Like MICHIGAN for farm equipment and OXFORD for books, Burley J has ordered that Bohemia Crystal’s trade marks, BOHEMIA and BOHEMIA CRYSTAL be revoked because they are not distinctive of “glassware”.

Bohemia Crystal (BCP) had been formed in 1975 to distribute in Australia Skloexport’s products. Skloexport was the State-owned entity responsible for the export of all crystal and glassware products made in Czechoslovakia. In 1999, Skloexport went into liquidation and BCP took an assignment of its Australian trade marks. The main trade mark BCP used in this period, which had been registered since 1962 was the stylised BOHEMIA Glass mark, TM No. 319701:

Versions of this mark were used with or without the words “Made in Czech Republic” or substituting the word “Glass” for “Crystal”.

On 5 October 2001, BCP applied for and successfully registered BOHEMIA CRYSTAL for glassware and on 2 May 2003 BCP applied for and successfully registered BOHEMIA for glassware.

Host is an importer and supplier of catering goods and equipment in Australia. The business was started in 1999. One range within its 2,500 product lines is its range of glassware sourced from another Czech supplier, Forincorp, marketed under BANQUET BY BOHEMIA [1] or:

Host started importing this line in 2015. BCP made the fateful decision to start proceedings for infringement of its registered trade marks and contravention of the Australian Consumer Law for false and misleading conduct.

Burley J held that BCP’s trade marks lacked any capacity to distinguish and had not been used in such a way as to have acquired secondary meaning for the purposes of s 41(6).[2] Burley J also dismissed BCP’s allegations of misleading or deceptive conduct.

It is not going to be possible in a blog post to do justice to Burley J’s 376 paragraphs. Instead five points particularly caught my eye.

First, Burley J (who was a very experienced intellectual property barrister before his appointment) pointed out that the High Court in Cantarella referenced both ordinary consumers and traders as the criterion for whether or not a sign was inherently adapted to distinguish.

BCP argued that the test focused on what ordinary consumers would think the sign meant. It had found an expert who opined that ordinary members of the public would think “bohemia” was a reference to persons with an artistic or unconventional lifestyle.

After analysing Cantarella from [86] on, his Honour concluded at [93]:[3]

in a case such as the present, it is necessary to consider the ordinary signification of the words “Bohemia” and “Bohemia Crystal” in the context of the “target audience”, being traders and consumers of the relevant goods, to determine whether at the relevant dates other traders might legitimately desire to use these words or something similar in connection with their goods, for the ordinary signification which they possess. …. (emphasis supplied)

Here, despite the evidence of BCP’s principle witness, the evidence was largely one way. It was beyond dispute that for many centuries the geographic region known as “Bohemia” which is now in the Czech Republic had a strong reputation for producing high quality crystal and glassware. There was evidence that between at least four and ten different manufacturers used the term “Bohemia” at an important annual glassware trade show to signify the geographic origins of their products. There was also evidence from a number of dealers that the term signified to the public glassware originating from the Bohemia region. BCP’s own registered user agreements for the use of Skloexport’s trade marks had also required it to promote its products as from the geographic region, Bohemia.

Burley J concluded that other traders who had glassware manufactured in the region formerly known as Bohemia legitimately and honestly wanted to use that word to describe the geographic origins of their products. The fact that Bohemia was no longer a separate country (and had not been since the World War I) and not even the contemporary name of the region was not significant.[4]

Second, Burley J found that the evidence of use of the BOHEMIA and BOHEMIA CRYSTAL did not establish that those terms had been used by BCP as trade marks or in such a way as to have acquired secondary meaning. There were three aspects to this conclusion.

Following BP v Woolworths, promotion and use is not enough. It had to be shown that the signs as registered had been used in some way to identify the signs as being trade marks.

Next, for the most part the relevant evidence showed that what BCP had been using as a trade mark was Skloexport’s composite mark, not the terms as registered. This was not use of either trade mark as registered. Moreover it was the combination of the elements in the signs as a whole which comprised the distinctiveness. These signs should not be dissected into their component parts:

228 I have some difficulty with the proposition that the words “Bohemia” or “Bohemia Crystal” should in this context be regarded as having separate trade mark signification beyond the combination in which they appear in the composite marks described above. In my view, it is the combination of elements that is distinctive. The trade mark should be viewed as a whole and not dissected into parts. Although this is likely to be a matter of fact for each case, it is notable that several cases have cautioned against the proposition that separate elements should be so distilled; see Diamond T Motor Car Company [1921] 2 Ch 583 at 588, Fry Consulting Pty Ltd v Sports Warehouse Inc (No 2) [2012] FCA 81; (2012) 201 FCR 565 at [61], [63].

