Maintained by Clark Wilson LLP

Famous Marks Protected Once Again

The U.S. congress has approved an amendment to the Trademark Dilution Act, in a move intended to close a loophole that the U.S. Supreme Court found in a case involving the marks VICTORIA’S SECRET and VICTOR’S LITTLE SECRET. The Trademark Dilution Revision Act will now be sent to the President for signature, which is expected to occur in the next few week.

When first introduced, the Trademark Dilution Act was intended to provide additional protection to “famous marks” over and above the protection available to less well known marks, which require there to be confusion due to use with similar products or services, overlapping channels of trade and the like. So if a mark is well known enough, in theory no one should be able to use that mark or a similar mark for any goods or services. The problem noted by the Supreme Court in the case involving VICTOR’S LITTLE SECRET, was that it required the famous mark owner to prove that the other mark had caused actual dilution, rather than likelihood of injury.

The new Act makes it clear that a famous mark owner has a cause of action even in the absence of actual dilution, if the identical or similar mark is likely to cause dilution by blurring its distinctiveness or tarnishing its image. The new Act exempts use of famous marks for noncommercial purposes such as parodies, criticisms or new reporting.

Unfortunately for the well known brand owners of the world, this legislation will not be applicable in Canada, where there’s no statutory provisions that are specific to famous marks. The Supreme Court of Canada recently ruled that, in theory, a mark could be famous enough that it would transcend its goods and services boundaries.  However, in the case of BARBIE and VEUVE CLICQUOT, neither mark, though well known for dolls and champagne, was famous enough to stop a third party from using very similar marks for restaurant services and retail clothing services, respectively.

Creative Trade-marks for Wine

Applications to the Canadian Trade-marks Registrar evidence the growing trend towards ever more interesting and entertaining wine labels. Witness the following marks advertised in the Canadian Trade-marks Journal over the course of the last 3 months.

  • Mighty Good Water (Application No. 1,261,728),
  • Eighty Links (Application No. 1,268,597),
  • Dancing Bull (Application No. 1,286,717),
  • Brain Storm (Application No. 1,289,532),
  • Pick Axe (Application No. 1,263,838),
  • Two Fins (Application No. 1,281,971),
  • Funky Llama (Application No. 1,289,469),
  • Fish Hoek (Application No. 1,261,072),
  • Crackerjack (Application No. 1,271,199),
  • Pizza Red (Application No. 1,270,326),
  • Monkey Trail (Application No. 1,285,774),
  • Sweet Revenge (Application No. 1,283,146),
  • Midnight Leap (Application No. 1,283,146),
  • Bad Dog (Application No. 1,223,732),
  • Leap of Faith (Application No. 1,269,547),
  • Rusty Shed, (Application No. 1,280,041).

Of these 15 marks, 6 are Australian in origin, namely, EIGHTY LINKS, PICK AXE, TWO FINS, CRACKERJACK, PIZZA RED and MIDNIGHT LEAP, 4 are sought by Canadian companies, namely, BRAINSTORM, MONKEY TRAIL, SWEET REVENGE and RUSTY SHED. The names are creative and, it would appear, distinctive.

One of the advertised marks, BAD DOG is not just for wine. The mark is also sought for use in association with various clothing, table ware and dog toys, as well as the services of “wine event sponsorships and dog event sponsorships”.

David, Goliath And Reverse Confusion

Microsoft is once again at the forefront of a trademark infringement dispute , though this time the David in the story is on a bit weaker ground – it sells construction management software under the FOREFRONT brand and MS recently announced it will begin selling security software under that same brand – so clearly the claimed goods are different, but the marks are identical and there could be overlap in the channels of trade. Reading between the lines, the earlier user here is worried about reverse confusion, which occurs where a later user floods the market with its brand, subsuming the earlier user’s more modest reputation.

Though an established cause of action in the U.S., it’s only recently been recognized as being actionable in one Canadian case – however, in that case the A&W fast food chain was unable, on the facts, to prove that it had a cause of action against McDonalds in a battle of their respective CHICKEN GRILL and CHICKEN McGRILL sandwiches.

