Another designs case

Well, a patents and designs case, but really it’s a case about entitlement: Kenny J has upheld the validity of patents and registered designs for “beer taps” which one company in the Fosters group – Foster’s Group Ltd – applied for “most likely [by] mistake”[1] as one of its subsidiaries, Fosters Australia, was the owner.

Fosters Australia commissioned another party to design some new beer taps for it, on terms that it would own the resulting IP.

When the applicatins for the patents and designs were filed, however, they were filed in the name of Fosters Group Ltd, Fosters Australia’s parent and the holding company of the group.

When the mistake was discovered, Fosters Group assigned everything to Fosters Australia. By then, however, the designs had been registered in Fosters Group’s name, although innovation patent applications were still pending.

Fosters Australia has sued Cash’s for infringing its patents and designs. Cash’s defences asserted invalidity on the basis, amongst other things, that Fosters Group was not an entitled person or the grant was obtained by fraud, false suggestion or misrepresentation.[2]

Kenny J rejected the attack on the patents on the basis that s 29 did not require an applicant for the patent to be the entitled person or someone claiming through him or her; it was necessary only that the patent was granted to someone who qualified under s 15. Kenny J further held that Fosters Group could assign the benefit of its applications to Fosters Australia.

Similar reasoning would apply to the designs s 21 and s 13, but the designs were already registered before Fosters Group assigned its rights to Fosters Australia. However, Kenny J found in circumstances that Fosters Group held the applications and registrations on constructive trust for Fosters Australia.

Patentology makes the point that, while all’s well that ends well, care needs to be taken in deciding who should make the application before it is filed.

Foster’s Australia Limited v Cash’s (Australia) Pty Ltd [2013] FCA 527


  1. [2013] FCA 527 at [127].  ?
  2. Patents Act 1990 s 138(3) and Designs Act 2003 s 93(3).  ?

A designs case!

Jacobson J has found that Bluescope’s “Smartascreen” metal fencing panel infringed Gram Engineering’s Registered Design No. AU 121344 for a fencing panel as an obvious imitation. Perhaps the most interesting finding, however, is why the Smartascreen was not a fraudulent imitation.

image002

vs

Smartascreen
Smartascreen

Gram’s design was registered in 1994, so this is an “old Act” case (invalidity here and infringement here). [1] At the time, it was the first fence panel to feature a symmetrical design: looking the same no matter which side of the fence it was viewed from and, as a result, it was a roaring success capturing some 40% of the market. One interesting aspect of the case is that Bluescope’s Smartascreen product was introduced in 2002. Although Gram Engineering knew about it from around its introduction, it did not commence infringement proceedings until 2011 – after the registered design had expired in 2010.

Bluescope’s attack on validity failed. [2] First, the prior art on which Bluescope relied were for roofing or siding panels, not fence panels, and so not relevant articles. Moreover, the prior art and the registered design had the same general “z-shape”, but were intended to be used horizontally (“weatherboarding) rather than vertically and none had the same combination of 6 panels with the same proportions and angles as the registered design. Hence, while some features may have been present in some of the prior art, none of the prior art included all the features and the registered design looked distinctively different.

Jacobson J then found that the Smartascreen was an obvious imitation: the dominant feature was the same sawtooth look with the (unique) 6 panel frame in the same proportions and with the same angle.

Fraudulent imitation

On this question, Jacobson J found that Bluescope:

  • knew that the design was registered;
  • knew that Gram had achieved runaway commercial success
  • was trying to design a “Gram lookalike”
  • had come up with a number of different symmetrical designs which were different to Gram’s design
  • and had adopted a standard panel size of 762mm (which matched Gram’s physical embodiement) instead of the more typical 820mm panel size.

In these circumstances and given his Honour’s finding of striking similarity, Gram Engineering argued it was inconceivable Bluescope had not copied Gram’s design and so a finding of fraudulent imitation should follow.

