Something to think about in drafting an exclusive licence

July 10th, 2014

The Full Court has declared that a former exclusive licensee has to contribute towards the costs of patent infringement litigation. Cementech has a patent, No 2007219709, for a “matrix of masonry elements and method of manufacture thereof”. It had granted Austral an exclusive licence for a term of 4 years commencing in February 2010. Austral had an to renew, but didn’t take it up. There were provisions in the licence agreement dealing with infringements. There was the usual clause requiring Austral to tell Cementech if it came across any infringements. Then clause 9.2 provided:

9.2 Infringement Actions

(a) Upon receipt of an Infringement Notice [Cementech] may, at its sole discretion, take all steps reasonably required to protect the Intellectual Property from infringement.

(b) In the event that [Cementech] elects to initiate proceedings for prosecuting or defend any Claims with respect to the Intellectual Property, all expenses incurred by [Cementech] in conducting any such proceedings or defending any Claims will be borne by the parties equally and all amounts received (including in respect of costs) from settlements or adjudications will be dealt with in the manner described in clause 9.2(f).

….

Cl 9.2(f) went on to provide for distribution of any monetary awards resulting from the litigation to pay down the costs and the balance to be split between the parties in proportion to their losses suffered.

Cementech started infringement proceedings against Adbri during the term of Austral’s licence. Austral first tried to argue that, since it hadn’t given notice of the infringement to Cementech, cl. 9.2 didn’t apply. That went for six (well, five reasons):

  • the words “in the event that” in cl 9.2(b) established a condition, but not one triggered by any notice from Austal
  • the parties had a common interest in stopping infringements
  • Cementech could take proceedings regardless of receipt of a notice from Austral
  • (as is quite common) the scheme of the clause allowed Cementech first choice whether to sue or not – Austal did get rights to sue during the term if Cementech did not take action
  • under the terms of the licence, Austral did not have a discretion to notify infringements, if it became aware of one, it had an obligation to notify.

The real bite in the clause, however, is that the Full Court held it meant Austal had to pay half the costs of the infringement action against Adbri even after the licence had come to an end. Austral argued that the licence having terminated, the obligation terminated too citing the Westralian Farmers case. The Full Court however held:

It must have been in the common contemplation of the parties that Cementech might commence proceedings during the term which would continue after the expiry of the term. Clause 9.2(b), if engaged by the commencement of proceedings during the term, survives termination of the Licence Agreement, as does cl 9.2(f). It is apparent from the scheme of cl 9.2, which is a code in respect of litigation commenced during the term as Cementech submitted, that the parties intended the cost burden provision (cl 9.2(b)) and the proceeds benefits provision (cl 9.2(f)) to survive. That intention prevails …

The Full Court pointed out that under clause 9.2(f) Austal had a right to claim its proportionate share of any pecuniary remedies even after the licence terminated. The Full Court noted tersely:

The examples of commercial impracticality advanced by Austral apply equally during the term. The parties simply did not provide details about how their relationship in respect of the litigation other than in respect of cost sharing and benefit sharing would be regulated. But that is no reason to rewrite the commercial deal they did. Nor is the fact that, as it turns out, Austral does not wish to fund these particular proceedings.

If you are thinking about using this clause as a model for your future contracts, the Full Court recognised that the scheme set up by the parties might not work to either’s benefit in different cases:

Austral’s reluctance to be bound by cl 9 is understandable. The provision is capable of working to its disadvantage. For example, Austral (as apparently in the present case) may not agree that there has been any infringement and thus may not wish to fund any part of the proceedings. Austral’s interest in the proceedings may be limited depending on the nature of the alleged infringement and the time during the term when the proceedings are commenced (presumably, Austral’s interest might be greater if proceedings are commenced earlier rather than later in the term). Austral may well perceive, accurately, that it will pay 50% of the costs of expensive proceedings which will lead to no or little reward for it if Cementech manages to obtain any proceeds from the litigation. But all of these circumstances might apply equally to Cementech in different circumstances. As Cementech submitted, the potential for an unequal commercial interest in proceedings results from the deal the parties did when they entered into the Licence Agreement.

