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Coors toasts its victory in maintaining its trademark registrations for “The Champagne of Beers”


In Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne v. Coors Brewing Company, the Federal Court dismissed the Applicants’ appeal of a decision of the Registrar to uphold Coors’s registrations for the trademarks THE CHAMPAGNE OF BEERS, LE CHAMPAGNE DES BIÈRES, and MILLER LABEL & DESIGN.

Coors had acquired the marks by way of a major acquisition six months before the end of the three-year relevant period. During the proceeding before the Registrar, in the context of section 45 of the Trademarks Act, Coors had invoked subsection 45(3) to demonstrate the reason for the absence of use of the mark.

The Registrar made two key findings that were challenged on appeal:

  1. Coors’s acquisition of the marks should be the starting point of the assessment of the period of non-use.
  2. The non-use was beyond Coors’s control because Coors needed regulatory approval before it could begin using the marks.

Standard of Review

Despite the Applicants’ attempts to characterize their submissions on appeal as questions of law, the Federal Court found they were questions of mixed fact and law, and the applicable standard of review was that of palpable and overriding error.

Starting Point for the Period of Non-Use

The Registrar chose the acquisition date as the starting point for assessing the non-use. Based on the facts of the case, in which Coors had only acquired the marks six months before the date of the section 45 notices, the Registrar had found that it would be “overly burdensome and technical” to require the current owner to explain why the previous owner had not used the marks.

The Federal Court found that the Registrar had “followed the steps set out in the jurisprudence, by assessing whether special circumstances existed and determining when the date of non-use began”, and the Registrar had considered this a factual inquiry, with some case law finding the date of acquisition to be appropriate and others not. The Federal Court was not persuaded that the Registrar erred when following one line of jurisprudence over another. There was no palpable and overriding error.

Whether the Non-Use was Beyond Coors’s Control

The Registrar found that there were special circumstances in the present case excusing the absence of use, as required by section 45(3) of the Trademarks Act. The Registrar concluded that the period of non-use was minimal, based on its decision that the period of non-use began at the time of the acquisition. Furthermore, the non-use was due to the size of the acquisition (valued at approximately $12 billion) and the requirements for regulatory approvals (including the requirement to submit design labels), without which Coors could not begin using the marks.

The Applicants argued that the Registrar “mistakenly emphasized [Coors’s] intention to resume use, instead of focusing on the essential factor of whether the special circumstances which excuse the absence of use of the mark were the circumstances to which the absence of use was due.”

The Federal Court concluded that, although the Registrar’s analysis concerning this part of the legal test would have been clearer, the Registrar had correctly stated the applicable legal principles and applied them to the facts of the case. In doing so, the Registrar had focused on the key question: “did the special circumstances that caused the non-use excuse it, on the particular facts of the case?”


The Federal Court rejected the appeal.