Brexit’s impact on IP Rights

By Richard Stobbe

The  UK’s Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA) has released a helpful 12-page summary entitled The Impact of Brexit on Intellectual Property, which discusses a number of IP topics and the anticipated impact on IP rights and transactions, including:

  • EPC, PCT and UK patents
  • Community trade marks
  • Trade secrets
  • Copyright
  • IP disputes and IP transactions

It is CIPA’s position that IP rights holders should expect “business as usual” in the next few years, since existing UK national IP rights are unaffected, European patents and applications remain unaffected, and the UK Government has not even taken steps to trigger “Article 50” which would put in motion the formal bureaucratic machinery to leave the EU. This step is not expected until late 2016 or early 2017, which means the final exit may not occur until 2019.

Canadian rightsholders who have UK or EU-based IP rights are encouraged to consult IP counsel regarding their IP rights.

Calgary – 07:00 MST



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Craft Beer Trademarks (Part 2)

By Richard Stobbe

In Part 1 we noted the growth in the craft beer industry in Canada and the U.S., and how this has spawned some interesting trademark disputes.

The case of  Brooklyn Brewery Corp. v. Black Ops Brewing, Inc. (January 7, 2016) pitted New York-based Brooklyn Brewery Corporation against California-based Black Ops Brewing, Inc. in a fight over the use of the mark BLACK OPS for beer. Brooklyn Brewery established sales, since 2007, of its beer under the registered trademark BROOKLYN BLACK OPS (for $29.99 a bottle!). It objected to the use of the name BLACK OPS by the California brewery, which commenced operations in 2015.

The California brewery argued that a distinction should be made between the name of the brewery versus the names of individual beers within the product line, which had different identifying names such as VALOR, SHRAPNEL and the BLONDE BOMBER.  However, this argument fell apart under evidence that the term “Black Ops” appeared on each label of each of the above-listed beers, and there was clear evidence that the California brewery applied for registration of the mark BLACK OPS BREWING in association with beer in the USPTO.

The court was convinced that use of the marks “Black Ops Brewing,” “Black Ops,” and “” created “a likelihood that the consuming public will be confused as to who makes what product.” An preliminary injunction was issued barring Black Ops Brewing from selling beer using the name BLACK OPS.

Black Ops Brewing has since rebranded to Tactical Ops Brewing.


Calgary – 07:00 MST



Craft Beer Trademarks (Part 1)

By Richard Stobbe

Canadians drink a lot of beer.

The number of licensed breweries in Canada has risen 100%  over  the  past  five  years to over 600. In Alberta and B.C. alone, the number of breweries doubled between 2010 and 2015.

Industry trends are shifting, driven by the growth in micro and craft breweries in Canada, a phenomenon mirrored in the U.S., where over 4,000 licensed breweries are vying for the business of consumers, the highest number of breweries in U.S. history.

And with this comes an outpouring of beer-related trademarks.  Brewery names and beer labels invariably lead to the clash of a few beer bottles on the litigation shelf. Let’s have a look at recent U.S. cases:

  • The mark ATLAS for beer was contested in the case of Atlas Brewing Company, LLC v. Atlas Brew Works LLC, 2015 TTAB LEXIS 381 (Trademark Trial & App. Bd. (TTAB) Sept. 22, 2015).
  • Atlas Brewing Company opposed the trademark application for ATLAS, arguing that there was a likelihood of confusion between ATLAS and ATLAS BREWING COMPANY. The TTAB agreed that there was a likelihood of confusion, since the two marks are virtually identical (the addition of “Brewing Company” is merely descriptive or generic) and the products are identical.
  • However, the TTAB ultimately decided that the applicant had earlier rights, since Atlas Brewing Company did not actually sell any products bearing the ATLAS BREWING COMPANY trademark before the filing date for the trademark application. The only evidence related to the pre-sales period – for example, private conversations, letters, and negotiations with architects, builders, and vendors of equipment. The TTAB characterized these as “more or less internal or organizational activities which would not generally be known by the general public”.
  • Secondly, there was evidence of social media accounts which used the ATLAS BREWING COMPANY name, but the TTAB was not convinced that this amounted to actual use of the brand as a trademark. “The act of joining Twitter on April 30, 2012, or Facebook on May 14, 2012, does not by itself establish use analogous to trademark use. “
  • Interestingly, the TTAB rejected the argument that the beer industry should be treated in a way similar to the pharmaceutical industry: Atlas Brewing Company argued that “there are special circumstances which apply because regulatory approval is required prior to being able to sell beer; and that the beer industry is similar to the pharmaceutical industry, where trademark rights may attach prior to the actual sales of goods, and government approvals are needed prior to actual sales to the general public.” The TTAB countered this by pointing out that pharma companies engaged in actual sales of the product bearing the trademark during the clinical testing phase, prior to introduction into the marketplace. In this case, however, there were no actual sales.
  • Thus, the opposition was refused and the application for ATLAS was allowed to proceed.

