Science Fiction

Noted science fiction author, Kim Stanley Robinson, imagines a future oral argument trying to patent something in light of recent (US) judicial attempts to clarify business method patenting. Imagine what fun he could have in an imaginary place far far away!

Lid dip: PatentlyO

In the meantime, IPwars is also heading far far way for the holidays. Thank you for reading.

Season greetings! Wishing you a happy, safe and prosperous New Year!

Dallas Buyers Club No 5

Perram J has rejected Dallas Buyers Club’s latest attempt to get permission to send those letters of demand out.

Last time out, Perram J said DBC could get the names and addresses of the 4726 “downloaders”[1] only if it gave undertakings to use the information for the purposes of resolving its infringement allegations. limited the demands for compensation to the retail price of a download and some part of the unrecovered costs of detection and put up a bond of $600,000.

This time round, DBC wanted to claim monetary compensation on a different basis, including additional damages under s 115(4) and restrict the bond to $60,000 as it was only seeking release of details of about 10% of the “downloaders”. It also did not offer up the undertakings.

Perram J told them, no sale; they had their shot at what they wanted in the previous hearing(s). His Honour gave them until 11 February 2016 to comply with his previous orders or he would dismiss the application.

Dallas Buyers Club LLC v iiNet Limited (No. 5) [2015] FCA 1437


  1. By which I really mean the account holders whose accounts the ISPs’ records showed were using the IP addresses at the time of the alleged infringements.  ?

IP Australia’s Myriad Guidelines

IP Australia has published its guidelines for examining whether a patent application claims a manner of manufacture under s 18(1)(a) and (1A)(a) in light of the High Court’s ruling in D’Arcy v Myriad.

According to the guidelines, Examiners will find it useful to ask:

  1. What is the substance of the claim (not merely its form)?
  2. Has the substance of the claim been “made” or changed by man, or is “artificial”?
  3. Does the invention have economic utility?
  4. Does the invention as claimed represent a new class of claim?

In deciding whether the claim is for an established class of invention or a new class of claim, it will not necessarily be relevant that patents have previously been granted for similar subject matter. Examiners are directed to take into account whether the Courts have previously considered the type of subject matter and whether it was rejected or not.

Claims to plants and micro-organisms are not to be considered to fall within a new class merely because they are claims for a plant or micro-organism. Apart from claims to nucleic acid molecules, the guidelines indicate that the Commissioner will consider as excluded subject matter:

• cDNA and synthetic nucleic acids

• Probes and primers

• Isolated interfering/inhibitory nucleic acids,

“where they merely replicate genetic information of a naturally occurring organism”. However, such claims may be patentable where the utility of the invention “lies in genetic information that has been ”made” (e.g. non-naturally occuring chimeric nucleic acid). Other types of biological inventions may also ve patentable where they do not merely replicate the genetic information of a natually occurring organism.

The guidelines should appear in the Manual of Practice and Procedure in January 2016.

Another Infringed Innovation Patent And A Delivery Up Question

Product Management Group (PMG) has lost its appeal from Middleton J’s finding that it infringed Blue Gentian’s innovation patents for a self extending/collapsing garden hose.

The appeal seems like a fairly straightforward application of construction principles and demonstrates, yet again, how slender an innovation need be to secure a monopoly for eight years.

There may, however, be a question for the future whether or not the “substantial contribution” to the working of the “invention” required by s 7(4) must be a positive contribution to the working of the invention.[1]

An interesting point is the Order Middleton J made for delivery up. His Honour did not just require delivery up of PMG’s unsold stock and componentry. In addition, by paragraph 3(c), his Honour ordered that PMG should contact the customers to which it hold sold the infringing products, offer them a refund and request that they return the products to PMG.

