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What is the difference between a title and a designation

Resolved Question:

What is the difference between a title and a designation?
Submitted: 6 years ago.
Category: Canada Law
Expert:  Legal Ease replied 6 years ago.
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debra thal :

I need the basic facts before I can answer in a meaningful way.

Customer:

I am the General Manager for a not-for-profit , the International Organization of Nutritional Consultants (IONC), comprised of 600-850 nutritional practitioners. We give out two designations: Registered Nutritional Consulting Practitioner(RNCP) and Registered Orthomolecular Health Practitioner(ROHP).

Customer:

The second is trademarked and the first is being used based on 'right of previous use'. This is .an unregulated profession currently lobbying for government recognition of our professionals

Customer:

We have been in operation as a self-governing body since 1983 ensuring high standards of education and competencies for our practitioners.

Customer:

Recently, we have had a splinter group form that has been giving out what they call a title not a designation:

Customer:

Nutritional Therapist.

Customer:

So I wonder what is the legal view of a group of unregulated nutritional professionals using this title?

debra thal :

From a legal point of view there is not necessarily a significant difference between the two words because it doesn't really matter what someone says is a title or a designation. It's only important that a term be used appropriately when it falls within the definition of some statute.

For now, there is no law regulating your profession and there is no Act that covers it.

So, using designation or title doesn't have any consequences of a legal nature.

Usually the term designation implies that there has been some sort of acceptance or admission. It implies approval or membership in some category.

But that's not a legal requirement.

So, until there is an Act that covers the terms they don't have any legal significance.

Does that make sense?

Customer:

I guess a better question mgiht be: What advantage does the IONC have with a trademarked designation vs a splinter group simply using a title in terms of protection for members?

debra thal :

In terms of trademarks or copyrights, they cannot use a name or title or designation that sounds like yours. They cannot use it if the name would confuse someone into thinking they are part of your group.

But, until your organization becomes recognized as the governing body you cannot stop other groups from doing or trying to do what you are trying to do so long as it's clear to all that they are separate and apart from your group.

Customer:

The issues for an unregulated healthcare profession such as ours are politically complex in terms of gaining recognition. We are in the process of forming four advisory committees to assist in the following cateogories: Education Standards, Public Relations, Advocacy, and Fundraising. If you were I, with somewhat limited funds, what would be the most constructive approach to securing legal input for this journey?

debra thal :

You should try and find a lawyer or law firm that believes in this issue who will do this work for free or for a nominal amount.

This is highly complex and you need a lawyer that is experienced and passionate about this area.

Many won't get it at all but there are always some who will step up. You just have to find them. I would start with canvassing your membership or at least the executive and active members. One may have a spouse or sibling etc who will step up.

Customer:

Debra, This splinter group is also using the title "Registered" Nutritonal Therapist. Does the term "registered" have any further significance in terms of their obligation to "trademark" their title? If not, and it is not protected, could we not also 'technically' use this term?

debra thal :

It's dangerous to start using their name. Even it they have not trademarked it there is a common law principle that deals with what is called "passing off" and this means you cannot use a name or term that would make it look like you are part of them.

Until there is legislation the term registered doesn't mean anything though it's misleading. But there's no governing body to discipline them, of course.

Customer:

Thanks for your help.

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