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Taxes & Cannabis: 280E, R&D Credits, 199A & Qualified Opportunity Funds: Part 2

By Zachary Gordon, Jason Hoffman
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Editor’s Note: This is the second piece in a two-part series delving into tax issues. Part one discussed tax code 280E as it pertains to cannabis businesses. Part two will go into research and development credits, 199A and a discussion of risk as it relates to Qualified Opportunity Zones. 


While 280E is the most influential code section for the cannabis industry, structuring never happens in a vacuum. There are many open questions that each business must answer for themselves without court adjudication. We believe that among the riskiest of questions is whether a cannabis business can claim research and development credits.

There is no clear legal authority that either allows these credits or disallows them but certainly utilizing such credits comes at great risk. At the beginning of this article we talked about Congress and the purpose of 280E. Congress’s intention was to make sure that only the minimum required tax deductions were available to Schedule 1 and 2 sellers. A cannabis business receiving a research and development credit would not be with the intension of Congress. While the credits would be computed based on COGS expenditures, at this time we do not believe that a cannabis business should take this credit. Disallowance of COGS would create a constitutional challenge which is why Congress allowed the COGS deduction. Disallowance of Research and Development Credits does not open up the same constitutional issue since the credit is not part of COGS although calculated based on COGS expenditures. 280E states very clearly that credits arising from other code sections are disallowed in the entirety.

More recently the Tax Cut and Jobs Act (TCJA) opened up new issues for cannabis companies that are still unfolding. Two of the most publicized are Qualified Opportunity Funds and Section 199A, the 20% deduction (Qualified Business Deduction).

The 199A deduction allows eligible pass-through entities to claim an additional deduction of 20% of the income (subject to certain limitations) at the individual level potentially lowering the tax rate from 37% to 29.6%. While the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and others have asked the IRS to clarify if 280E would make a cannabis business ineligible, the final regulations on the subject did not address this issue. There are other significant limitations and hurdles in 199A regulations that any business would have to first pass to be considered for the rate deduction. If a cannabis business meets all other eligibility and limitation criteria, should the pass-through income to their investors be qualified income under 199A? The answer will depend on whether the courts will treat this “deduction” as falling under the general prohibition of 280E.

We believe that there is a reasonable chance that the courts will allow the 199A deduction for cannabis companies. That does not mean, however, that we advise cannabis companies to claim this on their pass-through returns as Qualified Business Income. Much like everything else, it depends on the particular business and the risk profile that management is willing to tolerate. This is one area of tax law that is sure to be challenged in court. The more risk-averse business should pass on claiming this deduction on their returns, but monitor development with an eye to amending at a later date if favorable precedent emerges. If the amounts are large enough, consideration should be given to applying for a Private Letter Ruling, but that also has its own tax risks.

Another new tax incentive that was in the TCJA was Section 1400Z or Qualified Opportunity Zones (QOZ). The incentive allows for the deferral of capital gains until December of 2026. The use of 1400Z also results in up to a 15% decrease in capital gains tax- and tax-free appreciation if all requirements are met. While the IRS has only released proposed regulations and we anticipate significant changes to them when they are released as final, there was nothing in the proposed regulations limiting cannabis businesses from using Qualified Opportunity Funds (QOF) in their structure. It is interesting to note that the TCJA and proposed regulations did list other types of businesses that could not make investments under 1400Z along with all its benefits. Liquor stores, golf courses and sun tan parlors were among those listed but cannabis growers and dispensaries were not.

As the industry continues to mature, new issues and precedents will require CPAs and attorneys to find new solutions to best serve the industry.Using Opportunity Zones to entice investors sounds like a great opportunity, but there are significant risks. The first risk is that the proposed regulations, while currently proposed, may not be final. There is always a chance that the IRS will take a different position when the final regulations are released and add cannabis to the type of businesses that do not qualify. Another risk, and one that was previously mentioned as part of 199A and other areas of structuring, is that the IRS and the courts can always disagree with the taxpayer’s position. This is a new area of tax law and will eventually be litigated. The loss of the Opportunity Zone benefits can significantly change the return to the investors and lead to other issues.

All of these issues come into play when structuring businesses in this industry. These issues must be evaluated as they pertain to the business needs. This can be very complex and requires a great deal of research for each business opportunity. We have found that professionals operating in this industry like to know about all of their options. The most important thing we can do for the industry is to continue to educate the professionals working in it.

Accountants should be available to assist their clients and their clients’ attorneys with structuring techniques aimed at asset protection and minimizing 280E disallowances. Accountants should also be ready to speak to the questions outlined above and be prepared to explain the risks associated with each choice. As the industry continues to mature, new issues and precedents will require CPAs and attorneys to find new solutions to best serve the industry.

