Supreme Court of Canada Trade-Mark Decision on Confusion

The Supreme Court of Canada recently released its decision in the case of Masterpiece v Alvida which clarified some trade-mark issues, particularly on the issue of confusion.

Here are some notes from an IT-Can roundtable conference call from today that discussed the case. Presenters were Kelly Gill of Gowling, Lafleur Henderson LLP, Clarke Hunter of Macleod Dixon LLP and Brandon Potter of Macleod Dixon LLP.

The issue in the case essentially related to the use by different parties of “Masterpiece Living” vs “Masterpiece the Art of Living”, and whether they are confusing.

The main issues:

Is it relevant that the companies are in different provinces?

Is the “get up” or appearance of a word mark relevant?

Is it relevant that the wares are costly?

The case reinforced some existing trade-mark understanding – but also clarified some things.

A registration gives national rights – and you must assume for the confusion analysis that they are used in the same place. The fact that they are actually provided in different provinces is irrelevant.

When dealing with a registered mark – one doesn’t look at how the mark is actually used – one looks at the actual registration. So if one has registered a word-mark – the fact that the word-mark is used in practice in a certain font or design is irrelevant.

These marks were for retirement homes, which is an expensive and not a quick decision. The court said that it is a first impression test, not after research. The price of the goods is a factor, but not as definitive as some had thought.

The court cast some doubt on whether expert or survey evidence was necessary, and encouraged litigants to rely on judge’s decisions without them.

From the perspective of the trade-mark registration process, the case reinforces some things:

It’s a good idea to search across Canada – preferably using a dedicated trade-mark clearance service that looks at common law uses across Canada.

It’s best to register sooner rather than later, as once filed it acts as a barrier to future applicants of confusing marks. (Rights always go to first use – but first application gives a procedural and cost advantage.)

Consider a trade-mark watch service that monitors the trade-marks journal for similar applications, so it can be opposed then, rather than finding out later and having to litigate it. It is simpler and cheaper.

If dealing with expensive wares and services – it does suggest one gets broader protection. This balances off against the former notion that the time to research after seeing a mark and acting on a purchase is relevant.

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