Maintained by Clark Wilson LLP

Feud Over Family Name Spills Into Federal Court

In a recent decision of the Federal Court Trial Division, the registration of the mark STENNER was expunged on the basis that it was not distinctive. 

STENNER was registered as a trademark in the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (“CIPO”) in 2005.  The Application, filed in 2003, was objected to by the CIPO Examiner on the basis that the mark was primarily merely the surname of an individual.  That objection was overcome when the Applicant provided sufficient evidence of secondary distinctiveness – i.e. evidence that the mark was recognized as the source of the Applicant’s financial services and newsletters, as much or more than than it was recognized as a surname.  The Application was not opposed by anyone.

The Federal Court found that the evidence established that the registered owner had used the STENNER mark on and off over the years, commencing in the late 1980’s, though rarely, if ever, as a standalone mark and periods of use had been punctuated by lengthy periods of non-use.  In the early 2000’s, the principal of the registered owner had a bitter falling out with his two children who were also in the financial services industry and who also used the STENNER name in association with the performance of their services.  That falling out had been the subject of a separate lawsuit, however the Court in those proceedings specifically declined to rule on the validity of the trademark registration for STENNER.

The application to expunge the registration for STENNER was based on various grounds, but the argument that won the most favour with the Federal Court was that the mark was no longer distinctive (assuming it ever had been), due to extended periods of non-use, lack of use as a standalone mark and the results of expert evidence on the recognition of the mark as a source indicator for the registered owner’s services.   The expert evidence put forward showed that the mark was recognized by virtually no one outside of the Lower Mainland of British Columbia and even within that region, the recognition factor was very low.  Also, the use of the same mark by the two children in the same industry and geographic area also pointed to a lack of distinctiveness.

In the end result, the Federal Court ordered the expungement of the registration for the STENNER mark.  There is no indication yet of whether an appeal will be filed, though the deadline for doing so is fast approaching.

“Bad Faith” Decisions Bad News for Trademark Applicants?

The following article, authored by Jeffrey Vicq, was originally posted on the IPiloguea co-operative blog hosted on the IP Osgoode website of York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School.

Those of us who provide trademark prosecution and counselling services—and particularly those of us who work with clients that have multi-national trademark portfolios—know that clients are sensitive to developments not only in Canadian practice, but also in other key markets around the world.  Many of my clients were concerned about a line of United States cases, decided over the last several years, that regarded innocent filing errors in applications, renewal forms, and other correspondence with the US Patent and Trademark Office as attempts to perpetrate a fraud on the Office, justifying refusal, expungement, or some other highly punitive penalty.  These decisions had effectively broadened the notion of “fraud” on the USPTO to include innocent mistake and negligence.

However, it appears generally acknowledged that this trend halted in 2009 with a decision titled In re Bose Corp. In the most general terms, Bose served to restore the concept of fraud on the Office to a more conventional meaning.  Now, only if an applicant knowingly makes a false, material representation with the intent to deceive does their action rise to the level of fraud, meriting harsh punishment.

However, I am becoming concerned we may be seeing the start of a trend in Canada toward permitting challenges to applications for alleged lack of good faith akin to what our US friends experienced pre-Bose.  In decisions released over the last two years, the Canadian Trade-marks Opposition Board appears to be breathing new life into the ability of opponents to challenge applications on the basis of good faith. Read more

When Prior Use is not Prior Use

In an update to an earlier post, the Supreme Court of Canada has recently granted leave to appeal in the case of Masterpiece Inc. v. Alavida Lifestyles Inc.    Both the Federal Court Trial Division and the Federal Court of Appeal held that, in a proceeding to expunge a Registration, the relevant date for determining whether there was confusion with a mark previously used in Canada is the date that the application was filed, and that likelihood of confusion at a point in the future is not a relevant consideration. 

In addition, both of the earlier decisions stated that in order for prior use of a mark in Canada to be grounds for successfully expunging a registration, such prior use must have occurred in the same geographic area where the applicant used its mark; otherwise there could have been no likelihood of confusion at the time the application was filed.   In coming to the latter conclusion, both Courts appear, at least with respect to an action for expungement of a registration, to have imported into the test for likelihood of confusion, the test for common law passing off.   Given this, the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada on this issue will be eagerly awaited by practitioners.

CIPO Seeks Consultation On More Proposed Changes

The Canadian Intellectual Property Office recently posted a consultation, requesting comments on three proposed changes to its Office practice.  The proposed changes are all relatively minor, but worth noting.

