Copyright in bikini designs

April 23rd, 2014

Seafolly is in the news again: this time as the winner. In her last decision before retiring, Dodds-Streeton J has ordered that City Beach[1] pay Seafolly $250,333.06 by way of damages for infringing copyright in 3 Seafolly designs: the English Rose artwork, the Covent Garden artwork and the Senorita artwork.

The English Rose artwork and the Covent Garden artwork were both patterns or ornamentation printed on the fabric. The Senorita artwork, however, was in effect stitched on to the garment using shirring and smocking. Dodds-Streeton J, however, rejected City Beach’s defence based on sections 74 and 77 of the Copyright Act. Apart from all the other issues, her Honour’s application of the Full Court’s decision in the Polo/Lauren case struck me as particularly important.

Seafolly’s Senorita artwork:

321.12
321.11

City Beach’s Richelle embroidery:

321.13

The subsistence point

As you can see, the Senorita design is pretty simple in appearance. City Beach’s argument was that this simple design was the more or less inevitable outcome of using the type of industrial sewing machine used to produce it. According to the evidence, however, it involved significant trial and error to produce because smocking fabric was very difficult to work with, smocking did not always involve using triangles or diagonals and City Beach’s expert conceded “there was a huge array of different ‘cams’ which could produce an almost indefinite variety of patterns.” Her Honour rejected City Beach’s attack, therefore:

416 …. the Senorita embroidery was not the inevitable outcome of the operation of an industrial sewing machine. Nor was the work so rudimentary and simple as to be unprotectable because, in essence, there was no meaningful distinction between the subject matter and the form of expression.

The use of the sewing machines, therefore, appears to involve use of the machine to implement the human idea more in the vein of Coogi or a wordprocessor to record the text than as an automatically generated entity like the phone books in PDC. The second point made by her Honour seems to pick up the High Court’s point that the ordering of title and time of television program in chronological order did not involve sufficient creativity (or intellectual effort) to qualify as original.[2]

The copyright/design overlap

City Beach’s defence based on the copyright/design overlap provisions failed also, because the Senorita design when sewn on to the bikinis was not a corresponding design.

When the Designs (Consequential Amendments) Act 2003 introduced the current form of s 74 and s 77, it was hoped that the old problems about whether something constituted a “design” and whether it had been “applied to” an article had been sidestepped. All that was necessary, was to identify an artistic work which had been embodied in the features of shape or configuration of the product.[3] Rares J, at first instance in the Polo case adopted that too simplistic (as we now know) approach to find that the 700 or so stitches used to embroider the Polo logo on to a shirt qualified. This was set right by the Full Court on appeal.

Dodds-Streeton J acknowledged that the Full Court’s observations were obiter. Her Honour also acknowledged that the Full Court’s reasoning “is not consistently explicit, but must be inferred”. Her Honour considered that the Full Court’s reasons:

470 …. in substance indicate that it is the features of shape or configuration of an artwork (not a label on which the artwork is reproduced) that must be relevantly embodied in a product, which will occur when the product (in the present case, a garment) is made in the shape or configuration of the artwork.

Thus, the diamond pattern was not a corresponding design because, when stitched on to Seafolly’s bikinis, it did not define the shape or configuration of the bikini as a garment.

In reaching this conclusion, Dodds-Streeton J had to interpret the Full Court’s declaration at [58] that a design must be conceptually distinct from the product in which it was embodied to qualify as ‘embodied’ for the purposes of s 74. That created a problem in the present case as Dodds-Streeton J considered the stitching, or smocking, could not have existed independently of the garment:

473 It is true that, in contrast to the logo in Polo/Lauren itself, the reproduction of the Senorita artwork sewn on to the relevant garment may not retain a separate existence, as probably, it could not survive removal and is not conceptually distinct from the garment. Accordingly, if the Full Court’s observations in [58] represent the correct and comprehensive test, the Senorita artwork could be embodied within the meaning of s 74(1). As stated above, however, the comment at [58] does not comprehensively reflect the reasoning of the Full Court’s judgment.

I am not sure, with respect, why the Senorita design was any the less capable of independent existence than the Polo logo. I think the design could not have an independent existence because it was created by attaching the stitching to the shirring framestrings and there was presumably no drawing.