229 To my eye, the whole of the 701 mark is to be regarded as creating a complicated image that taken collectively represents a sign, or badge of origin. I do not think that the elements within it may be dissected or that they would be dissected by an ordinary consumer of goods within the relevant classes. In any event, I consider that the words “Bohemia Crystal” and “Made in Czech Republic” within the 701 mark tend to reinforce the descriptive, geographical signification of those words. ….

The third factor is the way that evidence was advanced did not help BCP’s case. A lot of the evidence was vague, or general, rather than specific to what needed to be proved here: use of the signs as trade marks before the filing date. In this respect, his Honour’s discussion will repay careful study as it is not uncommon to see evidence prepared for the Office suffering from similar problems.

Third, BCP did not demonstrate any sufficient reason why its trade marks should not be removed from the Register. Burley J accepted that, Host having established the marks were invalidly registered, BCP bore the onus of satisfying the Court that there was sufficient reason not to order cancellation.

Here, the evidence did not establish that BCP had acquired distinctiveness in its signs. Importantly, allowing BCP to keep its registrations would give it an unfair advantage. At [248], his Honour explained:

…. The presence of the existing ground of revocation via the operation of subsection 88(2)(a) and s 41 indicates an intention on the part of the legislature to ensure that historical registrations should not remain on the Register where they should not have been granted in the first place. In the present case, to permit such a course would advantage the unmeritorious registrant who has incorrectly had the benefit of the monopoly since the relevant dates. BCP is able to apply to register the Bohemia marks now, should it choose to do so.

Of course, if it were to do so, it would run the risk of other traders wishing to use the terms opposing (if the Registrar got suckered into accepting the applications in the first place).

Fourth, if his Honour had not found BCPs trade marks invalidly registered, Host would have infringed. Its attempt to rely on s 122(1)(b) would have failed. This part of the case essentially turned on Host’s use being BANQUET by Bohemia (emphasis supplied) rather than BANQUET from Bohemia.

Burley J accepted that s 122 could be invoked to protect trade mark use, not just descriptive use. However, Host’s form of use showed that Host was trying to assert origin in some particular trade source rather than some geographical origin. At [301]:

…. Ms Flint and Mr Sullivan adopted this language, notwithstanding the obvious difficulty with the perception of “by” and with no knowledge of either BCP or the Bohemia marks. However, I find that they did not do so for the purpose of using “Bohemia” to designate the geographical origin of the goods, but to designate the trade origin of the goods lying in a particular entity (which was ultimately Forincorp). Accordingly, the use does not fall within the defence ….

Fifth, BCP’s allegations of misleading or deceptive conduct also failed. A number of factors contributed to this including the particular trade marks BCP had actually used and the good old-fashioned Hornsby Building Information Centre proposition.[5] In contrast to the trade mark case, in addition, it was highly significant that Host’s market and BCP’s market were quite different. BCP’s market was member of the general public looking for premium quality products. Host’s customers, however, were cafes, restaurants, pubs, clubs, community groups and the like who were cost conscious but attended to their purchases with considerable care. So, for example, at [370]:

the typical reasonable consumer is most likely to perceive the October 2015 catalogue use to represent that the manufacturer or producer of the glassware is an entity known as “Banquet by Bohemia” or “Bohemia”, there is no more than a remote prospect that reasonable customers are likely to consider that the goods offered in the catalogue are offered with the sponsorship or approval of BCP or are offered by Host with the approval of BCP or that the Banquet products emanate from BCP. First, I do not consider that the typical Host customer who encounters this publication would be likely to be aware of BCP. Secondly, I consider that any Host customers who are aware of BCP would understand it to be a retailer of a range of glassware products sold under a range of different brands. Thirdly, to the extent that such customers perceive that BCP has a trade connection with products that it sells, those customers are likely to do so by reference to the common use of the 701 mark or the modified 701 mark. Without the presence of that mark, in my view they are unlikely to consider that the word “Bohemia” as it appears in the impugned uses connotes a connection or association with BCP. Needless to say, no such mark appears in the October 2015 catalogue. Fourthly, such customers would also be influenced by the geographical nature of the term and the material differences between the Host and BCP products such as price, quantity and quality. ….

Bohemia Crystal Pty Ltd v Host Corporation Pty Ltd [2018] FCA 235

  2. Given the filing dates of BCP’s trade marks, the original form of s 41 applied.  ?
  3. See also [153] – [155].  ?
  4. At [161], Burley J pointed out that PERSIA in the Persian Fetta case and Peking and Ceylon still retained their signification as place names.  ?
  5. If you are going to use a descriptive expression, you have to accept a certain degree of confusion is inevitable.  ?