Nicholas J considered this travelled well beyond the purpose of an order for delivery up. His Honour considered that purpose was to relieve the infringer from the “temptation” of further infringing and so, in that sense, was in aid of the injunction. Nicholas J considered that an order requiring a party to try and retrieve property to which it no longer had any legal title could not fairly be described as in aid of delivery up and so would have set aside that part of the Order.

In circumstances where the Court had not been favoured with any oral submissions and only brief mention in written submissions, however, Kenny and Beach JJ were not persuaded that his Honour’s discretion miscarried and their Honours would let it stand in this case. However, they warned:

But our rejection of this ground should not be taken as any endorsement of this form of order for the future. We doubt that such an order would ordinarily be appropriate. We do not need to comment further.

This may pose an interesting dilemma for “convicted” infringers: object to such an order or, as the purchasers’ use of an infringing product would itself be an infringement, risk having the successful plaintiff require discovery and then suing the individual customers for infringement too.[2]

Product Management Group Pty Ltd v Blue Gentian LLC [2015] FCAFC 179


  1. Compare Kenny and Beach JJ at [178] to Nicholas J at [284].  ?
  2. On the approach taken vy Yates J in Winnebago (No 4). Of course, the plaintiff might not be willing to pursue individual purchasers of garden hoses, but what about Bunnings and the other hardware chains?  ?

Winnebago the damages or a reasonable royalty Down Under

You will remember that Winnebago (USA) successfully sued the Knotts for passing off in Australia but (in large part because of Winnebago (USA)’s delay in asserting its rights) the Knotts had developed their own reputation in Australia and so could continue using WINNEBAGO here provided it was used with an appropriate disclaimer (here and here). The damages were to be assessed.

Now we know what the damages will be:

Knott Investments, the company that built and supplied the “Australian” Winnebagoes will have to pay a royalty calculated at 1% of its sales on all sales made from 6 years before the proceedings were started until the disclaimer was put in place.

The dealers who sold the vehicles will also have to pay a royalty of 1% on their sales in addition, but only from the date proceedings were actually commenced.

Winnebago (USA) claimed damages on the basis of a reasonable royalty. The respondents resisted. It was clear that Winnebago (USA) would never have granted them a licence and, equally, they would never have taken a licence from Winnebago (USA). In those circumstances, the respondents said, the court could not impose a royalty on the basis of an assumed agreement that would never have happened:

the applicant suffered no damage by way of a lost royalty (in effect, no lost “sale”) because the applicant would not have licensed the respondents to use the Winnebago marks in the first place.

Yates J rejected that defence and held that compensation was required to be paid on what has been called “the user principle”:

Under this principle, a plaintiff is entitled to recover, by way of damages, a reasonable sum from a defendant who has wrongfully used the plaintiff’s property. The plaintiff may not have suffered actual loss from the use, and the wrongdoer may not have derived actual benefit. Nevertheless, under the principle, the defendant is obliged to pay a reasonable sum for the wrongful use. The reasonable sum is sometimes described as a reasonable rent, hiring fee, endorsement fee, licence fee or royalty (amongst other expressions), depending on the property involved and the nature of the wrongful use.

Black CJ and Jacobson J in a copyright case in the Full Court had appeared to reject the application of that principle.[1] Yates J, however, considered the principle could and should be adopted in the context of passing off (and trade mark infringement) on the basis of a long line of English and Australian cases applying the principle in the context of trespass to real property, conversion, detinue and intellectual property infringements.[2] Otherwise, the respondents would escape liability for damages as a result of the very thing that made their conduct unlawful: the lack of consent by Winnebago (USA).

The respondents also argued that no damages should be payable because, as the Full Court found, they had a concurrent reputation in WINNEBAGO in Australia. Yates J rejected this too. His Honour considered that the existence of concurrent reputations – one which did not require a disclaimer and one which did – meant there was value in being able to use the reputation without any disclaimer. Yates J arrived at the royalty of 1% on the basis that Winnebago (USA) had granted a licence to an Australian licensee at that rate and, while various other considerations were entered into, that was an appropriate round number.