Dodds-Streeton J identified a further problem. It seems difficult, with respect, to reconcile the Full Court’s interpretation of s 74 with the clear legislative intent to capture woven tapestries, bas relief and “textured” carpets within the concept of corresponding design by the inclusion in s 74(2) of:

“embodied in , ” in relation to a product, includes woven into, impressed on or worked into the product.

According to Dodds-Streeton J:

480 Following the insertion of the words “woven into”, “impressed on” or “worked into” in s 74(2), it seems clear that features of shape or configuration of an artwork can be embodied in an article which is itself a piece of embroidery, a carpet, bas?relief or similar, by being woven or worked in. This was the qualification to the maintenance of the tradition [sic] position to which the Full Court referred at [48]. The amendment to s 74(2) did not, however, apply to the circumstances of Polo/Lauren itself as the relevant product was a garment rather than a carpet, bas?relief or embroidery (although the design was applied or attached by means of embroidery or “weaving in”).

Instead:

481 In the light of the Full Court’s emphasis that the position was otherwise unchanged, it would seem that it rejected Rares J’s analysis not simply or principally because the logo remained conceptually distinct from the garment, but because the garment was not made in the shape or configuration of the artistic work, irrespective of whether it was three dimensional.

It’s not clear why garments should be treated any differently to tapestries, carpets etc. I suppose a carpet could for example be woven in the shape of a (stylised) polo player or teddy bear or some other novelty shape thought to be appealing to someone out there in the wide world, but a tapesty? One might have thought (if one didn’t have the Full Court’s obiter dicta hanging over one) the legislature intended to catch all such woven, stitched or otherwise ‘applied’ artistic works from its intention to ensure that carpets, tapestries and the like be “clearly” brought in.

This is not to say that the alternative, literal approach to interpreting s 74 is not without its challenges. Dodds-Streeton J went on in dicta to consider that the Full Court really also disagreed with Rares J’s view that the embroidered stitching was sufficiently three-dimensional to qualify as features of shape or configuration.In any event:

486 … the surface of the garment onto which the smocking is sewn is not flat because the fabric is shirred. Any protrusion of the smocking from the surface is minimal and probably significantly less than that in Polo/Lauren itself, which on a fair reading of its judgment, the Full Court nevertheless thought insufficient.

So, there may well be questions of degree in how much three dimensional appearance is required before something qualifies as shape or configuration.[4] That is, however, a problem which long challenged designs law.

Seafolly Pty Ltd v Feswtone Pty Ltd [2014] FCA 321

 

Update:

Tim Golder points out:

  1. At paragraph 13, her Honour noted that the Señorita work subsisted in final drawings – so my attempt to rationalise her Honour’s perceived distinction to the Polo logo fails dismally.
  2. City Beach has already lodged its appeal: VID224/2014 for mention before Gordon J on 2 May.

  1. City Beach Australia is the trading name of Fewstone Pty Ltd.  ?
  2. IceTV Pty Ltd v Nine Network Pty Ltd (2009) 239 CLR 458 at [54] and [170].  ?
  3. Putting to one side, of course, all the fun and games of what may be a work of artistic craftsmanship for the purposes of s 77(1)(a) or the difference between “shape or configuration” and “pattern or ornamentation”.  ?
  4. This would also be an issue to some extent under the UK’s test of “surface decoration”: see Lambretta Clothing v Teddy Smith [2004] EWCA Civ 886.  ?

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IP and antitrust in Australia

April 22nd, 2014

Wow! I think this is a first in Australia: the ACCC – Australia’s competition “watchdog” – is suing Pfizer for antitrust breaches over its (then expiring) patent for Lipitor.[1]

According to the ACCC’s press release:

At its peak, Lipitor was prescribed to over one million Australians with annual sales exceeding AU$700 million.

Pfizer had a patent over the active ingredient, atorvastatin, but it expired in May 2012.

Early in 2012 (before the patent expired), the ACCC alleges that Pfizer offered to supply Lipitor to pharmacies at “significant discounts and the payment of rebates previously accrued” so long as they agreed to buy from Pfizer a minimum volume of up to 12 months’ generic atorvastatin after the patent expired.

The ACCC alleges this constituted a misuse of market power contrary to s 46 and exclusive dealing contrary to s 47 of the Competition and Consumer Act because:

(1) the offers were made before the patent expired and so at a time when other generic suppliers could not make offers; and

(2) “Pfizer engaged in this conduct for the purpose of deterring or preventing competitors in the market for atorvastatin from engaging in competitive conduct, as well as for the purpose of substantially lessening competition”.

