Bill C-30 was introduced on October 31, 2016, to implement the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (“CETA”) between Canada and the European Union (“EU”). CETA has been negotiated for a number of years, is intended to facilitate several areas for trade between Canada and the EU and was signed on October 30, 2016. To help achieve this goal, the Bill includes a number of proposed amendments to the Trademarks Act in addition to other legislation.
The amendments to the Trademarks Act are primarily focused on geographical indications (“GIs”). Currently, a GI is defined in as an indication or sign that identifies a wine or spirit as originating in the territory, region, or locality of a member of the World Trade Organization, where a quality, reputation, or other characteristic of that wine or spirit is attributable to its geographic origin. The rationale behind GIs is that certain words create such a strong connection between a good and its geographic origin that the use of a GI on any goods that do not originate from the same geographic region is thought to be misleading. Examples of this would be wine made from Napa Valley in the United States, or Canadian Rye Whisky. In Canada, applicants are prohibited from using a GI in relation to wine and spirits not originating in the territory indicated by that GI, and are also prohibited from registering protected GIs as a trademark with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (“CIPO”).
Bill C-30 has now proposed amendments which will impact not only the use but also the registration of GIs. Significantly, the Bill has proposed that the definition of GIs be extended to account for “agricultural product and food” in addition to wine and spirits, including baked goods, cheeses, meats, oils and spices, and cereals; exceptions to this include common English and French names for certain agricultural products or foods such as “Black Forest Ham”, “Parmesan”, and “Valencia Orange”. Any protected GIs will no longer be able to be used (as a trademark or otherwise) if the agricultural products or foods are not produced under the rules of that region nor originate from that region, and use of a protected GI on any foods or agricultural products that are in the same category as the protected GI will be prohibited. Trademarks that consist of protected GIs identifying wine, spirits, agricultural products or food that do not originate from the applicable region will also be unregistrable with CIPO, and customs request for assistance procedures under the Trademarks Act will become available for protected GIs. In addition, Canadians will be prohibited from importing or exporting wine, spirits, agricultural products or food if a protected GI is displayed on the labels, packaging, or the goods themselves and the goods do not originate from the territory indicated and/or were not produced in accordance with the laws of that territory, unless such goods were imported or exported for personal use or passed through Canada in transit between two locations outside of Canada.
It is also worth noting that Bill C-30 sets out grounds for removing a GI from the list of protected GIs, including where the impugned indication is not a GI, the GI is the common name for a product or food, or the GI is confusing with a registered or previously used trademark in Canada. Exemptions to removal are set out for certain European and Korean GIs.
While CETA likely will not come into force until 2017, trademark owners and potential applicants in the wine, spirits and food products industries should be aware of and carefully consider how the above changes could impact their proposed applications and registrations. While Bill C-30 has proposed a series of transitional provisions that permit uses of certain marks that are GIs for a period of time after the amendments have come into force, once these amendments do come into force, agricultural products or foods that were previously impugned, may eventually be subject to any restrictions and/or labeling requirements in order to comply with CETA.