Taxes & Cannabis: 280E, R&D Credits, 199A & Qualified Opportunity Funds: Part 1

By Zachary Gordon, Jason Hoffman
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Editor’s Note: This is the first piece in a two-part series delving into tax issues. Part one discusses tax code 280E as it pertains to cannabis businesses. Part two will go into research and development credits, 199A and a discussion of risk as it relates to Qualified Opportunity Zones. Stay tuned for Part two coming next week!


When building a knowledge base in the cannabis industry as a CPA, one’s tax research typically starts with Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 280E. For those that are unfamiliar, 280E is only three lines long. With this in mind, we at Janover realized that we needed to understand the context for this highly influential tax section.

The genesis of 280E dates back to 1981 with a Tax Court case: Jeffrey Edmonson v. Commissioner. The decision in this case was that a seller of cocaine, amphetamines and cannabis could deduct most business expenses, cost of goods sold, packaging, home, phone and automobile expenses relating to the seller’s illegal business.

In 1982, 280E was enacted to reverse the Edmonson decision and deny sellers of Schedule 1 or 2 controlled substances the right to deduct business expenses. Under the Controlled Substances Act, the federal government defined Schedule 1 drugs as drugs that have no currently acceptable medical use and a high potential for abuse. Since cannabis is classified as a Schedule 1 drug, cannabis businesses were unable to deduct most business expenses.

To get a better understanding of what the legislators were trying to accomplish, House and Senate reports provided insight into what their goals might have been. Under the Explanation of Provision, the Senate Report reads:

All deductions and credits for amounts paid or incurred in the illegal trafficking in drugs listed in the Controlled Substances Act are disallowed. To preclude possible challenges on constitutional grounds, the adjustment to gross receipts with respect to effective costs of goods sold is not affected by this provision of the bill.

As the Senate Report explanation provides, 280E specifically excluded cost of goods sold (COGS) from the disallowance of deductions. This treatment was affirmed by the Tax Court in 2012 in Olive v. Commissioner (139 T.C. 19 2012).

To date, there are not many cases that have dealt with the tax issues of 280E. In a 2007 decision involving Californians Helping to Alleviate Medical Problems (CHAMP), the Tax Court ruled that a taxpayer may deduct expenses allocable to an affiliated business that was separate from the entity “trafficking in a controlled substance.” In CHAMP, the legal caregiving business, which was a separate business, was able to deduct the allocated portion of shared expenses. This set a legal precedent that allowed a taxpayer engaged in the selling of a Schedule 1 or 2 controlled substance to distinguish expenses incurred on behalf of other non-prohibited business lines and deduct these expenses.

In addition to these court cases, tax professionals can rely on IRS Chief Counsel Memorandum CCA 201504011. The IRS Chief Counsel released this memorandum in January 2015 in order to respond to questions the IRS was receiving from practitioners.

Although Chief Counsel Memoranda, in general, may not be cited by taxpayers as precedent, this memorandum is the current and best authority outlining the IRS’s position with respect to the extent to which a cannabis business may deduct business expenses. The memorandum also refers to IRC Section 162, ordinary and necessary business expenses that would be disallowed, as well as separately identifying certain direct and indirect business expenses that would be allowed. Citing methods in Treas. Reg. 1.471, the memorandum states that a cannabis producer may allocate to inventory and COGS direct production costs, including direct material costs (Cannabis seeds or plants), direct labor costs (e.g., planting, cultivating, harvesting, sorting, etc.), and transportation or other costs to acquire of the cannabis. It also indicates certain indirect costs that may be taken as COGS.

As the industry continues to mature, more cases are finding their way to the Tax Court. On June 13, 2018, the Tax Court issued a ruling in Alterman v. Commissioner that specifically disallowed the use of 263A under 280E and applied only Section 471 to determine COGS. While we need to follow the facts and circumstances of each case, the broad language used might very well disallow capitalizing of inventoriable costs for companies subject to 280E.

IRC Section 471 is the general rule for inventory accounting for tax. IRC Section 263A is the uniform capitalization rules for tax. Most businesses need to utilize both 471 and 263A when accounting for inventory and to properly capitalize costs into COGS.This opinion may have lasting effects on the part of the industry trying to create brands associated with their cannabis products.

Many resellers and retailers of cannabis thought they could use 263A to capitalize more costs into inventory decreasing their tax burden. The Chief Counsel Memorandum disagreed and more recently the Tax Court in Patients Mutual Assistance Collective Corp v Commissioner sided with the IRS and upheld some of the precedents set in Alterman v. Commissioner. In siding with the IRS, the judge concluded that a taxpayer who is subject to 280E can only deduct costs of goods sold under 471 as the IRC existed when 280E was enacted (in 1982). The taxpayer in the case used two arguments that were not new to the cannabis industry, but to no avail. The first argument was that the business was not trafficking in a controlled substance because the government had abandoned a civil forfeiture action. The second argument that was rejected was that a portion of the business involved branding, marketing and the sales of other non-illegal products. The claimant tried to convince the court that deductions related to these operations should not be subject to the same disallowance of deduction as outlined in 280E.

