What is a trademark?

A trademark is a word, logo, symbol, design, or a combination thereof, which is displayed on wares or associated with services, and identifies them to purchasers. The trademark generally indicates that the wares or services come from, or are approved or sponsored by, a particular source. A trademark may also indicate that the wares or services meet the same standard of quality as all other wares or services associated with the same trademark. For example,"Kraft Dinner" is a trademark used by Kraft Canada Inc. to distinguish its macaroni and cheese product from other macaroni and cheese products.

What is a trade name?

A trade name is a name under which a particular business is carried on by an individual, partnership or company. It may be the corporate name of the company carrying on the business. A trade name displayed on wares or associated with services may also function as a trademark. For example,"Kraft Canada Inc." is a trade name and a corporate name.

How are trademark rights created?

In Canada, trademark rights are created by actual "use" of the trademark on wares or in association with services. Sale of wares in packages bearing the trademark, or provision of services described in advertising which displays the trademark, are examples of trademark use. In some countries, trademark rights are created solely by registration, even if the mark is not actually used.

Who wins if two parties choose similar marks?

In general, the party who first uses the trademark in respect of certain wares or services, anywhere in Canada, is entitled to register the mark and obtain exclusive rights to use it with respect to those wares or services.

Does incorporation protect the name of the corporation?

Incorporation protects the name of the corporation only in the limited sense that the incorporation authority (e.g. the British Columbia Corporate Registry) will not allow incorporation of another company with the identical name or with a very similar name. But this has nothing to do with the company's ability to do business under its corporate name, or with use of the corporate name as a trademark. If consumers are likely to confuse a corporate name with a name which another business has already established in the marketplace, then the owner of the established name may be able to prevent use of the corporate name. This is so even if the corporate name was adopted without knowledge of the established name, even if the business using the established name is not incorporated, and even if the Corporate Registry has "approved" the corporate name.

Can a trademark be reserved before use?

Yes, assuming that no one else is using the same or a similar trademark. In such a case, an application to register the trademark is made on the basis of an intent to use it (also called "proposed use") at some unspecified future date. This will then establish priority in the trademark, even if someone else subsequently attempts to use it before the party who registered it is ready to do so.

Do trademarks have to be registered?

No. It is not necessary to register a trademark in order to use it, but there are some important advantages if you do register.

What are the advantages of registration?

Is registration province-specific?

No. Canada has a single, federal registration system which is administered by the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (an agency of Industry Canada). Do not confuse the federal trademark registration system with the federal or provincial incorporation systems. Unlike a trademark registration, the mere incorporation of a company either federally or provincially does not prevent others from adopting the corporate name in the marketplace.

When should registration take place?

As soon as possible. Subject to the results of a registrability search, a trademark application should be filed promptly, especially if the application is to be based on intent to use the trademark. Such applications have priority as of the date on which they are filed in the Trademarks Office. If there is a concern that another party may file a conflicting application, it may be advisable to accept the risk of filing an application without waiting for the results of a registrability search. Even if an applicant has the benefit of several years' use of a trademark, important benefits can be gained by filing promptly.

What does a registrability search entail?

Before you apply to register your trademark, it is advisable to conduct a registrability search. As a minimum, the search should cover the records of registered trademarks and pending trademark applications maintained by the Canadian Trademarks Office. The search objective is to assess the potential for consumer confusion of your trademark with existing trademarks. If desired, and subject to budgetary considerations, the search can be extended to cover various sources of information respecting unregistered trademarks, such as telephone or trade directories, corporate/trade name registries, etc.

Usually, we search databases which replicate both the records kept by the Canadian Trademarks Office, and the records of corporate/trade names kept by the various provincial and federal incorporation authorities. In some cases, additional searching to better canvas unregistered trademarks may be recommended.

Search Costs

A simple Canadian trademark search, including our written opinion, costs about CA $250 (plus taxes). A more complete search will cost more.

Are there any obstacles to registration other than confusion with an existing mark?

Trademark licensing

A trademark may be licensed if the trademark owner controls the character or quality of the wares or services with which the licensee uses the trademark. A presumption of appropriate licensing arises if the product packaging, labelling or signage identifies the trademark owner and asserts that the mark is used under license. But, if the trademark owner does not actually control the licensee's use of the trademark, the trademark's distinctiveness may be prejudiced, invalidating the mark.