The old Atlas Brewing Company has since rebranded as Burnt City Brewing, with a knowing wink at the legal headaches: “We’ve all been burned by something, but now we’re back and better than ever.”

Hat tip to Foley Hoag for their round-up of American cases.

Related Reading: How the Craft Brew Boom Is Changing the Industry’s Trademark Game 


Calgary – 07:00 MST

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Oh Canada! … in Trademarks

By Richard Stobbe

In honour of Canada Day tomorrow (for our American readers, that’s the equivalent of Independence Day, with the beer, hotdogs and fireworks, but without the summer blockbuster movie to go along with it), here is our venerable national anthem… in trademarks:

OH CANADA (registered for use in association with whiskey), our HOME AND NATIVE LAND (registered for key chains, mugs, coasters and place mats, but expunged for failure to renew in 2012), TRUE PATRIOT LOVE (registered for accepting and administering charitable contributions to support the Canadian Military and their families) in all our sons command (until the lyrics are amended through a private members bill)! WITH GLOWING HEARTS (abandoned) we see thee rise, the TRUE NORTH (registered for footwear namely shoes, boots, slippers and sandals) STRONG AND FREE (registered for T-shirts, sweaters, and hats)! From far and wide, OH CANADA (registered for use in association with whiskey),  WE STAND ON GUARD (registered for water purification systems) for thee! God keep OUR LAND (registered for fresh fruit), GLORIOUS AND FREE (registered for athletic wear, beachwear, casual wear, golf wear, gym wear, outdoor winter clothing and fridge magnets)! OH CANADA (registered for use in association with whiskey) we stand ON GUARD FOR THEE (registered for travel health insurance services, but abandoned in 1996)! WE STAND ON GUARD (registered for water purification systems) for thee!

Happy Canada Day!


Calgary – 12:00 MST

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BREXIT and IP Rights for Canadian Business

By Richard Stobbe

Yesterday UK voters elected to approve a withdrawal from the EU.  What does this mean for Canadian business owners who have intellectual property (IP) rights in the UK?

The first message for Canadian IP rights holders is (in true British style) remain calm and keep a stiff upper lip. All of this is going to take a while to sort out and rights holders will have advance notice of the various means to protect their rights in an orderly fashion. The British are not known for rash actions — ok, other than the Brexit vote.

Rights granted by the EU Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), will be impacted, although the extent of the impact is still to be negotiated and settled. The UK’s membership in WIPO (the World International Property Organisation) is independent of EU membership and so will not be affected by this process. Similarly, the UK’s participation in the European Patent Convention is not dependent on EU membership.

Current speculation is that EU Trade Marks will continue to be recognized as valid in the EU, although such rights will not be recognized in the UK. This may require Canadian rights holders to submit new applications for those marks in the UK, or there may be a negotiated conversion of those EUIPO rights into national UK rights, permitting these registered marks to be recognized both in the EU and the UK.

Copyright law should not be dramatically impacted, since many of the rights of Canadian copyright holders would benefit from international copyright conventions that predate the EU era. However, UK copyright law was undergoing a process to become aligned with EU laws. For example, recent amendments to the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 were enacted in 2014 to implement EU Directive 2001/29, and the fate of these statutory amendments remains unclear at the moment.

Again, this won’t happen overnight.  Many bureaucrats must debate many regulations before the way forward becomes clear. That’s not much of a rallying cry but it is the reality for an unprecedented event such as this. The good news? If you are a EU IP rights negotiator, you will have steady employment for the next few years.


Calgary – 10:00 MST



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Trademark Series: Words in a foreign language

By Richard Stobbe

A word that clearly describes a particular product or service cannot function as a trademark for that product or service. The Trademarks Act phrases this idea in a more formal way: section 12(1)(b) says that a trade-mark is registrable if it is not … “whether depicted, written or sounded, either clearly descriptive or deceptively misdescriptive in the English or French language of the character or quality of the wares or services in association with which it is used or proposed to be used or of the conditions of or the persons employed in their production or of their place of origin”. (Emphasis added)

The case of  Primalda Industries Corp v Morinda, Inc., 2004 CanLII 71759 (CA TMOB), reviewed an application for the trade-mark TAHITIAN NONI Design, for the following wares: “skin care preparations; namely, cleansers, lotions, gels, moisturizing creams” and similar products. The term TAHITIAN NONI refers to the morinda citrifolia tree, which is commonly known as ‘NONI’ in the Polynesian language.  The application was opposed based on a challenge that the mark offended section 12(1)(b) since it was “clearly descriptive or deceptively misdescriptive” of the products, by virtue of the fact that the name is a clear description of ingredients in the skin care products, which are derived from the fruit of the ‘Tahitian NONI’ tree.

