A Qualicum Beach restaurant is being forced to change its name by a Hamilton restaurant with the same name — the Ontario business has trademarked the name.
Kyla Campbell and James Hannah, co-owners of the former Radius Food Co., will now operate their business nestled along Island Highway under the name Realm Food Co.
But the titular reinvention comes with a cost.
“We had to get a new sign, branding, logo, website domain, e-mail,” Campbell told The NEWS Thursday afternoon, the same day the owners replaced their old sign with a shiny, rectangular board reading Realm Food Co. in big black letters.
The new entrepreneurs, both 25 years old, will be out a few thousand dollars — but the inconvenience of re-branding a business just seven months into it is the real cost.
“We’ll lose our initial branding, everyone just kind of knows us now, and that alone — the word of mouth — is disappointing,” said Hannah. “But we’re hoping people will recognize us from our similar logo.”
Campbell and Hannah incorporated Radius Food Co., but have learned that doesn’t protect their name the same way that registering your trademark does.
“It’s like operating without insurance,” said Community Futures Central Island business analyst Michael Granholm. “You can get away with it, but you can also get burned.”
The Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) defines a trademark as “one or a combination of words, sounds or designs used to distinguish the goods or services of one person or organization from those of others in the marketplace.”
Barrigar Intellectual Property Law trademark agent Micheal Cooper said “the problem is trademarks are not just words, trademarks are abstractions.”
For example, Cooper said McDonalds is more than meets the eye.
“McDonalds is a famous mark,” said the Victoria-based lawyer. “When I say that word you have an instant picture in your mind about the service, food and atmosphere — it’s not just the word McDonalds sitting on paper, it’s the association in the consuming public’s mind.”
Cooper said trademark law originated in the 1800s in Britain.
“Basically someone brought a complaint to a judge saying ‘my competition is using confusing packaging,’” said Cooper. “The judge agreed. So trademark rights fundamentally depend on establishing a reputation in commerce.”
Registering a trademark provides proof of ownership and exclusive rights across Canada for 15 years and may be renewed indefinitely.
A registered trademark is one that has been entered in the federal Register of Trademarks.
The Registrar of Trademarks processes approximately 45,000 applications every year in Canada.
Cooper said it can cost a business up to $3,500 to register their trademark name and take anywhere from 18 months to two years to have it processed.
But there is no legal requirement in Canada to register a trademark.
And as a result, many business owners don’t officially register their trademark.
An unregistered trademark, Cooper explains, gives an owner rights in the specific geographic area in which they are established — but the moment you register a trademark you are granted rights across the country.
“There are lots of reasons why people don’t register their trademark,” said Cooper. “A lot of people don’t think about it in terms of protecting their own asset and in the early stages your brand often isn’t that valuable.”
However, Cooper said if you have a successful business it is prudent to register your trademark sooner than later.
According to the CIPO, the Tim Hortons trademark is now worth $3.9 billion.
Cooper said Industry Canada provides a registry system online to search for particular trademarks.
He said the decision to register your trademark comes down to the entrepreneur — and many small businesses remain unregistered.
“It’s a bit of a minefield,” said Cooper. “And much more complex than most people think.”
After all is said and done, the owners of Realm Food Co. still decided against registering their trademark.
“Maybe sometime down the road,” said Hannah. “In the long term I think it would be worthwhile.”
But for now, they said the cost and time associated with it isn’t quite worth it.
And the Qualicum Beach owners are taking on the change in stride.
“As we progressed as a business this new name (Realm Food Co.) actually kind of represents us better,” said Campbell optimistically, explaining the name refers to sourcing food locally within the “realm” of Vancouver Island.