The Full Federal Court has held that the licensor must actually exercise control over the licensee for a trade mark licence to be a valid licence.
The decision is part of a long running global battle between WILD TURKEY and WILD GEESE. The WILD TURKEY interests own and use WILD TURKEY around the world for bourbon whiskey; the WILD GEESE interests use, or want to use, WILD GEESE around the world for Irish whiskey. Instead of the usual battle about who was first to file and whether or not WILD TURKEY was confusingly similar to WILD GEESE or vice versa, there was an unusual twist in this fight: WILD TURKEY tried an end run, tacking on to a registration for WILD GEESE WINES.
A Mr O’Sullivan QC (and his partners) had established a winery in South Australia under the name WILD GEESE WINES (WGW) in 2000. In due course, WGW set out to register their trade mark. However, the WILD GEESE interests had already registered their trade mark in Australia for whiskey. It was cited against the WGW application and in 2005, WGW brought an application against the WILD GEESE interests’ registration to remove it for non-use. The WILD TURKEY interests had also brought a non-use action against the WILD GEESE interests’ registration.
Mr O’Sullivan (and partners) quickly came to the realisation that they did not to become embroiled in the intergalactic war being waged between WILD TURKEY and WILD GEESE whiskey. Instead, in 2007 WGW assigned its trade mark application and the benefit of its non-use application to the WILD TURKEY interests in return for an exclusive licence to use the trade mark in Australia for wine.
The non-use applications against the WILD GEESE interests’ trade mark was successful and the (now) WILD TURKEY interests registered the WILD GEESE WINES trade mark for wine and spirits that WGW had assigned to them.
In a case of sauce for the goose potentially being sauce also for the turkey, the WILD GEESE interests then brought an application to remove the WGW trade mark for non-use. The WILD TURKEY interests sought to defend that claim on the basis that the use of the trade mark by WGW was authorised use under the Act and so constituted use in the relevant period by the WILD TURKEY interests as registered owner sufficient to defeat the non-use application.
As the removal application by the WILD GEESE interests was filed on 27 September 2010, the three year period in which the WILD TURKEY interests had to show use as a trade mark in good faith ran from 27 August 2007 to 27 August 2010.
Unfortunately for the WILD TURKEY interests, there were a few wrinkles.
WGW produced a merlot under its trade mark in 2004. Due to adverse climate conditions, it did not produce another vintage until 2011. However, wine from the 2004 vintage was for sale (and was sold) in relatively small batches during the non-use period.
Mr O’Sullivan (and his partners) realised that a valid trade mark licence required that the licensee’s use be under the licensor’s control. To that end, Mr O’Sullivan proposed quality control ‘conditions’ for inclusion in the licence:
- WGW’s wines had to be of sufficient quality to qualify for an export licence from the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation;
- WGW had to supply samples of their wine to the WILD TURKEY interests if requested to do so.
Notwithstanding this, the licence arrangements did not have any practical effect on WGW’s operations and the WILD TURKEY interests never requested samples until after the WILD GEESE interests brought their non-use application.
The Registrar upheld the removal application. On appeal, Perram J considered that the Full Court’s decision in Yau Entertainment bound him to find that the possibility of control being exercised was sufficient for a valid licence and so, very reluctantly, allowed WILD TURKEY’s appeal.
The Full Court’s decision
All five judges considered that Yau Entertainment did not rule that the potential for the exercise of control by the licensor was sufficient for authorised use under the Act.
Besanko J gave the leading judgment with which Allsop CJ and Nicholas J agreed.
After a detailed review of the legislative history and the case law, Besanko J concluded at  –  that “control” for the purposes of s 8 meant actual control. At :
The meaning of “under the control of” in s 8 is informed by the principle stated by Aickin J in Pioneer, that is to say, that the trade mark must indicate a connection in the course of trade with the registered owner. The connection may be slight, such as selection or quality control or control of the user in the sense in which a parent company controls a subsidiary. It is the connection which may be slight. Aickin J was not saying the selection or quality control or financial control which may be slight. I think the principle stated by Aickin J informs the meaning of “under the control of” ….
His Honour acknowledged at  that whether there was actual control was a question of fact and degree, but “there must be control as a matter of substance.”
His Honour recognised that this conclusion was different to the conclusion reached under the Trade Marks Act 1994 by the House of Lords in Scandecor. That however was because UK law had taken a different course under the influence of EU law. Similarly, the CJEU’s decision in Ideal-Standard was directed to a very different issue: exhaustion of rights.
WILD TURKEY did not actually exercise control
Besanko J went on to find that the WILD TURKEY interests did not actually exercise control over WGW’s use of the trade mark. Bearing in mind that it was a question of fact and degree, his Honour considered the most significant factor was that the licence arrangement had no practical effect on how WGW conducted itself.
