In a recent decision of the Federal Court Trial Division, the registration of the mark STENNER was expunged on the basis that it was not distinctive.
STENNER was registered as a trademark in the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (“CIPO”) in 2005. The Application, filed in 2003, was objected to by the CIPO Examiner on the basis that the mark was primarily merely the surname of an individual. That objection was overcome when the Applicant provided sufficient evidence of secondary distinctiveness – i.e. evidence that the mark was recognized as the source of the Applicant’s financial services and newsletters, as much or more than than it was recognized as a surname. The Application was not opposed by anyone.
The Federal Court found that the evidence established that the registered owner had used the STENNER mark on and off over the years, commencing in the late 1980’s, though rarely, if ever, as a standalone mark and periods of use had been punctuated by lengthy periods of non-use. In the early 2000’s, the principal of the registered owner had a bitter falling out with his two children who were also in the financial services industry and who also used the STENNER name in association with the performance of their services. That falling out had been the subject of a separate lawsuit, however the Court in those proceedings specifically declined to rule on the validity of the trademark registration for STENNER.
The application to expunge the registration for STENNER was based on various grounds, but the argument that won the most favour with the Federal Court was that the mark was no longer distinctive (assuming it ever had been), due to extended periods of non-use, lack of use as a standalone mark and the results of expert evidence on the recognition of the mark as a source indicator for the registered owner’s services. The expert evidence put forward showed that the mark was recognized by virtually no one outside of the Lower Mainland of British Columbia and even within that region, the recognition factor was very low. Also, the use of the same mark by the two children in the same industry and geographic area also pointed to a lack of distinctiveness.
In the end result, the Federal Court ordered the expungement of the registration for the STENNER mark. There is no indication yet of whether an appeal will be filed, though the deadline for doing so is fast approaching.