VANOC Unravels Cowichan Sweater Trade-mark Tangle


Members of the Cowichan Tribes had the Vancouver Olympic Committee (VANOC) tied up in knots recently when it accused VANOC of stealing the Cowichan’s traditional sweater design, popularly known as the “Cowichan Sweater”. VANOC had initially asked the Cowichan Tribes to bid on the contract to supply the sweater (which is part of the Team Canada uniform) but chose instead to give the contract to an outside supplier over concerns regarding the Cowichan’s ability to deliver sufficient quantities in the required timeframe.

The Cowichan decried the move, which they saw as an infringement of their well known design. Olympic torch-relay protests were planned, but tensions quickly unravelled when VANOC and the Bay offered the Cowichan a license deal for their sweaters. As a result of these negotiations, Cowichan-made sweaters will now be available at the Bay. Cowichan knitters will be licensed suppliers to the Olympics and will be entitled to display the Olympic logos alongside Cowichan trade-marks.

The Cowichan Band Council owns several trade-marks relating to the Cowichan brand, including both Official Marks and Certification Marks.

Official Marks provide a broader range of protection than standard trade-marks. For example, an Official Mark applies to all wares and services, does not need to be renewed and can only be challenged through an application for judicial review. If a confusing trade-mark enters the market place after the advertisement of an Official Mark, it can only co-exist with the Official Mark if consent is granted by the Official Mark owner.

Certification Marks are registered by persons who are not engaged in the manufacture or sale of goods, or the performance of services, but who set the quality standard for such goods or services. The owner of a Certification Mark can license the use of the mark to others for use in association with wares and services that meet those standards. The Cowichan Certification Marks are registered for use with clothing (including sweaters) and certify that the wares have been “hand-knit in one piece in accordance with traditional tribal methods by members of the Coast Salish Nation using raw, unprocessed, undyed, hand-spun wool made and prepared in accordance with traditional tribal methods”. Presumably the Cowichan Nation will license the use of its Certification Marks to individual knitters who will supply the Cowichan Sweaters to the Bay.

It’s not often we get such a feel good story coming out of Olympic trade-mark tangles, but this one makes us feel warm and cozy all over!