Austral Masonry (NSW) Pty Ltd v Cementech Pty Limited [2014] FCAFC 72 (Jagot, Nicholas and Yates JJ)

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An arbitration clause means arbitrate

July 9th, 2014

The Irelands were Subway franchisees.

Their franchise agreement with Subway included an arbitration clause:

10. DISPUTE RESOLUTION. The parties want to settle all issues quickly, amicably, and in the most cost effective fashion. To accomplish these goals, the parties agree to the following provisions that will apply to resolve any dispute or claim arising out of or relating to this Agreement, or any other Franchise Agreement the parties have with each other (a ‘Dispute’):

c. The parties will arbitrate the Dispute if the mediation clause in Subparagraph 10.a. is not enforceable, or the parties do not settle the Dispute under the informal discussion and mediation procedures above, or the Dispute is one which this Agreement provides will be submitted directly to arbitration, except as provided in this Agreement. The arbitration will be held in accordance with the United Nations Commission on International Trade Regulations and Law (UNCITRAL) Arbitration Rules administered by an arbitration association, such as the American Arbitration Association or the Institute of Arbitrators or Mediators Australia, at a hearing to be held in Queensland. The arbitration will be conducted in English and decided by a single arbitrator unless the law of Australia requires three (3) arbitrators. Any court having jurisdiction may enter judgment on the arbitrator’s award. Except as provided in this Agreement, a party must commence and pursue informal discussions, mediation, and arbitration to resolve Disputes before commencing legal action.

The Irelands, however, commenced proceedings against Subway in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) alleging breaches of the franchise agreement, negligence and misleading or deceptive conduct.

Subway applied to VCAT to have the proceeding referred to arbitration pursuant to clause 10. VCAT refused. The Supreme Court dismissed Subway’s appeal. The Court of Appeal, Maxwell P and Beach JA, Kyrou J dissenting, have allowed Subway’s further appeal and sent the matter to arbitration.

Section 8 of the Commercial Arbitration Act 2011 (Vic) provides:

8            Arbitration agreement and substantive claim before court (cf Model Law Art 8)

(1)  A court before which an action is brought in a matter which is the subject of an arbitration agreement must, if a party so requests not later than when submitting the party’s first statement on the substance of the dispute, refer the parties to arbitration unless it finds that the agreement is null and void, inoperative or incapable of being performed.

As the heading indicates, this provision is part of a national scheme to implement the UNCITRAL Model Law on commercial arbitration.

The “problem” was that reference to “court”. While it was not a defined term in the Act, there are any number of court rulings declaring in no uncertain terms that VCAT is not a court – it is an administrative tribunal.

Maxwell P and Beach JA standing back and looking at the big (international) picture, however, held that for the purposes of the Act – a law designed to promote commercial arbitration as a dispute resolution mechanism – VCAT qualifies as a “court”. Maxwell P and Beach JA took somewhat different routes to reach that conclusion but it is perhaps best encapsulated in Maxwell P’s observation:

The clear policy of the Act (and of the model law which it enacts) is that, when parties have agreed to have disputes between them determined by private arbitration, neither party is at liberty to litigate the matter in dispute through the adjudicative mechanisms of the State. For this statutory purpose, in this statutory context, the Tribunal is indistinguishable from those other adjudicative bodies of the State which bear the title ‘court’.

I don’t know if other States or Territories operate under regimes similar to VCAT in, er, parallel to the court system but, as Croft J noted at first instance, Parliament set up VCAT to provide a speedy and inexpensive, low cost, accessible, efficient means of dispute resolution and, apparently, it handles the vast bulk of legal disputes here. But not disputes between franchisors and franchisees (where there is an arbitration clause).

