A coffee free-for-all and a trade mark cancellation
Last month, the Full Court overturned the trial Judge’s ruling that Modena had infringed Cantarella’s registered trade marks for ORO and CINQUE STELLA for coffee. Instead, revoking the registrations on the basis that they were not capable of distinguishing. Barrister Sue Gatford provides another guest post explaining why.
In 2000 Cantarella, the vendor of Vittoria coffee, applied for and obtained registration in Australia and elsewhere of the Italian words ORO and CINQUE STELLE as trade marks. Translated into English ORO means GOLD and CINQUE STELLE means FIVE STAR. Cantarella had used these words (and others) in Australia for various of its coffee blends for a very long time.
An Italian company, Molinari, had used ORO and CINQUE STELLE for its coffee for a similarly long time, and since 1997 had imported that coffee into Australia. Many other coffee companies, including Lavazza and Coffee Mio, use ORO to describe one or more of their coffee products. On the evidence, no-one other than Cantarella and Molinari appear to have used CINQUE STELLE.
In 2011 Cantarella sued Modena, Molinari’s Australian importer. It alleged that the Café Molinari Oro and Café Molinari Cinque Stella products that Modena imported and sold in Australia were infringing Cantarella’s registered trade marks. The Federal Court initially agreed. Last month though, the Full Court overturned that decision and ordered the cancellation of Cantarella’s trade marks.
The judgment revisits the long standing and often quoted test, set out by Kitto J in Clark Equipment, for determining when a mark is inherently adapted to distinguish, viz:-
[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.
In Clark Equipment registration of the word MICHIGAN for tractors that came from Michigan, USA was refused. The High Court considered that as Michigan was a well known manufacturing centre at a later time other traders might, without improper motive, want to use the word Michigan in describing other tractors they wanted to sell.
Similarly, the Full Court said that Italy being a common source of coffee and the Italian language having invaded the English language in the coffee sphere with words such as cappuccino, cafe latte and the like, it was likely that other traders would, without improper motive, be likely to want to use descriptive Italian words, including ORO and CINQUE STELLE, in relation to their coffee.
The Full Court considered that the trial judge put too much emphasis on the fact that Australian consumers generally (the so called “ordinary English-speaking people in Australia”) were unlikely to know what ORO and CINQUE STELLE meant. Rather, the Court said, the proper enquiry was whether other traders would want to use those words. The Full Court was less concerned than the trial judge with whether the English meaning of the words was widely understood (How many people who order a cappuccino know what the word cappuccino means in English?) but did point out that Italian was the second most widely spoken language in Australia in any event.
In terms of the appropriate legal test, the Full Court said that the reference to “the common right of the public” by Kitto J in Clark Equipment was a reference to the common right of other traders as a sub-section of the public. Crucially, they found that the evidence supported a finding that ORO and CINQUE STELLA were:-
“known in the coffee trade according to their ordinary signification as words descriptive of the quality of coffee products and have been used in that sense, although not as trade marks, for a significant period of time extending well before Cantarella’s registration of its marks and afterwards”.
Interestingly, the Court did not differentiate between the evidence of the use by other traders of ORO (there were many) and the evidence as to the use by other traders of CINQUE STELLE (there were none). This is perhaps because the test is what other traders might want to do, not what they have actually done. So while proof of actual use is convincing proof of a (fulfilled) desire to use, an absence of actual use is equivocal – it may just mean that other traders haven’t as yet decided to use the particular word or words, not that they won’t ever decide to use them.
So it would seem that the Australian coffee world can resume use of the descriptive splendour of the Italian language without fear of trade mark infringement for the time being. The Clark Equipment test as clarified by the Full Court in Modena is also alive and well.
Modena Trading Pty Ltd v Cantarella Bros Pty Ltd  FCAFC 110 (Mansfield, Jacobson & Gilmour JJ)