Three points in relation to the dealers.

Yates J rejected their first argument: that they should not be liable for anything as the supplier, Knott Investments would already have paid a royalty. However, the dealers’ sales of vehicles in passing off were separate wrongs to those of the manufacturer and so required separate compensation.

Secondly, while Winnebago (USA) did not submit evidence about what damages the dealers’ actions caused, it claimed a royalty of 4 or 5%. Yates J considered, in the absence of evidence, that a royalty of 1% would be consistent with that imposed on the supplier.

Thirdly, the dealers (and for that matter, the Knotts) would be liable for damages for passing off only where they acted with fraud: that is, with knowledge of Winnebago (USA)’s reputation in Australia and its desire to assert those rights here. In the absence of evidence avout what the dealers knew, Yates J considered that they could only be held to have acted with fraud once proceedings were initiated:

The difficulty for the applicant is that the evidence does not address the question of what the dealers knew or thought. Even if they might have been aware of the applicant’s activities in the United States or in other overseas markets, it does not follow that they also understood that the applicant had a reputation of any significance in Australia, let alone one that was capable of legal protection, or, more importantly, that, prior to the commencement of this proceeding, the applicant was claiming that it had rights in Australia in respect of the Winnebago marks and that the commercial activities of the first respondent and its dealers constituted an infringement of those rights. However, from the time of commencement of this proceeding, when the applicant’s claims were exposed, the position of the second to twelfth respondents was different. From that time, they were on notice of the applicant’s claimed rights. Their persistence in using the Winnebago marks after this notice constitutes fraud in the relevant sense.

The need to show “fraud” is another difference between the tort of passing off and the action for misleading or deceptive conduct under the Australian Consumer Law.

Winnebago Industries Inc v Knott Investments Pty Ltd (No 4) [2015] FCA 1327


  1. Aristocrat Technologies Australia Pty Ltd v DAP Services (Kempsey) Pty Ltd (2007) 157 FCR 564; [2007] FCAFC 40 (Aristocrat) at [27]-[28].  ?
  2. One of those cases was Bunnings Group Ltd v CHEP Australia Ltd (2011) 82 NSWLR 420; [2011] NSWCA 342, in which the leading judgment was given by Allsop P, now the present Chief Judge.  ?

Commonwealth can sue on the undertaking as to damages

The Full Court (Dowsett, Kenny and Nicholas JJ) has upheld the Commonwealth’s power to sue for damages on the undertaking as to damages given by Sanofi and Wyeth when obtaining interlocutory injunctions against generic suppliers.

Sanofi sued Apotex (then called GenRX) for patent infringement when the latter sought to registration in the Therapeutic Goods Register of drug containing clopidogrel. Sanofi obtained an interlocutory injunction preventing the listing and sale of Apotex’ product, on terms of the “usual undertaking as to damages”. Thus, as a condition of obtaining the interlocutory relief, Sanofi undertook to the court:

(a) to submit to such order (if any) as the Court may consider to be just for the payment of compensation, to be assessed by the Court or as it may direct, to any person, whether or not a party, adversely affected by the operation of the interlocutory order or undertaking or any continuation (with or without variation) thereof; and

(b) to pay the compensation referred to in (a) to the person there referred to. (emphasis supplied)

After the trial judge found Sanofi’s patent valid and infringed, the Full Court on appeal held that the patent was invalid. Ultimately, the High Court refused special leave.[1]

The Commonwealth, which was not a party to either the Sanofi or Wyeth proceedings is now claiming compensation from Sanofi and Wyeth under the “undertaking as to damages”. In broad terms, it says it suffered losses because the price it paid under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme was higher than it would have been if the generic parties had not been prevented from listing and selling their products by the interlocutory injunctions.

