murkier than it might otherwise be.  What further muddies the waters are several prior registrations for marks in Canada that include the word “Salt” that are registered to other entities.

As another recent article notes, the restaurant industry is no stranger to trademark issues, including the lawsuit recently launched by the Wild Wing restaurant chain in Aurora, Ontario against Buffalo Wild Wings, a United States franchise operator that is expanding into Canada.

The fact that the Salt story involves restaurants in Vancouver and Toronto is also of interest, given that we are waiting to hear how the Supreme Court of Canada will rule in Masterpiece Inc. v. Alavida Lifestyles Inc. where one of the issues is the likelihood of confusion between similar marks used in two geographically distinct areas; in that case, in the context of the ability of an earlier user’s ability to block a later user’s application for registration.

You Know The Olympics Are Over When…

The Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) sent out a reminder today, advising that pursuant to the Olympic and Paralympic Marks Act (OPMA), marks and expressions listed on Schedules 2 and 3 of that Act will expire on December 31, 2010.   As a result, commencing on January 1, 2011, CIPO will no longer raise an objection pursuant to Section 12(1)(i) of the Trade-marks Act on the basis that an applied for mark consists of or so nearly resembles as to be mistaken for a mark or expresssion found in either of those Schedules. 

As regular readers of this blog will recall, the Canadian government enacted this legislation well in advance of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games (Vancouver Games), to provide the organizers of the Vancouver Games (VANOC) with another very useful tool in their fight against unauthorized use of numerous trademarks and symbols that are associated with the Olympics generally and more specifically those associated with the Vancouver Games.  Schedule 1 to the OPMA, which sets out various Olympic marks that are not specific to any particular Olympic Games, will remain in force.  Schedules 2 and 3 set out various marks and expressions that are specific to the Vancouver Games and as those games are now part of history, the need to protect those marks and expressions is no longer justifiable.

It was Schedule 3 in particular that raised the ire of some pundits, since it specified that a combination of words from Part 1 with words from Part 2 of that Schedule – including seemingly innocuous combinations of words such as “21st” or “Tenth”, with words such as “Winter” or “Whistler” – could be used as evidence in support of a finding that a person was promoting their business, goods or services in a manner likely to mislead the public into believing that there was an approval, authorization or endorsement by, or a business association with, the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) or the Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC).  This, coupled with the ability of VANOC or the COC/CPC to obtain an interlocutory injunction without having to prove that they would suffer irreparable harm, made the effect of these provisions very far reaching.

Bonhomme, Maclean’s “meilleurs amis”

In an update to a story we shared with you a few weeks ago, a report today that the organizers of the Quebec Winter Carnival and Maclean’s magazine have reached a settlement regarding Maclean’s use of the image of Bonhomme – mascot of the Carnival – as part of a cover image promoting an article on corruption in Quebec.   While Carnival organizers confirmed the settlement and advised that they were “pleased”, specific terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

Loss of Control of Trademark Constitutes Damages for Passing Off

This blog previously reported on the Federal Court’s decision in Target Event Production Ltd. v. Paul Cheung and Lions Communications Inc. In that January 11, 2010 decision, the Court considered the trademark and copyright infringement claims of the Plaintiff, Target Event Production, which arose when the Defendants, Paul Cheung and his company Lions Communications, operated a Chinese night market beginning May 2008 in the location where Target had previously run a similar business until late 2007.  Specifically, Target’s claims were based on Lions’ use of a name similar to the “RICHMOND NIGHT MARKET” trademark owned by Target, as well as Lions’ use of a nearly identical site plan and vendor registration form.

The Court found that although Target’s trademark was valid as of January 2007, it was not durable and lost its distinctiveness when Target failed to re-open open a market by 2009.  However, the Court proceeded to find that Lions’ actions in 2008 were confusing to visitors (but not to vendors) of the market in breach of section 6(5) of the Trade-marks Act.  The Court found that since Lions had lost money operating its market, there could be no accounting of profits but only an award of $15,000 in damages for copyright infringement and the tort of passing off.  The Court held Paul Cheung jointly liable with Lions and issued an injunction preventing Paul Cheung and Lions from operating their market in a manner which was a “substantial reproduction” of Target’s site plan.

Paul Cheung and Lions appealed the Court’s decision and a 15 page judgement was issued by the Federal Court of Appeal on October 5, 2010.  Paul Cheung and Lions contended that the Federal Court was mistaken in finding that Target had a valid enforceable trademark, and that Target suffered damage, both of which are necessary for a court to have jurisdiction to entertain a claim for passing off under the Trade-marks Act (the existence of goodwill and deception due to misrepresentation being the other requirements).  Further, Paul Cheung and Lions argued that the Federal Court was mistaken in finding them jointly and severally liable and in enjoining them from operating their market.  Target cross appealed claiming that the Federal Court was mistaken in finding that its trademark lost its distinctiveness by 2009 and in awarding inappropriate injunctive relief. Read more

Is There a Trademark Enforcement App For That?

News today that Apple is about to obtain a US trademark registration for “THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT”.

Filed in 2009, Apple’s initial application covered both wares and services.  However, following a recent division and filing of evidence of use, the USPTO approved the registration of the mark for use in association with retail store services and various online services, including app recommendations.  Additional claims pertaining to various wares and to telecommunication services remain in the divided parent application, and Apple  has obtained an extension of time to file use information on those points.  (In Canada, Apple filed an application for “THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT” this past May; it remains pending with CIPO.)

With a registration nearly in hand, it is unclear is whether Apple plans a campaign to aggressively enforce its mark.  In addition to Apple’s use, the mark and its derivatives have been widely referenced in the US – most notably by Verizon in its “There’s A Map For That” advertising campaign (intended to mock the limited coverage of Apple’s exclusive US carrier, AT&T).  An “app for that” catch-phrase generator, “App For That“, was also developed.  And writers seem to love using the phrase in their article and blog headlines.

In this light, one wonders if such uses of the mark and its derivatives reinforce or dilute the mark’s association with Apple. If the latter, Apple will have to go on the offensive to protect its rights, lest it lose them.

We’ll keep you “app”-rised of new developments.

Bonhomme’s Bad Day

There has been considerable coverage this week about the Maclean’s magazine article on alleged corruption in Quebec.  The magazine’s cover (which can be seen here) depicts the well-known mascot of the Quebec City Winter Carnival, Bonhomme Carnaval, clutching a briefcase bursting with money.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the article quickly elicited a loud hue and cry from politicians, both federal and provincial alike.  The resulting pressure was so intense that Maclean’s publisher – Rogers Publishing – felt compelled to issue an apology, noting that both the article and the cover image promoting it had clearly rankled some readers, and expressing regret for any offence caused.

In addition to being quite eye-catching (at least for Canadians), the cover raises an interesting trademark issue.   Specifically, the association of Bonhomme Carnaval with an article on corruption might be argued to lessen the goodwill in the mascot itself.  (To be clear, there is no suggestion in the article that Carnival organizers are corrupt.)

While the Carnival owns several trademark registrations for depictions of Bonhomme, it would be difficult to argue that Bonhomme’s image was being used as a trademark, or that anyone was confused as to the source of goods following the depiction of Bonhomme on the Maclean’s cover.

Though section 22 of the Trade-marks Act contemplates an action may be brought for depreciation of goodwill, it also appears that the tests associated with such a claim would be difficult to make out for similar reasons.

Nonetheless, the Carnival is seeking advice from counsel in order to determine what action, if any, it can take to protect Bonhomme. We’ll keep you posted on whether or not this dispute gets any more (ahem) …frosty.