Both Here and There: Trademark Use on Websites Available in Canada

According to a December, 2012 decision of the Federal Court, HomeAway.com, Inc v. Hrdlicka, “a trade-mark which appears on a computer screen website in Canada, regardless where the information may have originated from or be stored, constitutes for Trade-marks Act purposes, use and advertising in Canada.”  This broad statement suggests that the appearance of a trade-mark on a computer screen is sufficient whether or not services are available or performed in Canada.  However, the decision is best understood in context. 

HomeAway.com, which acquired and now operates the well known Vacation Rentals by Owner or VRBO website at VRBO.com, sought to expunge the trade-mark VRBO which Hrdlicka had applied to register in 2009 for use in association with services described as “vacation real estate listing services”.  HomeAway.com sought to establish prior use of VRBO.  HomeAway.com had a computer presence in Canada, but no physical presence.  In analyzing section 4(2) of the Act which states that “a trade-mark is deemed to be used in association with services if it is used or displayed in the performance or advertising of those services”, the Court noted that there was little jurisprudence regarding use by means of a computer screen display.  The Court then adopted the concept that an activity can be “both here and there” from a series of earlier cases involving tax, criminal activity and copyright and sought to interpret section 4(2) “in a manner consistent with modern day realities”, namely “that information which is stored in one country can be said to exist in another; in this case Canada.”

The Court then went on to describe the HomeAway.com business as being “advertising, on its website, homes, apartments and the like owned by third persons who wish to rent them to others”, suggesting that HomeAway.com offers the same services as the Classifieds section of a newspaper.  The Court used the accessing of properties in “Montreal” and “Niagara-on-the-Lake” as examples of how the website might be used.  It is not clear whether there was actual evidence before the Court of Canadians posting and accessing properties on the website, but presumably this was available.

In the circumstances, Hrdlicka’s registration was expunged in light of HomeAway.com’s prior use, the absence of any use by Hrdlicka until 2012 and evidence that Hrdlicka was trying to sell his trade-mark to HomeAway.com.

The question now is whether the mere appearance of a trade-mark in advertising available on a website in Canada is enough to constitute use in association with services.  However, when the statement from the Federal Court is read in context, it would appear that the services must be available to or accessed by Canadians.  Some further case law may be necessary to clarify this point.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInInstapaperShare

Invoices Evidencing Use and Abandoning Use of Trademarks

A decision from the Federal Court of Appeal, Iwasaki Electric Co. Ltd. v. Hortilux Schreder B.V, provides some useful commentary regarding invoices as evidence of trademark use and regarding the issue of abandonment. 

Hortilux opposed Iwasaki’s application to register HORTILUX in association with electric lamps.  The Opposition Board accepted October 1997 as Iwasaki’s date of first use and concluded that the invoices submitted by Hortilux did not establish use prior to October 1997, although no reasons were provided byt the Board on this particular issue.  No additional evidence on this point was provided on appeal, but the Federal Court judge, applying a standard of reasonableness, reviewed the case law and concluded that Hortilux did have use prior to October 1997.  The Court of Appeal concluded there was no reason to interfere with the judge’s decision. 

The Court of Appeal quoted the judge’s earlier decision that “if a trademark is placed at the top of the invoice, with no use in the body of the invoice, the use will not generally be in association with the invoiced wares…”, but agreed that there were exceptions to this general rule, noting the judge’s reasons for drawing an exception in this case: the trademark was prominent on the invoice, appearing in large font and with design elements; it was clear that HORTILUX was not simply the trade name, particularly when Hortilux B.V. appeared separately; the recipient was the distributor and would therefore have understood that HORTILUX referenced the source of the reflectors; the reflectors were the only goods referenced in the invoices and no other trademark appeared on the invoices.

Having found use prior to October 1997, the Federal Court judge also had to consider whether the mark had been abandoned by Hortilux at the time Iwasaki’s application was advertised (a point that the Board Member did not need to address).  The Court of Appeal agreed that when applying the test in section 16(5) of the Trade-marks Act – whether at the time an application is advertised, a confusing trademark has been “abandoned” – there must be evidence of an intention to abandon. If the failure to use has continued for a long period of time, this may amount to evidence of an intention to abandon absent evidence to the contrary.  However, in this case there was affidavit evidence stating that Hortilux did not intend to abandon the mark.  This evidence did not amount to evidence of use but that was not necessary.  Thus, the judge had made no overiding error and Hortilux succeeded on its appeal.

Warm wishes – and thanks

On behalf of the Canadian Trademark Blog team, please accept our warmest wishes for a happy and prosperous new year.   We plan to do our best to continue providing timely trademark-related information and insight, through 2013 and beyond.

Special thanks to you, our visitors, for your continued readership – and for making us one of the top 10 intellectual property and technology-related blogs in the country.  We know many of you have been with us since our start over six years ago, and we certainly value your support and interest.

Happy new year.