Canada: Marqués Pour La Vie ? Les Marques De Commerce Et La LFI

Last Updated: October 20 2014
Article by Michael J. Hanlon and Jean-François Gauvin

Les droits de propriété intellectuelle visent à protéger ce qui ne peut être protégé facilement : les idées, les images, la musique et les marques. Les créateurs de ces concepts intangibles détiennent un monopole économique dans l'espoir de favoriser une plus grande créativité et une croissance économique. D'un autre côté, la loi sur la faillite vise à répartir équitablement les biens du failli entre ses créanciers, sous réserve des droits des créanciers garantis. On constate un conflit inhérent entre les droits des détenteurs de propriété intellectuelle lorsque des biens assujettis à leurs droits sont entre les mains du failli, et les droits des créanciers de ce failli qui souhaitent que les biens soient vendus sans aucune interférence – ou avec une interférence minimale – de la part du détenteur de propriété intellectuelle.

La Loi sur la faillite et l'insolvabilité aborde ce conflit en cherchant à maintenir un équilibre entre les deux parties. En effet, en vertu de l'article 82 LFI, le détenteur d'un brevet peut forcer le syndic de faillite à lui vendre des articles brevetés, à un prix égal au coût d'achat ou de fabrication pour le failli. En vertu de l'article 83 LFI, le détenteur d'un droit d'auteur dispose de droits semblables. Ainsi, si la masse des créanciers est privée du bénéfice potentiel de la vente des articles faisant l'objet d'une licence, au moins elle ne souffre pas de préjudice et, inversement, en l'absence d'un tel rachat, le syndic peut vendre les articles libre et quitte de toute restriction en vertu de la licence.

Les marques de commerce ne sont toutefois pas traitées sous le régime de la LFI. Cette lacune est pour le moins étonnante compte tenu de l'omniprésence des marques de commerce dans le secteur du commerce de détail et dans l'industrie manufacturière. Qu'adviendra-t-il si l'actif principal du failli est un inventaire assujetti aux marques de commerce en faveur d'un concédant qui s'oppose à sa vente par le syndic ? Le tribunal devrait-il utiliser sa compétence inhérente pour « combler les lacunes » de la LFI et imposer une solution similaire aux articles 82 et 83 de la LFI ? Deux jugements offrent des réponses différentes, mais complémentaires à cette question.

Dans l'affaire Scanwood (receiver of), un fabricant de meubles détenait une licence de production de bibliothèques pour Ikea. Aux termes de l'accord conclu entre le fabricant et la société emblématique suédoise, en cas de mise sous séquestre ou d'insolvabilité, le fabricant devait vendre son inventaire de produits de marque Ikea à Ikea ou à un autre distributeur approuvé par Ikea. Le séquestre du fabricant s'est adressé au tribunal pour demander une ordonnance qui lui permettrait de vendre l'inventaire de biens frappés de marques de commerce sans tenir compte des dispositions de l'accord, car il risquait de restreindre la réalisation de ces biens et peut-être même d'entraîner une perte massive de valeur de réalisation si ni Ikea ni aucun autre distributeur approuvé ne voulaient l'acheter. Même si le tribunal s'est dit sensible à une perte éventuelle pour la masse des créanciers, il a estimé que les termes de l'accord étaient tels qu'il ne pouvait pas les outrepasser en l'absence de dispositions législatives l'y autorisant expressément.

Toutefois, en l'absence d'un recours contractuel, les tribunaux devraient privilégier une approche raisonnable sur le plan commercial. Récemment, dans l'affaire 185705 Canada Inc. (Groupe de compagnies Bennett Little Ltée, syndic de), le tribunal a été saisi de la faillite d'un distributeur de papeterie et d'articles de bureau dont l'inventaire était presque exclusivement composé de produits frappés de marques de commerce faisant l'objet d'une licence d'une société liée. Immédiatement après la nomination du séquestre, le concédant a résilié la licence. Le failli et le concédant étaient contrôlés par la même personne qui était également la caution du créancier garanti du failli. Le contrat était muet quant au sort de tout inventaire de marques de commerce détenu par le failli au moment de la résiliation. Le séquestre avait lancé un processus de vente des actifs du failli et cherché à vendre l'inventaire au soumissionnaire retenu. Le concédant de licence s'est opposé à cette vente, ainsi qu'à toute vente de l'inventaire de biens frappés de marques de commerce, invoquant l'argument de la résiliation de la licence, et n'a pas proposé de racheter l'inventaire. 

Dans cette affaire, le tribunal a refusé de suivre la même voie que dans l'affaire Scanwood. Contrairement à l'accord conclut dans cette affaire, qui avait au moins le mérite de prévoir un moyen de se défaire de l'inventaire de biens frappés de marques de commerce, aucun recours de ce genre n'était prévu ici. La mise en application du contrat de concession de licence aurait littéralement permis au concédant de prendre en otage le titulaire, d'empêcher celui-ci de se défaire des biens qu'il avait accumulés alors qu'il bénéficiait de la licence, sans aucune forme de rémunération. De plus, le tribunal n'est pas convaincu que les droits du concédant de licence à l'égard des marques de commerce étaient mieux protégés par la simple destruction des produits de marque. Le processus de vente avait été mené de façon équitable par le séquestre, dans le respect des droits du concédant. En fin de compte, l'absence de toute autre solution raisonnable sur le plan commercial selon les modalités de la licence a permis au tribunal d'ordonner la vente de l'inventaire des produits frappés de marques de commerce en accord avec la soumission retenue.

Cette affaire nous rappelle que les tribunaux refuseront d'appliquer les termes exacts d'un contrat si cela devait porter indûment préjudice à la masse des créanciers, ce qui aura des répercussions claires sur la rédaction des dispositions des contrats de licence de marques de commerce.

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