If the ACCC is right, it wants penalties, declarations and costs. Under the Act, the pecuniary penalties could be up to the greater of $10 million, 3 times the benefit gained from the contravention or 10% of annual turnover.

More generally, as the ACCC’s chairman flagged:

This case also raises an important public interest issue regarding the conduct of a patent holder nearing the expiry of that patent and what constitutes permissible competitive conduct.

Now, patentees’ efforts, while their patent is in force, to tie customers into taking the product after the patent has expired, were so controversial that, just over one hundred years ago, Parliaments introduced legislation to permit licensees to terminate patent licences once the patent expired.[2]

Beyond that, s 46 also prohibits any corporation from taking advantage of a substantial degree of power in a market for the purpose of:

(a) eliminating or substantially damaging a competitor of the corporation or of a body corporate that is related to the corporation in that or any other market;

(b) preventing the entry of a person into that or any other market; or

(c) deterring or preventing a person from engaging in competitive conduct in that or any other market.

So, to contravene s 46, the ACCC will have to establish two conditions:

(1) Pfizer had a substantial degree of power in a market; and

(2) it took advantage of that power for an anti-competitive purpose.

The first issue turns on what is the market: the market for Lipitor or some wider market such as a market for the treatment of high cholesterol? This question highlights the reference in the ACCC’s press release to the succes of Lipitor “at its peak”. I don’t know much about the market for treatment of high cholesterol but, by the time Pfizer did this allegedly dastardly deed, there were presumably some alternatives to prescribing Lipitor.[3]

In an earlier proceeding involving copyright,[4] the Full Court of the Federal Court held that a record company which had less than 20% of the market did not have a substantial degree of power in the market. So, unless the ACCC can tie the market narrowly to the market for Lipitor, it may well face considerable difficulties.[5]

Those difficulties may mean that the s 47 allegation has greater significance as, in that earlier case, the Full Federal Court still found the record companies contravened s 47 even though they did not have market power. Although their conduct could not have the effect of substantially lessening competition (because they did not have sufficient market power), their purpose was anti-competitive.

Plainly, Pfizer was trying to sign up the pharmacies to this deal so that they would not buy at least the minimum amount from these generic suppliers who were apparently waiting in the wings, but is that anti-competitive? Maybe it depends on how large the minimum requirement is in relation to the pharmacy’s expected needs for the period. But, it was only for 12 months!

Normally,[6] one would expect the pharmacies could readily calculate whether they were better off taking the deal or continuing to pay the “list” price for Lipitor and then taking advantage of spot prices in the market after the patent expired. If the alleged contravention, however, was that Pfizer refused to supply Lipitor at all while the patent was in force unless the pharmacies agreed to buy “generic” Lipitor after the patent’s expiry, that might have put the pharmacies in a very difficult position of being unable to fill prescriptions.

A further potential complication is that s 47 does not apply to conditions in a licence (or assignment) of a patent to the extent the conditions related to the patented invention or articles made by the use of the patented invention. No-one really knows what that means. Could a pharmacy that agrees to buy Lipitor from Pfizer be a licensee? Certainly, in keeping the drug for sale and selling it, the pharmacy would be exploiting the patent (while it was still in force), but has an implied licence to do those acts. Could agreement to buy “generic” Lipitor after the patent has expired relate to the invention?

At this stage, the parties have filed their respective pleadings,[7] discovery is taking place to be followed by affidavits and a return to Court for further directions in September.

The ACCC’s press release

Lid dip: Patentology


  1. Federal Court Proceeding No. NSD 146/2014, filed on 13 February 2014.  ?
  2. As this case demonstrated, however, it has limited effect.  ?
  3. And it may often be the case that different drugs have different side effects or have particular advantages over other treatments so it is not quite the same as comparing, say, Pink Lady apples with Fuji apples or ….  ?
  4. Universal Music Australia Pty Ltd v Australian Competition & Consumer Commission [2003] FCAFC 193  ?
  5. That said, the price of Lipitor in Australia, even off-patent, has managed to attract unfavourable headlines.  ?
  6. Maybe there is some complexity arising from the arcane operations of pricing under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme?  ?
  7. If anyone cares to provide a copy, I’d love to read them :-).  ?

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How much did Bugatchi get Bugatti-ed?

