A casual consumer somewhat in a hurry


Sound familiar at Christmas time? ‘Tis the season when trade-marks play a critical role in millions of buying choices of millions of consumers. So where is the line between two marks that appear similar, for similar products? With all due respect, the Supreme Court of Canada is not known for being succinct, but I have to admit this quote from the top court does capture the issue, and in this context the term “provenance” refers to source, or which company the products come from:

  • “Trade-marks in Canada are an important tool to assist consumers and businesses. In the marketplace, a business marks its wares or services as an indication of provenance. This allows consumers to know, when they are considering a purchase, who stands behind those goods or services. In this way, trade-marks provide a “shortcut to get consumers to where they want to go” […]  Where the trade-marks of different businesses are similar, a consumer may be unable to discern which company stands behind the wares or services. Confusion between trade-marks impairs the objective of providing consumers with a reliable indication of the expected source of wares or services. […] “

That is the essence of trade-mark law in Canada.

A recent case from the Federal Court (MÖVENPICK HOLDING AG v. EXXON MOBIL CORPORATION, 2011 FC 1397) has reiterated this concept, in a battle between the marks Marché Express for fast-food items sold at a convenience store, and Marché for restaurant services. The court stated that “The test to be applied is a matter of first impression in the mind of a casual consumer somewhat in a hurry who sees the [mark], at a time when he or she has no more than an imperfect recollection of the [prior] trade-marks …” Ultimately, the court decided that there was no confusion, partly since the term “Marché” was commonly used in this industry, indicating that consumers are accustomed to seeing the word and will use relatively small differences to distinguish between trade-marks.

ipblog.ca will be taking a break until January… So, for all those casual consumers somewhat in a hurry, slow down and have a great holiday!

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iPhone App Trips Over Copyright


Copyright complaints against apps are now common, and this one frames the issues nicely: In Shanti Deva Korpi v. Apple Inc. , 1:11-cv-00906- LY (U.S. District Court) a photographer who posts her photos to Flikr, has filed a lawsuit against Apple, claiming that two iOS apps – one of which was entitled “Unofficial Guide to Hipstamatic” – engaged in a practice of scraping and republishing her photos, without authorization or attribution. According to the claim, this is a violation of copyright.

In Canada, the recent decision of the B.C. Supreme Court in Century 21 Canada Ltd. Partnership v. Rogers Communications Inc., deals directly with this issue (see my commentary Coming to terms with online copyright published in the November 25, 2011 issue of the Lawyers Weekly). The B.C. case is not an app-related dispute, but the court makes it clear that copyright will be enforceable in situations where content (including images) is scraped off the internet, and is then repackaged and republished without authorization.

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Business Method Patents: Canadian Update


In September, 1998, Amazon applied to patent its 1-click check-out, an invention officially entitled “Method and System For Placing A Purchase Order Via A Communication Network” (Canadian Patent Application No. 2,246,933). In Canada, the patent office refused to grant the patent because it didn’t consider the invention to be patentable under the Canadian Patent Act. Amazon appealed that refusal and in 2010 the Federal Court reversed the patent office’s decision and effectively ordered the patent to be issued. The patent office still refused to grant the patent, and appealed the case up to the Federal Court of Appeal. In a decision in November 2011, the Federal Court of Appeal handed down its decision in Attorney General of Canada et al v Amazon.com, Inc., 2011 FCA 328. The appeal court has confirmed that business methods are patentable in Canada and there is no basis under Canadian law for excluding business methods from patentability in Canada.

Related Reading:

CIPO’s Software & Business Method Patent Guidelines

Business Method Patents in Canada

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RIM’s BBX Trade-mark Woes


The BlackBerry maker can’t get a break these days. On December 6th, an American company obtained a Temporary Restraining Order, from a US court barring RIM from using the mark BBX in association with software. The lawsuit is based on the registered trade-mark BBX owned by BASIS International Ltd. This has caused an embarassing renaming of RIM’s new operating system to BlackBerry 10.

Lessons for business?

