Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal Provides Welcome Guidance on Geographically Descriptive Trademarks

Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal (the “Court of Appeal”) has recently had the opportunity to clarify the test for  registrability of geographically descriptive trademarks in two separate decisions. The most recent of these is the decision in MC Imports Inc. v. AFOD Ltd., 2016 FCA 60.  In the proceedings underlying the appeal, MC Imports Inc. (“MC Imports”) brought an action for infringement against AFOD Ltd. (“AFOD”) on the basis that AFOD’s use of the words “Lingayen Style”, which appeared on AFOD’s imported Philippines food products in a relatively small font, infringed MC Imports’ registered trade-mark LINGAYEN. MC Imports’ registration issued in 2003 and covered Filipino food products, including fish sauce and fish paste. Invoking the old adage that the best defence is a good offence, AFOD counterclaimed and sought to invalidate MC Imports’ LINGAYEN registration on the basis that it was either clearly descriptive or deceptively misdescriptive of the place of origin of the claimed goods and therefore not registrable under the Trade-marks Act, and also on the basis that it was not distinctive of MC Imports as the source of the claimed goods.

The lower court (the “Federal Court”) found that LINGAYEN was the name of a geographical location in the Philippines, known for bagoong products; that the LINGAYEN brand goods of MC Imports originated from Lingayen; and that the ordinary consumers of those products were Canadians of Filipino or South East Asian origin.  The Federal Court ruled in AFOD’s favour and declared the registration for LINGAYEN invalid on the basis that it is clearly descriptive of the place of origin of the goods.  However, the Federal Court declined to settle the issue of whether the perspective of the “ordinary consumer” is relevant to a finding that a trade-mark is clearly descriptive of place of origin on the basis that, in this case, the end result would have been the same. On the issue of distinctiveness, the Federal Court also found in AFOD’s favour and held that the mark had not acquired sufficient distinctiveness in Canada through long term advertising and use by MC Imports. Accordingly, the Federal Court ordered that the LINGAYEN registration be struck from the Register.

On appeal, the key issues reviewed by the Court of Appeal were the appropriate legal test for assessing a finding of clear descriptiveness of a place of origin and the definition of the relevant “ordinary consumer”.  In dismissing the appeal of MC Imports and upholding the Federal Court’s decision, the Court of Appeal found that the perspective of the ordinary Canadian consumer is not always relevant for a finding that a mark is clearly descriptive of its place of origin. The Court of Appeal went on to clarify the legal test to be followed when assessing whether a trade-mark is clearly descriptive of place of origin, setting out a three-step assessment:

(1) whether the trade-mark is the name of a geographic place. The Court of Appeal stated that if the primary meaning of the trade-mark is as a geographic place, it was not relevant whether the place was known to Canadian consumers.  If there is more than one meaning (other than geographic) attached to the trade-mark, then the perception of the relevant “ordinary consumer” comes into play in determining the primary meaning of the trade-mark;

(2) whether the goods or services associated with the trade-mark originate from that geographic place. If the goods/services do not originate from that geographic place, the analysis switches to whether the trade-mark is deceptively misdescriptive; and

(3) an assessment of the trade-mark owner’s claims of use, if any. The Court of Appeal concluded that since registration of a descriptive trade-mark can be obtained under Section12(2) of the Trade-marks Act if the trade-mark had become distinctive at the time of filing the application for registration, the perception of the relevant “ordinary consumer” becomes significant at this stage. The Court of Appeal noted that MC Imports’ evidence of use in Canada, although spanning a long period of time (since 1975), was insufficient to support a finding of acquired distinctiveness.

The Court of Appeal agreed with the Federal Court that the ordinary consumer whose perspective should be considered is not the general public in Canada, but the person who would ordinarily buy the products or services associated with the trade-mark. In this case, the actual consumer would have been Canadians of Filipino or South East Asian descent.

The Court of Appeal found that MC Imports’ registration for LINGAYEN was invalid and not distinctive, and dismissed the appeal.  In doing so, the Court of Appeal pointed out that the name of a geographic place “should remain open to all producers of goods and services to describe the origin of what they are selling, even if the ordinary consumer might not be previously familiar with that place”.