April 9th, 2014

Last October, Tracey J found that Shine Forever had infringed Bugatti’s registered trade mark (for BUGATTI) by selling clothing and accessories under the trade mark BUGATCHI and BUGATCHI UOMO. Now Tracey J has ordered that Shine Forever pay Bugatti $551,159.39 plus costs on an indemnity basis.

Apart from the magnitude of the amount, the decision illustrates the onus the court places on an infringer, once found to infringe, and the latitude afforded a trade mark owner confronted by a recalcitrant infringer.

In addition to an injunction to stop the infringing conduct, like most intellectual property statutes, the relief one can get for infringement of a registered trade mark includes damages or, at the trade mark owner’s option, an account of profits.[1]

To assist Bugatti in choosing between these two options, Shine Forever was ordered to provide an affidavit deposing to how many goods it had sold bearing the infringing trade mark, the price(s) they were sold for, the costs incurred in acquiring and selling the goods and the estimated profit it made.

Shine Forever was dilatory in complying with this order and there were serious doubts about the genuineness of its compliance. For example, it was claimed in Shine Forever’s “election” affidavit that the total sales were $198,407.39 worth of goods “through the BUGATCHI UOMO branded store” while total outgoings were $157,680 so that, after adjustments, there had in effect been no profit. However, in the course of the liability proceedings, Shine Forever had filed a profit and loss statement for the first 8 months of the infringing period showing total sales of $370,440.10. This profit and loss statement had been audited and certified by Shine Forever’s external accountants.

Shine Forever did not seek to explain the disparity between these two sets of figures. In fact, it failed to turn up to the hearing for the account at all.

Bugatti pointed out that the audited figures for only 8 months of the 24 month period of infringement far exceeded the amount admitted for the whole period in the “election” affidavit. The audited figures showed sales of $46,000 per month. If it were assumed that Shine Forever continued to make sales of $46,000 per month for the whole infringing period, total sales would have been $1,129,440.10. Bugatti then applied a series of assumptions and discounts, including using the costs estimated in the “election” affidavit (not the certified profit and loss statement) to arrive at the figure $551,159.39.

Tracey J recognised that Bugatti’s approach was far from ideal, but was prepared to adopt it as the best available course given the limited and imperfect information available – information which only Shine Forever could supply and which it had manifestly failed to do:

20 This process of calculation is far from ideal. It is beset by many difficulties. These include the need to make assumptions because business records which should have been produced by Shine Forever, pursuant to Court order, were not provided. Of particular concern is that …. This concern is alleviated, to some extent, by the applicant’s willingness to make a number of allowances in Shine Forever’s favour in other aspects of the calculations. ….

21 The evidence before the Court does not enable me to determine, with precision, the actual profit which Shine Forever derived from its infringement of the applicant’s marks. It is to be borne in mind that the difficulties to which I have adverted have, in large measure, been created by the failure of Shine Forever to comply with the Court’s orders and its failure to appear and make submissions on the amount to be awarded as an account of profits. The applicant should not be prejudiced by these failures.

22 The applicant has proposed a plausible method of calculating sales revenue during the relevant period by assuming that the average monthly sales figure in the first eight months of the period continued for the next 16 and a half months. In the absence of audited figures for the latter period this approach is not unreasonable and may be regarded as the best available option. Once the sales revenue figure was established, Shine Forever bore the burden of persuading the Court, by evidence, what costs should properly be deducted in order to determine the profit which it made from selling clothing and accessories bearing the infringing marks. This, Shine Forever has manifestly failed to do. ….

His Honour then awarded Bugatti its costs on an indemnity basis because of Shine Forever’s dismal failure to comply with its obligations to the Court.

Bugatti GmbH v Shine Forever Men Pty Ltd (No 2) [2014] FCA 171


  1. The two are alternatives: damages compensate the trade mark owner for the loss it has suffered as a result of the infringement; an account of profits strips the infringer of the profits it has made by reason of the infringement.  ?

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What would Google do [1]

April 3rd, 2014

According to Google, government requests (or should that be demands) for access to information about Google users (i.e., you) are up 120% around the world.

Now, it has produced a 3+ minute animated video, The Way of the Warrant, to explain how it deals with such, er, “requests” (in the USA).

I wonder what it does in those parts of the world (e.g. here: contrast the “common law” approach to this one) where they don’t have a fourth amendment?