This second argument is very important for structuring purposes. The court used a significant portion of its opinion to address why the entire business is integrated and completely subjected to 280E. This opinion may have lasting effects on the part of the industry trying to create brands associated with their cannabis products.

This case has even more implications given part of the ruling in which the courts stated that being state licensed in no way effected the Schedule 1 determination at the federal level and, therefore, subjected them to 280E. The judge went so far as to separate the Department of Justice, which enforces the Schedule 1 status of cannabis, and the Department of the Treasury, which has full authority and enforcement rights to treat cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug subject to 280E for income tax purposes. This ruling made it clear that even if the Department of Justice is not pursing criminal charges against state-licensed cannabis businesses the IRS is not precluded from fully enforcing the Internal Revenue Code.

german flag

The Ever-Pending German Cultivation Bid

By Marguerite Arnold
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german flag

It was supposed to be cut and dried. Change the law (after getting sued by patients). Eliminate “home grow” by the same. Set up a nice, neat, efficient sub-department of the German version of the FDA (or BfArM for short). Put the bid online, in an attempt to take the paperwork out of the whole process, and let it rip.

Done and dusted by last summer. Right? Wrong.

In fact, as of now, the second bid deadline has been extended to (at least) December 2018. There is already a pending lawsuit, which has pushed the deadline back this fall several times.

German Parliament Building

BfArM as usual, is sending out non-statements. They cannot comment. This is, again, a pending EU bid.

However, this is, as Germans at least are rapidly realizing, not just another bid. To begin with, there is never a normal first in this industry. And the highly bumpy road auf Deutsch is just a redo of industry realities in every other legalizing jurisdiction.

That the dramas involved are both Shakespearean and of a lesser kind is also part of the mix. Here, for our reader’s benefit, are the summaries of the acts:

The Story So Far

Cue the German Parliament. Change the law. Issue the tender. Get sued. And this is all before last summer was over. Generally speaking that was more or less Act I.

Act II, so far, has been the response. The government, along with BfArM have been engaged in a remarkable discussion in public that is already dramatic by German standards anyway.

enterprising entities are getting import licenses.First, a federal German court called out a fault by a federal agency, which was bad enough.

However, in what appears to be an ongoing act of defence in this very strange second act indeed, BfArM appears to be playing defence to prevent any more legal action. Notably, as the threat of a second lawsuit appeared this fall against the second bid and revised bid issuance, the agency just moved the deadline back, repeatedly. It is now set for some time in December, although industry rumours suggest that the agency will continue to move the goalposts back until after the court date next spring, if necessary.

That does extend the time for intermission. In the meantime, enterprising entities are getting import licenses.

The Major Drama

As in all of the greatest acts and periods of historical change, there are far greater currents that carry the main story line forward. The revolutionary rumbles surrounding cannabis legalization earlier in the decade in the United States have now been felt on a far greater, global scale. Politically, the right to take cannabis has been tied closely to states’ rights in the U.S. since the turn of the century.

Now in the second decade of all of this tumult, cannabis reform as global revolt echoes the zeitgeist of the times. The Donald is now in the second part of an already historically constitutionally convoluted time in the U.S. The U.K, potentially spurred by similar forces might appear to still be on the brink of Brexit. And the EU has begun to try to organize, both on an individual country basis as well as collectively, to deal with political populism.

Shifting regulation in Europe may be groovy, but from a public health perspective, there is much to prove.There is a great deal of political and economic discontent just about everywhere. Law suits, particularly against governments over issues as intransigent as cannabis, in other words, are a powerful tool right now for the disaffected just about everywhere. Not getting a license to grow cannabis and participate in a valuable, multi-billion dollar economy is a powerful grudge.

There is also, beyond this, the overarching flavour of a new trade agreement called CETA which specifically gives corporations the right to sue federal governments. Strange times indeed. Maybe that is why the German Minister of Health, Jens Spahn, just oversaw a historic lifting of the import quota of medical cannabis from Holland to Germany?

The Minor Drama

There are quite a few acts to this play too right now. Shifting regulation in Europe may be groovy, but from a public health perspective, there is much to prove. This is true of cannabis that is reimbursed by health insurers. It is also true of the novel food debates now springing up across the continent, particularly tied to isolates that have made their landing here.

There are also other issues in the mix that include the idea of an agriculturally based economy that might also damn the bid to a kind of strange purgatory for some time. Germans, despite their historical nostalgia for the same, are not an agrarian society. This is a culture ruled by tradition and science, for all the many conflicts that generates. This means the “cannabis as pharmaceutical” conversation is in the room is a part of the national DNA. No matter how much cheaper unprocessed flower might be.

The Players

There are two, broad camps here at the moment. The first are firms that made the cut the first time around (i.e. the large public Canadian LPs). The second is everyone else.

Nobody seriously expects more than one upstart German firm to make it through to getting a cultivation or processing license at this time. Those are widely expected to go to the major firms who have been in the front position from last spring, such as Canopy, Wayland, Aphria and the Dutch Bedrocan.

