Shades of green – 2

Last week’s post looked at the substantive reasons for the rejection of Frucor’s attempt to register a shade of green as a trade mark for energy drinks. There were also a couple of points about grounds of opposition and amendment of applications on appeal worth noting.

image002.jpg

You will remember that Frucor’s application included a green swatch, copied from its New Zealand trade mark application, which was for a different colour than the colour identified by the written description under reg. 4.3(7), Pantone 367c.

What’s a ground of rejection (for opposition purposes)

In addition to the grounds of opposition provided by sections 58 to 62A, as you will know s 57 provides that an application may be opposed on any of the grounds on which the application could have been rejected during examination.

Coca-Cola argued that the inconsistency between the graphic representation of the mark and the written description was itself a ground of rejection.

The basis for this argument was that s 33 required the Registrar to reject an application where the application had not been made in accordance with the Act. It argued the Registrar should have rejected the application because the inconsistency meant that Frucor’s application had not been made in accordance with the Regulations as required by s 27(2)(a).

Yates J rejected this argument at [136]ff. The grounds of rejection contemplated by s 57 were, relevantly, those provided by s 39s 44. (They even appear under a heading “Grounds for rejecting an application”.)

The power to amend

Frucor had not sought to amend its application to substitute a swatch of the correct colour before the Registrar during the examination process. It did apply to amend, however, during the appeal to the Federal Court.

Yates J, citing the approach taken by Heerey J under the Patents Act in Genetics Institute,[1] held that the Court had power to consider the amendment application under s 197 even though there had not been an application to amend before the Registrar. At [195], his Honour explained:[2]

…. I do not see how an appeal to this Court from a decision of the Registrar in opposition to registration proceedings under the Trade Marks Act differs materially from an appeal to this Court from a decision of the Commissioner in opposition to grant proceedings under the Patents Act. Whilst I acknowledge that, in the present case, an application under s 63 of the Trade Marks Act was not before the Registrar, the registrability of the mark the subject of the application was in contest. In the proceedings below, the Registrar had the power to permit the application to be amended subject to the constraints placed upon the exercise of that power by the Act. Given the nature of the “appeal” to this Court, the Court’s power to quell the controversy as to the registrability of the mark—the subject matter of the appeal—cannot be more limited than the Registrar’s power. Further, it cannot matter that the Registrar was not asked to exercise the power of amendment, just as it cannot matter that an opponent might seek to raise additional or new grounds of opposition, or that the parties might seek to adduce different evidence to the evidence that was before the Registrar or raise new or different arguments. The opposition proceeds afresh before the Court on the subject matter that was before the Registrar and is adjudicated upon accordingly.

This practical approach is, with respect, to be welcomed in the interests of efficiency and, if followed, would obviate the need to introduce into the Trade Marks Act a counterpart to s 105(1A) of the Patents Act which, in turn, arose because Courts applying NEB had ruled a Court hearing an appeal from an opposition before the Commissioner had no power to deal with an amendment application.

Even though the power existed, Yates J at [206] denied Frucor’s application to amend. The substitution of “a markedly different green-coloured swatch” for the existing swatch would substantially affect the identity of the trade mark and so was prohibited by s 65(2).

Frucor also made a very late application to the Court to amend the application on the basis of s 65A.

The very late stage of the application and the lack of any utility (as the application would fail the distinctiveness requirement in any event) were fatal.

In contrast to his Honour’s practical approach to allowing consideration of an amendment under s 65 through s 197, however, Yates J considered allowing a party to bring an application under s 65A for the first time in the Court would subvert the statutory process for the consideration of such amendments by the Registrar prescribed by s 65A. Section 65A contemplated publication of the amendment application in the Official Journal and opposition proceedings before the Registrar.

