capable of being confused with the trade mark

Jessup J has ruled that Idameneo’s use of:

Idameneo's trade mark

does not infringe Symbion’s registered trade mark for:

Symbion's trade mark

(As registered, the trade mark is not coloured; it was generally used in the colours depicted. See s 70(3).)

However, Idameneo’s use of its trade mark did breach its contractual obligations.

On the trade mark infringement front, you might have been thinking like me, “Who would have thought?” It turns out, however, that what enabled Idameneo to escape was the nature of the services: medical imaging services. Although the customer, you or I needing an x-ray, pays the bill and has the service practised on us, the relevant public were the doctors (and the odd dentist) who referred the patient to the service. This constituted a specialist market within Lord Diplock’s definition :

My Lords, where goods are of a kind which are not normally sold to the general public for consumption or domestic use but are sold in a specialised market consisting of persons engaged in a particular trade, evidence of persons accustomed to dealing in that market as to the likelihood of deception or confusion is essential. A judge, though he must use his common sense in assessing the credibility and probative value of that evidence, is not entitled to supplement any deficiency in evidence of this kind by giving effect to his own subjective view as to whether or not he himself would be likely to be deceived or confused.

By law, the doctor (and presumably the dentist) could not make a referral without providing the patient with the name and address of the service provider: i.e., they had to know who was going to provide the service.

It is rather a messy deal how Symbion came to license its trade mark to the corporate group of which Idameneo was a member. Under the terms of the licence, however, the licensee agreed (for itself and the other members of the corporate group which included Idameneo) by cl. 5.5:

Use of Similar Marks

Except as permitted by this deed, the [respondent] must not, and must ensure that each Licensee does not, use:

(a)       any Trade Mark; or

(b)     any Mark similar to or capable of being confused with any of the Trade Marks or which contain the words SYMBION or FAULDING,

as a trade mark, business name, domain name or otherwise anywhere in the world.

(emphasis supplied)

Jessup J was not prepared to treat the obligation as being 2 separate obligations: not to use similar trade marks or ones capable of being confused …. Rather, his Honour considered that the notion of ‘similar’ had to take colour from its context.

On the other hand, his Honour rejected Idameneo’s argument that the contractual obligation was no different to the test provided by s 10 for deceptive similarity for trade mark infringement:

36. …. The respect in which the test stated by the contractual provision conspicuously differs from that under s 10 is that it is concerned with similarity which is capable of causing confusion, whereas the section is concerned with resemblance which is likely to deceive or to cause confusion.  Here I think that the applicant has the better of the argument.  It is as clear as may be that the parties to the licence agreement were conscious of the circumstance that many of the marks referred therein were registered under the Trade Marks Act; and it may be inferred that they had an active appreciation of the requirements of s 10.  I have no reason to doubt that their choice of different language by which to express the prohibition in cl 5.5(b) was a conscious one.  I consider that for the court to conflate, as it were, the terms of that prohibition into those of s 10 of the Trade Marks Act would be to neutralise that choice, and would go against the parties’ intentions.

In [37], Jessup J went on to note that the contractual prohibition was part of the consideration Symbion had extracted in return for granting the licence and must be thought to have some intended value.

Applying the usual rules of visual comparison and imperfect recollection, the lower threshold established by capable of confusion compared to likely to deceive or cause confusion meant the contract had been breached.

Jessup J did accept that the setting in which the competing marks were used should be taken into account in deciding whether or not cl. 5.5 was breached. The facts that Idameneo used its mark for medical diagnotic imaging while Symbion used its mark for the wholesale distribution of pharmaceuticals, however, did not save Idameneo:

47 But I do not accept the respondent’s factual submission that the circumstances in which the respondent’s mark is used are so distinct from the business activities of the applicant as to leave no realistic scope for confusion by reason of similarity.  Both marks are used in the allied health sector: indeed, before 2008, the applicant’s mark was used by the respondent and its subsidiaries (then not part of the Primary group) in both the pharmaceutical and the imaging parts of that sector.  I think I am entitled to regard it as notorious that there is a degree of contact, at both the professional and the consumer levels, as between these parts, such as would make it quite unsurprising if the same people – to some extent at least – had occasion to encounter both the respondent’s mark and the applicant’s mark from time to time.  And there is some evidence that the respondent’s mark is used in settings, such as the premises of hospitals, where those who have regular business dealings with the applicant – pharmacists and the staff of hospital pharmacy departments, for example – might be expected to be found. …. (emphasis supplied)

Idameneo argued that cl. 5.5 should be read down so as not to apply to its use of its trade mark because it had been using its trade mark before Symbion’s trade mark had been developed and it was in use when the licence was negotiated. Thus, it argued it was unreasonable to read cl. 5.5 as applying to its continued use of the trade mark. Jessup J rejected this argument, noting the strictness of the test for implying terms into a comprehensive, professionally drafted written agreement. Moreover, Idameneo’s business appears to have been something of a sideline or relatively remote activity within the corporate group as a whole. Jessup J pointed out at [42]:

there is no evidence that the applicant … knew of the existence of the respondent’s mark in the period August-October 2008.

Thus, the conditions for implication of a term could not be made out.

Symbion Pharmacy Services Pty Ltd v Idameneo (No 789) Limited [2011] FCA 389