This might be like trying to register the word CANADIAN MAPLE in association with skin care products derived from, say, the syrup from the maple tree.

However, after reviewing the Act, the court rejected this ground of opposition. Why?

“It is self-evident from the legislation,” the Court said, “that words that might be descriptive in a language other than French or English are not subject to paragraph 12(1)(b). As the opponent alleges in its statement of opposition that ‘NONI’ is a Polynesian word and there is no evidence that it is an English or French word, I conclude that TAHITIAN NONI Design cannot be unregistrable pursuant to paragraph 12(1)(b).”

In short, a clearly descriptive word can be registrable in Canada as long as it is not descriptive in the English of French language.


Calgary – 07:00 MST

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IP Infringement Claim Against Canadian Company Stays in U.S.


By Richard Stobbe

Where should a lawsuit be heard? Canada? The US? In other posts we discuss the idea of a “choice of law” and “forum selection” clauses in contracts. In those cases, the parties agree to a particular forum in advance.

What if there is no contractual relationship? There’s just an intellectual property infringement claim. What is the proper forum for that dispute to be heard?

In Halo Creative v. Comptoir Des Indes Inc., David Ouaknine, Case No. 15-1375 (Fed. Cir., Mar. 14, 2016), a recent decision out of the US Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, this issue was reviewed.

Halo Creative, a Hong Kong based furniture maker, launched an IP infringement lawsuit against Comptoir Des Indes, Inc., a Canadian company, and its CEO, claiming infringement of Halo’s U.S. design patents, U.S. copyrights, and one U.S. common law trademark. The lawsuit was filed in the Northern District of Illinois. The Canadian company moved to dismiss the lawsuit based on a “forum non conveniens” argument – essentially an argument that the Federal Court of Canada would be a better place to litigate the claims. The Illinois district court agreed with the Canadians and dismissed the case. Halo appealed.  At the appeal level, the court looked at the adequacy of the Canadian court to litigate this issue.

The Federal Court of Canada was certainly an available forum but there was no evidence that Halo could seek a satisfactory remedy there, since the infringing activity took place in the U.S., and the infringed rights were all based on U.S. registrations or U.S. based trademark rights. IP rights are fundamentally territorial.  The U.S. court even quoted a Canadian textbook: “a Canadian court would not have jurisdiction to entertain in an action brought by an author of a work in respect of acts being committed outside Canada, even if the defendant was within Canada.” (Emphasis added)  Here, there was no evidence that any infringement occurred in Canada.

The motion was dismissed and the lawsuit will proceed in the U.S.

Calgary – 07:00 MST

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Trademark Series: Confusion (Part 2)

By Richard Stobbe

So much confusion, so little time. The Trade-marks Act teaches us that the use of one trade-mark causes confusion with another trade-mark if the use of both trade-marks in the same area would likely lead to the inference that the products associated with those trade-marks emanate from the same person, even if the products are of a different class. Confusion is assessed by looking at all the surrounding circumstances including:

  • the inherent distinctiveness of the trade-marks;

  • the extent to which the marks have become known;

  • the length of time the trade-marks have been in use;

  • the nature of the products or business;

  • the nature of the trade; and

  • the degree of resemblance between the two trade-marks in appearance or sound or in the ideas suggested by them.

In the case of U-Haul International Inc. v. U Box It Inc., 2015 FC 1345 (CanLII), U-Haul International applied to register the trade-marks U-BOX WE-HAUL and U-BOX, for use in association with “moving and storage services, namely, rental moving, storage, delivery and pick up of portable storage units.” A competitor – U Box It – opposed these applications on the basis of confusion with its registered U BOX IT mark for use for use in association with “garbage removal and waste management services.” 

Are “moving and storage services” in the same area as  “garbage removal and waste management services”? 

U-Haul argued that the two companies offer completely different services, and “that garbage removal and waste management are the ‘exact opposite’ of moving and storage, and in different channels of trade.” However, the court agreed with the opponent’s argument that confusion was based on “the similar manner in which the services are provided, and not on any finding that the services were in fact the same.”