Sanofi and Wyeth argued that sections 26B, 26C, 26D of the Therapeutic Goods Act[2] precluded the Commonwealth from claiming under the usual undertaking as to damages. The Full Court held, however, that these provisions were ancillary or additional to the Court’s powers under the undertaking. They did not provide an exhaustive code which excluded the operation of the undertaking.

Dowsett J delivered a concurring judgment, suggesting at [20] that some restriction on the scope of the usual undertaking should have been sought and then questioning, if such a restriction had been sought, whether it would have been appropriate to grant the interlocutory injunction:

…. As the Commonwealth was not a party to the proceedings in which the undertakings were given, they were presumably not extracted at its request. I infer that the Court extracted the undertakings. It is not suggested that it lacked the power to do so in order to protect the interests of identified or unidentified third parties. In submitting that the Commonwealth may not recover other than pursuant to s 26C, the Sanofi and Wyeth parties effectively seek to resile from their undertakings. It may be simply too late for them to do so. Any limitations upon the undertakings ought to have been sought at the time at which they were given. The Court would then have had to consider whether such limited undertakings were sufficient to justify the grant of the interlocutory injunctions. The Commonwealth has not put its case in that way. However, in any event, I see no basis for limiting the Commonwealth’s right to seek to enforce the undertakings to the extent that it benefits under them.

If only the regime under sections 26B, 26C, 26D had been available, it looks like Sanofi’s and Wyeth’s exposure would have been limited to situations where they had given false or misleading certificates or did not have “reasonable prospects of success”.[3]

Commonwealth of Australia v Sanofi (formerly Sanofi-Aventis) [2015] FCAFC 172


  1. Similarly, in the Wyeth proceedings an interlocutory injunction was granted on the usual undertaking as to damages, but the patent was ultimately found to be invalid.  ?
  2. These provisions were introduced as part of the package implementing the Australia – United States Free Trade Agreement relating particularly to the 5 year data exclusivity for pharmaceutical test data.  ?
  3. Defined in s 26C(4) as “(4) For the purpose of paragraph (3)(b), proceedings have reasonable prospects of success if: (a) the second person had reasonable grounds in all the circumstances known to the second person, or which ought reasonably to have been known to the second person (in addition to the fact of grant of the patent), for believing that he or she would be entitled to be granted final relief by the court against the person referred to in paragraph (1)(a) for infringement by that person of the patent; and (b) the second person had reasonable grounds in all the circumstances known to the second person, or which ought reasonably to have been known to the second person (in addition to the fact of grant of the patent), for believing that each of the claims, in respect of which infringement is alleged, is valid; and
    (c) the proceedings are not otherwise vexatious or unreasonably pursued.”  ?

What do you get when you are granted an exclusive territory

This case is a franchising case, but it explores the legal consequences of granting an exclusive territory and so should be of interest to IP practitioners too.

Some facts

Spanline carries on a business of providing home additions and extensions such as awnings and patios. It operates nationally through a network of franchisees and sub-franchisees.

In 2001, Spanline appointed RPR as its exclusive franchisee for the South Coast of NSW. RPR was based in Nowra, but its territory also included the Illawarra region and the Southern Highlands. The Southern Highlands were about an hour’s drive from Nowra, but much closer to the Illawarra region.

In 2004, RPR granted Marmax a sub-franchise for the Illawarra region. That was in anticipation of events which finally took place in 2005. In 2005, RPR sold its business in the Illawarra region to Marmax and Spanline granted a new, exclusive franchise over the Illawarra region to Marmax.

In 2007, Marmax began selling to customers in the Southern Highlands. The first time RPR complained to Spanline, Spanline did nothing. It said it could find nothing amiss although, if it had conducted even a cursory search of its database, it would have found that Marmax was indeed selling in RPR’s territory.

Spanline met with Marmax in July 2009 and orally approved Marmax continuing to service customers from the Southern Highlands. Spanline considered this was in its commercial interests as RPR refused to open an office in the Southern Highlands and Spanline was concerned business from potential customers in the Southern Highlands would be lost because they would not travel to Nowra.