The quality control provision in the Licence Agreement is that the wine be of a sufficient standard to obtain the approval for export of the AWBC. There was no evidence of the precise content of that standard. It was not an exacting standard as the approval rate shows (at  above). The primary judge considered that the standard involved no more than a rejection of what he called truly undrinkable wine (at ). It is plain that the standard had no effect on Mr O’Sullivan’s wine making practices. He was interested in making good to high quality wine. At no time during the relevant period did [WILD TURKEY] contact Mr O’Sullivan about the wine he was making or selling or both. There was never any request by [WILD TURKEY] for samples under cl 3.1 or for the product to be supplied to the Australian Wine Research Institute under cl 3.2. [WILD TURKEY] never asked Mr O’Sullivan for any information about the use of the trade marks or Mr O’Sullivan’s wine making operations generally. There was no monitoring by [WILD TURKEY] and nothing to suggest that [WILD TURKEY] took steps to ascertain whether the terms in cl 3 were being complied with. I do not think s 8(3) was satisfied by the existence of cl 3 in the Licence Agreement.
The conditions in the licence that WGW could use the trade mark only for wine it manufactured and only on wines sold in Australia were restrictions, but they were not restrictions that went to the quality of what was produced necessary to maintain the connection in the course of trade with the (putative) licensor. At , his Honour explained:
…. These are restrictions but not ones like controls on quality or manufacturing process which might suggest a connection between the registered owner and the use of the trade marks in connection with the provision or dealing with goods in the course of trade. There is no evidence that [WILD TURKEY] monitored or informed itself as to whether WGW was only selling Australian wine in Australia. These requirements do not give rise to control. WGW was not permitted to amend or abbreviate the trade marks or use them in a scandalous fashion. These provisions seem to me to be standard provisions to be expected in a licence agreement for trade marks. There is no evidence of monitoring by [WILD TURKEY] of these provisions and they do not amount to control within s 8. Finally, the provision about standard liability insurance and [WILD TURKEY]’ ability to terminate the Licence Agreement for a material breach is not sufficient to constitute control under s 8 of the Act.
Thus, the use by WGW was not authorised use and the registrations for WILD GEESE for wines should be removed for non-use.
Some other points
Nicholas J agreed with Besanko J’s reasons. Nicholas J also pointed out that the use which would defeat a non-use application under s 92 had to be use as a trade mark in good faith. His Honour considered that the failure by the WILD TURKEY interests to exercise actual control over WGW would be a factor disqualifying that use from being use in good faith. As this line of attack was not actually argued by the WILD GEESE interests, his Honour did not decide the case on this basis. nonetheless at , his Honour said:
However, in considering whether or not the registered owner has exercised sufficient control over another person’s use of a mark so as to defeat an attack on the grounds of non-use, it is important to recognise that the boundary between “use” and “use in good faith” by the registered owner cannot be defined by a bright line. This is because the question whether there has been any use by the registered owner may itself depend on whether the control it is said to have exercised was real or genuine control as opposed to something that was merely token or colourable.
Allsop CJ agreed with both Besanko J and Nicholas J.
Katzmann J also found that authorised use required the licensor actually to exercise control over the licensee. That had plainly not happened in this case. Her Honour did accept that the WILD TURKEY interests’ request for samples in 2011 (after the non-use period and after the WILD GEESE interests had filed their non-use application) could lead to ‘a “‘retrospectant’ circumstantial inference”’ that control was actually exercised. But the inference that control had not been exercised was also open and, as the WILD TURKEY interests had not shown the inference they contended for was more probable than not, they would still lose. Her Honour pointed out that the wine show medals that the WILD TURKEY interests relied on to support the good quality of the wines did not survive scrutiny. The judges’ comments at the wine shows included:
Very disappointing class with no highlights. From this class it would appear to be unsuited to the region. No wines showed any varietal character or even just brightness of fruit and character.
Perhaps more importantly, there was no evidence that the WILD TURKEY interests had any idea that WGW’s wines had won any medals or whether the wine was of good, bad or indifferent quality.
Greenwood J also concurred in the result, but was not prepared to condemn the licensing arrangements between the WILD TURKEY interests and WGW in the strong terms used by the trial judge.
So, if you are acting for a trade mark licensor, make sure that it actually exercises control over its licensee(s). And, at least when the control relied on is quality control, make sure the control goes to the quality of the goods or services provided under the licence. The use won’t be authorised use otherwise. In that case, the licensor won’t be able to rely on it to defeat a non-use application as in this case. Even if that is not a risk, there will also be the danger that use which is not authorised use may render the trade mark deceptive and liable to cancellation.
If you have a comment or a question, please feel free to post it in the comments section. Or, if you would prefer, email me.
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