But those “upstart” Germans are furiously trying to deal themselves into the game. For some it means starting with CBD cultivation. For others it means slinging lawsuits. The last go around, one of the most serious litigants was not an agricultural producer, in fact, but a German wheelchair company.

In other words, while a bit more European in flavour, those who still clamour for a chance to cultivate are every bit as iconoclastic as those on in other climes.In the meantime, the import business is flourishing. 

The Concluding Act?

There are several ways the current situation could end. The first is that the bid is concluded next April. The second is that it is not. In the meantime, the import business is flourishing. And, even better for the German government, the industry is not cultivating domestically.

In the eventuality that the bid is run off the road again next spring, in other words, the government is gamely lining up behind the idea that imports, at least for now, are the way to move into the next segue.

That said, at some point, tired of getting sued if not delayed, the German bid will conclude and German crops will be grown. For now, however, the safest conclusion for this particular drama looks to be 2019. But with plenty of room for a curtain call the year after that too.

Richard Naiberg
Quality From Canada

Protecting Intellectual Property in Canada: A Practical Guide, Part 6

By Richard Naiberg
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Richard Naiberg

Editor’s Note: This is the sixth and final article in a series by Richard Naiberg where he discusses how cannabis businesses can protect their intellectual property in Canada. Part 1 introduced the topic and examined the use of trade secrets in business and Part 2 went into how business owners can protect new technologies and inventions through applying for patents. Part 3 raised the issue of plant breeders’ rights and Part 4 discussed trademarks and protecting brand identity. Part 5 took a detailed look at copyright laws for cannabis companies and how they can protect works of creative expression.  

In Part 6, the conclusion of this series, we take a look at nine key takeaways from the series:We hope you enjoyed this series and found the information provided to be useful. If you’d like to learn more about intellectual property law in Canada as it relates to the cannabis industry, feel free to reach out to Richard Naiberg at rnaiberg@goodmans.ca 

Summary of Practical Considerations For Cannabis Producers

  1. Cannabis producers should establish procedures by which the technological innovations achieved by their employees are kept confidential and are quickly reported to management for consideration as to whether the innovation should be protected as a trade secret, by patent, by plant breeder’s right or not protected at all.
  2. If a trade secret protection is desired, the producer must invoke systems that limit knowledge of the secrets to those in the company with a need to know it, and make sure that departing employees understand their obligations of confidentiality and do not take any documentation of the secrets with them when they go.
  3. The nature of the innovation under consideration will drive the choice between a patent and a plant breeder’s right. Plant breeder’s rights only protect whole plants. Patents protect other innovations, subject to the limitations described above. Patents may be drafted to protect whole plants, albeit indirectly: a patent on genetic sequences or engineered cell can be infringed by a whole plant that incorporates those sequences or cells.
  4. The decision as to whether to file an application for a patent or a plant breeder’s right, and in what jurisdiction(s), should be made with careful consideration of whether the producer will employ the invention/variety in its business (and in what countries), as well as the potential value of the invention/variety to other producers who may eventually become licensees of the resulting patent(s) or plant breeder’s right.
  5. Cannabis producers must remain up-to-date on patent and plant breeder’s rights applications that are filed in the jurisdictions in which they operate so as to be in a position to identify patents and plant breeder’s rights that will potentially affect their freedom to operate. Such due diligence will also allow the producer to predict the technological and business focuses of their competitors.
  6. Cannabis producers must select a trademark that is immediately distinctive or can quickly become distinctive of its goods and services. The trademarks ought to be fully available, in the sense that they are not in use by any competing business in any of the jurisdictions in which the producer intends to do business. Ideally, the trademark ought to be available as a domain name to ensure that there is no confusion on the Internet.
  7. Once the trademark is selected, the cannabis producer should make consistent and extensive use of that trademark. The more consistent and ubiquitous the use, the stronger the producer’s brand and trademark will be.
  8. The owner of the trademark must routinely conduct searches to ensure that no third party is using a trademark that is similar that of the owner. If such unauthorized use is discovered, the owner must act quickly to restrain that use or potentially license the use.
  9. Cannabis producers ought to contract to ensure that they are the first owners or assignees of any copyright subsisting in the artwork, literature and websites the company creates or hires other to create. Producers ought also to obtain waivers of the moral rights of any authors of this work.

We hope you enjoyed this series and found the information provided to be useful. If you’d like to learn more about intellectual property law in Canada as it relates to the cannabis industry, feel free to reach out to Richard Naiberg at rnaiberg@goodmans.ca

Richard Naiberg
Quality From Canada

Protecting Intellectual Property in Canada: A Practical Guide, Part 5

By Richard Naiberg
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Richard Naiberg

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth article in a series by Richard Naiberg where he discusses how cannabis businesses can protect their intellectual property in Canada. Part 1 introduced the topic and examined the use of trade secrets in business and Part 2 went into how business owners can protect new technologies and inventions through applying for patents. Part 3 raised the issue of plant breeders’ rights and Part 4 discussed trademarks and protecting brand identity. Part 5, below, will detail copyright laws for cannabis companies and how they can protect works of creative expression.

