A trademark on "Green Shift"?

I sometimes find peoples ideas about trademark law to be silly. The original point of trademark law was a form of consumer protection so that there would be less confusion in the marketplace, and that a mark used in trade could inform consumers about the origins and history of the producer.

I see no way there could be confusion in the "marketplace" between The Green Shift political campaign from the Liberal party of Canada, and the Green Shift company in Toronto, and yet according to a Globe and Mail article the owner of the company is threatening to sue.

I believe it is Ms. Wright's trademark search (Note: no granting of trademark) and then through the media an attempt to enforce a non-existent trademark on something as common as the phrase "Green Shift" which is "so blatantly unethical”. I do hope that the Liberal party defends themselves against this behaviour, and helps to clarify for people getting this issue wrong what a trademark really is, and what it is for.

Note: If anyone is curious about my views on the Liberal plan, they can look for my comments on Facebook and Nik on the Numbers.

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From consumer protection to intellectual property

You probably know more about this than I, but from Yochai Benkler's The Wealth of Networks, p. 290:

. . . in 1995, the U.S. Congress enacted a new kind of trademark law, the Federal Antidilution Act, which for the first time disconnects trademark protection from protecting consumers from confusion by knockoffs. The Antidilution Act of 1995 gives the owner of any famous mark — and only famous marks — protection from any use that dilutes the meaning that the brand owner has attached to its own mark. It can be entirely clear to consumers that a particular use does not come from the owner of the brand, and still, the owner has a right to prevent this use. While there is some constitutional free-speech protection for criticism, there is also a basic change in the understanding of trademark law — from a consumer protection law intended to assure that consumers can rely on the consistency of goods marked in a certain way, to a property right . . .

Edit: Of course I'm not suggesting U.S. law applies here. It's the ideology encapsulated in that phrase "intellectual property" that's driving this, regardless of borders.

I talked to them.

I actually sent an email to this effect to the company. This was the reply.


Thanks but we believe in taking credit where credit is due and not taking credit or criticism where it is not.

Whether we take handouts or have a ways of sustaining ourselves, we have an Environmental Program with about 3000 participants called Green Shift. The liberals developing an environmental program and calling it the same name is giving us what I would call garbage attention.

Do you like spam?

Thanks for tying to help,



The "do you like spam" part kind of scares me. It's posed as a bit of a veiled threat.

Agree, but what was her point?

I agree in credit where credit is due, but how does that help her position? The term "Green Tax Shift" has been in use for decades, and short-forming it to "Green Shift" is a trivial thing that is not deserving of any form of exclusivity. The people naming the Liberal campaign owe her absolutely no credit, as it is highly unlikely they were even aware of her little business until very late in the game (and thus clearly was not trying to create confusion, and was not building on her work in any way).

I notice she tried to trademark something without giving credit to the decades of green economic thinking that came well before her, and upon which she is utterly dependant.

There was a time more than a decade ago that I received emails about my FLORA.ottawa.on.ca and FLORA.org domain names from florists who claimed I shouldn't have been granted the domain name. In my case it was based on the street I lived on (first computer was apt1.flora.ottawa.on.ca , meaning apartment 1, on 214 FLORA St. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada)., and had nothing to do with Flora and Fauna.

FLORA.com and FLORA.net are owned by entirely different people, and that is the norm -- and not something that anyone can claim the right to sue anyone over.

Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) consultant.

Green Shift firm files $8.5M trademark suit against Liberals

The CBC had an article suggesting that this business owner that misappropriated the phrase "Green Shift" for her business is now suing the Liberal party of Canada.

I've been using the phrase "Green Tax Shift", and the obvious shortform "Green Shift" for longer than this businesswoman has been in business. I really don't see her point. She used a term that was already in use for her business name, and is now complaining that people are using the term as it was intended. I'm having a hard time not believing that she is not launching this public relations attack for political purposes, either personally motivated or paid by one of the opposing political parties.

"Worse yet, we're getting a number of people saying they would like to boycott our company due to this misperceived political affiliation," the CBC article quotes Green Shift Inc. owner Jennifer Wright as saying.

What about people in the global greens movement that will want to boycott her company for her misappropriation of our term? Dion is using the term as it was intended to be, as a term referring to an economic policy of shifting taxation from things we want (like income, profit) onto things we don't want (pollution, waste, etc).

I expect that if this silliness does go to court that there will be plenty of prior-art describing prior usage of the term before her application for trademark. While she doesn't have a trademark on this generic term, she also doesn't have any other type of case.

Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) consultant.

Just how prevalent is the phrase "green shift"?

A blog article asks "Just how prevalent is the phrase "green shift"?", almost suggesting that David McGuinty invented the term.

I think people have missed the point. The term "Green Shift" is an obvious shortform of the term "Green Tax Shift". It is just good politics to drop the word "tax" for this political campaign as that word seems to frighten people, and it is a obvious shortform that has been used in conversations for many years. If people want to see the origins of the term they should search for the full "Green Tax Shift" given people tend to use more formal terms in text than in conversation.

And McGuinty did not invent the term, nor did he claim he did. I have been using the term Green Tax Shift long before I met Mr. McGuinty, and from sources that have nothing to do with Mr. McGuinty.

Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) consultant.

Green Shift and Bill C-60?

A National Post opinion piece included:

The Liberals, as one might expect, find being targeted as intellectual property tortfeasors "deplorable." But it seems like a potentially useful lesson, considering that they were the first to propose copyright reforms penalizing digital file-sharing and medium-swapping -- reforms of the same sort now being contemplated by the Conservative government. Across the land, owners of computers and personal MP3 players may just be thinking "See, guys? Not that much fun, is it?"

Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) consultant.