In further contrast to Yates J’s views about s 65A, it may be noted that Courts dealing with amendment applications under s 105(1A) have directed the amendment applicant to publish the application in the Official Journal so that the Commissioner and any potential opponents may intervene.[3] The difference is of course that the Patents Act through s105(1A) expressly tells the Court to deal with the request to amend because of the inefficiencies and delays which had resulted.

As previously noted, it does not appear that Frucor has appealed.

Frucor Beverages Limited v The Coca-Cola Company [2018] FCA 993


  1. Which Yates J noted was apparently endorsed by the Full Court in New England Biolabs at [50].  ?
  2. See also at [200] – [201] and [204].  ?
  3. A recent example is Electronic Tax-Free Shopping Ltd v Fexco Merchant Services (No 3) [2017] FCA 569 at [2] – [3].  ?

Shades of green

Frucor’s attempt to register the colour green as the predominant colour applied to its “V” energy drinks has failed. The colour being applied for was not properly defined and, consequently, had not been used as a trade mark. Yet again, consumer survey results did not help.

image002.jpg

Frucor’s application included a green swatch, copied from its New Zealand trade mark application and, in accordance with reg. 4.3(7) a written description:

The mark consists of the colour green (Pantone 376c), as shown in the representation attached to the application, applied as the predominant colour to the goods, their packaging or labels.

The fundamental problem was that the green colour of the swatch was not Pantone 376c.

What’s the trade mark

Frucor argued that the written description should be given priority over the coloured swatch as a matter of construction of the trade mark application.

Its argument was that any trader looking at the Register would realise the colour swatch was inherently unreliable due to the potential for corruption through scanning, printing etc. Consequently, anyone looking at the Register would recognise that Pantone 376c was the subject colour.

Yates J considered this analysis was informed by Frucor’s subjective intention. The matter needed to be determined objectively. Reg. 4.3 required the application to set out a representation of the mark and, in that context, r. 4.3(7) required a description of the mark “as represented”. It was the representation which was primary. At [122], his Honour concluded:

…. A person inspecting the Register is entitled to act on the assumption that the trade mark applicant’s own depiction of colour in the representation accompanying the application is accurate.

Once the person inspecting the Register appreciated there was an inconsistency between the graphic representation and the description, there was no way to resolve the disconformity.

“V” green had not acquired distinctiveness

As the application was for a single colour mark, this meant that Frucor could not possibly demonstrate its trade mark had acquired distinctiveness under s 41(6)(a), the old (or pre-Raising the Bar version).[1] At [145], his Honour explained:

As the Full Court explained in Woolworths/BP at [79], it is important to appreciate that it is the use of the mark applied for, as a trade mark, that determines what can be registered. In that connection, the Full Court emphasised that the mark that is the subject of the application for registration must conform to the mark that was, for the purposes of s 41(6), used before the filing date. Because, in the present case, the mark is defined ambiguously—its features are uncertain and cannot be determined objectively—it is not possible for Frucor to establish the factual condition of s 41(6)(a) by reference to its own particular use of “V” Green. It follows that, for that reason alone, registration should be refused in the present case.

Yates J would have rejected the application even if one assumed there was no ambiguity and the colour claimed was Pantone 376c.

Yates J accepted that Frucor’s use of “V” green was substantial, consistent and conspicuous. At [163], his Honour had “no doubt that … those familiar with Frucor’s “V” energy drinks would have associated “V” Green as the colour of Frucor’s core energy drink product.” (emphasis supplied)

Yates J held, however, that this extensive use and recognition was not use as a trade mark.[2] First, at [164] the “consistent presence” and “dominating display” of the “V” logo was what consumers would recognise as performing the function of the badge of origin for the goods.

Accepting that there could be more than one trade mark for a product, the second consideration was the role colour played in the soft drink market including energy drinks, soft drinks, sports drinks, fruit juices and bottled water.

