Monday, August 31, 2015

Canadian Trademark Update: Keywords For Online Advertising

As noted previously, as technology advances and evolves so must our laws and regulations.  This is the case when it comes to Canada’s trademark laws in regards to using keywords for online advertising.  Currently, advertisers can pay money to have services, such as Google AdWords, run their adds with the use of specific keywords.  In the recent case of Vancouver Community College v Vancouver Career College (Burnaby) Inc, 2015 BCSC 1470the plaintiff, Vancouver Community College, claimed that the defendant, Vancouver Career College, violated their trademark by using the keyword VCC for their online advertising.  It came down to the application of the Law of Passing Off stating: 
[180]     To impose liability on the defendant for the tort of passing off the plaintiff must satisfy me that:
a)         it enjoys goodwill attached to the educational services it provides;
b)         its services have acquired a distinctiveness in the marketplace;
c)          the defendant has caused confusion by intentionally or otherwise misrepresenting its services as those of the plaintiff; and
d)         the plaintiff is likely to suffer damage as a result of the defendant’s misrepresentation. (2015 BCSC 1470)
The Supreme Court of British Columbia came to the following conclusion: 
In my view [Supreme Court of British Columbia], this lawsuit, … has been motivated by a concern that its own inability to invest the necessary funds and expertise to create a sophisticated online advertising program leaves it at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace in comparison with the defendant. Passing off is a cause of action which permits a court, in appropriate circumstances, to compensate a plaintiff for unlawful competition by a defendant. It is not intended to be used by a plaintiff to handicap a defendant that has developed a more effective means of marketing its goods and services than has a plaintiff. (2015 BCSC 1470)
In this ruling, the Supreme Court found that using the keywords of the competition did not violate the plaintiff’s trademark as misrepresentation did not take place; rather, it was a savvy way for the defendant to be competitive.

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