After yet further complaints from RPR, Spanline sent Marmax a letter in September 2009 telling it not to sell in RPR’s territory. But Marmax’ subsequent telephone call left Marmax with the understanding that it could continue in line with the July 2009 oral permission.

An attempt to negotiate a co-existence arrangement over the Southern Highlands failed as RPR would not agree to the proposed reduction in its exclusivity and Spanline authorised Marmax to continue.

The result

The trial judge had awarded RPR damages from both Spanline and Marmax: Spanline for breach of the exclusivity arrangements in the franchise agreement; Marmax for breach of the terms of the sale of business agreement.

The Full Court allowed Marmax’s appeal. The Full Court also partially allowed Spanline’s appeal, finding it liable to pay damages only for sales by Marmax in RPR’s territory after Spanline gave Marmax oral permission to continue selling in the Southern Highlands.

What kind of exclusivity was the exclusive territory

Spanline first argued that the grant of the exclusive right “to conduct the Franchised Business in the [Franchised] Territory” was just a promise to be the only franchisee located in the territory and not directed to the location of customers. The Full Court agreed with the trial judge that the exclusivity extended to the customers. The definition of Franchised Business extended to installation of the products. Also, the nature of the business was supplying and installing products in retail customers’ homes.

What did the promise of exclusivity mean

The trial judge had found Spanline in breach of its obligations to RPR implied by the grant of exclusivity both by failing to undertake even the most rudimentary investigation of RPR’s initial complaints as well as by failing to stop Marmax from selling into RPR’s territory, both before and after Spanline gave Marmax oral permission to sell to customers in the Southern Highlands and authorising Marmax to sell in RPR’s exclusive territory.

The promise of exclusivity imported with it implied terms of good faith and fair dealing and an implied term to co-operate: to do all things necessary to ensue each party got the benefit of its bargain. In doing so, the trial judge had relied on Far Horizons Pty Ltd v McDonald’s Australia Ltd [2000] VSC 310 and similar cases.

The Full Court did not disagree that those terms should be implied. Instead, it disagreed about their content. In essence, the Full Court held that the grant of an exclusive territory required Spanline only to refrain from taking positive steps to derogate from the grant of exclusivity or to authorise someone else to invade the territory. The Full Court said:

[139] …. In our view, the content of the obligation to do all things necessary to give the other party the benefit of the contract required Spanline to refrain from taking positive steps that would infringe upon or cause a third party to infringe upon the exclusive franchise granted to RPR. To require Spanline to do more, such as to take positive steps to investigate possible incursions by Marmax upon the rights of RPR, would exceed the requirement of necessity. It could not be said that the absence of a requirement to investigate such conduct would render the RPR Franchise agreement nugatory, worthless or seriously undermined.

[140] For the same reasons, we also do not accept RPR’s contention that Spanline was under an obligation to take steps to enforce its contractual rights against Marmax for the benefit of RPR.

At [150], the Full Court held that the implied duty to act in good faith did not require anything more than the implied duty to co-operate.

What did this mean? First, Spanline had no obligation to do anything to protect RPR or to try to stop Marmax invading RPR’s territory. (Any of us who might have thought that setting up a network of exclusive territories might have implied such an obligation would apparently be wrong.)

As already noted, therefore, Spanline was only liable to RPR for damages on sales[1] made by Marmax in RPR’s territory after Spanline gave Marmax permission to carry on. Spanline was not liable for sales while it was just “sitting on its hands”.

If you were acting for a franchisee, or an exclusive licensee, of a territory which did not extend to the whole of Australia, you would want to consider bargaining for a term requiring the franchisor (or licensor) to do “something”.

