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Executive Summaries May 5, 2022

Trademarks and Reserved Designations: Not Everyone Can Make “Farmstead Cheese”

Last March, the added-value claim “Farmstead Cheese” was officially recognized by Québec’s government. This adds farmstead cheeses to the seven reserved designations recognized in the Province of Québec, including the “organic” certification, “Québec wine”, “Neuville Sweet Corn” and “Agneau de Charlevoix”.

The Conseil des appellations réservées et des termes valorisants was formed by Québec’s government in 2006 to promote and ensure the authenticity of the province's distinctive food products. The Act respecting reserved designations and added-value claims provides a unique intellectual property right for reserved designations and added-value claims. It grants the exclusive right to use a reserved designation or added-value claim to those who meet the approved specifications and are registered with an authorized certification body, which will certify the products' compliance.

In other words, not everyone can claim to make “Farmstead Cheese”! Many rules govern the use of specific terms when it comes to agri-food products.

Beware of the Use of Terms Protected as Geographical Indications

The Canadian Trademarks Act also provides that some terms can be protected as geographical indications. Such indications refer to a food, wine or spirit that originates from a specific area and whose quality, reputation or other characteristic are attributable to that geographical origin.

Thus, one cannot use terms protected by geographical indications unless the products so designated originate from that geographical area. For example, "Neuville Sweet Corn" is a geographical indication protected under the Trademarks Act and so are "Canadian Whisky" and "Ontario Icewine".

While it is rather obvious that "Neuville Sweet Corn" and "Huile d’olive de Haute-Provence", another example, can only be used to designate products originating from these regions respectively, it should be remembered that some protected geographical indications refer to terms previously commonly used, such as "Champagne", "Port" and "Prosecco" for alcoholic beverages, or "Piment d’Espelette" and "Parmigiano Reggianno" for foods.

Therefore, it is best not to assume what can be stated on a label or package without first checking that the geographical origin is not the subject of a protected geographical indication.

What About Certification Marks?

The Trademarks Act also allows for the registration of certification marks. Certification marks are marks used to identify goods or services that meet specific standards with respect to their character or quality, the working conditions under which they were manufactured or performed, the class of persons who produced or performed them, or the area in which they were manufactured or performed. As an example, the ACERUM mark has been registered as a certification mark held by the Union des distillateurs de spiritueux d’érable to certify alcoholic beverages made from maple water and maple syrup that meet the standards set by the Union.

As well, the Quebec government announced last month that new certification marks will allow consumers to identify Quebec products. The semi-figurative “PRODUIT DU QUÉBEC” mark joins several other certification marks of interest to the agri-food industry. The authorized use of this mark will certify that at least 85% of the direct costs related to the purchase of inputs, their transformation and assembly are incurred in Quebec and that the last substantial transformation of the product is made in Quebec. Thus, companies wishing to use this certification mark, which can be an interesting marketing tool, will have to ensure that they obtain authorization to do so and that they meet the criteria set out.

For companies operating in the agri-food sector, finding out what terms or expressions may or may not be used on their product labels and packaging can be quite complex. Our team of trademark professionals is highly experienced - including in the agri-food industry - and will happily assist you in this matter and advise you on your trademark protection strategy in Canada and abroad.

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