Recent Case Law

Summer is a quiet time for the Canadian courts. Looking back at July and August, there are three decisions that deserve a brief summary:

In Ratiopharm Inc. v. Laboratories Riva Inc., the Federal Court dismissed the plaintiff’s action alleging infringement of its registered Canadian trade-mark. The plaintiff sold a codeine based cough syrup under the mark CALMYLIN, while the defendant sold a similar codeine based product under the mark DAMYLIN. At trial there were two issues to be heard: (1) Did the plaintiff have standing to sue? and (2) Is DAMYLIN likely to be confused with CAMYLIN within the meaning of section 20 of the Trade-marks Act? With regards to standing, the court held that the license requirements of the Trade-marks Act had been satisfied and as such and the plaintiff had standing to commence an action for trade-mark infringement. With regards to the issue of confusion, the court held that there was no likelihood of confusion between CAMYLIN and DAMYLIN in the mind of the average consumer, even if hurried. The plaintiff’s action for trade-mark infringement was dismissed.

In DJang v. Ji, a decision of the British Columbia Supreme Court, the plaintiffs sought an interlocutory injunction restraining the defendants from marketing certain herbal products under names for which the plaintiffs had registered Canadian trade-marks. The plaintiffs also alleged passing off and a breach of the British Columbia Trade Practice Act. The Court applied a two-pronged test for granting interlocutory injunctions, holding that while there was a fair question to be tried, the balance of justice and convenience did not favour the injunctive relief sought by the plaintiffs since there was no convincing evidence of the totality of factors to establish irreparable harm. In the end, the Court declined to grant the interlocutory injunction.

Tradition Fine Foods Ltd. v. Group Tradition’l Inc., was an appeal to the Federal Court from a decision of the Trade-marks Opposition Board (the “Board”). The Board had rejected the applicant’s opposition to the respondent’s registration of BAGEL TRADITION’L and design. Upon reviewing the Board’s decision, the Court held that it was open to the Board to dismiss the applicant’s opposition on the ground of confusion. The Court found there to be almost no points of resemblance between the applicant’s TRADITION and TRADITION FINE FOODS trade-marks and the respondent’s proposed trade-mark when the trade-marks were considered in their totality. In the Court’s view, the Board had properly considered all the factors set out in subsection 6(5) of the Trade-marks Act. The Court further held that the applicant had not met its burden of proving that the word “TRADITION’L” or the imagery of the bagel and wheat sheaves was clearly descriptive of the intrinsic quality of bagels.

Branding Canada: Official Marks

Noting an August 15th post on the Strategic Name Development Blog, which comments that Canada is a great brand but it needs marketing.

While we appreciate that trade-mark registration is only a small part of an overall branding and marketing campaign, it appears from the Canadian Trade-mark Register that the government organizations responsible for promoting tourism in Canada and its provinces and territories are taking steps towards developing a brand. For example, Tourism BC has a number of marks on the Canadian Trade-mark Register, including a number of variations of SUPER NATURAL BRITISH COLUMBIA. The Greater Vancouver Convention and Visitors Bureau has obtained 100 DAYS OF SUMMER, along with a number of other marks.

Other favourites include: Nunavut’s UNTAMED UNSPOILED UNDISCOVERED (which is not on the Trade-mark Register, however); Saskatchewan’s LAND OF LIVING SKIES; and Quebec’s PROVIDING EMOTIONS SINCE 1534 (FOURNISSEUR D’ÉMOTIONS DEPUIS 1534, if you prefer the French).

With the exception of UNTAMED UNSPOILED AND UNDISCOVERED, all these marks are registered as “Official Marks” under section 9(1)(n)(iii) of Canada’s Trade-marks Act, a provision that gives these “public authorities” an advantage over the average commercial enterprise seeking to register trade-marks. Registration of such marks does not involve an opposition process and does not require renewal. There are no fees to pay and no provisions regarding cancellation. The public authority may prohibit others from using the mark with all goods and services and not just those in respect of which the public authority can establish use. (For more details on official marks generally see this.) Government entities do not always resort to section 9(1)(n)(iii). The Canadian Tourism Commission has obtained Official Mark status for PURE CANADA and CANADA PUR, but has registered THE WORLD NEEDS MORE CANADA & Design as an ordinary trade-mark.

Given section 9, it is perhaps surprising that Canadians, and more particularly their public authorities, are not more aggressive about establishing brands, or at least trade-marks. We are still waiting for something as provocative as Australia’s SO WHERE THE BLOODY HELL ARE YOU?, or better yet, Las Vegas’ WHAT HAPPENS HERE, STAYS HERE.