Subway Systems Australia Pty Ltd v Ireland [2014] VSCA 142

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US Supreme Court downs Aereo

June 26th, 2014

The US Supreme Court has held (6:3) that Aereo infringes copyright by publicly performing the protected material.

You may recall that Aereo has warehouses full of recording devices which an individual subscriber could rent and record over the air television broadcasts on, then play back to their tv, computer, tablet or smart phone.

In dissent, Scalia J (joined by Thomas and Alito JJ) was highly critical of the “purposive” approach to statutory interpretation adopted by the majority:

The Court’s conclusion that Aereo performs boils down to the following syllogism: (1) Congress amended the Act to overrule our decisions holding that cable systems do not perform when they retransmit over-the-air broadcasts; (2) Aereo looks a lot like a cable system; therefore (3) Aereo performs.  …. That reasoning suffers from a trio of defects ….

So Aereo joins Optus TV Now on the defunct list.

American Broadcasting Cos Inc v Aereo Inc

Lid dip: Marty and Patently-O

 

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ACIP on innovation patents

June 25th, 2014

ACIP’s final report into Innovation Patents has been published.

Key points / recommendations:

  • ACIP can’t find evidence to support conclusion that innovation patents promote innovation

 

  • ACIP recommends that, if the innovation patent system be retained:

 

    • there be a new “innovation” threshold:

amending the Patents Act 1990 (Cth) to raise the level of innovation to a level above the current innovative step level, but below the inventive step level that applies to standard patents. A suitable level of innovative step would be provided by the test of inventiveness described by the High Court of Australia in Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Co v Beiersdorf (Australia) Ltd [1980] HCA 9: (1980) 144 CLR 253; (1980) 29 ALR 29 with a modification to that test to include the current definition of what is relevant CGK. In order to be innovative an invention would need to be non-obvious by reference to CGK either within or outside the patent area but not by reference to prior art information that is not part of CGK at the priority date of the relevant claims of the innovation patent. This would be a lower threshold than is applied to standard patents, where the invention must be non-obvious by reference to the CGK and any piece of prior art.

I suppose that would at least be a test that requires some advance over the prior art and is (at least in theory) something which those of us who started growing up under the 1952 Act should be familiar with.

    • a request for examination must be filed within 3 years
    • the term “patent” be reserved for certified “patents” only;
    • exclude from innovation patents “all methods, all processes and all systems “.

The Government has indicated it will respond in due course.

ACIP’s Innovation Patent Inquiry page.

Link to the Final Report (pdf).

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More contempts

June 23rd, 2014

Bob Jane and his trading companies were found to be infringing the BOB JANE and JANE FLEET trade marks and had, amongst other things, injunctions ordered against them to stop, to change the various company names and transfer two domain names.

They didn’t.

This time, Besanko J has imposed fines of $25,000 and $15,000 on Mr Jane for his contempts, $25,000 and $15,000 on Bob Jane Global Tyre Corporation (Hong Kong) Limited, $20,000 on Bob Jane Southern Motors Pty Ltd and $2,000 fines on corporate respondents for other contempts. The respondents were also ordered to pay 80% of the applicants costs on an indemnity basis.

Bob Jane Corporation Pty Ltd v ACN 149 801 141 Pty Ltd [2014] FCA 637

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Alice Corp not patentable subject matter in the USA

June 20th, 2014

The US Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that Alice Corporation’s claim to patent a computer-implemented method and system for exchanging obligations is not patentable subject matter under US law:

Patently-O summary here.

Another take here (lid dip: Matt Bromley).

Alice Corporation v CLS Bank International (pdf).

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Is there a case for fair use? Lessons from the US – Seminar

June 19th, 2014

Monash is holding a seminar on fair use: ‘Is there a case for fair use? Lessons from the US’, with the lead presenter being Prof. Geoffrey Scott from Penn State’s School of Law.