Copyright: Protection for Works of Creative Expression

In the course of describing and marketing its products, the cannabis producer will prepare or have prepared any number of articles, instructions, write-ups, photographs, videos, drawings, web site designs, packaging, labeling and the like. Copyright protects all such literary and artistic works from being copied by another.

Copyright arises upon the creation of the work, although one can register the copyright under the Copyright Act for a minimal cost.Canada’s Copyright Act provides that the owner of copyright has the exclusive right to make copies of copyrighted work for the lifetime of its author, and for fifty years thereafter. The Court will enforce this copyright, stopping infringements and ordering infringers to compensate the owner in damages, accountings of profits and delivery up of infringing material for destruction. Intentional copying or renting out of a copyrighted work is also an offence that can attract imprisonment. The owner of a copyright can also request the seizure of infringing articles being imported or exported in Canada.

Copyright arises upon the creation of the work, although one can register the copyright under the Copyright Act for a minimal cost. Registration creates a presumption that copyright subsists in the work and that the registrant is the owner, presumptions that can simplify copyright proceedings. In litigation, the fact of registration also removes the ability of a defendant to argue that it did not have notice of the copyright, a factor relevant to the Court in awarding a remedy.Copyright protects all such literary and artistic works from being copied by another. 

There are two aspects of copyright law that tend to cause confusion. The first involves the distinction between the right to use a copyrighted article and the copyright itself. To illustrate, consider the sale of a literary work, such as a book. The purchaser acquires the physical book but not the copyright. The purchaser can use the physical book and can sell that book to another.  What the purchaser may not do is make and sell another copy of the book. Making copies is the exclusive right of the copyright holder.

The second involves the ownership of a commissioned work. The first owner of a copyright is either the author of the work or the employer of the author if the author creates the work in the course of his or her employment. Ownership of copyright can only be transferred by written assignment. Further, the author of a work is granted moral rights in the work, meaning the right to be associated with the work and the right to its integrity. These rights can be waived by the author but not assigned.

Ownership of copyright can only be transferred by written assignment.Therefore, if a company hires a third party supplier to prepare copyrightable work, such as brochures, artwork or web sites, and does not secure an assignment of the copyright and wavier of the author’s moral rights as part of the transaction, that supplier will own the copyright in the resulting work and the author of that work will have the right to insist on his or her moral rights. The hiring company will not have the right to make or authorize others to make copies of the work, to amend the work, to derive new works from what was delivered, or to use the work without reference to the name of the author or in a way so as to offend the author’s integrity. The supplier will also be free to sell the same brochures, artwork or web sites to other companies, or to derive other works from it. All of this is so even though the hiring company paid for the work to be done. This result is often surprising and disappointing to hiring companies.

Accordingly, cannabis producers contracting with the third parties for literature, photographs, web sites and the like will need to think about how they want to use the work in the future. It is simplest if the producer contracts to have the owner assign the copyright in the work to the producer upon creation, and deliver the author’s waiver of moral rights. While the third party will likely charge more for an assignment of the copyright and the waiver of moral rights, it may be worth avoiding negotiations over specific uses and how the author is to be credited, as well as avoiding the uncertainty inherent in trying to imagine how the producer will use the material in the future.


In the 6th and final part, Naiberg will summarize the key takeaways from his series that cannabis companies can use to protect their intellectual property in Canada.

Richard Naiberg
Quality From Canada

Protecting Intellectual Property in Canada: A Practical Guide, Part 4

By Richard Naiberg
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Richard Naiberg

Editor’s Note: This is the third article in a series by Richard Naiberg where he discusses how cannabis businesses can protect their intellectual property in Canada. Part 1 introduced the topic and examined the use of trade secrets in business and Part 2 went into how business owners can protect new technologies and inventions through applying for patents. Part 3 raised the issue of plant breeders’ rights and in Part 4, below, Naiberg discusses trademarks and how cannabis businesses should go about protecting their brand identity in Canada.


Trademarks: Protections For Brands And Goodwill

Cannabis businesses must not only protect their investments in their technical creations, but also must protect their brand identities. A cannabis producer can invest heavily in making a desirable, high-quality product, and can advertise and sell this product so as to generate customer interest and goodwill, but if the customer cannot distinguish the producer’s product from that of its competitor, this investment is for not. Trademarks become unenforceable when they are no longer distinctive.

A trademark provides its owner with the right to have the Court stop another entity from using the trademark, or using a similar trademark in a way that confuses the public. When the trademark is infringed, the Court can also make a monetary award in favor of the trademark owner.

