What Are Official Marks in Canada?

Canada has a unique type of trademarks called official marks.

Find out more about them in this video:

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TRANSCRIPT

Official marks are a weird subset of trademarks that no other country has, where Canadian government and some entities controlled by the government and also some universities, can register as a public or an official trademark, anything without going through the same rigours as everyone else does.

So the biggest difference is that official marks are not registered for any particular products or services. So they cover everything. So if it is a university and they get the official mark for that name, they can in theory and in practice prevent everyone, no matter how unrelated to studies or education their services are, from using that same name as their trademark. So if you have a name and somebody wants to sell refrigerators, you can’t unless you get their consent. So it gives them a lot of power to either grant consent—and sometimes they do it for the money, sometimes they don’t—or not grant consent.

So that’s one thing. The other thing with official marks is that they never expire. They are forever, whether you use them or whether you don’t use them—and you can’t cancel an official mark for not-use. So even if some government entity got an official mark 25 years ago, for example the name of a government program, and the government program does not exist anymore, it still will prevent you from getting your trademark registered if you are a normal business.

And I think it is abomination really. It should not be that the government-controlled entities should go through any less scrutiny as to whether their brands should be registered or not and their brands certainly should not get more weight compared to everyone else’s.

But currently that’s the situation. The new amendments were proposed to Canadian trademark laws, unfortunately, do not do away with official marks. It may happen sometime in the future. I would certainly cheer for that to happen. But as of now, that’s the fact of life.

So If you can come up with a brand that coincides with an official mark, the first thing you want to do is to write a request to that entity that owns that mark and request consent. If they say “Yes, ok, we’re going to consent to that,” then you can file your trademark application and get it trademarked. If they say no, don’t bother: it is not going to work.


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