Date: 2 July 25 June at 5:15pm. (Lid dip: Gerard Dalton)

Venue: Monash University Law Chambers, Melbourne.

Details and registration via here.

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Carving up an uncertified halal butcher

June 18th, 2014

Perram J has awarded $10 nominal damages for trade mark infringement against each of Scadilone, White Heaven and Quality Kebabs, but $91,015 additional damages against Quality Kebabs.

The Halal Certification Authority does just that: it certifies that food has been prepared according to the relevant Islamic (halal) requirements. It has a registered trade mark for the use of which, like other such schemes, you pay appropriate licence fees and comply with the standards set.

TM 1005647

TM 1005647

Quality Kebabs makes and sells at wholesale meat products. It supplied some of its products to 2 kebab houses: Scadilone and White Heaven. The employee/sales rep. also provided them with certificates bearing HCA’s trade mark. Unfortunately, Quality Kebabs was not certified by HCA and it had not paid the licence fees.

HCA had sought compensatory damages based on its lost licence fees: about $5000 for a year’s licence from each of the kebab shops and roughly $60,000 from Quality Kebabs because its conduct occurred over parts of 2 different annual licensing periods. Accepting that a lost royalty or licence fee could be appropriate, Perram J refused this.

Damages under s 126(1) are compensatory. There was no likelihood that any of the infringers would have contemplated entering into a licence at those prices so there were no “lost” licence fees. The kebab houses did want assurance that the meat was halal, but that did not necessarily mean they wanted to promote their shops, as opposed to the meat, as halal certified. Perram J found that, if Quality Kebabs had known HCA’s trade mark was registered and licence fees were payable, it would not have used the trade mark. Instead, it would have copied someone else’s certificate. Therefore, there was no basis to infer that HCA had been deprived of its licence fee.

There was also no order for damages for reputational damages. The signs were displayed in only 2 shops for limited periods. There was no evidence that anyone had seen them or even whether or not the meat was in fact halal.

Perram J considered that the additional damages contemplated by s 126(2) were intended to have a deterrent effect.

Scadilone, White Heaven and their principals escaped liability for additional damages as they were innocent infringers. They had simply put up the certificates they were given and removed them, more or less promptly, when complaint had been made.

Quality Kebabs was a different case, however. Having reviewed the factors set out in s 126(2),[1] Perram J held this was an appropriate case for an award of additional damages:

…. If the damages were to be fixed at the level of the applicant’s wholesale licence fee this would strip Quality Kebabs of the benefit it has received of using the trade mark without having to pay for it but it would not, in my opinion, be a sufficient deterrent. It would mean that an infringer could acquire, in effect, a compulsory licence to use a trade mark subject only to paying for it. It would create a ‘use now’ and ‘pay later’ state of affairs. That situation would eliminate the capacity of the trade mark owner to control who used its trade mark.

To achieve the deterrent effect and having regard to the other factors, Perram J increased the damages by a factor of 50% over the applicable licence fees. Thus, about $60,000 for the licence fees that should have been paid for the two years in which the infringements occurred plus a further $30,000.[2]

There was no award for damages under the ACL. Although the conduct was plainly misleading, Perram J found there was no evidence that HCA’s reputation had suffered any damage.

Halal Certification Authority Pty Limited v Scadilone Pty Limited [2014] FCA 614

Lid dip: James McDougall


  1. S 126(2) is in similar, but not identical, terms to s 115(4) of the Copyright Act 1968.  ?
  2. … the applicant’s fee in those years was an annual one of $27,090 and $33,580 respectively. Although Quality Kebabs only used the trade mark for the 13 month period between August 2012 and September 2013 I do not think that these fees should be subject to a pro rata reduction. Had Quality Kebabs followed the correct path of obtaining the applicant’s permission it would have had to have paid both annual fees in full.  ?

