Director of Strategy
Published May 2, 2019
Those of you following the shit-show that is Canadian politics of late (not nearly as entertaining as our neighbours to the south!) will have heard that Maxime Bernier split from the federal Conservative Party citing irreconcilable differences—like they weren't xenophobic enough for him or something—and formed his own party.
No one can fault Mr. Bernier for taking his ball and going home. However, we can fault him and his team for being a little sloppy in carving out their space in the "brandscape" of Canadian politics. We can further fault Elections Canada for not notifying Bernier and company that they had received another application with a conflicting name for their party, or that the other party was claiming copyright and trademarks for first use of the name back in 2015.
Between domain name availability and social handles, finding a fetching and unique name for your organization is becoming exponentially difficult—akin to mining bitcoin. So, founders are typically at a loss for attractive and productive names for their brands. The influence of technology on our lives has created all manner of franken-names for products from Golden Circle's “Sars” to Barfy Burgers.
However, more classical institutions, like political parties, aren't typically in such conflicted spaces. These organizations only deal with a handful of competitors regionally, and perhaps only a couple federally. So, their names and associated brands tend to be long-form descriptors, rather than hip sounding brands like "Slack" or "Fiverr". In theory, "The People's Party of Canada" should have been a safe bet and also a name easily integrated into the fabric of Canada's media landscape.
Enter Satinder Singh Dhillon.
In 2015, ugly tie champion, businessperson and all-around-combative-m&%$#@*&!$#*, Satinder Singh Dhillon, reached out to us with the interest of starting a new political party. In his brief to us, he spoke about rampant corruption and collusion in the halls of power, implicating Canada's top law firms, accounting firms, elected officials and a few of the big banks to round things out. A lot of this would have sounded like tinfoil hat stuff, if not for allegations of corruption at all levels that have come to light:
CBC - Tax adviser to revenue minister attended KPMG-sponsored Madrid conference, parties
Global News - Timeline: Here’s how the SNC-Lavalin controversy has unfolded
Rolling Stone - Outrageous HSBC Settlement Proves the Drug War Is a Joke
Bearing all of this in mind, Mr. Dhillon came with some big ideas on how to push the reset button on Canadian politics and bring new relevance to the role of elected officials in protecting the interests of the people they were supposed to represent. Mr. Dhillon had some naming ideas of his own—all pretty shitty—and ultimately left the responsibility of developing a name to us. After just a cursory review of his stated principles and intent, it became clear that this initiative was for the people... and the People's Party of Canada was born.
Well, "born" in that the brand was developed, however the copyright and trademark would be established later. Fast forward to 2018 and imagine our surprise when we see that Maxime Bernier had announced his intention to create the People's Party of Canada—in conflict with Mr. Dhillon's copyright.
"They can't do that... can they?"
Apparently, you can do whatever you want—copyright be damned. Mr. Dhillon, on the advice of Elections Canada, got the copyright and trademark and submitted his party registration immediately after Bernier's announcement. Months later, Elections Canada ratified the creation of Bernier's party, despite the conflicting registration from Mr. Dhillon and despite the obvious copyright and trademark conflicts. Mr. Dhillon has proof positive of his copyright and trademarks and he announced the party in a magazine article (the Times of Canada) in 2015, shortly after Skyrocket created the brand and transferred the creative assets to Mr. Dhillon.
Now, Mr. Dhillon has taken his case to the Federal Court of Canada and intends to pursue the matter—he might have let sleeping dogs lie, had it not been for Mr. Bernier's rhetoric and particular application of the name, stoking xenophobia and prompting Trump-style divisiveness in Canadian politics. Now, Mr. Bernier’s got a fight on his hands, from a Canadian born son of Punjabi Sikh immigrants (of the extreme multiculturalism variety no less) and his co-plaintiff Mr. Emmet Tisdale Pierce who is of Irish and Scottish descent.
What's the lesson in all of this?
Naming is hard. We get it. But, it's critically important. When undergoing the naming of something so absolute as a product or organization (naming humans is WAY easier, we can just call everybody "John") it's important to do the necessary research and have your facts straight. It's important to work with someone who can rapidly conduct trademark searches on your behalf and look for immediate conflicts before conducting deeper reviews. There are services like Namelix that even help you find a unique namespace or identify unique URLs—traditionally, an indicator that the brand name might be available or at least less conflicted. In Canada there are great services like Ownr that will let you do a unique business search and incorporate right online. And in both countries we have trademark search services like the Canadian Trademarks Database or the US Patent and Trademark Office.
Next time you're out in the world fomenting revolution, pay special attention to crafting your brand and then use the available tools to protect it. When you're storming the castle, the last thing you want is for the public to confuse your pitchfork for someone else's.