A Clearly Descriptive Engineering Trademark

In the recent case of Continental Teves AG & Co v. Canadian Council of Professional Engineers, the Federal Court of Canada dismissed an appeal of the Trade-mark Opposition Board’s refusal to register a mark.  The original application was brought by Continental Teves, a foreign corporation, to register the words ENGINEERING EXCELLENCE IS OUR HERITAGE for use as a trade-mark in Canada in association with wares, namely brake pads and rotors for land vehicles.  The Canadian Council of Professional Engineers (the “Council”), a national organization of the 12 provincial and territorial associations that license and regulate Canadian engineers, opposed the application.  It is the Council’s policy to oppose trademarks which consist of or include the term “engineering” in order to both protect the integrity of the titles of Canadian engineering professionals and to protect the public.

At issue on the appeal was whether the Hearing Officer erred in finding that the mark:

1. Was not clearly descriptive of the character or quality of the wares, based on section 12(1)(b) of the Trade-Marks Act;

2. Was deceptively misdescriptive of the character or quality of the wares, based on section 12(1)(b) of the Act; and

3. Was not distinctive of the wares based on the section 2 definition of “distinctive”.

Regarding the section 12(1)(b) prohibition on registering “clearly descriptive” and “deceptively misdescriptive” marks, the Court came to the same result, that the mark was not registrable, although for opposite reasons.  A mark is not registrable if it is either “clearly descriptive” or “deceptively misdescriptive”.  Whereas the Hearing Officer found the mark to be not clearly descriptive yet deceptively misdescriptive of the persons employed in the production of the wares, the Court found the converse – that the mark was “clearly descriptive” yet not “deceptively misdescriptive”.

Informing this reversal was the additional affidavit evidence from one of Continental Teves’ vice presidents, stating that the company employs a substantial number of engineers in the production of the wares in question and had done so for decades.  However, the Court also noted that nothing in the evidence established whether Canadian engineers were involved although it appeared that none were.  This additional evidence was enough to change the mark’s characterisation from “not clearly descriptive” to “clearly descriptive”  since it established that engineers were involved and the mark was therefore a clear description of the manner in which the wares are designed and produced.  Nothing in the evidence established whether the engineers involved were Canadian, but this did not matter since there was no evidence indicating or suggesting that the average consumer, on encountering the mark, would believe the wares were designed or produced by Canadian engineers.  Thus, the mark was not deceptively misdescriptive according to the Court.  The decision appears to be at odds with the earlier decision in Canadian Council of Professional Engineers v. Kelly Properties LLC, but in that case the Applicant was seeking to use KELLY ENGINEERING RESOURCES in association with employment services, which implied that Canadian engineers were involved since the services were being offered in Canada and only a licensed Canadian engineer could offer such services.

The Court came to the same result as the Hearing Officer on the finding of a lack of distinctiveness, noting that distinctiveness is “the very essence of a trademark” since it allows a consumer to identify the source of goods.  Continental Teves failed to meet its onus to prove the mark was distinctive of the wares in the face of the Council’s evidence showing the use of the phrase “engineering excellence” in Canada and abroad in multiple contexts.

Finally, the Court noted the Council was “zealous” in protecting the exclusivity of the words “engineer” and “engineering”, although this was not an endorsement or disapproval of the approach but only an observation regarding the policy.

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Trademark Evidentiary Issues / Colour as a Trademark

JTI Macdonald TM Corp. v. Imperial Tobacco Products Limited, a recent decision of the Federal Court, includes interesting findings regarding the introduction of additional evidence on appeals, colour constituting a trademark rather than a distinguishing guise and the evidence necessary to establish non-distinctiveness.

Imperial Tobacco applied to register “the colour orange applied to the visible surface of the packaging as shown in the attached drawing”, namely a drawing of a cigarette package.  JTI-Macdonald opposed the application and, being unsuccessful before the Opposition Board, appealed to the Federal Court.  The Federal Court agreed with the Board and rejected the various grounds of opposition.