After reviewing all of the factors listed above, the court found a reasonable likelihood of confusion, and refused to register the two marks U-BOX WE-HAUL and U-BOX, based on confusion with the registered mark U BOX IT.


Calgary – 05:00 MST


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Trademark Series: Confusion (Part 1)

By Richard Stobbe

A interesting Report on Business article by the founder of a Canadian business is useful as a cautionary tale about brand confusion (see: I was outraged when Sobey’s rebranded its chain with the same name as my company). The author of the article tells of her struggles when grocery chain Sobeys launched a brand - FRESHCO – that was identical to the name of her then 15-year old company, also named FRESHCO.  It sounds like a frustrating experience. In particular, the author notes that her company was “federally incorporated across Canada, and not trademarked,” leaving her with no legal options to prevent the entry of Sobey’s FRESHCO brand for grocery store services. For small business owners or start-ups, this might be worth examining with a legal lens:

  • First, it’s important to remember that incorporation is completely different from trademark registration. One is creation of a corporate entity, and one is the registration of a brand name. The corporate name sometimes (but does not necessarily) mirror the core brand name of the business. A corporate name is no guarantee of anything in the trademark realm.
  • Next, don’t forget that trademark rights are based on use in the marketplace, and a business generates certain trademark rights even without taking the step of registration at the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. In other words, a  business can defend common law trademark rights based on past use even in the absence of a registered trademark. It’s just harder than with a registered mark.
  • A registered trademark provides stronger rights across Canada, and that kind of brand protection should always be considered by business owners as part of their investment. Even after an incident like the one described by this author, it’s open to the earlier user of the mark to apply for registration, even after many years of “unregistered” use.
  • In this case, the Sobey’s trademark FRESHCO for grocery services is in a different channel of trade than the author’s FRESHCO mark for construction services. Trademark law permits similar or even identical marks to co-exist, so long as consumers aren’t confused. Think of DELTA for hotel services and DELTA for faucets. Identical marks, different channels of trade. There is actually nothing improper about that, as frustrating as it may seem to the earlier user.

The author appears to have used this as a positive opportunity to reinvest in the brand and refocus the company’s marketing message. If this kind of thing happens to your business, ensure that you get legal advice from an experienced trademark lawyer on your options as you make decisions for your company.


Calgary – 07:00 MST

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Trademark Series: Deviations!

By Richard Stobbe

The adage “use it or lose it” captures the essence of the ongoing requirement to put a trademark into commercial use. If you abandon your mark, you effectively give up your trademark rights. The corollary is to “use it as registered, or lose it” Not quite as catchy, but just as important.

The Federal Court decision in Padcon Ltd. v. Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP 2015 FC 943 reminds us of this. In this case, a trademark owner obtained a registration in 2006 for the mark THE OUTRIGGER STEAKHOUSE AND BAR in association with “restaurant, bar and pub services”. When challenged, the trademark owner could only show use of the word OUTRIGGER alone, together with the ® symbol, on its menus and on some related promotional materials. 

Are deviations permitted? When the court considers a mark-as-used against the mark-as-registered, it will consider the following test:

…The practical test to be applied in order to resolve a case of this nature is to compare the trade mark as it is registered with the trade mark as it is used and determine whether the differences between these two marks are so unimportant that an unaware purchaser would be likely to infer that both, in spite of their differences, identify goods having the same origin.

That question must be answered in the negative unless the mark was used in such a way that the mark did not lose its identity and remained recognizable in spite of the differences between the form in which it was registered and the form in which it was used.

The court decided that use of OUTRIGGER alone on menus and promotional materials did not constitute evidence of use of the mark-as-registered: THE OUTRIGGER STEAKHOUSE AND BAR. The registration was expunged.

Lessons for business?

  • Review your marks-as-used, and compare against your marks-as-registered.
  • Consider developing brand guidelines to ensure that your organization, and others who might be authorized to use your trademarks, are in compliance with the guidelines.
  • If you already have brand guidelines, ensure that there are clear lines of responsibility for enforcement.

Calgary – 11:00 MT


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Trademark Series: Can a Geographical Name be a Trademark?

By Richard Stobbe

Let’s take an example. Is the word PARIS registrable as a trademark in Canada? A quick search of the registry shows that there are over 250 registered marks which contain the word PARIS for everything from jewelry to software to real estate management services.

A geographical name can be registrable. It depends. The issue is whether the word is “clearly descriptive or deceptively misdescriptive” in the English or French languages of the place of origin of the goods or services.