Lid dip: Ride The Lightning.


  1. With apologies to Jeff Jarvis.  ?

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Software patents in the USA

April 2nd, 2014

Yesterday, the US Supreme Court heard oral argument on the question of the patentability of Alice Corporation’s software system for a method of payment, in denying the validity of which 10 judges of the Federal Circuit famously came up with 7 different opinions.

Several patents and claims are in issue, all relating to a computerized trading platform used for conducting financial transactions in which a third party settles obligations between a first and a second party so as to eliminate “counterparty” or “settlement” risk.

The question presented:

Whether claims to computer-implemented inventions-including claims to systems and machines, processes, and items of manufacture-are directed to patent-eligible subject matter within the meaning of 35 U.S.C. § 101 as interpreted by this Court?

As petitioner, the patentee (Alice Corp) will argue first. Respondent’s time will be split between CLS Bank and the US Government who has filed an amicus brief highlighting a misguided argument that “the abstract idea exception is patent law’s sole mechanism for excluding claims directed to manipulation of non-technological concepts and relationships.”

Transcript here. Some extracts here

One interesting point: the questioning of the advocates about which of the competing options proposed by the amici they preferred as solutions to the issue.

Summary of briefs with links to the briefs

Washington Post preview

Our own battles in this front are still proceeding with a decision awaited in the Research Affiliates appeal and RPL Central.

Meanwhile the USPTO has issued revised guidelines: 2014 Procedure For Subject Matter Eligibility Analysis Of Claims Reciting Or Involving
Laws Of Nature/Natural Principles, Natural Phenomena, And/Or Natural Products
.

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Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill 2014

March 20th, 2014

After the consultation, the Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill 2014 has been introduced.

  • Schedules 1 and 2 aim to implement the TRIPS Protocol:

    According to the EM:

    Under the new scheme, Australian laboratories will be able to apply to the Federal Court for a compulsory licence to manufacture generic versions of patented medicines under specific conditions, and export these medicines to developing countries. Adequate compensation for the patent holder will be negotiated, to ensure that they are not disadvantaged by the arrangements.

    Schedule 1 introduces provisions to implement the “interim waiver” agreed in the Doha Declaration 2001; Schedule 2 implements the TRIPS Protocol regime agreed in 2003 (or, I think, 2005).

    According to the EM, only one licence has been issued under these regimes – Canada in 2007. Apparently, Canadian generics would like to engage in further licensing, but the procedures are too complicated. Also, Least Developed Countries do not need to provide patent protection until 2016 and there is said to be a lack of awareness of the regime.[1]

  • Schedule 3 confers jurisdiction over plant breeder’s rights matters on the Federal Circuit Court (in addition to the Federal Court)
  • Schedule 4:
    • introduces the “single examination” model for patent applications in Australia and New Zealand;[2]
    • the single regulatory regime for patent attorneys and trade mark attorneys in both countries – the so-called trans-Tasman regulatory regime; and
    • provides for a single address for service in either Australia or New Zealand to be used under the patents, trade marks, registered designs and plant breeder’s rights legislation.
  • Schedule 5 is headed “Technical Amendments” which include repealing “unnecessary document retention provisions” and addressing “minor oversights in the drafting of” the Raising the Bar Act. These include:
    • amending s 29A so that an international applicant under the PCT cannot require anything to be done in Australia until the application enters the national phase;
    • amending s 29B so that only the prescribed period under s 38(1A) applies to Paris Convention applications;
    • amending ss 41 and 43 in relation to disclosure requirements for micro-organism inventions
    • amending s 43 to permit reference to the combination of prescribed documents, not just to individual prescribed documents alone
    • the defence in s 119(3)(b) will be amended to bring it into line with the amended form of s 24(1)(a)
    • amending s 191A so that the requirement for the Commissioner to hear both parties prescribed in s 191A(4) applies only in entitlement disputes.

Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill 2014

Explanatory memorandum


  1. The Regulatory Impact Statement included in the EM estimates that 63 in-house legal professionals and 128 patent attorneys in external firms will need to familiarise themselves with these changes for a total start up cost to business of $13,782.60 and an ongoing annual cost of $105. These costs include allowance for savings in legal costs because it will be possible to bring proceedings for infringement of plant breeder’s rights in the Federal Circuit Court, rather than the Federal Court. Perhaps confusing costs with earnings, the Regulatory Impact Statement relies on the ABS Employee Earnings and Hours Survey to estimate the average cost of patent and trade mark attorneys as $50 per hour (junior solicitors $60 per hour, IP attorneys $74.10 per hour and barristers $92.70 per hour, after including a 50% loading for overheads). The Statement does recognise that charge out rates “for lega”for legal professionals can range from $120 per hour to $800 per hour or more, viewed on 4 December 2013 at http://www.legallawyers.com.au/legal-topics/law-firm-sydney/solicitor-prices/. These costs do not reflect the opportunity cost of labour.” You may also be interested to know that the Regulatory Impact Statement estimates the costs of an application to the Federal Court for a licence at around $21,650 for the applicant.  ?
  2. The substance of the two countries’ respective patent laws is not being harmonised (yet).  ?

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An oro stamp and cinque stelle (or maybe not)

March 19th, 2014

The Full Federal Court found that Cantarella Bros’ trade mark registrations for ORO and CINQUE STELLE, being “gold” and “five stars” in Italian, lacked any inherent capacity to distinguish coffee in Australia.

Last Friday, 14 March, the High Court granted Cantarella special leave to appeal from that decision.

From the transcript, it appears that neither side disputes the basic test to be applied:

[T]he question whether a mark is adapted to distinguish [is to] be tested by reference to the likelihood that other persons, trading in goods of the relevant kind and being actuated only by proper motives - in the exercise, that is to say, of the common right of the public to make honest use of words forming part of the common heritage, for the sake of the signification which they ordinarily possess - will think of the word and want to use it in connexion with similar goods in any manner which would infringe a registered trade mark granted in respect of it.

Canatarella’s complaint seems to be that the Full Court found the words lacked capacity to distinguish even though it did not overturn the trial judge’s finding that the words had no meaning to the general public. That is, the question seems to be in applying that test, particularly in the context of foreign language words, must the word(s) have a descriptive meaning to the consuming public (as opposed to the traders in the goods).

  1. Cantarella Bros Pty Limited  v Modena Trading Pty Limited (S202/2013)

Transcript of special leave application here.

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Trade mark excellence

March 18th, 2014

“Dental Excellence” vs “south perth dental excellence”

A rare case of IP in a court other than the federal courts. Guess who didn’t win?

Dr Agapitos has operated a dental surgery under the name Dental Excellence from Mt Hawthorn in Perth since 2002. In (or from) 2010, he secured registration, TM No. 1388792, for Dental Excellence in respect of “dentistry” in class 44. The provisions of s 41(5) were applied.

Dr Habibi had 3 dental practices in various parts of Perth. Then in 2007, she bought from Dr McNeil his dental practice in South Perth, McNeil’s Dental Care, which promoted its services with the slogan (or tag or strap line) ‘Excellence in Dental Care’. In 2010, when Dr Habibi was updating the signage at the South Perth practice, she changed the name to South Perth Dental Excellence. It was accepted on both sides that Dr Habibi did not know of Dr Agapitos’ practice when she settled on her name. (According to Google Maps, they are about 12.5km apart or somewhere between 13 and 20 minutes drive.)

Dr Agapitos took umbrage and sued for infringement of his trade mark. Dr Habibi counter-claimed for revocation on the basis that “Dental Excellence” wasn’t capable of distinguishing “dentristy”.

Le Miere J applied the standard test from Clark Equipment Co v Registrar of Trade Marks:

The applicant’s chance of success in this respect (i.e. in distinguishing his goods by means of the mark, apart from the effects of registration) must, I think, largely depend upon whether other traders are likely, in the ordinary course of their businesses and without any improper motive, to desire to use the same mark, or some mark nearly resembling it, upon or in connexion with their own goods.

to find that Dental Excellence lacked any capacity to distinguish. So at [39] his Honour said:

other service providers are likely, without any improper motive, to desire to use the words ‘dental excellence’ in connection with their own services. An honest dentist may want to use the word ‘excellence’ on or in connection with ‘dental’ to indicate, or at least claim, that they provide dental services of a superior quality. ‘Dental Excellence’ may not be words which are commonly used by somebody outside the calling of dentistry but that is not the point. The point is that a dentist may well want to use the words ‘dental excellence’ to identify the services they provide and the quality of those services. The name ‘dental excellence’ at the date of filing had a sensible meaning that was descriptive of the plaintiff’s designated services. The name was apt to describe the provision of dental services of superior quality.

