Canada: You Don't Know Where I'm From: Clarifying The Test For Geographic Trademarks

Last Updated: March 9 2016
Article by Madeleine A. V. Hodgson

The Federal Court of Appeal has released another decision solidifying the court's recent trend1 of refusing to recognize geographical marks that are descriptive of place of origin: MC Imports Inc. v. AFOD Ltd., 2016 FCA 60.

The appellant, an importer, packager and distributor of fish and seafood products, registered and used the trademark LINGAYEN in association with its products.  When the appellant brought an action for infringement of its trademark, the respondent argued the trademark was invalid as being clearly descriptive or deceptively misdescriptive of the place of origin—Lingayen is a municipality in the Philippines known for its shrimp paste products.

The court confirmed that the purpose of the rule against trademarks that are clearly descriptive of the place of origin is to prevent a monopoly over a location description to the detriment of competitors in the same geographic area.

Reconciling Parma and Leyda

The court then went on to consider what has been viewed as conflicting approaches to geographical marks in the cases Parma2 and Leyda3.  In Parma, the issue was whether PARMA was deceptively misdescriptive when used for meat products not from Parma, Italy.  The court concluded that the ordinary consumer in Canada was not generally aware of Parma as a region of Italy known for meat products.  Therefore, the trademark was not "deceptively misdescriptive" of a place of origin.  That line of reasoning is consistent with Justice Cattanach's well known decision in The Noshery4, where he wrote that the issue is whether there is "a well known and generally recognized connection of the article with the locality."

In contrast, in Leyda, the court rejected LEYDA, a proposed trademark for use in association with wine produced in Leyda, Chile, on the basis that "place of origin" is not dependant on the knowledge, or lack thereof, of the average Canadian consumer.

The approach in Leyda has been criticised by several commentators on the basis that public perception is and should be relevant.  However, in the present case, the Court of Appeal expressly disagreed, holding that the findings in Parma and Leyda are not inconsistent because different considerations apply to whether a mark is "clearly descriptive" or "deceptively misdescriptive" of a place of origin.  The Court then set out three considerations for marks alleged to be clearly descriptive.

The approach to "place of origin"

The first consideration is whether the trademark is a geographic name.  This is a factual consideration, and whether or not a place is widely known to Canadians is irrelevant.  Only when a geographic place has multiple meanings—for example, "Sandwich" is the name of a number of towns, but also a food item—will the perception of ordinary consumers be relevant to determine which is the primary meaning.  In such cases, the relevant consumer is the ordinary consumer of the products or services with which the trademark is associated.

The second consideration is the place of origin of the goods or services in question.  If the goods or services originate from the place referred to by the trademark, then the trademark is "clearly descriptive" of the place of origin.  If the trademark refers to a geographic place that is not the place of origin of the goods or services, then it cannot be "clearly descriptive" and the question becomes whether it is "deceptively misdescriptive".  In this case, the fish products did originate from the municipality of Lingayen.  The court therefore declined to elaborate on the test for when a trademark is deceptively misdescriptive of a place of origin, other than to note that consumer perception is relevant in such cases.

The third consideration is the trademark owner's assertion of prior use.  The court maintained that if the trademark has acquired distinctiveness at the date of application, it will nevertheless be registrable, pursuant to s. 12(2).  However, the burden is on the registrant to prove that its trademark has acquired distinctiveness from the perspective of the relevant ordinary consumer—people who actually use the product or service in question.  In this case there was no evidence the trademark had become distinctive at the date of application, and the mark was therefore expunged.

Going forward

This decision clarifies the approach to "place of origin" under s. 12(1)(b) of the Trade-marks Act, and makes it apparent that in future it will be very difficult to register a trademark that accurately describes the place of origin of the goods or services, unless the trademark has acquired distinctiveness. 

This case also suggests that the test prohibiting "clearly descriptive" trademark registrations is objective: consumer perception is irrelevant; while the test prohibiting "deceptively misdescriptive" trademarks is subjective and thus depends on consumer perception.  To take a practical example, this means that for oranges grown in California, one could not register CALIFORNIA as a trademark (because it is clearly descriptive of the place of origin, irrespective of consumer perception), nor FLORIDA (because the state is well known for its oranges and thus deceptively misdescriptive), but VANCOUVER would be registrable for the oranges because they are not grown in Vancouver and Vancouver is not, and is not known as, a citrus growing region.

In this way, the relevance of consumer perception has crystalized, reconciling two lines of authority on the subject and distinguishing between the tests for clearly descriptive and deceptively misdescriptive trademarks.


1. See Lum v. Dr. Coby Cragg Inc., 2015 FCA 293

2. Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma v. Maple Leaf Meats Inc., [2001] 2 FCR 536.

3. Sociedad Agricola Santa Teresa Ltd. v. Vina Leyda Limitada, 2007 FC 1301.

4. Great Lakes Hotels Ltd. v. Noshery Ltd. (1968), 56 CPR 165 (Ex Ct); see also, Atlantic Promotions Inc. v. Canada (Registrar of Trade Marks) (1984) 2 C.P.R. (3d) 183 (F.C.T.D.) 

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Madeleine A. V. Hodgson
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.