In MC Imports Inc. v. AFOD Ltd., a 2016 case Federal Court of Appeal decision, the court reviewed a challenge to the registered mark LINGAYEN in association with fish sauce and shrimp paste products. The owner of the LINGAYEN mark had sued a competitor for infringement; the competitor sold shrimp paste under a different brand, but the packaging included the phrase “Lingayen Style” to describe its product. This reference to “Lingayen” was, according to the claim, an infringement of the LINGAYEN registered mark.

Lingayen is a municipality in the Philippines known for its distinctive shrimp paste products. Thus, the court found that the use of the phrase “Lingayen Style” was not use of the word for trademark purposes, but was used to describe the place of origin of the goods with which it is associated.  Therefore, there was no infringement.

When considering a geographical trademark, ensure that you seek experienced counsel.

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Calgary – 07:00 MST



Trademark Series: Famous Marks in Canada

By Richard Stobbe

Adidas, Veuve Clicquot, Barbie… When is a mark considered “famous” in Canada, and do famous marks enjoy special protection? A handful of Canadian cases have outlined the court’s treatment of well-known brands:

  • Sure, Barbie is famous… but not “trump-card” famous. That was the conclusion of the court in Mattel, Inc v 3894207 Canada Inc., when Mattel raised a challenged that the mark BARBIE used in connection with “restaurant services” would lead consumers to make an inference that the restaurant was affiliated with Mattel’s famous BARBIE doll mark.
    Canadian Courts will not automatically presume that there will be confusion just because one mark is famous. As the Federal Court in Mattel phrased it, “the fame of the mark could not act as a marketing trump card such that the other factors are thereby obliterated.” Canadian courts will assess all of the surrounding circumstances to determine confusion. In Mattel, they considered the restaurant services to be distinguishable from Mattel’s famous doll.
  • The owner of the famous luxury brand VEUVE CLICQUOT encountered similar difficulties in its infringement claim against a purveyor of “mid-priced women’s wear” being sold under the brand CLIQUOT in Quebec.  In Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin v Boutiques Cliquot Ltée., Veuve Clicquot argued that the association with – sniff – mid-priced apparel was damaging its carefully managed reputation. In an interesting turn of phrase from the decision, the Supreme Court of Canada noted that the champagne maker “has been building its fine reputation with the drinking classes since before the French Revolution.” The role of champagne “drinking classes” as a catalyst for the French Revolution is perhaps a topic for a separate article. In any event, the Court did not find any evidence that the VEUVE CLICQUOT brand image was tarnished, or that the goodwill was otherwise devalued or diluted. The infringement claim was dismissed, leaving the CLIQUOT women’s wear shops free to continue business.
  • In a more recent case, shoemaker Adidas challenged a competitor’s registration of a two-stripe design for shoes. Adidas complained that the two-stripe design was confusing with its own three-stripe design. In Adidas AG v. Globe International Nominees Pty Ltd., the Federal Court conceded that “the adidas 3-Stripes Design is well-known, if not famous, in Canada and internationally.” However, in deciding that the two-stripe mark was not confusing with the Adidas 3-stripe design, the Court sounded a cautionary note for owners of famous brands:

    “Fame and notoriety associated with a trademark can be a double-edged sword for a trademark owner. On the one hand, an enhanced reputation may provide the owner with extended protection for the trademark beyond goods and/or services covered by a registration for the marks … On the other hand, when a trademark becomes so well known or famous that the public is so familiar with it and readily identifies that trademark as used in the marketplace on goods and/or services, it may be that even as a matter of first impression, any differences between the well-known mark and another party’s trademark, as used on the same or similar goods and/or services, may serve to more easily distinguish the other party’s trademark and reduce any likelihood of confusion.”

    Put another way, a mark can be so well-known to consumers that small differences in a competing mark will enable consumers to distinguish between the two marks.

Get advice on trade-mark protection and infringement from Field Law’s experienced trademark team.


Calgary – 07:00 MT

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Trademark Series: What is “use” of a trademark?

By Richard Stobbe

This is a story of what “use” really means. In the internet context, a trademark can be displayed on a website by a Canadian company, and that website can be accessed anywhere in the world. Similarly, a foreign company can display its mark on a website which can be accessed by Canadian consumers. Is the foreign company’s mark being “used” in Canada for trademark purposes, merely by being displayed online to Canadian consumers?

If you follow this kind of thing… and who doesn’t?… you would say that this issue was settled in the 2012 case, Inc. v Hrdlicka, [2012] FCJ No 1665 where Justice Hughes said clearly: “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.”

Not so fast.

