A designs case – spare parts

Burley J has handed down our first case dealing with the “spare parts” defence in the Designs Act 2003.

At 709 paragraphs, any considered analysis will have to wait for another day (or days). In the meantime, here are his Honour’s conclusions:

707. In these reasons, I conclude that GMGTO has failed to establish the bulk of its claim for design infringement. Despite extensive forensic examination of the business of SSS, it has not established infringement in respect of the importation, keeping for sale or offering for sale of the impugned SSS products in respect of any of the SSS respondent companies. In its claim for infringement by selling, GMGTO has established infringement in respect of 4 representative transactions made by SSS Sydney, 2 representative transactions entered into by SSS Melbourne (but only in part in relation to Transaction 17) and 2 representative transactions entered into by SSS Queensland. The parties must now, on the basis of these reasons, attempt to agree on a formula by which the balance of the transactions the subject of GMGTO’s claim might be resolved. They should also confer and attempt to agree to directions to bring these proceedings to a close. 


708. I have concluded that SSS has substantially failed to establish its case on the cross-claim. It has established that there were unjustified threats insofar as they relate to designs that were never certified, which involves the threats made to Panel House, Carparts and Torq. SSS has also established an unjustified threat in relation to copyright infringement in the case of Holmart. I will hear submissions from the parties as to the appropriate relief to grant, if any.

GM Global Technology Operations LLC v S.S.S. Auto Parts Pty Ltd [2019] FCA 97

Cartel conduct and IP licences and assignments

Will your assignments and licences of intellectual property, such as in a typical franchise agreement, expose your client to liability for cartel conduct or will you be ready to apply for an authorisation?

One of the bills pending before Parliament contains the long pursued (by the ACCC) repeal of s 51(3) of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.

Section 51(3) exempts from most of the prohibitions in Pt IV of the Competition and Consumer Act terms and conditions in assignments and licences of intellectual property which most of us take for granted.

The rationale for repeal is that most transactions involving IP do not have anti-competitive effects or purposes and, if they do, they should not be exempt from the competition laws.

Rodney De Boos, a consultant at DCC with many years’ experience in licensing and commercialisation of IP, however, points out that this explanation was developed before the provisions banning cartel conduct were introduced into the Act. And, he contends, typical arrangements in IP agreements which allocate, for example, territories or customers will constitute cartel conduct and so need authorisation if the parties are not to be in breach of the cartel provisions.

As Rodney explains, a cartel provision are certain types of specified provisions between competitors.

Now, it may well be that an assignor and assignee, or a licensor and licensee, will not be competitors. There are many types of arrangements, however, where the Competition and Consumer Act will deem them to be competitors. An obvious example is the case of a franchisor who has retail outlets (either itself or through a related body corporate) as well as retail franchisees. Other arrangements involving IP could also be similarly problematical.

You can read Rodney’s concerns in more detail here.

The bill repealing s 51(3) has already passed the House of Representatives and is due to be debated by the Senate in the sittings coming up.