Packaging and labels in this field are often brightly coloured. Soft drink producers used colour to denote a range of things: sometimes product flavour, more generally some “varietal characteristic”. Frucor itself had different varieties of “V” which were presented in different liveries (scroll down): red for berry flavoured, silver for sugarfree, black and also a yellow in addition to “V” green which was reserved for the “hero” of the range. So at [166]:

…. Although Frucor’s use of “V” Green was pervasive and no doubt fundamental to its whole marketing strategy, it was, nonetheless, reminiscent of its core product. In this way, Frucor’s use of “V” Green was essentially descriptive, not distinctive in the trade mark sense. It denoted the core product in the “V” energy drink range. I am not persuaded that, somehow, consumers would understand that colour in relation to the core product was being used differently to colour in relation to other varieties within the “V” energy drink range, or any differently from how colour was and is used descriptively across the range of non-alcoholic beverages sold through trade channels such as supermarkets and convenience stores.

So at [167], even though more than one trade mark could be used on any given product, the “V” green colour did not function as a trade mark.

What the market survey didn’t prove

Frucor’s evidence from a market research consultant based on two surveys did not help. His evidence showed, for example, that some 77% of the survey respondents identified Pantone 376c with a brand of energy drink and and 85% of those identified the drink as Frucor’s “V” energy drink. As a result, the expert concluded that Pantone 376c was part of Frucor’s “brand identity”, having properties that went well beyond decorative or functional attributes so that it distinguished Frucor’s products from other traders’.

The main problem was that evidence the public associated, or even identified, a particular colour with a “brand” by itself is not enough to establish that the colour is functioning as a trade mark. At [171], his Honour explained:

… evidence of an association (or, I would add, identification) of a sign, including a colour, with a particular product does not mean, without more, that the sign is functioning or has functioned as a trade mark in relation to that product. One needs to have an understanding of how the sign was used, in the proper context and setting, before that conclusion can be drawn. Moreover, the conclusion is not purely a factual one.

The last sentence in that extract points out that whether something is used as a trade mark is a legal conclusion.

If you are going to advance someone to give evidence that a colour has been used as a trade mark – as Frucor’s market survey expert purported to do, you will also need to demonstrate that the witness properly understands the legal concept. More practically, if you are trying to convert your colour into a trade mark, you need to educate your public that it is being used as your trade mark. At it’s most rudimentary level (and bearing in mind the range of other issues), can you tell your customers to “look for” you product by reference to its colour?[3]

Market survey blues

Approaching the matter in this way enabled Yates J to avoid having to deal with the numerous criticisms about the survey methodology raised by Coca-Cola. A couple of points, however, do emerge.

At [168], Yates J was sceptical that the sample used in the surveys was representative. Frucor’s expert had not bailed up survey respondents randomly in the street or at the shopping centre. Rather, as is quite common in marketing, they were drawn from a panel of people who had signed up to participate in surveys.

That criticism is all the more compelling given the second point. Yates J was not at all comfortable accepting Coca-Cola’s criticisms of Frucor’s survey methodology in the absence of support from Coca-Cola’s own expert evidence.

It does not appear that Frucor has appealed.

Frucor Beverages Limited v The Coca-Cola Company [2018] FCA 993


  1. Presumably, the same reasoning would apply under s41(3) in the “new” version.  ?
  2. At [148], Yates J recalled that this required “an understanding, from an objective viewpoint, of the purpose and nature of the use, considered in the context of the relevant trade” citing Woolworths/BP at [77].  ?
  3. See for example the evidence in Philmac about its khaki and then terracotta plastic pipe fittings leading to the conclusion at [40]. For more recent US practice see here.  ?

Trident Seafoods 2

A previous post examined Gleeson J’s conclusion that Trident Foods had not used its TRIDENT trade marks for a continuous period of three years because it had not actually controlled the use by its parent, Manassen. As noted there, however, Gleeson J exercised her discretion under s 101(3) not to order removal.

