As many of you know, the Federal Government recently introduced Bill C-31, the Economic Action Plan 2014, No. 1. Among the changes to almost 40 different pieces of legislation, it introduces many significant and long-awaited changes to the Trade-marks Act.
In this post, I will outline what they are, and provide my opinion about them, and also comment on why established Canadian law firms are now singing the same old song about dangers of these new changes.
The general idea of the changes is to align Canadian trademark laws with the rest of the civilized world.
Currently, Canada has a unique system that is unlike every other trademark law on the planet. We are not party to several major international treaties that make it simpler for businesses to protect their brands around the world.
What this means is that companies based outside Canada cannot protect their brands in Canada through a centralized international filing and, up to this day, have had to resort to using Canadian trademark agents to file their trademark applications in Canada directly. What this also means is that Canadian businesses that target worldwide markets cannot take advantage of the international filing system either. Up to this day, they either have to set up operations in a different country (typically, by incorporating a separate company in the U.S.), or file dozens of trademark applications, with their legal bills for trademarking going through the roof.
Canada’s current isolationist system benefits a very particular contingent – Canadian law firms who readily take advantage of international businesses that are seeking to protect their brands in Canada.
Canada has been marching to a different drummer for a very long time, many provisions of its trademark system are incomprehensible to and often ridiculed by trademark lawyers from around the world. But now it appears that Canadian legislators are finally getting ready to do something for Canadian business owners, and not just Canadian law firms.
Mincov Law Corporation and the Trademark Factory wholeheartedly welcomes these changes, even though it means that we will need to tweak a few things in our internal systems.
So what are the changes? The rest of this post is about just that.
1. Trademarks are going to be called “trademarks”, not “trade-marks”. The hyphenated spelling was often the cause of ridicule, as Canada was the only country using it. Seriously, is this the only way Canada could safeguard its uniqueness? Through spelling of a legal term? Why not just call them ”tRaDe-mArCz” then?
In the same vein, “trade-names” will be called “trade names”, and “wares” will be referred to as “goods”.
2. Special rules regarding registration of the shape of the product as a trademark are gone. No more distinguishing guises. On the other hand, the definition of a trademark will refer to a “sign”, which in turn is defined as including “a word, a personal name, a design, a letter, a numeral, a colour, a figurative element, a three-dimensional shape, a hologram, a moving image, a mode of packaging goods, a sound, a scent, a taste, a texture and the positioning of a sign.” This will simplify the life of many business owners who will be able to protect more of their unique features in a more streamlined manner.
3. Use will no longer be a requirement for trademark registration. No more trademarks based on proposed use. No more declarations of use. You file your trademark – unless it gets opposed it will be registered. This shifts the burden of protecting one’s brand from the government to business owners themselves. This makes perfect sense: if a business does not care enough to protect its long-standing brand by registering it as a trademark, why should the Trademarks Office care?
4. Certification marks will now be registrable even before their first use. Currently, in order to protect a sign as a certification mark (that is a sign to distinguish goods and services that meet the requirements of a a defined standard from those that do not), one had to demonstrate that the sign was already used. The amendments do away with this unreasonable restriction.
5. Canada will adopt the Nice Classification of Goods and Services, which divides all goods and services into 45 classes – 34 classes of products and 11 classes of services. All applications will need to classify the goods and services for which the trademark is filed into these classes. This is how the rest of the world has been doing it. Canada was one of the very few countries that was not. It was impossible to integrate Canadian trademark laws with the international filing system without switching to the class-based system of trademarks. One potential disadvantage for business owners, compared to the current system is that filing fees will likely be based on the number of classes, as opposed to there being a single filing fee that covered as many goods and services as one wanted to include on the application. However, this has not yet been announced, so we’ll see what will happen in this regard.
6. The term of registration will drop from 15 years to 10 years. This is also to put Canadian trademark laws in line with those of most other countries. If anything, this should be another incentive for business owners to get their trademarks registered as soon as possible, because they may just be able to secure the 15-year term for the last time.
7. Canada will have divisional applications, which may come handy in case a part of the application is smooth and non-problematic, and some other part of it raises a concern of the trademark examiner. Today, businesses face an all-or-nothing proposition: they either have to convince the examiner that the mark is registrable as it’s described in the application, or get rid of the items that cause concern. With divisional applications, one will be able to proceed to registration in respect of non-problematic parts of the application, while battling over the rest.
8. One concern is that amendments that will be necessary in light of Canada joining the Madrid system of international trademark applications are not contained in the proposed amendments to the current Trade-mark Act (as it is called today) but are reserved for regulations. I can only wonder why no mention is made of the possibility for Canadians to file international trademark applications.
9. My biggest concern with the amendments is that they do nothing to do away with Canada’s unique “official marks”, superpower marks that trump regular trademarks and that are available to any university or any public authority. These official marks not only trump regular trademarks, they confer protection that is not limited to specific goods and services, as is the case of regular trademarks. Why universities and government entities should be allowed to hold hostage business owners who come up with brands that have nothing to do with education or the functions of these government bodies, is beyond me. If anything, I would really like the amended Trademark Act (as it will be called after the amendments come into force) to strip away the right of universities and public authorities to disregard the usual provisions of the trademark system.
Having said all that, we welcome these changes, and anticipate that they will be very beneficial to a great number of Canadian businesses.
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