What is more, there was evidence that other dentists did in fact use the phrase in relation to their businesses.

Dr Agapitos could not save his registration on the basis of acquired distinctiveness under s 41(6). He put on the usual types of evidence of advertising and promotion. There was also evidence from 3 customers and a dental nurse who had gone to Dr Habibi’s practice by mistake. There was also some evidence of “licensing” of practices in other states, albeit the licences were created some two years after the trade mark was applied for. Jacobs J’s warning from British Sugar about use not equalling reputation was applied: in this case, the evidence of use, by what appears to have been a suburban dental practice, was too slight to overcome the evidence of other users.

Le Miere J finished off by (perhaps surprisingly[1]) finding that Dr Habibi did not use “dental excellence” as a trade mark and so s 120 was not infringed. In any event, she had adopted her sign in good faith and so qualified for the defence under s 122(1)(b).

The CJEU on the revocation of a trade mark on the basis that it no longer distinguishes the relevant goods or services (genericide) – Kornspitz. Of course, they do things differently in America: Living Proof is apparently distinctive, but Perfect Hair Day is not.[2]

Agapitos v Habibi [2014] WASC 47 (Le Miere J)


  1. Compare cheezy twists in Aldi v Frito-Lay.  ?
  2. Well, we do have Sheer Relief and, of course, Tub Happy.  ?

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The (online) price of things in Australia

March 12th, 2014

Last year, a Parliamentary Committee discovered that Australians pay much higher prices for software and other technology than consumers in other countries.[1]

Now (well, last month), the Fairfax media claimed that Australians are paying much higher prices  for fashion from overseas chains than they charge in their online stores too. Apparently, up to 35% more – although, looking at the unit prices, I wonder if that is before or after postage or delivery has been included.


  1. The [Copyright Society of Australia][csa] held a seminar on the report, the transcripts of which will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Copyright Reporter.  ?

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The statutory right to terminate a patent licence

March 11th, 2014

Section 145 provides the licensee of a patent with a statutory right to terminate the licence on 3 months’ written notice after the patent has expired. What happens, however, if more than one patent has been licensed?

MPEG LA is the patent pool vehicle which licenses the essential patents for the production of DVDs, DVD players and some other video codecs.[1] It granted a licence of a number of patents to Regency Media. In June 2012, after some, but not all, of the patents had expired, Regency Media sent a notice seeking to exercise its right to terminate under s 145. By the trial, some other patents had expired, but some of those licensed were still extant.

Section 145 provides:

Termination of contract after patent ceases to be in force

 (1)  A contract relating to the lease of, or a licence to exploit, a patented invention may be terminated by either party, on giving 3 months’ notice in writing to the other party, at any time after the patent, or all the patents, by which the invention was protected at the time the contract was made, have ceased to be in force.

(2)  Subsection (1) applies despite anything to the contrary in that contract or in any other contract.

The short answer: according to Flick J it appears the licensee has to wait until all the licensed patents have expired before the licensee can exercise the right under s 145.

A bit longer answer: Acknowledging the force of Regency Media’s argument that each patent could be described as being for a patented invention (a term not otherwise defined in the Act), Flick J accepted MPEG LA’s argument. According to MPEG LA, the licence granted rights over three groups of technologies:

  • the MPEG–2 Decoding Products;
  • the MPEG–2 Encoding Products; and
  • the MPEG–2 Packaged Medium,

each of which groups constituted a patented invention for the purposes of s 145 and so s 145 could not be triggered until all had expired.

At [40], Flick J appears to arrive at this conclusion because each of the three groups constituted a “manner of manufacture” in the NRDC sense irrespective of how many patents fell within the particular group. His Honour also thought s 145 was drafted before modern licensing administrators came on to the scene and so may well be inaptly worded to deal with such creatures. However, his Honour considered at [43]:

A court, should be slow to prefer a construction which would permit the termination of an agreement in respect to patents which have not ceased to be in force and which would deny to a patent holder the benefit of the payment of royalties in amounts that have been the subject of agreement. Section 145 manifestly does not permit a contract to be terminated where “all of the patents, by which the invention [is] protected” have not ceased to be in force.

MPEG LA, L.L.C. v Regency Media Pty Ltd [2014] FCA 180


  1. A modern day American antitrust miracle: the official version; Wikipedia’s version.  ?

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