IP Infringement & Director Liability

imageloader.gifA popular Chinese night market in a suburb of Vancouver became the arena for an intellectual property infringement case involving trade-marks and copyright. 

In a recent Federal Court decision (Target Event Production Ltd. v. Cheung and Lions Communications Inc., 2010 FC 27), Target, the original operator of the Richmond night market, sued a rival event operator for infringing on the registered mark RICHMOND NIGHT MARKET (in English and Chinese), as well as infringing copyright in the layout and site plans for the night market.  One important element in the decision relates to the distinctiveness of the marks. 

The Court acknowledged that the marks including RICHMOND NIGHT MARKET were “originally merely descriptive” but over time they became “valid trademarks because they enjoyed substantial goodwill and had acquired distinctiveness…”  But the judge went on to say that “this acquired distinctiveness was not, in my view, durable. Once Raymond Cheung and Target failed to open a night market in 2009, it is my view that Target’s Names, which were inherently weak, lost their distinctiveness and the associated goodwill.”

The lessons for business? 

  1. Weak, descriptive marks can acquire distinctiveness over time through advertising and use, but that distinctiveness can easily be lost.  Unique, distinctive marks will always be much stronger and easier to protect.
  2. Remember: directors can be liable for infringement.  In this case, the director of the defendant company was personally liable for the infringement since he was aware of the copyright and still went ahead with the unauthorized copying. As described in the well-known case Mentmore Manufacturing Co. v. National Merchandise Manufacturing Co., a director will be liable where there is “deliberate, wilful and knowing pursuit of a course of conduct that was likely to constitute infringement or … an indifference to the risk of it.”

Calgary – 10:00 MST

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