  • Trade-mark screening searches are critical when launching a new brand. Searches can be conducted country-by-country, and search services can screen top markets with quick “knock-out” searches to quickly determine availability.
  • Sure, RIM has been beat up a bit by the markets recently, but it’s still a global titan in the mobile devices and software industry… but that didn’t stop a rival software maker from taking on a trade-mark fight. That’s because BASIS had registered trade-marks in its arsenal.  Without the benefit of a trade-mark registration, this fight would have been much more costly and time-consuming and the outcome would have been much different.
  • Think about timing and territory – in this case, the preliminary injunction was rushed to court because of the BlackBerry Developer’s Conference in Asia on December 7 and 8, where the BBX mark would have been used extensively by RIM. Does a US court have jurisdiction to issue an order to a Canadian company regarding the use of its mark in Singapore? You might think the answer is no, but an American judge will have a different view. Faced with the US order, RIM decided to re-brand. 

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Copyright Week


For all the IP junkies out there, this is copyright week at the Supreme Court of Canada. Five copyright cases are being heard this week tackling such issues as the copyright in music contained within downloadable games, fair dealing exceptions, and streaming music online. Break out the popcorn, you can even watch the webcast!  

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Are Non-Competition Restrictions Enforceable?

This is the second in our 3-part employment law series.

Employees are often asked to sign a set of “restrictive covenants” as part of their employment agreement. This is the case in many competitive industries, and particularly in technology companies. These clauses can include non-competition restrictions, non-solicitation obligations, and other restrictions which bind the employee after termination. In Globex Foreign Exchange Corporation v. Kelcher , 2011 ABCA 240, the Alberta Court of Appeal reviewed the enforeability of these clauses. This case provides guidance for drafting and imposing restrictive covenants. Here is a summary of some of the court’s most important findings:

  • Restrictive covenants can fail due to the “lack of consideration”. The employee has to receive something of real benefit in exchange for agreeing to be bound to the restriction. An employer who wants to impose a restrictive covenant in the middle of the employment relationship must take special care, since continued employment alone does not provide sufficient consideration for a new restriction to be imposed during the term of employment. This is because the employer is already required to continue the employment until there are grounds for dismissal or reasonable notice of termination is given.
  • Non-solicitation and non-competition covenants are not enforceable unless they are reasonable. What’s reasonable will depend upon the circumstances of the industry, the employer and the employee. For one of the ex-employees in this case, the court found that the restriction was unreasonably wide, because it prevented him from soliciting any customer for a period of 18 months. In other words, this restriction was not limited to customers with whom the ex-employee had a relationship during employment. The employer in this case had no legitimate interest in protecting this category of customers from solicitation by the ex-employee.
  • An employer remains free to dismiss an employee at any time provided there is just cause, or there is reasonable notice of termination, or payment in lieu of notice. If none of these occurs, then the employee has been wrongfully dismissed, and wrongful termination renders the restrictive covenants unenforceable. In other words, an employee who is not terminated for just cause, or given reasonable notice or payment in lieu cannot be held to the non-competition or non-solicitation restrictions that appear in the employment agreement.

Lessons for business? Review your restrictive covenants with experienced counsel. Carefully consider the process of introducing new employment terms in the middle of an employment relationship. And handle terminations very carefully to avoid the problems of wrongful dismissal.

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Online Defamation: Injunctions Against Google in Canada

Courtesy of GoogleHow easy is it to get an injunction against Google? In Nazerali v. Mitchell, a man complained of online defamation, and obtained a preliminary injunction against the author of the allegedly defamatory content, the hosting company (Nozone, Inc.), the domain name registrar (GoDaddy) and Google. The Court ordered the injunction, which included the order prohibiting Google “from permitting the Google.com or Google.ca search engines from returning any search result from www.deepcapture.com.”  Essentially this results in shutting down the (allegedly) offending website, since the court considered it “impossible surgically to eliminate just the offending phrases”. While this seems to be a dramatic result, considering it was obtained on an ex-parte basis (the other side did not appear at the hearing), it is not without precedent in Canada.

In Canadian National Railway Company v. Google Inc., 2010 ONSC 3121 (CanLII), the court issued an interim injunction requiring Google to remove a blog hosted on Google’s Blogspot platform.

The injunction in Nazerali v. Mitchell was time-limited and is set to expire tomorrow (December 2).

Hat tip to Alan Macek for highlighting this case.

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