The Federal Court recently handed a decision on an appeal of a trademark opposition, in the context of which a party unsuccessfully sought to introduce into evidence the results of
an on-line survey, in Tokai of Canada Ltd. v. Kingsford Products Company, LLC (2021
Though surveys may sometimes be used in trademark cases, for example, to help judges reach conclusions as to the likelihood of confusion between marks (i.e. as to the initial
impressions of typical consumers), the court in this case rejected the survey altogether, for a number of reasons.
For example, the very content of the questions asked by that survey was an issue that warranted against accepting the results of the survey as valid, as were certain data manipulations upon analysis the results and producing the final report. The way the survey was held was also a problem for the court, as the survey allowed participants unlimited time to answer, something that was simply not conducive to obtaining “initial impressions” of those who responded. At the other end of the spectrum, the survey’s results were also tweaked by arbitrarily rejecting questionnaires filled too quickly by certain participants. In short, the court found the survey essentially asked the wrong question, in the wrong manner.
As to this last point and the format of the survey, the court objected to the holding of the survey on-line, by having participants simply fill a questionnaire on-screen, at their leisure, without sufficiently timing their responses to attempt at obtaining an idea of what their initial impressions were, when presented with certain trademarks. On that point, the court also held that the very format of such an online questionnaire was ill-suited to presenting participants with an adequate simulation of the kinds of circumstances where they might meet the trademarks at issue, for example on products, on store shelves, in actual stores.
All in all, the Federal Court held in Tokai that on-line surveys may be problematic when attempting to ascertain the likelihood of confusion between trademarks, especially when the goods or services at issue are provided or sold in brick-and-mortar establishments.