In this connection, the Full Court expressed an additional concern about implying a term that Spanline take reasonable steps to ensure RPR’s territory remained exclusive. It was likely to be uncertain in scope:

[141] …. The mere fact that the term operates by reference to a criterion of reasonableness is not the problem: it is that the contract does not supply any means for determining what is reasonable in the circumstances. It was argued that Spanline’s obligation to RPR could extend to termination of the contractual relationship between Spanline and Marmax. How the interests of Spanline and Marmax would be taken into account in determining whether such a step would be “reasonable” was not explored.

Something rather explicit would seem to be required

Why didn’t Marmax have to pay damages

RPR argued that Marmax was also in breach of both the original sub-franchise agreement and the sale of business agreement.

The Full Court held that the initial sub-franchise agreement between RPR and Marmax had been terminated once RPR and Marmax entered into the sale of business agreement and Spanline granted exclusivity over the Illawarra region to Marmax (with RPR’s knowledge and consent).

The Full Court accepted that a restraint on Marmax selling in RPR’s (retained) territory would not have been an unreasonable restraint of trade. However, the restraints imposed in the sale of business agreement did not extend to Marmax’ activities.

The sale of business agreement did include a restraint clause which seems fairly typical:

Except as permitted by clause 3.10, Marmax must not, and must ensure that each of its affiliates does not, during each restraint period in the South Coast Franchise Area:

(a) promote, participate in, finance, operate or engage in (whether on its own account or in partnership or by joint-venture); or

(b) be concerned or interested (directly or indirectly, or through any interposed body corporate, trust, principal, agent, shareholder, beneficiary, or as an independent contract, consultant or in any other capacity) in,

any of the Restrained Businesses.

For this purpose, “Restrained Business” was defined to mean:

a business, or operation:

(i) similar to the Spanline franchise businesses such as the Business; or

(ii) competitive with the Spanline franchise businesses such as the Business; or

(iii) supplying similar products and services to the Spanline franchise businesses such as the Business.

As best I can make out, this clause did not provide any protection to RPR because Marmax was conducting a Spanline franchise business, not a competing or similar business. There was also a “non-interference” clause:

On and from the Completion Date, [RPR] must not, and must ensure that each of its affiliates does not, during each restraint period:

a) Solicit, canvas or secure the custom of a person who is at the Completion Date, or was within 1 year before the Adjustment Date, a customer of the Business or [RPR] in connection with the Business;

b) Represent itself as being in any way connected with, interested in or associated with the Business (except as its proprietor before the Completion Date) or any business conduct by Marmax; or

c) Solicit, employ or engage the services of any transferring employee or any other person who becomes an employee of Marmax in connection with the Business.

The remarkable feature about the non-interference clause is that it was one way. There was no reciprocal obligation on Marmax not to interfere with RPR’s continuing business.

As a result, Marmax was not in breach of any contractual obligations it owed to RPR and the award of damages for making sales in RPR’s territories could not be sustained.

Marmax Investments Pty Ltd v RPR Maintenance Pty Ltd [2015] FCAFC 127 (Middleton, Foster and Gleeson JJ)


  1. Strictly speaking, damages for the loss of the opportunity to make those sales.  ?

When can an authorised user sue

Following on from my earlier post about the Trade Marks Act 1995 and repackaged goods, it is worth noting that there was also a dispute about the power of an authorised user to bring proceedings under s 26(1)(b) of the Act.

Amongst other things, section s 26(1)(b) provides:

Powers of authorised user of registered trade mark

(1) Subject to any agreement between the registered owner of a registered trade mark and an authorised user of the trade mark, the authorised user may do any of the following:

….

(b) the authorised user may (subject to subsection (2)) bring an action for infringement of the trade mark:

   (i) at any time, with the consent of the registered owner; or

  (ii) during the prescribed period, if the registered owner refuses to bring such an action on a particular occasion during the prescribed period; or

  (iii) after the end of the prescribed period, if the registered owner has failed to bring such an action during the prescribed period;

Scandinavian Tobacco Group Eersel, as the owner of the registered trade marks, had brought the proceeding, but it was joined as an applicant by its local distributor as an authorised user. Trojan argued that the authorised user had no standing to sue in this case. This was not an argument about whether the local distributor was an authorised user. Rather, it was whether or not the formal requirements of s 26(1)(b) had been met.