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A patents case goes to the High Court

June 12th, 2014

The High Court has granted special leave to Alphapharm to appeal from the Full Federal Court’s decision to allow Lundbeck to apply to extend the term of its Lexapro patent 10 years late. The High Court was not interested at all in the exercise of the discretion to allow a 10 year extension. the question is whether a power to extend time exists at all.

The extension of term provisions for pharmaceutical patents are found in s 70 and s 71(2). Section 71(2) provides that:

An application for an extension of the term of a standard patent must be made during the term of the patent and within 6 months after the latest of the following dates:

(a) the date the patent was granted;

( b) the date of commencement of the first inclusion in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods of goods that contain, or consist of, any of the pharmaceutical substances referred to in subsection 70(3);

(c) the date of commencement of this section.

It was common ground that Lundbeck’s application was outside the latest of the possible dates.

However, the Patents Act also provides a power to grant extensions of time in s 223.

Lundbeck’s problem – if it turns out to be a problem – is that s 223(11) says that s 223 cannot be used to extend the time for doing “prescribed actions” and reg. 22.11 specifies as one of the prescribed actions:

filing, during the term of a standard patent under subsection 71(2) of the Act, an application under subsection 70(1) of the Act for an extension of the term of the patent;

In the Federal Court,[1] Yates J at [50] found that Lundbeck’s “application” for an extension of time fell outside this because it really involved 2 requirements:

The making of an application under s 70(1) of the Act is governed by two time limits: the application must be made “during the term of the patent” and within six months of the applicable date in s 71(2)(a) to (c). Both time limits must be observed in order to make an application.

While the requirement that the application be made “during the term of the patent” was caught and so excluded by s 223(11), the second requirement – within 6 months of the applicable date – was not.

The High Court (Kiefel J and Keane J) have granted Alphapharm special leave to argue that, as a matter of construction, there was really only one application.

Lundbeck boldly tried to argue that special leave should not be granted because the issue raised no question of general importance: there not that many applications for an extension of time to apply for an extension of the term of a pharmaceutical patent. Kiefel J retorted sharply:

KIEFEL J: But the extension of a patent is itself an important matter, is it not?

MR NIALL: It is.

KIEFEL J: Very important.

It does raise an interesting question. The extended term expired back in December 2012. Alphapharm and others, however, had entered the market when the original term of the patent expired on 13 June 2009 and before Lundbeck’s application for an extension of time in which to file its application to extend the term had been finalised. Therefore, it would appear that the potential exposure of the generics companies to damages awards (or an account of profits) is up for grabs; i.e., another 3 years.

Alphapharm Pty Ltd v H Lundbeck A/S [2014] HCATrans 79

Lid dip: Opinions on High

Some other commentaries: here, here and here.


  1. Aspen Pharma Pty Ltd v H Lundbeck A/S [2013] FCAFC 129 (Jessup and Jagot JJ agreeing).  ?

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Graduated response coming Down Under?

June 11th, 2014

According to iiNet, it is.

It would appear from documents obtained by ZDnet and, perhaps, the Fairfax press, that it is certainly one of the “options” being developed by the Attorney-General’s Department.

The Attorney-General did say back in February that he was looking at a number of ways to combat online piracy in light of the High Court’s decision in the iiNet case. Presumably, the development of the various options has progressed somewhat by now although, so far as I am aware, it is not something that has been thrown open to public comment.

The ZDnet article refers to the positive experience apparently experienced with the scheme in the USA. The Fairfax article notes Rebecca Giblins’ research indicating the costs of such schemes appear to be all out of proportion to their impact.

It would be a pity if the development of all these options means that we are not going to get the “through and exhaustive exercise in law reform” so that the Copyright Act will be shorter, simpler and easier to use and understand that the Attorney did foreshadow in February.

Meanwhile, in the UK, a Minister assisting with IP matters has raised the prospect of search engines being required to exclude from search results, or at least the first page of the results, web-sites against which blocking orders have been obtained.

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