The Court applied a standard of reasonableness, rather than correctness, when considering the appeal, given that the issues were mixed fact and law and within the expertise of the Board.  On an appeal from the Opposition Board a party is entitled to introduce new evidence and if that evidence would have “materially affected” the Board’s findings, the standard of review is one of correctness.  However, in this case, the Court concluded that the additional evidence that JTI-Macdonald sought to introduce merely provided additional examples of products rejected by the Board in its analysis of distinctiveness and therefore would not have affected the Board’s decision. 

The Court also considered the issue whether the applied for colour formed part of a mode of wrapping or packaging so as to constitute a distinguishing guise.  The Court noted that what was applied for was the colour orange applied to the packaging.  The colour was claimed separately and was not just an element of the packaging. Thus, the Board reasonably concluded that the colour was not part of the wrapping or packaging and could be claimed alone as a trademark.

With regards to the evidence necessary to establish distinctiveness, the Court noted that the relevant date for establishing a lack of distinctiveness is the date of the filing of the opposition.  Some of JTI-Macdonald’s evidence was from the period prior to the date when the opposition was filed and was therefore not probative.  As well, a number of the products relied on by JTI-Macdonald to establish non-distinctiveness either lacked sales data or had very low sales figures and did not assist.

In the end none of the grounds of opposition were accepted by the Board or the Court and the trademark was allowed to proceed to allowance.

A Professional Designation Can Be A Certification Mark: Canada’s Federal Court

In a decision rendered earlier this year, Ontario Dental Assistants Association v. Canadian Dental Association, the Federal Court of Canada held that a professional designation could function as a certification mark, although not  in the case at hand.

The case was an appeal from a decision of the Trademarks Opposition Board (TMOB) allowing the Canadian Dental Association’s opposition to the registration of the certification mark “CDA”.  The Ontario Dental Assistants Association (ODAA) had applied to register the certification mark “CDA” in association with dental assisting services, and more particularly to denote a dental assistant that possessed specific qualifications as approved by the ODAA.  The ODAA alleged use in Canada since at least as early as 1965.

The TMOB denied the registration of “CDA” as a certification mark on the basis that a professional designation could not function as a certification mark and consequently the acronym “CDA” could not be said to have been used as a certification mark from the time claimed by ODAA in its application.  The TMOB also held that the certification mark “CDA” was not distinctive enough to be registered, given its use by the Canadian Dental Association as an acronym to refer to itself.

On appeal, the Federal Court focused on paragraph (c) of the definition of “certification mark” in section 2 of the Trade-Marks Act: “means a mark that is used for the purpose of distinguishing or so as to distinguish wares or services that are of a defined standard with respect to… (c) the class of persons by whom the wares have been produced or the services are performed… from wares or services that are not of that defined standard.”

The Court held that the definition must be viewed in the context of the Act as a whole and listed the criteria a certification mark must meet, namely: not be clearly descriptive or deceptively misdescriptive of the wares or services; be distinctive; not be used by the owner, but only by authorized licensees; not be confusing with a registered or previously applied for trade-mark or trade name; and be used in accordance with section 4 of the Act which includes, with respect to services, use or display in the advertising of the services.  The Court disagreed with a 1988 Opposition Board decision, Life Underwriters Association of Canada v. Provincial Association of Quebec Life Underwriters, which suggested that a professional designation could never serve as a valid certification mark, and found that there is nothing in the Act to preclude a valid certification mark from being registered for a professional designation, so long as the mark satisfies the listed criteria.

Despite this finding, the Court dismissed the ODAA’s appeal on the grounds that the ODAA had not established use of the acronym “CDA” as a certification mark since as early as 1965.  Documents issued by the ODAA to dental assistants did not constitute use by licensees or certified users and name tags evidenced use by dental assistants to show their membership in the association, but not to distinguish the services performed.  Moreover, the mark was not distinctive given its use by the Canadian Dental Association.

Thus, while the ODAA was not successful, it is now clear that a professional designation could constitute a certification mark, if the criteria are met.

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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