Maintained by Clark Wilson LLP

The Source Once Again A Source of Trademark Problems

Circuit City continues to encounter trademark problems in Canada with its chain of retail consumer electronics stores. When Circuit City purchased the chain of 870 plus stores from Radio Shack 18 months ago, it was forced to incur substantial costs to re-brand them as The Source by Circuit City. Now, a smaller chain of photo shops called Foto-Source Canada Inc. has applied to the Federal Court of Canada seeking an order that Circuit City cease using The Source as part of its name.

Foto-Source contends that it adopted the slogan “Get it right, from the source” in 1994. Both parties have filed applications to register their respective trademarks in Canada but neither application has been published for opposition yet.

Scotch Distilleries Protest Use Of Glen With Canadian Whisky

The Scotch Whisky Association is battling a Cape Breton distiller of whisky over its use of the word Glen in its trademark. The Association, which represents the owners of well known brands such as Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and Glenmorangie, is concerned that consumers will assume that Glen Breton Rare single malt whisky, produced by Glenora Distillery, is a scotch whisky.

The Association argues that the word “Glen” is too closely linked to scotch whisky for anyone other than Scottish producers to use.  “Scotch Whisky” itself is a designation that is protected under the federal Trade-marks Act for use only with whisky produced in Scotland.

The Canadian distillery, which has applied to register the mark GLEN BRETON, argues that Cape Breton, where it is based, has very strong Scottish roots because it was settled by the Scottish over 200 years ago. The region is riddled with towns and villages that contain the word “Glen”, which means a place at the base of highlands or mountains. The Association has opposed the GLEN BRETON trademark application. Lawyers for both sides recently presented oral arguments and a decision of the Opposition Board is still months away.

November Case Law – Enforcement of Foreign Judgments

There were no noteworthy Canadian cases in November that focused on specific trademark issues. However, the Supreme Court of Canada (“the SCC”) handed down a decision regarding the enforcement of foreign non-monetary judgments that will be of interest to trademark practitioners.

The case, Pro Swing Inc. v. Elta Golf Inc., arose out of a trademark dispute, but it was the contempt order that was at issue on appeal.  In 1998, Trident, a U.S. company, filed a complaint in Ohio for trademark infringement. Elta, an Ontario company, entered into a settlement agreement that was endorsed in a consent decree of the U.S. District Court. In 2002 Trident brought a motion that Elta had violated the consent decree and a contempt order was issued.

The SCC agreed with the Ontario Court of Appeal that the contempt order could not be enforced in Canada, primarily because it was quasi-criminal in nature. However, in doing so the SCC held that the traditional common law rule limiting the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments to final money judgments should be changed – although cautiously. Thus, equitable orders from foreign courts, such as injunctions, may now be enforced.

The SCC outlined a number of factors to be taken into account: that the judgment being enforced be rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction and be final, and that as a matter of comity the domestic court not extend greater assistance to foreign litigants than it does to its own litigants.

With regards to injunctive relief the SCC recommended that its territorial scope must be specific and clear. With regards to trademark protection the SCC specifically noted that the Internet does not transform U.S. trademark protection into worldwide protection, although the SCC left open that the possibility that a party, by consent, might create such an extension.

Future case law will provide further clarity regarding the enforcement of foreign equitable orders in Canada and the extent to which Canadian courts may recognize, for example, injunctions regarding trademark rights. In the meantime, foreign litigants will want to carefully consider how a foreign court order is worded if the ultimate intention is enforcement in Canada.

Yes, Virginia, Santa Claus is Trademarked

We understood it to be well established (at least since 1897 and the New York Sun’s reply to Virginia’s letter) that there is indeed a Santa Claus.

Unfortunately, the Canadian Intellectual Property Office seems intent on ignoring this important fact. Paragraph 12(1)(a) of the Trade-marks Act specifically provides that a trademark is not registrable if it is “primarily merely the name or the surname of an individual who is living”.

However, our recent visit to the CIPO website reveals at least three registrations for SANTA CLAUS – for use in association with “soaps of all kinds”, “ribbons, bows, gift wrapping papers and paper tableware” and, of all things, “ornamental plants”. The existence of these registrations suggests that CIPO considers St. Nick to be a fictional character rather than a living person.

We are pleased to note that two other SANTA CLAUS trademark registrations have been expunged (for use in association with “ice cream” and “soaps, detergents and toilet preparations”) but interested to learn that Coca-Cola has gone so far as to trademark a picture of the jolly old elf.

Of course, it is now seven years since the USPTO created a stir by allowing one Stephen Bottomley (a Brit, no less) to register SANTA CLAUS on their database.

We’ll have to wait and see whether Santa Claus commences proceedings for the unauthorized use of his name and likeness. Of course, Santa could always move to Australia, where they have not yet gone so far as to register his entire name (although there is a SURFING SANTA and a SWINGING SANTA). But then again – Australia has no snow in December.

RIM Battles Samsung Over Use of BlackJack

Canadian based Research in Motion is suing Samsung over its use of the mark BlackJack in association with a recently launched smart phone device. The Samsung smart phone competes directly with RIM’s BlackBerry Pearl smart phone. In the lawsuit, filed in California, RIM argues that the BlackJack name will cause confusion with consumers who are familiar with the established BlackBerry brand, as well as constituting false designation of origin, unfair competition and trademark dilution.  Interestingly, both devices are offered on Cingular’s network in the U.S.

Apple Not Asserting Rights Over The Term Podcast?

According to the GlobalGeek Podcast, Apple Computer apparently doesn’t object to use of the term “podcast” if it’s used to generically describe podcasting services. At first blush, this might be interpreted as a bit of a departure from Apple’s recently aggressive stance in terms of all things “POD” and “IPOD”. On the other hand, Apple may just be differentiating between generic use of the term podcast and use of that term as part of a third party trade-mark.

Real Estate Developers Embracing Trademark Protection?

A review of recent Canadian trade-mark filings indicates that some real estate developers in Canada are choosing to protect as trade-marks, not only their company or business names, but also the marks they have chosen for individual developments. Reflecting a more conservative industry, these trade-marks are not as edgy or creative as some of the new wine industry trademarks. However, in a competitive marketplace, this may change as developers start to see the benefits of distinguishing their projects from those of the competition and targetting specific categories of brand-conscious prospective buyers.

Recent applications and registrations include,

OSCAR (Application No. 1293873)
SPIRE (Registration TMA591399)
THE VINE (Registration No. TMA668332)
THE LAUREATES (Registration No. TMA565184)
ROUGE (Application No. 1294465)
COCONUT GROVE (Application No. 1294937)
NEW TIMES SQUARE (Registration No. TMA590427)
SOPHIA (Registration No. TMA666909)
MODE (Registration No. TMA648830)
UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS (Registration No. TMA649239)
YALETOWN PARK (Registration No. TMA627657)

The time may yet come when not every Canadian city has a PARK PLACE and a BAY TOWERS, although some of the above marks continue the practice of developers using names that are the same or similar to names used by other developers, either previously in the same geographic market or in different geographic markets.

A developer’s business or corporate name normally has a shelf life that’s longer than any single development. In many cases the name of the developer is featured as much (or more prominently) in the marketing of each development than is the name of the development itself. Because of this, the protection of such corporate or business names is likely as or more important than the protection of marks for specific development projects, particularly where the marks for development projects are not distinctive.

As creative marketers begin to shake up the industry with more interesting and distinctive marks for specific projects, the need to protect these distinctive project marks will no doubt increase.