Trademarks are identifiers of a particular source of manufacture and they can take virtually any form. Trademarks can be words, phrases, symbols, names, designs, letters, numbers, colors, three-dimensional shapes, holograms, moving images, modes of packaging, sounds, scents, tastes, textures, or any other distinguishing element. What a trademark cannot be is a mere descriptor of the goods or services themselves because such a trademark would prevent other entities from describing their products in their ordinary terms.

Trademarks can be registered, but they do not have to be. In choosing a trademark, the cannabis producer must balance competing impulses: the desire to choose a trademark that is suggestive of the product itself so as to have an immediate meaning to customers without need of an expensive marketing campaign; and the desire to coin a unique and striking trademark which is instantly eye-catching and memorable, but which must be advertised before customers can understand the product to which it refers.

For example, a depiction of cannabis leaf or a word that plays on the ordinary terms used to refer to cannabis will not make a strong mark that can be enforced against those who adopt something similar. On the other hand, a coined word, such as “Kodak”, may have no independent association with cannabis but, after a time, use of this mark in association with a cannabis product can create a very strong mark with a wider ambit of exclusivity.

All that said, even a very suggestive mark can serve as a trademark where the use of the mark is so longstanding and ubiquitous that the suggestive mark acquires a secondary meaning as an indicator of its source of manufacture. Cannabis producers can and should also consider adopting specific colors, scents or tastes of their products as trademarks, where appropriate.

Trademarks become unenforceable when they are no longer distinctive. For this reason, trademark owners must keep abreast of any use of trademarks similar to their own by third parties, and must act quickly to either license such uses or to restrain them.Cannabis businesses have been very busy applicants for trademarks. More than 1700 such applications are now on file, though a comparative few have yet been registered. 

Trademarks can be registered, but they do not have to be. When a company’s product or service becomes known to its customers or potential customers with reference to a mark through ordinary business use, a trademark has been created.

Registration does however provide certain advantages. Under the amendments to the Trademarks Act coming in 2019, a registered trademark can be obtained for without any proof of use or goodwill.  By contrast, and as noted above, an unregistered mark must be used and possess goodwill before it can be said to exist at all. A registered trademark provides protection for its owner across Canada. An unregistered trademark can only be enforced in the geographical area in which its owner has established its reputation. A registered trademark is protected from those who use it in a manner that is likely to depreciate the goodwill of the trademark. An unregistered trademark only protects against consumer confusion.

Registration under the Trademarks Act also makes it an offence to sell goods or services on a commercial scale in association with another’s registered trademark, or to traffic in infringing labels. Further, a trademark owner can request that the import or export of such goods in Canada be arrested. No similar rights accrue for unregistered trademarks.

Finally, a registered trademark is published at the CIPO web site, providing notice of its existence to new market entrants before these entrants commit to using a similar trademark. Unregistered marks are not always easily discovered and a new market entrant may commit to a mark before having any opportunity to discover that it is the unregistered trademark of another.

Registering a trademark is straightforward. The applicant prepares an application that identifies the applicant, the trademark and the goods and/or services with which the trademark is being used or is intended to be used. Once satisfied that the application complies with the Trademarks Act, CIPO publishes the application to allow potential opponents of the registration to come forward. If there is no opposition, or if an opposition proceeding is brought and dismissed, the trademark is issued.

There is an interaction between the Trademarks Act and the Plant Breeder’s Rights Act. As discussed above, when a denomination has been adopted for a plant variety under the Plant Breeder’s Rights Act, nothing similar can be adopted or registered as a trademark. This is so other traders may use the denomination in their sale of the variety after expiry of the plant breeder’s right.

Cannabis businesses have been very busy applicants for trademarks. More than 1700 such applications are now on file, though a comparative few have yet been registered. Trademark applications in this area are likely to increase further with the coming changes to the Trademarks Act and the removal of the requirement that applicants show use of the trademark prior to registration. Companies will be encouraged to apply for trademarks they may only be considering using, and for any trademarks that they think their competitors may be planning to use. There is some concern that the changes to the Trademarks Act will lead to the rise of trademark trolls.

Before adopting a particular trademark, the producer must do what it can to minimize the likelihood that a third party will assert that the trademark infringes the third party’s prior rights. Searches of Canadian and international trademarks, particularly United States trademarks, are advised. National intellectual property offices, such as CIPO and the United States Patent and Trademark Office, maintain easily searchable databases of registered and applied-for trademarks that should be reviewed. Search professionals can also assist in identifying trademarks that have never been the subject of a trademark application. With the result of the searches in hand, the cannabis producer can determine whether or not to proceed to adopt the contemplated mark and invest in its promotion.


In Part 5, Naiberg will explain how to use a copyright to protect works of creative expression. Stay tuned for more!

Richard Naiberg
Quality From Canada

Protecting Intellectual Property in Canada: A Practical Guide, Part 2

By Richard Naiberg
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Richard Naiberg

Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a series by Richard Naiberg where he discusses how cannabis businesses can protect their intellectual property in Canada. Part 1 introduced the topic and examined the use of trade secrets in business. Part 2 goes into how business owners can protect new technologies and inventions through applying for patents.