However, Jacobson J considered that fraudulent imitation required a finding that Bluescope’s design had been deliberately copied from the registered design. This may prove to be a considerable narrowing of the requirement in Polyaire that the accused product (at [17]) be based on or derived from the registered design or (at [19]) make use of the registered design.[3] It was, however, decisive. His Honour was not prepared to find that either of the key designers who came forward did deliberately copy. It was here that Gram Engineering’s delay in bringing proceedings came back to haunt it. As his Honour explained at [382]:

It is a conclusion which I have reached with some reservation because the striking similarities to which I referred above were not satisfactorily explained in Bluescope’s evidence. I have no doubt that the drawing of 17 November 2000 was designed to look something like the Gram product. It was, as Gram submitted, designed with an eye to the GramLine sheet. However, it is plain that Mr Field was involved in the process. This appears from the concluding remarks of his memo of 15 November 2000. Ultimately, it is his absence from the witness box which precludes me from reaching the view that the process of designing a Gram lookalike was one which entailed copying the Gram design.

The Mr Field in question was unable to give evidence at this stage in view of his advanced age (being retired) and illness.

If his Honour had been prepared otherwise to find fraudulent imitation, however, the fact that it had obtained advice that its product did not infringe the registered design would not have saved it.

Gram Engineering Pty Ltd v Bluescope Steel Ltd [2013] FCA 508


  1. The test for validity in Designs Act 1906 s 17(1) here and infringement, s 30, here.  ?
  2. An example of the prior art relied on:
    One of the prior art examples
    One of the prior art examples

     ?

  3. Indeed, at [35] the High Court said:

    “…. The kind of fraud that the Act seeks to remedy is closer in kind to, but is still not entirely analogous with, equitable fraud, which, for its establishment, does not require that an actual intention to cheat must always be proved; proof of misconception of the extent of a person’s obligation, to act or to refrain from acting in a particular way, may suffice”.  ?

US Supreme Court invalidates isolated gene patent

but permits synthetic versions:

Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad (2013)

Read more at Patently-O here and here

The appeal from Cancer Voices  in Australia is still pending.

Winnebago loses half an appeal

The Full Court has partially allowed an appeal from Foster J’s decision to order Knott Investments to stop using the Winnebago trade marks for “campers” or RVs not made by Winnebago. As a result, Knott can continue to use “Winnebago” if it can make it clear it is not associated with the Winnebago company.

Some facts

From about 1959, Winnebago had been making and selling its RVs under that brand name in the USA and eventually other countries including the UK and Canada, but not Australia.

Winnebago logo
Winnebago logo

In the early 1960s, Binns became aware of the Winnebago name and logo while travelling around the USA. In 1978, Binns and his wife started manufacturing and selling their own RVs in Australia under the name “Winnebago” and using the Winnebago logo. In 1982, they incorporated Knott which then took over running their business.

The Winnebago company discovered what Knott was up to by 1985. However, the Winnebago company did nothing about this until 1992 when the parties entered into a “settlement” agreement. Following this, Knott kept making and selling its own Winnebago brand RVs and registered the Winnebago logo as trade marks. Winnebago itself did nothing further until 2010, when it wished to enter the market in Australia and started proceedings alleging misleading or deceptive conduct, passing off and seeking revocation of Knott’s trade mark registration for Winnebago and the logo.

When do you test whether conduct is misleading or deceptive

The Full Court allowed Knott’s appeal insofar as it related to when Knott’s conduct had to be tested as misleading or deceptive. Foster J held this was in 1982 when Knott was recorded in the Register of Business Names as having commenced running the business, there being no formal documentation of a transfer of the business. The Full Court, however, considered that Knott was plainly the successor in title to the Binns’ business and so the relevant time was 1978, when the Binns started up.

This is important because the Full Court unanimously considered the relevant time to assess whether conduct is misleading or deceptive under s 52 of the TPA (as it was) and s 18 of the ACL (as it now is) is the date when the “infringer’s” conduct started, not some later date.

As it turned out, however, this did not help Knott much as the Full Court considered the evidence clearly established Winnebago had a “spillover” reputation in Australia in 1978 even though it had not traded in Australia at that point.[1] Therefore, Knott (and the Binns’) conduct was likely to mislead or deceive.

