Trademark Expungement Proceedings: Standing as a “Person Interested”

In McCallum Industries Ltd. v. HJ Heinz Co. Australia Ltd., the Federal Court dismissed the applicant’s action to expunge the respondent’s trademark under s. 57(1) of the Trade-marks Act.

Both the applicant and the respondent produced canned and processed meat products in Canada, the applicant under the name “PALM & Device“, and the respondent under the name “OX & PALM”. The applicant was granted a trademark in July 2003, while the respondent was granted a trademark in October 2005.

Section 57(1) allows “any person interested” to apply to the Federal Court for an order that any entry in the register be struck out or amended on the grounds that at the date of the application the entry as it appears on the register does not accurately express or define the existing rights of the person appearing to be the registered owner of the trademark. The applicant sought expungement of the respondent’s trademark on the grounds that the trademark was confusing to the public, that the respondent was not the person entitled to secure registration of the trademark, and that the trademark was non-distinctive.

The Court dealt first with the issue of whether the applicant was a “person interested” such that it had standing under s. 57(1). The phrase “person interested” is defined in s. 2 of the Trade-marks Act. A corporation such as the applicant is a “person interested” if it may be affected by any entry on the register or reasonably apprehends that it may be affected by any act or omission, or contemplated act or omission under or contrary to the Trade-marks Act. Ultimately, the Court found that the applicant was not a “person interested” because the applicant did not initially oppose the registration of the respondent’s trademark, because it waited until near the end of the 5-year deadline provided by s. 17(2) of the Trade-marks Act, and because it did not establish that its business had suffered as a consequence of the registration of the respondent’s trademark. Simply carrying on the same business and targeting the same consumers were found to be insufficient to show that the applicant was affected by the respondent’s trademark. In addition, the court found that the nearly five-year delay in bringing the action was indicative that the respondent’s trademark did not cause the applicant to suffer any harm.

Despite the Court’s finding that the applicant was not a “person interested”, it acknowledged the de minimis threshold for that issue and proceeded to discuss the remainder of the applicant’s claims. In considering whether the trade-marks of the applicant and the respondent were confusing, the Court applied the test in s. 6(5) of the Trade-marks Act. In addition to finding that the two trademarks bore little resemblance to one another in appearance, sound and idea, the Court also found that the co-existence of the two trademarks in the United States since 1998 was support for the conclusion that the trademarks did not create confusion.

The Court concluded by finding that the respondent’s trademark was distinctive both because it was adapted to distinguish, and because it actually distinguished. This finding was based on the uniqueness of the respondent’s trademark and the fact that it was a recognized brand name within its target community.

The Court was satisfied that the Respondent was the person entitled to secure the registration of the OX & PALM trademark. The applicant’s claim was dismissed with costs.

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