Patents: Protection For New And Inventive Technology

Patents, which are issued in accordance with Canada’s Patent Act, provide their owners with the right to have a Court prevent anyone else in Canada from making, using, selling, importing or exporting what is claimed as the patent’s invention. The owner of the patent enjoys this monopoly for a period of 20 years from the date the patent is applied for. A patent is infringed even if the infringer arrives at the invention independently, without actual copying. If a patent owner brings a lawsuit and the Court finds infringement, the Court will typically order the infringing activity to cease and require the infringer to pay the owner a suitable amount of compensation.

There are several drawbacks to applying for a patent from the point of view of the applicant.Patents are meant to protect only inventions, meaning novel, non-obvious and useful solutions to practical problems. In the cannabis field, such inventions could include engineered genetic sequences or new plant cells that lead to useful improvements in the whole plant, new cultivation processes, new methods of extraction, new methods of storage or means to enhance stability, new formulations for administration, and new uses for the plant. It would not be uncommon for a cannabis producer to hold a suite of different patents that cover a whole range of innovative technologies and innovative business methods.

Not all classes of technical innovations are protectable by patent. For example, patents are not available for a whole cannabis plant because no patents are allowed on higher, multicellular organisms. Patents are not issued for genetic sequences or cells that are the result of cross breeding. Patents are also unavailable to monopolize methods of using cannabis as a medical treatment. That said, patent agents are skilled at casting innovations in areas such as these in terms that do provide some patent rights.

To obtain a patent, the applicant hires a patent agent to prepare and submit an application to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO). An examiner at CIPO reviews the application for compliance with the statutory requirements and enters into a correspondence with the applicant’s patent agent in a process known as a patent prosecution. Third parties also have the opportunity to oppose the grant of a patent on limited grounds. The prosecution may continue for a period of years before the application is either allowed to issue to patent, or is ultimately rejected. Separate patent applications must be filed in every country in which patent rights are sought, though there are international treaties that facilitate these separate filings and preserve early priority filing dates.there can be a significant cost in obtaining patents, particularly if patent rights are sought in multiple countries.

It is important to emphasize that if an invention had been disclosed to the public more than one year before the application for the patent is filed, a patent cannot issue. Cannabis producers must therefore ensure that disclosures of their innovative work be controlled, including when working with partners. This can typically be handled with the use of appropriate non-disclosure agreements.

The prospect of market exclusivity makes the filing of patent applications a must for cannabis businesses, including those just starting out. For a start-up, simply filing a patent application projects that the company has value and a clear vision of its business. Venture capital often seeks companies with patent applications on file because the applications can mature into assets which can be monetized either by protecting a market for the owner, or through assignment or license to others.

cannabis researchers and producers have already filed hundreds of patent applications in Canada. There are several drawbacks to applying for a patent from the point of view of the applicant. Unlike the case for a trade secret, an applicant for a patent must make full and correct disclosure of the invention and how to use it in the patent itself. This disclosure will allow competitors to understand the applicant’s technology. The public disclosure provides a blueprint for competitors to build upon the patent’s disclosure, and to design around it to avoid infringement. Also, and unlike trade secrets, patents have an expiry date after which the public is free to practice the invention. The Commissioner also has the power to issue compulsory licenses to third parties in several circumstances, including when the demand for the patented article is not being met on reasonable terms. Further, the patent right is not infringed when the patented invention is used for non-commercial or experimental purpose. Finally, there can be a significant cost in obtaining patents, particularly if patent rights are sought in multiple countries.

Disadvantages or not, cannabis researchers and producers have already filed hundreds of patent applications in Canada. These applications relate to a wide range of inventions in the cannabis field including new cannabis resins and oils, methods of producing cannabis having improved properties, specific new growing processes, new harvesting methods, new extraction techniques, new formulations for human and veterinary use as foods, medicines and supplements, new delivery devices, new purification methods, new analytical methods, and new stabilization methods. Interested companies can access these disclosures from the public record.

As cannabis companies rush to obtain patent monopolies for their technologies, minefields are created for operating companies. Cannabis producers should obtain reports on what patent applications exist and might be asserted against their operations if and when these applications mature to issuance. With that intelligence in hand, the cannabis producer can understand what threats can be safely ignored and what patents must be addressed by assignment or license, by ‘design around’ or by developing an argument as to why the patent is invalid and thus unenforceable.


Editor’s Note: In Part 3 of this series, which will be published next week, Naiberg will discuss plant breeders’ rights and protecting new plant varieties. Stay tuned for more!

Dr. Ed Askew
From The Lab

Quality Plans for Lab Services: Managing Risks as a Grower, Processor or Dispensary, Part 5

By Dr. Edward F. Askew
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Dr. Ed Askew

Protection in the Court of Public Opinion

In the last four articles, I have outlined areas that impact your operations as they apply to laboratory quality programs. But this article will take a different path. It will focus on protecting your crop and brand along with any business that utilizes your crop, such as dispensaries or edible manufactures in the court of public opinion.

