File your taxes, or your nails? Revenue Canada lets cosmetics firm share its branding

National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier has again allowed a private company to use a brand name - known as an official mark - that was developed by the Canada Revenue Agency. A Burlington, Ont., firm has been given the green light to use TIPS, which the tax agency uses to refer to its Tax Information Phone Service.

CRA gets no extra revenue from consenting to let a few private firms use some of its 50+ brand names

A Canadian cosmetics firm has secured CRA's permission to use the word 'TIPS' for a line of nail care products. (Pexels.com / CC0 License)

Canadians who want to file their taxes – or file their nails – need to remember just one word: TIPS.

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has used that word, known as an 'official mark', since 1990 as the short English name for its Tax Information Phone Service, a toll-free number for tax filers who need assistance.

But National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier has also given the green light to a Canadian cosmetics firm to use TIPS to refer to its line of nail-care products, including "manicure sticks, cuticle trimmers and nippers, scissors and tweezers."

Lebouthillier gave permission to Ask Cosmetics Inc. on July 17 last year, after the Burlington, Ont.-based firm requested her written consent.

There is minimal risk of confusion between the CRA's tax information phone service and ... nail care products- Internal CRA memo

"In 1999, consent was granted to the same company for the same product, for a trade-mark that is exactly identical to the official mark T.I.P.S.," says a memo to the minister last summer, obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act.

"The company now wants to register a variation of TIPS without the periods in between the letters, for the same products. … There is minimal risk of confusion between the CRA's tax information phone service and the nail care products of Ask Cosmetics Inc."

"There is no payment to the Government of Canada in relation to this consent," said Etienne Biram, a spokesperson for the agency.

Ask Cosmetics Inc. uses the acronym TIPS for "The Incredible Protection System," its line of products for nails and skin care.

Burlington, Ont., Ask Cosmetics Inc. has won permission from Canada's national revenue minister to use the term TIPS. (Ask Cosmetics Inc.)

The Canada Revenue Agency currently owns more than 50 official marks. Some — such as Netfile — have become familiar to Canadians.

Under Canadian trademark law, public bodies such as the CRA can file their official marks — names, designs, crests, emblems, logos, etc. — with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. Doing so prevents any business from using a trademark that is identical or similar unless the public body gives consent.

Over the last decade, various companies have asked the minister at least 10 times for permission to use official marks, including the name of the French-language toll-free tax line SERT, for Systeme Electronique de Renseignements par Telephone.

Biram said permission was denied on three occasions, which he did not identify.

One of the best-known official marks registered by the Canada Revenue Agency is TED, which is an acronym for the French phrase for electronic tax filing — "transmission electronique des declarations." The mark was developed by CRA in 1999, with its own logo.

Two famous companies, Coca-Cola and the TED Talks people, both got the OK in Canada from the minister to use that name commercially.

Demand for TED

To use the name Ted in its Share a Coke with... campaign in Canada, Coca-Cola Ltd. first had to ask the TED trademark holder: Canada Revenue Agency. (Ebay)

Coca-Cola at the time was running a promotion called 'Share a Coke' which allowed consumers to replace the company logo with their own names — including 'Ted'. The TED Talks lecture series, which launched in the 1980s, uses the acronym for Technology, Entertainment, Design.

Two other firms — a Calgary-based petrochemical company in 2013, and a gaming-equipment company based in Reno, Nev., in 2005 — also received ministerial permission to use the popular TED name.

The CRA's most recent official mark, developed in 2016, is a stylized three-leaf clover meant to represent its "Knowledge Sharing Platform for Tax Administration."

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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