Time to Get Out the Garbage: Trademark Office Publishes Draft Practice Notice on Cancelling Bogus Official Marks

Canada’s trademark regime is peculiar in more way than one, including because of the existence of a peculiar type of mark called an “Official mark”. This type of registration is a kind of super mark that CIPO may grant to public authorities, a legal concept that has evolved over time, including to curb the use of this type of mark by organizations , and even business, that do not qualify.

To make a long story short, though “public authorities” aren’t necessarily governmental entities per se, jurisprudence confirmed they must somehow qualify as such, by virtue of being controlled (controllable) by the government and having activities that benefit members of the public. Though the Trademarks Office (the “TMO”) now checks against this definition when issue public marks, it did not always do so and, as a result, our trademark is cluttered with these super marks, quite a few of which are legally invalid.

The problem is made worse by the fact the TMA does not provide a time limit for public marks, so that once granted they remain on the register indefinitely, in principle.

A new section the Trademarks Act (the “TMA”) now seeks to provide some relied as to this issue, by providing us with a section akin to Section 45 through which we may get rid of deadwood on the register, and which allows easily challenging dubious official marks. In essence, the TMA now provides that anyone may challenge a bogus official mark, by flagging it for the TMO, which may then strike it from the register if it was indeed obtain without right by the entity at issue.

Recently, CIPO published a draft practice notice that sets out how submitting such a request to cancel an official mark registration will work in practice. The procedure set forth in the practice notice would require the person objecting to a registered official mark to notify the TMO, pay fees, and provide some sort of evidence that the entity holding the official mark isn’t actually a governmental (or government-related) entity. If, after inquiring, it appears the mark is indeed anomalous, then the TMO may cancel it outright.

So, we’re finally getting a way to scrap bogus official marks that have been cluttering the register for years and years. Not a moment too soon if you ask me, especially given how broad the protection afforded by the TMA to official mark is, by protecting them automatically in any and all classes of products and services, in effect!

Artificial Intelligence – Very Real Creations: AI as a Generator of I.P.?

With an over-expanding array of applications that rely on artificial intelligence (“AI”), we’re finding more and more ways to use them, sometimes to unexpected results. In fact, some AI applications can now even create new things in ways that are not dependent solely on choices and manipulations by human creators and operators. Yes, in today’s world, IA can now create things on its own, leaving the law to wonder what to do with that new reality. Can our legal system deal with creation of inventions or works of authorship by machines (or rather AI)?

That very question is now being asked in most jurisdictions worldwide, as we collectively try and deal with an uncomfortable realization that, maybe, we as humans are not the only ones capable of creating intangible creations that may worthwhile to protect as intellectual property (“I.P.”). Indeed, this is happening as to works like texts, images and music, and even as to what would be considered inventions, had a human been the creator. When such a creation comes about as a result of the operation of an IA program, should we acknowledge it or, instead, sweep it under the rug and hold that the humans responsible for the initial execution are the akin to the authors or inventors? We should note that this issue exists as to copyrights (as in the case of that painting) but also does for industrial designs and inventions.

A good example of that trend is the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (“CIPO”) on-going consultations as to whether we should recognize the possibility of AI acting as actual creators of other types of I.P. such as patentable inventions or works of authorship. It may be that we do what to open that door, or maybe we just want to avoid the whole mess and stick with the status quo. The jury is still out on that one… for now.

Recently, CIPO may have creaked the door opened, as it allowed the registration of copyrights to a certain painting, the authors of which are presented as a human and, yes, an IA application. To my knowledge, this is a first in Canada though it has happened elsewhere, such as in India last year as to that very painting.

So, according to Canadian copyright registration No. 1188619, the co-authors of the painting at issue are an individual named Ankit Sahni, on the one hand, and “Painting App, RAGHAV Artificial Intelligence”, on the other hand. The work of joint-authorship is thus presented on the Canadian register as resulting from the combined creative work of two entities (for lack of a better term), one of whom (which?) is a computer program.

It is not yet clear how the law can/would/will deal with this kind of factual situation, including as to what the rules are when a “thing” is named like as an author (or an inventor, if it gets to that), including who the I.P. belongs to off-hand, who can be seen as the co-author (or co-inventor) and why, whether the IA could have been named as the sole author (or inventor), etc. One could also consider to extent to which an AI application must be identified as a creator when it as involved -the same as when a human creator is involved, etc. When IA considered more than a mere tool for a human creator? As you can imagine, the potential questions abound.

Though the idea may seem simple, allowing us to consider IA as a creator or inventor does (will) lead to all sorts of consequences that we collectively would do well to think through, before proceeding.

At any rate, IA creating stuff is an inescapable reality that, one way or an other, we collectively have to deal with. Unfortunately, as every jurisdiction makes these kinds of decision without necessarily paying heed to what is being done elsewhere, we may very well end-up with an I.P. legal system that is even more messy than it currently is, as down the line some countries may allow IA as creators and some may not. As I was writing above, every jurisdiction is currently grappling with these questions.

Canadian Trademarks Office Introduces “Pre-assessments” to Try and Curb Registration Delays

The Trademarks Office (the “TMO”) of the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (“CIPO”) recently announced it intended to keep attempting to curb out-of-control trademark registration delays, this time by introducing the automated analysis of applications as to listings of goods and services as well as to Nice classification.

From now on, applications prepared and submitted using the standard list of goods and services (that of the Manual of products and services) will essentially be given priority, over other application where associated products and services were included by free-form text or copied in from other sources. If the CIPO can confirm that an application used the standard listing and that the Nice classification of those types of items is consistent, then it will issue a letter to the applicant confirming that the application is being (somewhat) fast-tracked by being placed at the head of the cue, for purposes of examination. In the normal course of things, this will accelerate the speed at which applications using the pre-approved list of goods and services can reach registration, in Canada.

If, however, the automated analysis reveals inconsistencies (or failure to use the pre-approved list) or issues relating to the Nice classification, then the TMO’s letter will rather invite the applicant to either refile or amend the application, without waiting for examination.

To increase the proportion of applications filed using the standard descriptions, the TMO has been consistently increasing the number of entries in the Manual of products and services, which now contains more than 100,000 entries.

Though the TMO’s announcement terms this part of the new process “pre-assessment”, one should note it’s not like we can get CIPO’s input before filing an application. Rather, a new (automated) step has simply been introduced, between filing and the actual examination by a human being.

Though CIPO’s goal in implementing this change is to curb typical trademark registration delays, it remains to be seen what impact this change will have on the actual delays we’ve been experiencing in the last couple of years. This week, for example, I received such a letter as to an application I filed back in 2019 -even though this application might now be placed on top of the pile, even assuming examination is done quickly and no issue is raised by the examiner, the trademark registration at issue will have taken 3 years, not exactly something we can call timely, let alone fast.