Politics

Canada Revenue Agency corners market on name TED

The Canada Revenue Agency registered the name TED as a trademark in the 1990s, and that has caused headaches for some companies wanting to use the name in ads or promotions. Four companies have so far been given permission by the national revenue minister to use TED, while at least two have been denied.

Coca-Cola and TED Talks are two of several firms who sought blessing of tax agency for use of moniker

Rajiv Maheswaran talks at a 2015 TED conference in Vancouver. TED Talks had to secure permission to use the TED trademark from the Canada Revenue Agency, which has owned the rights since 1999. (James Duncan Davidson/TED)

Here's a news bulletin for anybody in Canada calling themselves "Ted": the Canada Revenue Agency owns your name.

Or rather, the Canada Revenue Agency is the official registered owner of the trademark TED.

Anyone planning to use that name commercially needs to come cap-in-hand to the taxman for written permission to put TED on a product or a service, or in an advertisement.

Two famous companies, Coca-Cola and the TED Talks people, got the OK in Canada to do just that. There are others as well.

A version of the Canada Revenue Agency's EFILE/TED logo from the late 1990s, showing a floppy disk being inserted into a maple leaf. (Canada Revenue Agency)

The story begins in the 1990s, when Revenue Canada was preparing for an era when Canadians could begin to file their income-tax forms electronically, over something new called the internet.

The agency registered several trademarks to promote its new online services. One English-language trademark is EFILE, a contraction of "electronic file." The French equivalent is TED, an acronym for "transmission electronique des declarations."

"In 1999, to help promote and identify the new EFILE/TED program, a logo was developed and the official mark protected," said Jelica Zdero, the agency's spokeswoman.

"Establishing official marks has allowed the CRA to control usage of these official marks so that the CRA, and its programs or services are not misrepresented in the eyes of Canadians."

Taxman was first

In recent years, several companies have wanted to use the TED trademark, only to find that the tax agency had beat them to the Canadian registry office.

We research the most popular names in Canada and "Ted" was on the list- Coca-Cola spokeswoman

One of the most famous is the TED Talks and conferences group, whose origins go back to the eighties. The organization's name is also an acronym, for Technology, Entertainment, Design.

In 2013 and 2014, the group formally sought permission of the Canadian Revenue Agency to use TED and TEDx in Canada – and was given the green light both times, provided the company did not make people think the tax agency was somehow involved.

The TED trademark was also a problem for Coca-Cola, which wanted to bring its highly successful program "Share a Coke" to Canada. The promotion allows people to replace the signature Coca-Cola logo on bottles and cans of the soft drink with a first name of their choosing.

Coca-Cola Ltd. was another corporation that came to CRA seeking permission to use "Ted" in a marketing campaign. (Ebay)

"We research the most popular names in Canada and 'Ted' was on the list," said company spokeswoman Shannon Denny.

"As part of our due diligence, we discovered 'Ted' was an official mark of the Canada Revenue Agency."

So last year, Coca-Cola went to the Canada Revenue Agency asking for permission to put TED on some of its bottles and cans. On June 15, then-minister Kerry-Lynne Findlay agreed in writing, allowing the promotion to go ahead.

The minister "hereby consents to the use in Canada by Coca-Cola Ltd. of the name 'Ted' in association with the 'Share a Coke' program, provided that Coca-Cola Ltd. avoid its use in any context that could cause confusion with or dilution of CRA's official mark TED," says Findlay's permission letter.

The document was obtained by CBC under the Access to Information Act.

Zdero says the agency does not charge companies for the right to use its trademarks.

Could cause confusion

Industry Canada trademark records show at least two other companies were given permission by CRA to use TED: GameTech International Inc., a Reno, Nev., firm that designs, manufactures and markets computerized bingo and gaming equipment, which got the green light in 2005; and Calgary-based Diamond QC Technologies Inc., a petro-chemical company, in 2013.

Zdero says the minister has denied permission to at least two other requestors who wanted to use the term TED, without providing details or reasons.

"The CRA must carefully review the applicants' submission to ensure that the planned use will not misrepresent or cause confusion with CRA's official mark," she said.

All residents of Canada who just happen to be called Ted, however, need not worry: the Canada Revenue Agency controls your taxes but not your name.

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About the Author

Dean Beeby

Senior reporter, Parliamentary Bureau

Dean Beeby is a CBC journalist, author and specialist in freedom-of-information laws. Follow him on Twitter: @DeanBeeby

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