Allsop CJ confirmed that s 26(1)(b) allowed an authorised user to bring proceedings for trade mark infringement concurrently with the trade mark owner. It was not necessary for the authorised user to call on the registered owner to bring proceedings and then wait 60 days for the owner to fail to take any action.

The power of an authorised user under the Act to bring proceedings is subject to any agreement with the registered owner to the contrary. In that connection Cl 8 of the relevant distribution agreement is in fairly typical terms:

Nothing in this Agreement shall be interpreted or otherwise construed as giving the Distributor any rights to any of the Supplier Trade Marks. The Distributor shall inform the Supplier of any Infringements of the Supplier Trade Marks of which the Distributor becomes aware. Prosecutions for infringements shall be at the Supplier’s discretion and cost, but the Distributor shall offer all reasonable assistance. Any damages received shall be credited to the Supplier.

Allsop CJ considered this did not exclude the authorised user’s powers under s 26(1)(b) but, if it did, his Honour would have inferred the registered owner had given consent in the circumstances of this case: both the registered owner and the authorised user had issued the proceedings as joint applicants.

The question of the local distributor’s standing as an authorised user to bring proceedings is not necessarily an arid debate in cases where the right owner is also an applicant. It might have affected how much damages could be recovered for any infringement by Trojan.

There are of course a number of ways damages could be calculated (assuming damages and not an account of profits were pursued). One way of calculating such damages is the amount of profits that would have been made on sales lost as a result of the infringing activity. If s 123 had not provided Trojan with a defence and the applicants had pursued damages for lost sales, the quantum as measured by any profits lost by reason of the (hypothetical) infringement would probably include the local distributor’s “lost” profits only if it was an authorised user and entitled to join in the proceeding. If STG, as the owner of the registered trade marks, was the only applicant, its damages would probably have been limited only to the profits it lost on sales to its distributor and probably would not include profits on sales “lost” by the distributor.[1]

Scandinavian Tobacco Group Eersel BV v Trojan Trading Company Pty Ltd [2015] FCA 1086[2]


  1. The qualification “probably” is necessary in light of the Full Court’s decision in a copyright case: Insight SRC IP Holdings Pty Ltd v Australian Council for Educational Research Ltd [2013] FCAFC 62  ?
  2. STG’s appeal from the principal decision was heard by the Full Court on 25 November.  ?

Parallel imports – repackaging Down Under

Scandinavian Tobacco Group Eersel (STG) is the world’s largest manufacturer of cigars and pipe tobacco. Three of its brands include CAFE CREME, LA PAZ and HENRY WINTERMANS; each of which is registered in Australia as a trade mark for tobacco products.

Trojan bought up stocks of genuine STG cigars in Europe in their original packaging. STG had placed the relevant trade marks on the cigars or their packaging.

The Tobacco Plain Packaging Act, however, precludes the sale of such cigars in Australia in their packaging. Trojan took the cigars out of the packaging which STG sold them in and put them in the drab, khaki packaging with gruesome pictures and health warnings as required under the TPPA. It also placed on the new packaging the relevant trade mark in the plain font and type size in the limited places that the TPPA allows.

STG sued for infringement unsuccessfully. Trojan did use the trade marks as trade marks within the meaning of s 120, but the defence provided by s 123(1) applied.

Allsop CJ held that use of the trade mark by an importer on genuine goods was use of the trade mark “as a trade mark” and so would infringe if done without consent or other defence. While appearing to express some doubts, his Honour considered that 4 Full Courts[1] required him to find that the 1995 Act changed the law so that Champagne Heidsieck[2] was no longer good law. Accordingly, subject to the s 123 defence, Trojan would have infringed.

