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Mainly intellectual property (IP) issues Down Under

Accor gets its trade marks back

Accor has trade mark registrations for “Cairns Harbour Lights” and “Harbour Lights”, which it used to promote accommodation at the Harbour Lights complex in, you guessed it, Cairns. It sued Liv Pty Ltd which was renting out apartments owned in the complex by others.

Amongst other things, the trial judge had held that “Cairns Harbour Lights” should be expunged from the Register and the registrations for “Harbour Lights” should be amended to remove some of the services including “accommodation rental services” and “rental of accommodation”. Liv, however was found to infringe through the use of:

(a) “Harbour Lights Cairns”; and

(b) “cairnsharbourlights.com.au”; and

(c) “harbourlightscairns.com.au”; and

(d) “harbourlightscairns.com”.

The Full Court has now allowed Accor’s appeal, revoking the trial judge’s orders to expunge “Cairns Harbour Lights” and remove some of the services for which “Harbour Lights” is registered.

At 360+ paragraphs, more detailed consideration will have to wait.

One interesting aspect is that the Full Court confirmed that Liv’s use of “keywords” (really metatags) in the source code of its website was trade mark use and so infringing:

323 The title used in the source data is “Cairns Luxury Accommodation – Waterfront Apartments – Harbour Lights – Cairns Queensland”. The primary judge finds that the use of the words “Harbour Lights” in that title appears to be merely a description of the waterfront apartments referred to in the title: PJ at [434]. As to the use of the keyword “Harbour Lights” (as described by the primary judge at [430] and quoted above), the primary judge regarded that use as also a reference to the apartments as those words appeared in the context of surrounding words such as “Cairns apartments”, “waterfront, luxury apartment” and “harbourside”. Thus, the words were not used as a badge of origin: PJ at [434].

324 The other words used in the source data as recited at [430] by the primary judge are these:

  “content: = Harbour Lights Apartments in Cairns offer luxury private waterfront apartment accommodation for holiday letting and short-term rental”.

325 As to those words, the primary judge finds that the use of the words “Harbour Lights Apartments” in that phrase was, effectively, use as a business name for a business which offers “accommodation for letting and short?term rental” thus operating as a badge of origin to distinguish Liv’s services from others: PJ at [435]. Such use is use of a mark substantially identical with and deceptively similar to each of the registered trade marks in suit. It is use in relation to each of the Class 36 and Class 43 services other than “commercial real estate agency services”, “agency services for the leasing of real estate properties” and “hotel services”: PJ at [436]. (emphasis supplied)

Accor Australia & New Zealand Hospitality Pty Ltd v Liv Pty Ltd
[2017] FCAFC 56 )Greenwood, Besanko and Katzmann JJ)

Selected links from the last week (or so)

Here is a selection of links to IP-related matters I found interesting this week:

Patents

Trade marks

Copyright

Designs

Not categorised

I hope you find something interesting. If you did or have a question, leave a comment or send me an email

Selected links from last (couple of) weeks

Here is a selection of links to IP-related matters I found interesting this past week (or two):

Patents

Trade marks

Copyright

Not categorised

I hope you find some interesting. If you did or have a question, leave a comment or send me an email

Selected links from last week

Here is a selection of links to IP-related matters I found interesting last week:

Patents

Trade marks

  • Is the US Olympic Committee’s [#TwitterBan Fair or Foul?](https://t.co/kmG0Avith) compare
    Telstra ‘Go to Rio’ campaign cleared by Federal Court, AOC case dismissed

Copyright

Remedies

  • Want An Enforceable Online Contract? Don’t Use A Footer Link Called “Reference”–Zajac v. Walker (USA)

Designs

Not categorised

Future of the profession

I hope you find some interesting. If you did or have a question, leave a comment or send me an email

Selected links from around the web

A selection of (mostly) IP-related links I found interesting last week:

Patents

US Federal Circuit Finds § 101 Patent Eligible Subject Matterin BASCOM

Patenting From China: how Chinese innovators are using the parent system

Copyright

USA: Apple’s New Music Royalty Proposal Would Make Streaming Costlier for Free Services Like Spotify

