Editorial: Moore’s confusion shows omnibus pitfalls

The federal government may have good reason to move forward with its controversial amendments to the Trademarks Act, but it’s fairly clear the minister in charge should probably avoid talking about patents when it comes to defending the changes.

In response to opposition questions last week about the changes before the standing committee on industry, science, and technology, Industry Minister James Moore accused his colleagues of “being a megaphone” for groups raising concerns about the changes and alluded to the self-interest of those opposing them, including intellectual property lawyers. As part of his response, he turned to the subject of patents.

“If you file a patent in Canada, we want it to be protected around the world. So patent lawyers who can charge you $3,500 to register a patent in every single country in the world, yes, they’re going to be upset, but guess who benefits? Small businesses would benefit.”

In defending the changes to Canada’s trademark rules, the government has repeatedly referenced the need to align itself with various intellectual property treaties. That may be a valid argument, but referring to patents isn’t, of course, given that it’s not a trademark issue.

The controversy centres on changes to trademark law contained within the government’s omnibus budget bill. Among other things, the bill would alter the rules to emphasize registration rather than use in dealing with trademarks. For example, an applicant would no longer have to provide a declaration of use of a mark in Canada as part of the registration process.

The government has suggested the changes would streamline the process for small businesses by making it simpler and cheaper for them to register trademarks. Critics, meanwhile, have suggested they’ll encourage trademark trolls and make enforcement much more expensive and complex. They include several chamber of commerce groups, some large businesses, and, yes, intellectual property lawyers.

Whatever the merits of aligning ourselves with international treaties might be, the issue is another example of the downsides of having major changes to areas unrelated to the budget quietly shuffled into omnibus bills. The trademark changes are significant and require meaningful consultation and debate. With Moore defending the trademark changes on the basis of patent issues, it’s clear he doesn’t have a great handle on the legislation. As such, critics are right to call on the government to slow down and listen carefully. Once again, we see why omnibus bills generally aren’t a good idea.

For more, see "Feds set to discard years of use-based trademark law."
Glenn Kauth

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