Quebec Agency Hits Sunwing With $350K Intellectual Property Lawsuit
Bruce Parkinson, Open Jaw
Quebec travel agency Voyages à Rabais is suing Sunwing Vacations for $350,000.
The Trois-Rivière-based company is taking issue with the tour operator for using the expression "voyage à rabais" on the website of its subsidiary Sell Off Vacations. In 2017, after a years-long court battle, ‘Voyages à Rabais' was granted a registration by the Canadian Intellectual Property Office for exclusive right of use of ‘Voyages à Rabais’ – ‘discount travel’ in English.
Voyages à Rabais claims that Sell Off Vacations used the expression (i.e. "discount travel") in its online service offering in such a way as to create confusion with the consumer and thus unlawfully diverting customers to its benefit," reads court documents.
Voyages à Rabais, which has three offices across Quebec, estimates that this has resulted in net profit losses of $250,000 since 2016. It also claims $100,000 for the "depreciation of the value of "goodwill" related to its brand.
Sylvie Myre, President of ‘Voyages à Rabais,' says that with the recognition of the Registrar of Trade-marks, the use of an expression identical with or similar to her brand to advertise products or services constitutes an act of “counterfeiting and misleading marketing.”
She gave the example of Google searches in fall 2016, which returned Sunwing as the top result in a search for ‘voyage à rabais.’ Shortly after, Myre’s company served notice to stop using the term, but says it has continued.
“On a number of occasions, customers came to us with questions saying they bought from us when they did not. As an entrepreneur, I built the reputation of my organization by offering a high quality personalized service with very competitive prices. The situation that prevailed worried me. I was well aware that it was confusing to consumers.”
Sunwing has been using the term ‘voyage à rabais’ in some paid ads an on websites for many years. But it’s not the only Canadian company doing so, and it’s not clear why Sunwing alone is the target of the lawsuit. Inquiries to Myre on this topic did not get a response by press-time.
A Google search by Open Jaw quickly found Canadian companies including WestJet and ExitNow.com currently using the same term for sales and marketing purposes.
Bruce Parkinson Editor-in-Chief
An observer and analyst of the Canadian and international travel industries for over 25 years, Bruce uses the pre-dawn hours to prepare a daily news and information package to keep industry members up to date.