Vimeo’s Second Circuit DMCA Safe Harbor Win Over Capitol Records

Trade Mark

English High Court summarily dismisses Seretide combination color mark

Internet

USA: “Modified Clickwrap” Upheld In Court–Moule v. UPS

Trade – TPP

TPP at risk from ‘Hatch(ed)’ accusations that Australia’s data exclusivity steals US patents

Living in the future

A Technical Glitch or what might Facebook Live do to the world (as we know it)

The obsolete associate – Law21 or more AI in Big Law

Feel free to leave a comment or email me

Interlocutory Injunction to transfer domain name

Nicholas J has granted Thomas International an interlocutory injunction ordering Humantech to transfer the domain names, thomasinternational.com.au and thomas.co.za, to Thomas International. Thomas International had to give the usual undertakings and, as a foreign corporation, provide security for costs.

Thomas International is an English company which provides psychological testing and psychometric assessments, and competency and skills-based assessments, particularly using computerised services accessed over the internet through thomasinternational.net. It also makes its materials and services available through distributors. It appointed Humantech, a company associated with a Mr Schutte, as its master distributor/licensee for South Africa and Australia with power to exercise its rights through distributors. Humantech was permitted to use the “Thomas” trade marks, to incorporate a company in Australia under the name Thomas International (Australia) and to register the domain names. There were also obligations when the arrangements ceased or were terminated to cease use of the trade marks and change the corporate name of Thomas International (Australia) to a name which did not include Thomas.

In due course, the Schutte interests also incorporated another entity, ACT, which offered similar services to Thomas International’s assessment and training services. Thomas International alleges that, after some successful years’ trading, revenues from Thomas International (Australia) starting dropping off and the Schutte interests were diverting customers to ACT which, without permission, was using materials based on Thomas International’s materials.

Thomas International sued Humantech, Thomas International (Australia), ACT and Mr Schutte. There was a meeting between the parties and their lawyers shortly after. Thomas International said it would not discuss a new licensing arrangement until an undertaking dealing with the existing issues was provided. As a result, Humantech and the Schutte interests provided an undertaking to cease use of Thomas International’s trade marks, intellectual property and to transfer the domain names over. Thomas International also agreed to negotiate about a new licensing arrangement in good faith.

The next day Thomas International made its licence proposal to the Schutte interests. They considered it was financially unworkable and left the meeting. Later that day, they then put Humantech (and subsequently the other corporate entities) into administration and disabled the website. Shortly thereafter, Thomas International applied for interlocutory injunctions.

As noted, Nicholas J granted the interlocutory injunctions including an order that the domain names be transferred to Thomas International. The terms of the Undertaking meant it had a prima facie case to force the Schutte interests to stop using the Thomas name and trade mark and for the transfer of the domain names.

The Schutte interests’ main attempt to rebut that was their argument that the Undertaking was invalid or unenforceable. That was said to result because, it was alleged, that Thomas International extracted the Undertaking in return for its promise to negotiate a new licence arrangement in good faith. The Schutte interests contended that the terms of the licence they were offered were so unreasonable as to show that Thomas International did not negotiate, and had no intention of negotiating, in good faith. This issue was not developed in detail at this stage, but Nicholas J pointed out that, on the current state of the law in Australia, an obligation to negotiate in good faith did not require a party to subordinate its own interests to that of the other party.

On the balance of convenience, Nicholas J accepted Thomas International’s argument that:

the present state of affairs may cause TIL significant reputational damage as a result of customers who have purchased units entitling them to make use of facilities provided by TIL at the Thomas Hub being prevented from gaining access to it through the TIA website. I accept this submission. I also consider that any such damage may be irreparable and that damages will most likely not provide an adequate remedy. The financial statements of TIA for the financial year ending 30 June 2014 show that the company has net assets of just under $145,000.

On the other hand, the Schutte interests’ main argument was the disruption to their business, and that of their customers, if they could not continue to use the domain names, the main access point for provision of services both to Thomas International (Australia)’s customers and those ACT. As Nicholas J pointed out, however, the Schutte parties had already disabled access to the websites so they had already caused that problem themselves.

