Jessup J has ruled that MALTITOS may be registered for confectionary in the face of MALTESERS.

Mars had successfully opposed Delfi’s application before the Office on the grounds of its prior registration for MALTESERS and its reputation in Australia.

On the s 44 point, both marks consisted of three syllables and had the word “malt” in common as the first syllable, but the different appearance and sound of the remaining two syllables were sufficiently strong that ordinary purchasers would not be caused to wonder if there was a common trade source. Both parties accepted (apparently on the basis of Delfi’s overseas use) that MALTITOS would be pronounced “toes”. Jessup J was favoured with the expert evidence of a linguist, Ass Prof Cox, including that:

the consonant between the final two syllables is ‘t’, phonetically described as a voiceless alveolar stop sound /t/, whereas for ‘Maltesers’ it is ‘s’ pronounced as /z/, a voiced alveolar fricative sound. The difference between the two sounds /t/ and /z/ is a difference of manner of articulation (stop vs fricative) and also of voicing (voiceless vs voiced). /t/ is a voiceless speech sound whereas /z/ is voiced. These differences are highly functional in English and separate words like ‘seat’ vs ‘seize’, ‘shoot’ vs ‘shoes’.

Jessup J conceded he was not in a position “to engage with her in her field of technical expertise”, but her evidence confirmed his impression as a layperson. In his Honour’s view:

if the notional consumer under contemplation was someone whose eye fell upon the applicant’s mark, in isolation, displayed on a package sitting on a rack or shelf, I am quite unpersuaded that it would, because of the limited similarities between that mark and the respondent’s mark, enter his or her mind that the product in question derived, or might have derived, from the same source as products sold under the latter.

The Bali Bra case [1] notwithstanding, Jessup J did not consider that he was concerned with the potential for sales assistants to mishear the product request across a noisy counter.

Delfi tried to argue that s 60 could be invoked only by unregistered marks, but Jessup J, after some consideration, was not prepared to buy that. Rather, the reputation (if proved) provided the basis for the comparison:

the only respect in which s 60 requires an exercise different from that arising under so much of s 44 as relates to deceptive similarity is that the reputation in Australia of the “other” mark must be the reason why the use of the mark proposed to be registered is likely to deceive or cause confusion. What this means in practice is that the notional consumer of average intelligence thinking of making a purchase by reference to goods in association with which the latter mark is used, or intended to be used, is no longer someone who has had no more than some exposure to the “other” mark: he or she is someone who is assumed to have that level of awareness of that mark as is consistent with the content and extent of the reputation of it.

His Honour accepted that MALTESERS had a widespread, solid reputation. As in the Malt Balls case, however, that in the end told against deception:

with a stronger awareness of the respondent’s mark, I consider that such a consumer would be immediately struck by the differences between the two marks, as discussed above. He or she may observe the limited similarities between the marks and, because the subject of the presumptive interest would be confectionery, may assume that the products were of the same nature as those sold under the respondent’s mark, but, giving the matter a moment’s reflection, would readily conclude that those products were not Maltesers. As I say, the strong reputation of the respondent’s mark would, if anything, make that conclusion a more likely one.

Delfi Chocolate Manufacturing S.A. v Mars Australia Pty Ltd [2015] FCA 1065

  1. The Bali Bra case is not referred to in the judgment but, consistently with Jessup J’s view, Mason J did appear to be concerned with the prospect that the consumer would have misheard what the sales person said over the phone: “No doubt orders are sometimes placed by telephone. And in considering the likely reaction of a customer it is important to take into account, not the person whose knowledge of the two marks and the goods sold under them enables her to distinguish between them, but the person who lacks that knowledge.”  ↩