In Supershuttle International, Inc. v. Fetherstonhaugh & Co., 2015 FC 1259 (CanLII), the court reviewed  a challenge to the SUPERSHUTTLE trademark, which was registered in connection with “airport passenger ground transportation services”. The SUPERSHUTTLE mark was displayed to Canadian consumers who could reserve airport shuttle transportation in the United States. The mark was registered in Canada and displayed in Canada, but no shuttle services were actually performed in Canada. The court concluded that: “While the observation of a trademark by individuals on computers in Canada may demonstrate use of a mark, the registered services must still be offered in Canada.” (Emphasis added)

Non-Canadian trademark owners should take note: merely displaying a mark in Canada via the internet may not be enough for “use” of that mark in Canada. The services or products which are listed in the registration must be available in Canada. Make sure you get experienced advice regarding registration of marks in Canada.


Calgary – 07:00 MT

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Wait… Did you say jail time for trademark infringement?

By Richard Stobbe

Imprisonment in intellectual property infringement cases is rare – although not unheard of. The message from a recent Canadian Federal Court decision is… don’t mess with the Court. They expect compliance with their orders and a contempt order can lead to a “warrant of committal”, resulting in imprisonment.

In 2013, a Federal Court ruled that Hightimes Smokeshop and its officer and director, Ameen Muhammad had infringed the “HIGH TIMES” trademark owned by Trans-High Corporation (See: Trans-High Corporation v Hightimes Smokeshop and Gifts Inc., 2013 FC 1190 (CanLII)). In spite of this judgment, the judgement was ignored, and trademark infringement continued on the shop signage, sales receipts and printed materials of Hightimes Smokeshop.

Then in June 2015, Hightimes Smokeshop and Mr. Muhammad each pleaded guilty to five counts of contempt which resulted in the issuance of a Contempt Order, and an award of $62,500 in costs, payable by Hightimes Smokeshop and Mr. Muhammad, jointly and severally. However, that Contempt Order was also ignored and no money was paid to Trans-High Corporation.

In Trans-High Corporation v. Hightimes Smokeshop and Gifts Inc., 2015 FC 1104 (CanLII), Trans-High Corporation brought another motion to compel compliance with the Contempt Order, citing a ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada, that a person who is ordered by a court to pay money may be imprisoned for contempt if he or she shows “a certain degree of intention to evade his or her obligations”; or, put another way “he or she is unwilling to pay the debt despite having the ability to pay” (see paragraph 11).

The Court issued a warrant for the arrest and imprisonment of Mr. Muhammad, arising from contempt in a trademark infringement case.

Calgary – 07:00 MT

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Trademarks and Metatags: an update

By Richard Stobbe

What if a competitor cut and paste the metatags from your website and used them on the competitor’s site? Is there a remedy under Canadian law? Are metatags subject to trademark protection? The answer is… it depends.

Red Label Vacations ( sued its rival 411 Travel Buys for use of metatags, including “Red Tag Vacations” in the 411 Travel Buys website. The Federal Court dismissed the trademark and copyright claims of Red Label Vacations (see: No copyright or trademark protection for metatags). Red Label Vacations appealed.

In Red Label Vacations Inc. v. 411 Travel Buys Limited, 2015 FCA 290, the Federal Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal, and upheld the lower court decision.

The court agreed that 411 Travel Buys had copied the metatags from Red Label’s site, but noted that none of the metatags appeared in the visible portion of the 411 Travel Buys website. Therefore, consumers did not see any of the metatags. In that sense, there was no “use” of the metatags as trademarks for the purposes of determining infringement.

Interestingly, there was one instance where the metatags were visible, and that was in the Google search result, where the words “Book Online with Red Tag Vacations & Pay Less Guaranteed” appeared in connection with the 411 Travel Buys site. The court considered that this would have the effect of sending consumers to Red Label’s site.

The court did leave the door ajar for other metatag trademark infringement cases, noting “in some situations, inserting a registered trade-mark (or a trade-mark that is confusing with a registered trade-mark) in a metatag may constitute advertising of services that would give rise to a claim for infringement…” [Emphasis added]

Calgary – 07:00 MT

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Amendments to Canadian Intellectual Property Laws …Delayed

By Richard Stobbe

As an update to our earlier post, we note that the Intellectual Property Institute of Canada, in its most recent bulletin, is estimating that the anticipated changes to Canada’s intellectual property laws – including the overhaul of trademark laws under new Trademarks Regulations, as well as changes to the Patent Rules and Industrial Design Regulations – will not begin until late 2016. This pushes the patent law changes into late 2017, with the trademark amendments to be implemented by early 2018.