Estoppel, laches, acquiescance or delay

The issue that loomed large in the Full Court’s eyes was Winnebago’s delay in bringing proceedings to enforce its rights – 25 years after it first learned of Knott’s activities and 18 years after the “settlement” agreement. Over that period of time, Knott had built up its own substantial reputation in “Winnebago” in vehicles of its own manufacture.[2]

First, the Full Court agreed with Foster J that the “settelment” agreement did not authorise or concede any rights to use “Winnebago” to Knott. Clause 6 provided:

This Agreement does not address, impact upon, or relate in any way, manner or form to the use or ownership of the [Winnebago marks] in Australia or to any rights relating to the [Winnebago marks] based on reputation or use under any statute or at common law in Australia. By entering into this Agreement, Winnebago does not expressly or impliedly acknowledge that Australian Company has any rights of any nature whatsoever to the [Winnebago marks] in Australia. To the extent not expressed in this Agreement, this Agreement shall be without prejudice to the rights of Winnebago and Winnebago expressly reserves all of its legal rights.

Knott argued, however, that the 18 year delay in bringing proceedings meant it was unjust to permit Winnebago to bring proceedings now. Allsop J despatched this argument for six:

First, there was no clear representation, arising either out of the Settlement Agreement or from the conduct. The terms of the agreement, in their context, contained a degree of commercial ambiguity. The terms, however, of cl 6 could leave no doubt in Mr Binns’ mind that any practical confidence in him that Winnebago was not going to sue him was not based on any right conceded by Winnebago. He proceeded at his own risk. The finding by the primary judge at [155] of the reasons (not specifically challenged) that Mr Binns knew there was a risk of having to rebrand his product if Winnebago entered the market is also fatal to the submission. (emphasis supplied)

Allsop CJ and Jagot J rejected Knott’s arguments based on laches, acquiescance and delay both for similar reasons and because Knott had expressly disclaimed them at trial.

Notwithstanding this, the Full Court considered that Foster J’s order that Knott be restrained from using the Winnebago trade marks was unjust. Even though Knott (or, really, Binns) had adopted the Winnebago trade marks to take advantage of the Winnebago company’s reputation and there was evidence that some members of the public had been misled, nonetheless, Knott had over decades built up its own substantial, independent reputation. Instead, therefore, the injunction should only prohibit use which did not appropriately disclaim any trade association with the Winnebago company. At [67], Allsop CJ explained:

This limitation of relief can be seen to reflect not only the balancing of the respective interests of Knott and Winnebago in the reputation developed by Knott’s expenditure, in the context of Winnebago’s extraordinary (and informed) delay, but also the erosion of the reputation of Winnebago ….

and

The evidence reveals sufficient to conclude that at least some of Knott’s reputation in the use of the name and marks was the development of its goodwill and reputation; that not all of the development of its business involved the taking advantage of Winnebago’s reputation in Australia. In normal circumstances, this would not matter; it would be something that the party passing off would have to accept as a consequence of its wrongdoing. Here, however, Winnebago has contributed to this by standing by, informed of the position, for 25 years while Knott expended money and built a business, part at least of which was its own reputation. (emphasis supplied)

The disclaimer or dissassociation had to be clear on the vehicles Knott made in future as well as in its advertising and promotional material.

The third member of the Court, Cowdroy J, did not explicitly reject the laches or acquiescance defence, but agreed in the approach of Allsop CJ saying at [106]:

the Court considers that the granting of relief to completely restrain the appellants from the use of the Winnebago marks to be unreasonable in light of the substantial delay by Winnebago.

Finally, the Full Court upheld Foster J’s order to cancel Knott’s registration of the Winnebago trade marks. Knott had registered these in direct contravention of the terms of the “settlement” agreement.

Some thoughts

In 1992, a representative of the Winnebago company had written to its then Australian lawyers explaining:

… While we are obviously interested in persuading or compelling Mr Binns to cease using the subject marks in Australia, I really do not think that we can justify any additional expense. We are not selling our products there nor do we have any plans to do so. There has in the past been some indication that Mr Binns was experiencing some financial duress and perhaps with any luck he will go broke. In any event, at least for the time being, I think we will just continue to monitor this situation … [3]

No doubt, the sentiments will resonate with everyone advising a foreign brand owner in Australia. The Full Court’s approach may provide a warning. The terms of the “settlement” agreement were sufficiently limited to preserve the Winnebago company’s right to enter the market and object to misrepresentation of association, but failure to enforce its rights promptly has left it encumbered with a competing, independent user of its brand. On the other hand, Knott did not bring matters to a head in negotiating the “settlement” agreement and finds itself constrained. As Allsop CJ said, it ran the risk. How the disclaimer should be effected is unclear, but there are indications in Allsop CJ’s reasons that Knott has been able effectively to dissociate its business from the Winnebago company, while still using the Winnebago trade marks, since 2003.