You will recall that Trident Foods has had TRIDENT registered:

(1) for fish and fish products in class 29 since 1973, TM No. 266,625; and

(2) since 1983, for meat, fish, poultry and various extracts, preservatives and pickles, TM No. 400,953,

and Trident Seafoods is trying to get those trade marks removed for non-use because they are blocking its attempt to register its own trade marks for “Trident Seafoods”. Gleeson J found that Trident Foods had not used its trade marks either itself or through an authorised user in the relevant 3 years between 2011 and 2014, but exercised her discretion against removal.

Discretion against removal

At [179], a number of matters played into her Honour’s decision not to order removal.

One factor was that Trident Foods had not abandoned its trade mark but, when the removal action had been filed, had organised Manassen to make some limited sales of fish products and (eventually) had entered into a formal (and presumably effective) licence agreement with Manassen.

Another factor was the risk of confusion if Trident Seafoods started marketing its products in Australia by reference to a trade mark which included “Trident”. While there had been limited use by Manassen in relation to fish and fish related products, there had nonetheless been some limited use both before and after the non-use period and that use had been with the knowledge and acquiescence of Trident Foods. Moreover, there was longstanding use in respect of a wide range of food products which changed over time.

Interestingly, Gleeson J would not have exercised the discretion if Manassen’s use had been in respect of products other than fish and fish products only. Such use could be taken into account in favour of the exercise of the discretion because there had been some use in respect of fish and fish products and, apparently more importantly at [178], because Trident Foods and Manassen still intended that Manassen continue to use the trade mark as an authorised user.

The fact that the limited sales of fish and fish products after the non-use period were specifically motivated in response to the bringing of the non-use application was not ‘colourable’. At [175], Gleeson J noted that the sales were not unprofitable or otherwise contrived, but appeared to reflect a genuine estimate of the extent to which the products could be profitably sold in Australia.

Other matters – what goods were specified

In the course of her Honour’s reasons, Gleeson J was required to give careful consideration to the meaning of “fish and fish products” in the specification of goods in the respective trade marks. This required consideration of the signification of the terms in the editions of the Nice Classification in force at the priority date of the trade marks as well as the normal meaning of the terms.

Trident Seafoods argued that the terms were limited to creatures with scales, gills and fins. However, Gleeson J accepted at [55] – [56] the terms were wide enough to cover crustaceans such as crabs and prawns and molluscs such as oysters as well as foods prepared from those products.

Trident Foods argued further that the use of TRIDENT for products which include fish as an ingredient would constitute use in respect of fish and fish products relying on, for example, sales of prawn flavoured tom yum soup. Gleeson J rejected this argument in its broadest form and, instead, considered a qualitative assessment on a product by product basis was required:

  1. … the application of a trade mark to a particular food product is a use of the trade mark in relation to those goods only, and generally not to the ingredients from which the goods are made.

Noting that a a trade mark in respect of flour would not cover bread or vice versa, her Honour explained at [66]:[1]

whether a product is a “fish product” will depend on the ingredients of the product or, perhaps, whether the product is identified by its name as a fish product. Generally speaking, the greater the fish content in a product, the more likely it will be to answer the description “fish product”. In my view, a fish sauce product or flavouring made from fish could be a fish product … particularly where the main ingredient is fish or seafood. ….

Noting also that there may be debate about whether a sauce of flavouring of animal origin fell within class 29 or class 30, Gleeson J considered that TRIDENT brand Tom Yum soup, labelled “Tom Yum Goong Flavour Thai Noodle Soup” with a marking “contains Crustacea and fish”, was not a fish product. The contents listed noodles, a flavour sachet, an oil sachet and a chilli sachet and the oil sachet was described as containing, relevantly, fish sauce and dried shrimp.

Honest concurrent user

The final round of issues related to Trident Foods’ fallback application to register TRIDENT for “its” products. After Trident Seafoods brought its non-use application against Trident Foods’ registrations, Trident Foods filed a further application in 2014 to register TRIDENT for its products including fish and fish products. Trident Foods’ application was blocked of course by Trident Seafoods’ earlier, pending applications (which you will remember were in turn blocked by Trident Foods’ registrations that Trident Seafoods was trying to remove for non-use).