The impact of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on Canada’s IP laws is still being assessed. If ratified in Canada, the TPP is expected to require further consequential amendments to Canadian laws – such as copyright term extensions.

Stay tuned. Just don’t hold your breath.

Calgary – 07:00 MT

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Infringing Sales Through Amazon

By Richard Stobbe

A U.S. court recently decided that it would take jurisdiction over a seller who sold allegedly infringing products through online retailers such as PetEdge Inc. a Massachusetts-based manufacturer, owns a patent and certain trademarks for its folding steps to enable pets to climb onto a bed.

Alleging patent and trademark infringement, PetEdge wanted to sue rival Fortress Secure Solutions, based in Washington State, a company with no operations, personnel or offices in Massachusetts.

To justify its lawsuit in Massachusetts district court, PetEdge argued – and the court agreed – that Fortress purposefully directed its sales to Massachusetts residents by making its sales through, and the infringement claims arose from those activities. Thus, the court took jurisdiction over the out-of-state defendant.

Lessons for business?

Canadian retailers should take note that if they use national retailers such as to sell products into the U.S., the use of this distribution channel could result in a local state court taking jurisdiction over the Canadian seller, under the same analysis applied to Fortress.

Thanks to Finnegan LLP for their link to the decision: PetEdge, Inc. v. Fortress Secure Solutions, LLC

Calgary – 07:00 MT

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Dear Trademark: Don’t Ever Change

By Richard Stobbe

Change is not always good, particularly in the world of registered trademarks. If your trademark changes over time – due to the vagaries of marketing trends, fashion, style – you may find that your mark no longer matches the form in which it was registered. Minor changes will be tolerated. Major changes can be fatal to the mark.

As noted in our earlier post “It is important that a mark is used as registered. Where the mark changes over time, the mark owner should consider filing a new application for the modified form of the mark. Otherwise, the evidence of usage may show use of the modified mark, which may not be accepted as evidence of use of the mark as it was registered.”

marciano.jpgThis point was illustrated in the recent decision in Guess? IP Holder L.P. v Les Montres Marciano Inc., 2015 TMOB 108 (CanLII), in which the design mark SPORT MARCIANO which was registered in association with watches, had evolved over time to show the word MARCIANO alone, as shown above.

The result was that Guess – the mark owner – could not tender evidence of any use of the mark SPORT MARCIANO in association with watches.

The registration was cancelled.

Lessons for business? Get advice on your brand portfolio – not just during the initial searching and registration process, but also during the lifecycle of your marks, including change management, the development of brand guidelines and enforcement protocols.

Calgary – 07:00 MT

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Is the Mark used as a Trademark or a Trade Name?

By Richard Stobbe

Apple Inc. sells Apple-branded computers. Is Apple a trademark or a trade name? And what’s the difference anyway? And perhaps most importantly, why should you even care?

A trademark is a protectable brand that distinguishes the source of goods or services in the marketplace. A trade name is merely a business name that may or may not overlap with a company’s trademark rights. It could be a trading name, doing-business-as, or operating-as, such as 1234567 Alberta Ltd. doing business as ABC Trading, where ABC Trading is the trade name. In the case of Apple, the company name “Apple Inc.” mirrors the company’s core mark (no pun intended). If we think back to earlier times, the trade name “Research in Motion” was used by a certain business whose main product was sold under a different trademark: BLACKBERRY.

If you are a trademark owner, this kind of thing matters because of the requirement in Canada to continually use a trademark in order to maintain trademark rights. This means that a registered trademark is vulnerable to be cancelled if it falls out of use. There is a mechanism in the Trademarks Act to challenge an owner’s entitlement to a registered mark, where the owner must show evidence of use. This is a challenge under Section 45 (and is commonly verbed in Canada, as in “we section fortyfived that mark”).

In the recent decision by the Trademarks Opposition Board in Borden Ladner Gervais LLP v GDC Communities, 2015 TMOB 50 (CanLII), this issue was addressed. Someone challenged the registered mark GDC COMMUNITIES which was registered in association with various services of engineering, development, financing and management of real estate, real estate marketing and residential home construction. The mark owner responded with evidence showing use of the mark:

  • Some of the evidence showed use of the mark in a trade show outside of Canada, which would not qualify as use in Canada;
  • Some of the evidence was in the form of a business card which, according to the owner, was distributed to potential clients in Canada;
  • Some of the evidence showed use of the GDC COMMUNITIES on the owner’s website;
  • Lastly, the owner tendered email correspondence evidence, showing the display of GDC COMMUNITIES.
  • The evidence was unconvincing because the decision-maker concluded that wherever the mark appeared, it functioned as a trade name (the name of the company), as opposed to a brand. The decision puts it this way: “GDC COMMUNITIES is not set apart from the surrounding text, but appears in the same size and font. In addition, the copyright notice at the bottom of the web page lists the copyright owner as GDC COMMUNITIES, immediately followed by the Registrant’s address, suggesting that GDC COMMUNITIES is being used to identify the legal entity that owns the copyright and is not being used as a trade-mark. This is consistent with how GDC COMMUNITIES is used in the rest of the web page. In all cases in which GDC COMMUNITIES appears in the Registrant’s evidence, it is not presented in a manner which sets it apart from other corporate information or in a manner such that it would be perceived by a consumer as a trade-mark.” (Emphasis added).

    The lessons for business?

    • The mark must appear in marketing materials – such as packaging, website materials, email footers, signage – in a way that sets the mark apart from the surrounding text. It is not necessarily fatal to a mark that it appears above the company’s address. For example, an email or webpage showing “Apple, 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, CA” will not, by itself, jeopardize the strength of that mark. However, if that is the only use, it will lead to the conclusion that the mark is used merely as a corporate or trade name.
    • The mark should appear in a different font, in bold, in a different size or colour, and the proper notation should be used. In this case, the mark was a registered mark and should be accompanied by the circle-R mark.
    • Note: It is important that a mark is used as registered. Where the mark changes over time, the mark owner should consider filing a new application for the modified form of the mark. Otherwise, the evidence of usage may show use of the modified mark, which may not be accepted as evidence of use of the mark as it was registered.

    Calgary – 07:00 MT

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    No copyright or trademark protection for metatags

    By Richard Stobbe

    What if a competitor copied the metatags on your website and you watched web traffic bleed from your own site while the competitor’s site enjoyed a bump in hits? Are metatags subject to copyright or trademark protection? The recent Federal Court decision in Red Label Vacations Inc. ( v. 411 Travel Buys Limited (, 2015 FC 19 (CanLII), dealt with just such a dispute when Red Label sued its competitor 411 Travel for copying the title tags, meta descriptions and meta keywords on 48 pages of the 411 Travel website.

    The court reviewed the facts and past metatag decisions and decided that, on balance, the metatags that were copied did not qualify for copyright protection. “In this case there is little evidence of any sufficient degree of skill and judgement in creating these metatags…or for the originality required in compiling data or other compilations… While in some cases there may be sufficient originality in metatags to attract copyright protection when viewed as a whole, the substance of the metatags asserted by the Plaintiff in this case does not meet the threshold required to acquire copyright protection in Canada.” (Emphasis added) There was copying, but without copyright, there can be no infringement.

    As for the trademark claims, the court reviewed the role of the “searcher” (i.e. the potential customer who enters certain search terms into a Google search) in ultimately deciding whether or not trademark infringement had occurred. “Even if a searcher is looking for the website connected with a particular trade name or trademark, once that person reaches the website, there must be confusion as to the source of the entity or person providing the services or goods. If there is no likelihood of confusion with respect to the source of the goods or services on the website, there is no support for finding this prong of the test for passing off. Accordingly, use of a competitor’s trademark or trade name in metatags does not, by itself, constitute a basis for a likelihood of confusion, because the consumer is still free to choose and purchase the goods or services from the website he or she initially searched for.” In this case, there was no use of any of the Plaintiff’s trademarks on the visible portion of the 411 Travel website. Thus, the court dismisses the trademark infringement claims.

    Interestingly, the role of the searcher was also reviewed in a case between Vancouver Community College and Vancouver Career College. Vancouver Community College sued for trademark infringement, on the basis of the rival college using “VCC” as part of a search-engine optimization and keyword advertising strategy. While this recent decision (Vancouver Community College v. Vancouver Career College (Burnaby) Inc., 2015 BCSC 1470 (CanLII)) didn’t deal directly with metatags, it dealt with the use of trademarks in Google AdWords, and the court noted: “The authorities on passing off provide that it is the ‘first impression’ of the searcher at which the potential for confusion arises which may lead to liability. In my opinion, the ‘first impression’ cannot arise on a Google AdWords search at an earlier time than when the searcher reaches a website.”

    In other words, it is the point at which a searcher reaches the website when this “first impression” is gauged. Where the website is clearly identified without the use of any of the competitor’s trademarks, then there will be no confusion.

    This helps clarify the laws around the use of metatags and Google AdWords; it also leaves open the possibility that metatags, in other circumstances, could qualify for copyright protection.

    Calgary – 07:00 MT

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