Knott Investments Pty Ltd v Winnebago Industries, Inc [2013] FCAFC 59


  1. Nothing controversial in the principle: see ConAgra v McCain [1992] FCA 159; 33 FCR 302, although successful cases are still relatively rare.  ?
  2. For example, Foster J referred to Knott spending over $6million in advertising expenditure between 1992 and 2010.  ?
  3. See [114] of Foster J’s reasons at first instance.  ?

Another copyright in project homes case

Some 5 years after it went hunting, Tamawood[1] has successfully sued Habitare (now with administrators and receivers and managers appointed) for infringing copyright in house plans.

Copyright in some plans was infringed (Torrington v Duplex 1 & Duplex B); but not in others (Conondale / Dunkeld v Duplex 2 & Duplex A).

One point of interest: Habitare commissioned Tamawood to develop plans for 2 new houses for it. These plans were submitted to the Brisbane City Council to obtain development approvals. The relationship with Tamawood broke down, however, and Habitare continued to use the plans. Collier J found that the “usual” (i.e. Beck v Montana)[2] implied licence did not apply here. It did not apply because Tamawood did not get paid the “usual” fee for doing the job: rather, it agreed to prepare the drawings at no cost on the basis that it would build the houses once development approval had been obtained. Once the deal fell through and Habitare decided not to proceed with Tamawood as the builder, therefore, its rights to use the plans terminated.

Continuing with the licensing theme, Mondo (which Habitare eventually used to design the houses in dispute) did infringe copyright by creating the infringing plans Duplex 1 and Duplex B plans. It did not infringe Tamawood’s copyright, however, when it downloaded the Torrington plans from Tamawood’s website. Tamawood made the plans available on its website for the whole world to see and download so Collier J considered Mondo’s purpose in using the downloaded plans to design competing houses was not relevant.[3]

(Mondo did succeed in its cross-claim against Habitare and 2 of its principals for misleading or deceptive conduct: they told Mondo that the copyright issues with Tamawood had been sorted out or resolved.)

A second point of interest is that the builder of Habitare’s infringing houses, Bloomer Constructions, successfully made out the “innocent infringer” defence provided by s 115(3). Cases where this defence has been relied on successfully are as rare as the proverbial hen’s teeth. It seems to have been because the builder became involved very late in the day: it had no knowledge of Tamawood’s involvement in the earlier stages and the plans it was provided with had Mondo’s name or title block.

Finally, a curiosity: the reasoning on authorisation liability manages not to refer to Roadshow v iiNet at all, but refers extensively to University of NSW v Moorhouse. In the event, Habitare apparently conceded it would be liable for authorising the infringements of the others. Two of its principal officers, Mr Peter O’Mara and a David Johnson, managed to escape liability, however. While they were heavily involved in the business, their involvement was mainly on the finance side rather than sales and marketing. Collier J seems to have found that, within Habitare, responsibility for the conduct that infringed had devolved on to 2 other officers, Shane O’Mara – Peter O’Mara’s son – and a Mr Speer. Her Honour also considered that, by engaging Mondo as architects, Peter O’Mara and Johnson took “reasonable steps to prevent or avoid the doing of the infringing act”.[4]

Tamawood Limited v Habitare Developments Pty Ltd (Administrators Appointed) (Receivers and Managers Appointed) (No 3) [2013] FCA 410


  1. Yes, it is that Tamawood.  ?
  2. See _e.g. Concrete Constructions_ at [71] – [75] per Kirby and Crennan JJ).  ?
  3. There is no discussion in the judgment of whether Tamawood’s website included a notice purporting to limit the use of the site, for example, to “personal use” or “private and non-commercial use” (whatever either of those may mean) or in any other way.  ?
  4. See s 36(1A)(c). No claim for authorisation or procurement appears to have been pursued against Shane O’Mara or Speer.  ?