The first proposed change is that the Registrar will no longer require applicants to confirm that they are a “person” as defined in Section 2 of the Act.  Previously, the Examination Manual has required Examiners to seek confirmation from applicants where it’s not clear from the application that the applicant is a legal entity – for example if a individual files an application under a “doing business as” name rather than under their legal name.  Under the proposed Practice Notice, Examiners will no longer request clarification from the applicant and it will be up to the applicant to ensure that it complies with the Act in this regard.

The second proposed change is in relation to colour claims in applications.  The Act currently provides that unless an application is for a word mark not depicted in a special form (i.e. if the mark is anything other than a word mark in block letters), then the application must contain a drawing of the mark and if colour is claimed as a feature of the mark, the Regulations stipulate that the colour(s) must be described.  Rule 28 of the Regulations provides that if a description of the colour(s) as provided by the applicant is not clear, the Registrar can cause the applicant to provide a drawing of the mark, lined for colour in accordance with a chart that is set out in Rule 28.  This chart contains different lining specifications for all the basic colours but there is no indication of how (or whether) an applicant is to differentiate between different shades/hues of a particular colour – for example there is a specific line drawing for the colour “Blue” (horizontal lines) in Rule 28, but this would apply to light blue, dark blue and everything in between. Read more

Municipality’s rights in name not retroactive under CDRP: westkelowna.ca

In District of West Kelowna v. Baremetal.com Inc. the District of West Kelowna (the “Municipality”) lost a Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) Dispute Resolution Policy (CDRP) proceeding involving the domain name westkelowna.ca, to an alleged cybersquatter.

On April 2, 2007, Baremetal.com Inc. (the “Registrant”), apparently operated by a businessman living in the Municipality, registered the domain name westkelowna.ca. Subsequently, on January 29, 2009, in response to an opinion poll, the Municipality legally changed its name from “Westside District Municipality” to the “District of West Kelowna”. The Municipality contacted the Registrant to request a transfer of the domain name, but the Registrant refused. As a result, the Municipality filed a complaint under the CDRP in an attempt to gain control of the domain name.

To succeed in a CDRP proceeding, Section 4.1 of the CDRP Policy provides that the Complainant must prove that:

(a) the disputed domain name is confusingly similar to a mark in which the Complainant had rights prior to the date of registration of the disputed domain name,

(b) the Registrant has registered the domain in bad faith,

and the Complainant must provide some evidence that:

(c) the Registrant has no legitimate interest in the domain name.

Even if the Complainant proves (a) and (b) and provides some evidence of (c), the Registrant will succeed in the proceeding if the Registrant proves, on a balance of probabilities, that the Registrant has a legitimate interest in the domain name.

In this case, the Complainant Municipality didn’t even make it out of the gate, as the Panel found that the Municipality did not have prior rights in the mark “West Kelowna”. Under CIRA’s Municipal Name Registration Policy, a municipality’s name is generally reserved for the use of that municipality; however, the Panel found that unless a municipal name is specifically listed in the Canadian Geographical Names Database (CGNDB) at the time of the domain name reservation, the name is not reserved for the use of the municipality. The Municipality also failed to provide sufficient evidence that it had rights in the mark due to use of the mark prior to the registration of the domain name.

As a result, the complaint was dismissed. The Panel did, however, refuse the Registrant’s request for costs, finding that the Municipality had not made the complaint in bad faith.

World Trademark Review publishers launch TM blog

Our friends over at the World Trademark Review have recently launched what they’re calling the first blog by specialized IP journalists.  The group – which already offers the widely respected World Trademark Review magazine, several periodic update services, and a variety of directories, special reports and the like – anticipates that the launch of the blog will provide them with another means to report on how developments in trademark law will affect the wider business community, in addition to providing discussions of legal updates and case reports.

We welcome the WTR to the blogoshpere, and look forward to their continued, valuable contributions.

Stripes Applied to Toothpaste: A Registrable Trademark

In Procter & Gamble Inc. v. Colgate-Palmolive Canada Inc. the Federal Court agreed with the Opposition Board that none of the six grounds advanced by Procter & Gamble, the opponent, could succeed against Colgate-Palmolive’s application to register its Striped Toothpaste Design – Green/White/Blue Stripes (the “Design”).

Three of the grounds advanced are of interest:

(1) that the Design was not registrable as of the filing date of the application (1994) because the Design was being applied to the wares for the purpose of decoration only and not for the purpose of distinguishing the applicant’s wares;

(2) that the Design was not registrable as of the filing date because the Design was primarily functional and registration would give Colgate-Palmolive a monopoly on functional elements or characteristics (i.e. stripes) of toothpaste; and Read more