Section 123(1) provides:

In spite of [section 120][s120], a person who uses a registered trade mark in relation to goods that are similar to goods in respect of which the trade mark is registered does not infringe the trade mark if the trade mark has been applied to, or in relation to, the goods by, or with the consent of, the registered owner of the trade mark.

This seems like a pretty straightforward application of s 123(1). STG argued, however, that the application of the trade mark which Trojan had to show STG’s consent was the application to the plain packaging by Trojan, not the application of the trade mark to the original packaging by STG.

Allsop CJ short circuited that argument. His Honour got STG to agree that a retailer could rely on s 123(1) to avoid infringement if it printed the trade mark on a purchase receipt. One would hope that proposition was not controversial. At [82], his Honour developed the ramifications:

During argument, I posited to Mr Heerey, counsel for STG, an example: a tie with
trade mark Z woven into the tie, in a pink box with trade mark Z embossed on the box. Both trade marks have been applied by the registered owner. The shop owner advertises his stock of Z ties with a sign outside bearing trade mark Z and invoices customers with a document bearing the same mark. Mr Heerey accepted that there would be no infringement in the use of the advertising and invoices even though such use would be use as a trade mark because of the operation of s 123: Facton Ltd v Toast Sales Group Pty Ltd [2012] FCA 612; 205 FCR 378 at 398–404 [112]-[145]. (It is to be noted, and Trojan emphasised this point in its submissions, that Middleton J in Facton said at [132] that “a natural reading of the words used in s 123 suggest that the only time at which the issue of consent is to be assessed is the time of the application of the trade mark to goods.”) I then posited a change to the facts. The
shop owner preferred selling the tie in a blue box (fitting in with a blue theme to his shop) upon which he faithfully and accurately placed the trade mark Z. The tie was taken out of the pink box (which was discarded) and put in the blue box for display and sale. STG submitted that the step of placing the Z trade mark on the blue box would not be protected by s 123, but accepted that the sign and invoices remained protected. That was so, it was submitted, because of an implied consent by the registered owner of the trade mark to the advertising and invoices in the light of the trade mark on the tie. Yet, should the difference be governed by the existence of weaving on the tie? Has not the trade mark already been applied in relation to the good (the tie) by embossing on the pink box?

Allsop CJ considered that the plain, natural meaning of the statutory language led to the answer “Yes” and was to be preferred.

In this case, there was no question about the quality of the goods once Trojan had repackaged them. Section 123(1) arguably does not concern itself with such matters. Nonetheless, the approach under the Australian Act contrasts starkly with the convoluted regime applicable in the EU which even requires the parallel importing repackager to give the trade mark owner advance notice of its nefarious plans.[3]

Scandinavian Tobacco Group Eersel BV v Trojan Trading Company Pty Ltd [2015] FCA 1086


  1. The famous four: Transport Tyre Sales Pty Ltd v Montana Tyres Rims & Tubes Pty Ltd [1999] FCA 329; 93 FCR 421 at 440 [94]; [Paul’s Retail Pty Ltd v Sporte Leisure Pty Ltd [2012] FCAFC 51; 202 FCR 286 at 295 [66]; Paul’s Retail Pty Ltd v Lonsdale Australia Limited [2012] FCAFC 130; 294 ALR 72 at 82 [65] and E & J Gallo Winery v Lion Nathan Australia Pty Ltd [2009] FCAFC 27; 175 FCR 386 at 403–404 [57]- [58]. The two Paul’s Retail cases, of course, did not involve genuine goods and the High Court in Gallo refrained from deciding this point while overtuning the Full Federal Court’s decision.  ?
  2. Champagne Heidsieck et cie Monopole Society Anonyme v Buxton [1930] 1 Ch 330.  ?
  3. See for example Case C–143/00 Boehringer Ingelheim KG v Swingward Ltd and Dowelhurst Ltd [2002] ECR–1 at [61] – [68].  ?