Compulsory Licensing of Patents – Productivity Commission

The Productivity Commission’s report on Compulsory Licensing of Patents has been published.

One key recommendation is to replace the compulsory licence provisions in the s 133 of the Patents Act with a compulsory licence regime in the Competition and Consumer Act:

The Australian Government should seek to remove s. 133(2)(b) from the Patents Act 1990 (Cwlth), so that a compulsory licence order based on restrictive trade practices of the patent holder is only available under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cwlth). The remedy provisions in the Competition and Consumer Act should be amended to explicitly recognise compulsory licence orders to exploit a patented invention as a remedy under the Act.

The Productivity Commission also recommends that the “reasonable requirements of the public” test in s 135 of the Patents Act be replaced with a “public interest” test:

The Australian Government should seek to amend the Patents Act 1990 (Cwlth) to replace the ‘reasonable requirements of the public’ test for a compulsory licence with a new public interest test. The new test should specify that a compulsory licence to exploit the patented invention would be available if the following conditions are met:

  • Australian demand for a product or service is not being met on reasonable terms, and access to the patented invention is essential for meeting this demand.
  • The applicant has tried for a reasonable period, but without success, to obtain access from the patentee on reasonable terms and conditions.
  • There is a substantial public interest in providing access to the applicant, having regard to:
    • –  benefits to the community from meeting the relevant unmet demand
    • –  commercial costs and benefits to the patent holder and licensee from

      granting access to the patented invention

    • –  other impacts on community wellbeing, including those resulting from greater competition and from the overall effect on innovation.

Section 136 should be repealed and future Treaty obligations should be incorporated into the Patents Act directly.

The Productivity Commission would also like to see s 51(3) of the CC Act repealed:

but any changes to s.51(3) will need to be based on a consideration of the implications for all types of intellectual property, including those beyond this inquiry’s terms of reference.

Further recommendations relate to Crown Use,which appear to have been largely adopted already in the Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill 2013.

Download Full Report, or interesting chapters, here.

Superman KOs “superman workout”

DC Comics, the owner of rights to the, er, man of steel character, has successfully blocked an attempt the register “superman workout” for “conducting exercise classes; fitness and exercise clinics, clubs and salons; health club services (exercise)” in class 41. It did have to appeal from the Registrar of Trade Marks to the Federal Court and it did not win for the reasons you might think.

Like the Registrar, Bennett J rejected DC Comics’ opposition based on s 60. Her Honour accepted that the superhero was indeed well-known, but noted that the term “superman” was also an ordinary English word defined as such in both the Macquarie and Oxford Dictionaries:

[49] …. the use of the word “superman” in the Trade Mark is, or has become, descriptive. Use of a word originally associated with a particular trade source, may over time become descriptive of a class of goods or characterisations.

[50] When the Trade Mark is used without reference to any of the well known indicia associated with the DC Comics superhero and as contained in the registered Trade Mark or other trade marks registered by DC Comics, there is no likelihood that use of the Trade Mark would be likely to deceive or cause confusion by reference to the Superman word mark, or the subject matter of DC Comics’ registered trade marks. The public would not be caused to wonder whether “superman workout” came from the same source as the Superman character or DC Comics.

Accordingly, there was no real, tangile danger of people confusing use in relation to fitness workouts with the superhero.

When Cheqout began using “superman workout”, however, it also used it with this logo:

cheqout logo
cheqout logo

Bennett J was willing to infer that this logo was being used to strengthen the allusion to the Man of Steel and so appropriate the benefit of DC Comics’ reputation for Cheqout’s fitness services. That was not in accordance with acceptable commercial standards and so the application was made in bad faith contrary to s 62A.

In reaching that conclusion, Bennett J adopted the approach previously taken by Dodds-Streeton J in the Tennis Warehouse case. Bennett J emphasised that Dodds-Streeton J rejected a submission that exploitative conduct alone could never constitute ‘bad faith’. Rather, it was the particular circumstances of that case, especially the US company’s failure to follow up its demands for 2 years.

DC Comics v Cheqout Pty Ltd [2013] FCA 478