Fixing the worrisome backlog in trademark applications

  • June 27, 2023

The delays for trademark examinations in Canada have reached unacceptable proportions and need to improve, says the Intellectual Property Section of the Canadian Bar Association in a letter to the deputy minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada as well as to the deputy director of the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, or CIPO.

Delays in trademark applications are now routinely over four years and keep getting worse. CIPO only processes one month’s worth of backlog for every four calendar months. And while CIPO is aware of those delays, it does not issue refunds for failure to examine trademarks in a timely matter, which is inconsistent with its obligations under the Service Fees Act.

“Timeliness for trademark examination must improve,” the CBA Section says, “and in the absence of improvement, CIPO must at the very least issue the refunds that are required by law.”

The letter suggests the adoption of an 18-month standard for first examination of direct-filed trademark applications, which is similar to the mandatory timeline for Madrid applications. “If complex international trademark applications can be consistently examined in less than 18 months,” it reads, “domestic trademark applicants deserve similar service guarantees.”

A delay of four years is not acceptable and causes undue challenges and difficulties for Canadian businesses.

Running afoul of Quebec’s language laws, and international implications

As the Section also noted in a previous letter from October 2022, the backlog “will cause many parties doing business in Quebec to run afoul of Quebec’s language law, An Act Respecting French, the Official and Common Language of Quebec as of June 1, 2025 (as they will be using a trademark in a language other than French without the benefit of a federal registration).”

In addition, the CBA Section warns that since a Canadian company’s foreign trademark rights depend on local registration, the delay in a Canadian application can be costly since the foreign application needs to be suspended, at the company’s expense, while waiting for the Canadian trademark to issue.

Canadian delays are also difficult to understand for foreign trademark applicants who have trouble seeing why a process that takes less than a year in their home country takes over four times as long here. As the letter points out, “there is no good explanation that Canadian lawyers and trademark agents can offer to their foreign clients.”

Issuing refunds

The Service Fees Act requires CIPO to develop and implement a fee refund program for when it fails to meet its own service standards, which it has yet to do for trademark examination. “Given the endemic delays,” the CBA letter explains, trademark applicants “are arguably in need of even greater protection than other intellectual property applicants.”