It would appear that Thomas International first learned something about ACT’s activities, the subject of the complaint, in May 2014 (i.e., a year earlier). However, Thomas International was able to lead evidence showing all the work it did, and the difficulties it encounted, in trying to ascertain what ACT was doing until proceedings were issued. In this context, the termination by Humantech of the main employee with responsibilities for running the Thomas part of its business may will have been highly significant.

Permission to proceed against the companies although administrators were appointed was granted as the interests of the administrators were adequately protected by the undertaking as to damages and provision for securities.

Thomas International Limited v Humantech Pty Ltd [2015] FCA 541

Getting back domain names

Bromberg J has now made orders arising from his Honour’s finding that the use of real1.com.au infringed REA Group’s registered trade mark. Amongst other things, these included orders that the disputed domain names be transferred to REA Group. An expensive exercise in trying to generate value from “real 1”.

On the other hand, Middleton J has rejected Vendor Advocacy Australia’s attempts to get domain names like:

  • http://www.vendoradvocacy.com;
  • http://www.vendoradvocacyaustralia.com;
  • vendoradvocacymelbourne.com;

from a former employee (or contractor), Mr Seitanidis notwithstanding his Honour’s findings about much Mr Seitanidis’ conduct.

Vendor advocates are apparently much in the market these days. A Mr Ian Reid had been operating a vendor advocacy business for a number of years. Some of his advertising did include:

Vendor Advocacy Australia
Vendor Advocacy Australia

but the corporate stationery and much of the other advertising took this form:

Corporate logo
Corporate logo

and the radio advertising also emphasised the personality of Mr Reid.

Vendor Advocacy Australia did not have any registered trade marks and was forced to fall back on misleading or deceptive conduct.

After a detailed discussion of the cases on descriptive terms and secondary meaning, Middleton J held:

…. The phrase “vendor advocacy” is descriptive and was generally used by various traders in the same line of business. I am not satisfied that the words or brand relied upon in this proceeding by VAA have any secondary distinctive meaning. VAA has primarily promoted itself by reference to the persona of Ian Reid. I do not consider that any consumer which assume that a reference to vendor advocacy, or Australian Vendor Advocacy, would be associated with VAA or Ian Reid. In fact, because Ian Reid has been so much at the front of the promotion of VAA, without his presence the consumer may well assume it is not associated with him or VAA. Any imperfect recollection of consumers would arise from VAA’s adoption of a name consisting of descriptive words. The lack of recall will be as a result of the promotional activity adopted by VAA, by reference to the descriptive words ‘vendor advocacy’.

 And so Vendor Advocacy Australia did not get orders for the transfer of the domain names.

One interesting consequence of this is that there may be an inquiry on the undertaking as to damages given for an interlocutory injunction preventing the use of some of the domain names.

Middleton J was willing to take at [257] a fairly robust view about consumers’ familiarity with the use of similar domain names by different companies. His Honour also thought any momentary or transitory confusion which might arise from the use of the domain names would not rise to the level of misleading or deceptive conduct. As his Honour reminded:

In circumstances where a trader adopts a descriptive trade name the use by another trader of a trade name that also uses those descriptive elements will not generally (in itself) constitute misleading or deceptive conduct.

His Honour also joined the growing band of judges who don’t think consumers pay much attention to whether domain names end in .com or .com.au or the like.

 

REA Group Ltd v Real Estate 1 Ltd (No 2) [2013] FCA 968

Vendor Advocacy Australia Pty Ltd v Seitanidis [2013] FCA 971

New gTLD process: brand owners beware

Jonathan Bailey, of Plagiarism Today fame, has a post over at the Blog Herald: “Why We Don’t Need More Domain Extensions“.

As of last month, 4 new gTLDs had already been approved but more than 1,000 have made it passed the “initial evaluation stage”. Private auctions for new gTLDs where there is more than one applicant are starting.

The new gTLDs aren’t here yet but scary as it is, this is going to happen.

So, if you are a brand owner – or advise brand owners – and you haven’t been thinking about how you are going to deal with this, Jonathan’s post really serves as a timely warning to get your thinking cap on:

  • are you going to try and register any (and if so which) of your trade marks in any of these new gTLDs?
  • what steps are you going to take, if any, to make sure someone else is not registering one (or more) of your trade marks in one of these new gTLDs?