Now, the elephant in the room for cannabis companies is the difference between rules written by the state and their enforcement by the state. There are many anecdotal stories out there that can be used as case studies in identifying ways to protect your brand. Remember, consumers and the media caught them, not the regulators.

Cheating in the cannabis industry: growers, dispensaries, edibles manufactures, etc. This includes:

  1. Finding laboratories that will produce results that the client wants (higher potency numbers)
  2. Not testing for a particular contaminant that may be present in the cannabis product.
  3. Selling failed crops on the gray or black market.
  4. Claiming to regulators that the state rules are unclear and cannot be followed (e.g. So, give me another chance, officer)

So why should you be worried? Because, even if the state where you operate fails to enforce its own rules, the final end-user of your product will hold you accountable! If you produce any cannabis product and fail to consider these end-users, you will be found out in the court of public opinion by either the media or by the even more effective word of mouth (e.g. Social Media).

So, let’s take a look at some recent examples of these problems:

  1. “Fungus In Medical Marijuana Eyed As Possible Cause In California Man’s Death”
  2. “Pesticides and Pot: What’s California Smoking?”
  3. Buyers beware: California cannabis sold Jan. 1 could be tainted”

Each of these reports lists contamination by microbial stains or pesticides as being rampant within the California market whose products are used for medical or recreational use. Just imagine the monetary losses these cannabis businesses faced for their recalled cannabis product when they got caught. Remember, consumers and the media caught them, not the regulators.Institute a quality program in your business immediately.

How can you be caught? There are many different ways:

  1. Consumer complaints to the media
  2. Secret shopper campaigns (more to come on that in the next article)
  3. Media investigations
  4. Social media campaigns

What are the effects on your business? Product recalls such as these two to hit the California market recently.

So, what should you do to produce an acceptable product and provide reasonable protection to your cannabis business? Institute a quality program in your business immediately. This quality program will include areas of quality assurance and quality control for at least these areas.

  1. Growing
  2. Processing or formulating
  3. Shipping
  4. Dispensing
  5. Security
  6. Training of staff
  7. Laboratory services

Setting up and supporting these programs requires that your upper management impose both a rigorous training program and make employee compliance mandatory. Otherwise, your business will have an unreasonable risk of failure in the future.

Further information on preparing and instituting these types of quality assurance and quality control programs within your business can be found at the author’s website.

Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights for Cannabis Put to Test in Federal Court

By Dr. Travis Bliss
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A number of cannabis businesses have pursued federal intellectual property protection for their cannabis-related innovations, such as U.S. patents that protect novel cannabis plant varieties, growing methods, extraction methods, etc. Enforcement of such federal IP rights requires that the IP owner file suit in federal court asserting those rights against another cannabis company. However, given that cannabis is still illegal under federal law, the industry is uncertain about whether a federal court will actually enforce cannabis-related IP rights. This question might be answered soon.

The potential impact of this case goes way beyond the two parties involvedOrochem Technologies, Inc. filed a lawsuit in federal court in the Northern District of Illinois on September 27, 2017, seeking to assert and enforce trade secret rights against Whole Hemp Company, LLC. According to the complaint, Orochem is a biotechnology company that uses proprietary separation methods to extract and purify cannabidiol (CBD) from industrial hemp in a way that produces a solvent-free and THC-free CBD product in commercially viable quantities.

The complaint goes on to say that Whole Hemp Company, which does business as Folium Biosciences, is a producer of CBD from industrial hemp and that Folium engaged Orochem to produce a THC-free CBD product for it. According to the allegations in the complaint, Folium used that engagement to gain access to and discover the details of Orochem’s trade secret method of extracting CBD so that it could take the process and use it at their facility.

The complaint provides a detailed story of the events that allegedly transpired, which eventually led to an Orochem employee with knowledge of the Orochem process leaving and secretly starting to work for Folium, where he allegedly helped Folium establish a CBD production line that uses Orochem’s trade secret process. When Orochem learned of these alleged transgressions, it filed the lawsuit, claiming that Folium (and the specific employee) had misappropriated its trade secret processes for extracting and purifying CBD.

While the particular facts of this case are both interesting and instructive for companies operating in the cannabis industry, the potential impact of this case goes way beyond the two parties involved.

If it moves forward, this case will likely provide a first glimpse into the willingness of federal courts to enforce IP rights that relate to cannabis. Orochem is asserting a violation of federal IP rights established under the federal Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) and is asserting those rights in federal district court. As a result, the federal district court judge will first need to decide whether a federal court can enforce federal IP rights when the underlying intellectual property relates to cannabis.

If the court ultimately enforces these federal trade secret rights, it could be a strong indication that other federal IP rights, such as patent rights, would also be enforceable in federal court. Since the outcome of this case will likely have a far reaching and long lasting impact on how the cannabis industry approaches and deals with intellectual property, it’s a case worth watching.