The first point is that Gleeson J ruled at [202] that Trident Foods could not rely on “honest concurrent use” to overcome the citation of Trident Seafoods’ applications as Trident Seafoods had not used its trade mark in Australia. The plain, literal words of s 44(3)(a) required “honest concurrent use of the 2 trade marks (emphasis supplied). As there had been no use in Australia of its trade mark by Trident Seafoods, s 44(3)(a) did not apply.

Seems like yet another triumph of the “plain English” drafting of the 1995 Act.

(not) closely related goods

Next, at [207] – [211], Gleeson J ruled that Trident Foods could not take advantage of the prior continuous user provisions in s 44(3)(a).

The long period of non-use from 2007 to 2014 meant that there was no use at all in respect of “the goods” or “similar goods”. However, Trident Foods argued it could rely on use in respect of closely related goods on the basis of the reference in s 44(4)(a)(ii) to continuous use for “the similar services or closely related goods”. Gleeson J held this avenue was unavailable to Trident Foods because s 44(4)(a)(ii) applied only to trade mark applications for services. Where the application was blocked because of its specification of goods, only s 44(4)(a)(i) applied and so the use had to be in respect of the specified goods or similar goods. At [207]:

In this case, s 44(1) applies because the relevant application is an application for the registration of a trade mark in respect of goods. Section 44(2), concerning registration of a trade mark in respect of services, has no application. “[T]he similar goods or closely related services” referred to in s 44(4)(a)(i) are the “similar goods or closely related services” in respect of which registration of a trade mark is sought, referred to in s 44(1)(a)(ii). Section 44(4)(a)(ii) has no relevant operation, because it refers to the “similar services or closely related goods” in s 44(2)(a).

In any event, the use was by Manassen and, as discussed in the previous post, that use was not authorised use and so could not be relied on.

The discretion for “other circumstances” under s 44(3)(b)

Finally, Trident Foods argued at [213] that, even if “honest concurrent use” was not available,

(1) the existence of its earlier registrations for TRIDENT (which were not going to be removed);

(2) the fact that Trident Seafoods blocking applications were pending applications only and were blocked by Trident Foods’ own registrations; and

(3) essentially the discretionary considerations which led her Honour not to order removal of the trade mark registrations for non-use,

were “other circumstances” on which her Honour could exercise the discretion under s 44(3)(b).

At [216], Gleeson J accepted that the inchoate nature of Trident Seafoods’ applications and their inability to proceed in the face of Trident Foods’ earlier registrations was a relevant “other circumstance” enlivening s 44(3)(b).

At [217], however, it was not appropriate to exercise the discretion to allow registration because there was no use, or intention to use, the trade mark at the priority date of the application by Trident Foods or an authorised user:

in the absence of a licence agreement, Trident Foods was not using the “TRIDENT” trade mark as at the priority date and had not authorised any such use. Rather, the mark was being used by Manassen, albeit with the acquiescence of Trident Foods. The use or intended use of the trade mark, or the authorisation or intended authorisation of such use is a precondition to the right to apply for registration by s 27 of the Act. In my view, it would not be appropriate to exercise the discretion under s 44(3)(b) whether [sic] that precondition had not been satisfied.

Moreover, s 59 would apply as a ground of opposition to defeat Trident Foods’ application. You will remember that Trident Foods filed this application in 2014, but its licence agreement with Manassen was put in place only in 2017. When Trident Foods applied to register the trade mark, therefore, it did not have an intention to use the trade mark either itself or through an authorised user.

Trident Seafoods has appealed: NSD1951/2018.

Trident Seafoods Corporation v Trident Foods Pty Limited [2018] FCA 1490


  1. See also [68].  ?