This decision comes close on the heels of Lum v. Dr. Coby Cragg Inc., 2015 FCA 293, another Court of Appeal decision on the issue of clear descriptiveness of place of origin in which the registration for OCEAN PARK – registered in association with dental services performed in the Ocean Park neighborhood in Surrey, BC – was similarly invalidated.  While the OCEAN PARK decision was not referred to in the LINGAYEN decision, the analysis and conclusions were similar and serve to consolidate the Court of Appeal’s approach in considering registrability of trade-marks that refer to a geographic place which is the place of origin of the goods or services associated with the trade-mark.

 

 

 

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Order prohibiting Google from delivering search results heads to SCC

The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear an appeal from a decision of the B.C. Court of Appeal which upheld a worldwide injunction against Google Inc. (“Google”), wherein Google was ordered to stop delivering search results to its users that pointed to certain websites.

You can find my commentary on the B.C. Court of Appeal’s decision in Equustek Solutions Inc. v. Google Inc., 2015 BCCA 265, here.

The facts underlying the appeal arose from Equustek Solutions Inc.’s (“Equustek”) attempts to enforce its intellectual property rights against a former distributor, Datalink Technologies Gateways Inc. (“Datalink”).  Allegedly, Datalink was passing off Equustek’s products as its own and using Equustek’s confidential information and trade secrets to manufacture a competing product.  Equustek was successful in obtaining various interlocutory orders against Datalink; however, Datalink failed to comply with those orders, and continued “clandestine” operations online to market and sell its infringing products.

In order to more effectively stop Datalink’s infringing activities, Equustek sought an injunction against Google (which was not a party to the dispute), restraining it from publishing search results that included Datalink’s websites, on the basis that this was the only way to give effect to the orders already in place.  The B.C. Supreme Court granted the order, and the B.C. Court of Appeal upheld the order on appeal.

In its brief reasons granting leave to appeal, the Supreme Court of Canada outlined the issues for its consideration:

-          Under what circumstances may a court order a search engine to block search results, having regard to the interest in access to information and freedom of expression, and what limits (either geographic or temporal) must be imposed on those orders?

-          Do Canadian courts have the authority to block search results outside of Canada’s borders?

-          Under what circumstances, if any, is a litigant entitled to an interlocutory injunction against a non-party that is not alleged to have done anything wrong?

Whatever the Supreme Court of Canada decides in this matter will hopefully provide direction and clarify the law regarding the ability of a Canadian Court to grant a worldwide injunction, as well as with respect to access to information and freedom of expression in the digital age.

We will keep you updated.

Save the Date: the Importance of the Date of First Use in Canadian Trade-mark Applications (for now)

A recent decision of the Canadian Trade-marks Opposition Board, Constellation Brands Québec Inc. c Sociedad Vinícola Miguel Torres, S.A., 2016 TMOB 4 (“Miguel Torres”), serves as a reminder of the importance of stating an accurate and supportable date of first use, when claiming use as a basis for registration in Canada.

In Miguel Torres, the Applicant filed an application to register the trade-mark HEMISFERIO (the “Mark”) for “wines”, claiming use in Canada since at least as early as October 28, 2011.  As one of its grounds of opposition, the Opponent alleged that the Applicant had not used the Mark in Canada as of the claimed date of first use.

As support for its claimed date of first use, the key piece of evidence relied upon by the Applicant was an invoice dated October 28, 2011, which purportedly corroborated the date of first use asserted by the Applicant’s affiant.  However, the Opposition Board instead agreed with the Opponent’s submission that while the invoice was dated October 28, 2011 and goods were shipped to Canada from Chile on that date, the approximate date of arrival in Canada of those goods was not until January 26, 2012.

Accordingly, because transfer of the property in or possession of the wine bearing the Mark from the Applicant to its Canadian distributors did not take place in Canada until after October 28, 2011, there was no “use” of the Mark in Canada, within the meaning of Section 4(1) of the Trade-marks Act (the “Act”), as of the date of first use claimed in the application.  The application was therefore refused.

While we understand that there will no longer be a need to claim a date of first use in trade-mark applications once the Canadian trade-mark regime changes (likely in 2018), for the time being, trade-mark applicants should strive to claim a date of first use that is accurate and, where possible, supported by documentary evidence.

About the Blog

The authors of the Canadian Trademark Blog are all members of the Canadian law firm Clark Wilson LLP, based in Vancouver, Canada. Each author's practice focuses–either in whole or in substantial part–on Canadian intellectual property law. Together, they manage the trade-mark portfolios of local, national and international brand owners in nearly all industries and markets.

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