How is a trademark registered?

By filing a properly prepared trademark application in the Canadian Trademarks Office. The Trademarks Act prescribes a variety of grounds for trademark registration. It is important to ensure that your trademark application recites the proper ground(s) for registration. Otherwise, the resultant trademark registration may be invalid and unenforceable. (All too often, problems of this sort are discovered when a valid registration is needed urgently, namely when an infringement situation develops. Not only is the desired protection unavailable, it may be too late to secure a valid substitute registration.)

Examination by the Trademarks Office

After the application is filed in the Trademarks Office, it is examined by a Trademarks Office examiner. For example, the examiner searches for potentially confusing trademarks, and assesses other potential obstacles to registration, as discussed above. If the examiner raises no objections the application is approved for publication in the Trademarks Journal. For a two-month interval after publication the application is subject to opposition by other parties. Oppositions, which are relatively uncommon, may for example be based upon prior use of an allegedly confusing trademark. It typically takes up to a year to "prosecute" an application through the foregoing stages, assuming that there are no examiner's objections or oppositions.

Prosecution costs

Additional "prosecution" costs arise if the examiner raises an objection, or if the application is opposed. Such costs are highly variable and depend upon the amount of professional time spent. For example, costs of CA $200 - $600 are typically incurred in making a written submission to overcome most types of examiners' objections. Some cases may require more than one submission. Other cases may involve complex issues entailing costs in excess of the foregoing range. Opposition proceedings (akin to litigation) involve further expenses.

After any examiner's objections or oppositions are dealt with, one or two further steps are required to complete the registration process. In all cases, a registration fee must be paid to the Trademarks Office. If the application is based on intent to use the trademark in Canada, then it is also necessary to document actual usage before registration can occur. These steps entail further costs of about $300 - $600 although it should be noted that these costs do not normally arise until a year or more after the trademark application is filed.

Information required to prepare a trademark application

  1. The full name and postal address of the party in whose name the trademark is to be registered (the "applicant"). If the applicant is a corporation, please specify the jurisdiction of incorporation.
  2. Precisely what is the trademark that is to be registered? A single word; a hyphenated word; a phrase; a design; a combination of word(s) plus design; or ... ? Once filed in the Trademarks Office, the trademark application cannot be amended to change the trademark, so it is vital to give us precise instructions at the outset.
  3. Is the applicant the original owner of the trademark, or are its rights in the trademark derived from one or more predecessors? Please identify every predecessor, explain how each predecessor used the trademark, and explain how the applicant acquired the trademark rights from the predecessor(s).
  4. Has the applicant (or a licensee) actually used the trademark in Canada? Please note:

    wares: a trademark is used on wares by selling the wares with the trademark applied to the wares or to their packaging

    services: a trademark is used in association with services by actual provision of the services, coupled with a display of the trademark in advertising for the services, or accompanying the provision of the services

    If such use has occurred, please also:
    • specify the earliest date on which such use occurred on each type of wares and/or services
    • explain how and where the trademark was first used
    • provide specimens of such use (i.e. labels as affixed to the wares at the time of sale, or packages in which the wares are sold; or, for a service mark, sample advertising material)

    If such use has not occurred, please confirm that fact.
  5. If the trademark is or will be used by any entity other than or in addition to the applicant (even a subsidiary or other closely related company), please provide full particulars of such use and copies of all relevant documentation, such as licence agreements, etc. pertaining thereto. It is in the mutual interest of all parties involved with the trademark to ensure that the trademark is properly licensed.
  6. A detailed list, in ordinary commercial terms, of the wares and/or services to which the mark is (or is to be) applied. For example, the simple designation "clothing" will not be accepted by the Trademarks Office because it is too broad. A more specific listing of the clothing items involved (i.e. shirts, dresses, etc.) is required.

Foreign Applicants

Foreign Trademark Applications

A Canadian trademark registration protects the trademark only within Canada. In many cases it may also be important to protect the trademark in one or more foreign countries. We are able to serve our clients in protecting their trademarks throughout the world, with the assistance of our extensive network of foreign associates. Foreign trademark registration procedures and costs vary widely, depending upon the country of interest. Please let us know if you require further information concerning specific foreign countries.