 

ICANN’s new gTLD timeline.

ICANN’s current status of applications listing.

Searchengineland’s take.

The power of a registered trade mark

If you have tried to buy, sell or rent property in Australia in the last 10 years (at the least!), like some nearly 7 million other Australians you have no doubt come across realestate.com.au, the web-portal run by REA Group. Real One also competes in that space.[1]

Bromberg J has held that Real One’s logos:

Real One 2nd logo
Real One 2nd logo
Real One 1st logo
Real One 1st logo

did not “pass off”[2] REA Group’s logos:

559.1

Nor did they infringe REA Group’s registered trade mark: [3]

TM No 1478263
TM No 1478263

However, the use of Real One’s URL in ads like this:

Real One Ad
Real One Ad

did infringe the registered trade mark! [4]

Bromberg J held that the uses both in the first line and the second line of the advertisment infringed. In contrast to his Honour’s rejection of the claim for misleading or deceptive conduct, Bromberg J explained at [241]:

In my view, the display of the term “realestate1.com.au” in the heading of a sponsored link would have been regarded by many consumers to be the trading and domain name of the business whose link it was. One of the central distinguishing features of REA’s realestate.com.au trade marks is the idea that the term “realestate.com.au” is both a brand name and a domain name at the same time. When Real Estate 1 used “realestate1.com.au” as a trading name, it took up that precise idea. In that context consumers are likely to pay substantive attention to “.com.au” because it serves the function of identifying the brand whose domain name is also being used as a brand. The whole of the domain name is likely to be read or at least scanned. In a circumstance such as that, there was in my view, a real danger of confusion on the part of a consumer familiar with REA’s realestate.com.au trade marks. That principally arises because in a scanning process of the kind which can occur on a search results page, the “1”, which is not very distinct in the context of a domain name in ordinary type face, is likely to be missed by some consumers.

First, his Honour distinguished Perram J’s proposition in the Solahart case that usually one can ignore the inclusion in a sign of elements like “www” and “.com.au” as merely “accoutrements” of the domain name system and so not matters that the public would pay attention to. Unlike the situation before Bromberg J, however, that observation was not made in a context where the .com.au element formed part of the registered trade mark.[5]

Second, I can certainly see that the bold “headline” (the first line) in Real One’s advertisment is plainly being used as a trade mark. But the use in the second line???

Yes, I know that cases have held that domain names / URLs are the Internet’s equivalent of a sign or billboard. That can certainly be true and, in the first line of the advertisement, the URL is plainly being used in that way, but surely with respect in the second line the URL is no more than an address.

Third, one might express some alarm that anyone can stop someone else using the term “real estate” (in connection with real estate services). There are, after all only 387 other registered trade marks in class 36 alone which include the words “real estate”. On the Internet, there is also at the least realestateview.com.au. Bromberg J’s first answer in [241] above is that it was not just the use of “real estate” that gave rise to liability: it was the use of that term and “.com.au” in combination and the comparative insignificance of the “1” in Real One’s URL.

Bromberg J did, however, recognise the problem and said at [247]:

As my conclusions demonstrate, registration of REA’s realestate.com.au marks has effectively given REA a monopoly over two highly descriptive terms when used in combination. Those terms are likely to be the most common terms on a search results page where a search has been conducted for a residential real estate portal. The protection conferred by REA’s trade marks over the use of “realestate” and “.com.au” in combination, provides REA with a monopoly over the term “realestate” in circumstances where its rivals seeking also to use “realestate” or a close variant thereof as a second-level domain, do not forego the advantages of using “.com.au” in their domain names. The natural advantage of a domain name which incorporates “realestate” to the commercial success of property portals will be apparent from observations I have already made. There is also a natural advantage in the use of the suffix “.com.au”. It is troubling that terms that are highly descriptive of a particular area of commerce and which provide significant commercial advantage should not be readily available for use by all who seek to participate in that commerce. However, in the absence of a successful challenge to the registration of REA’s realestate.com.au trade marks, whilst that may be troubling, REA is nevertheless entitled to the protection of the monopoly which has been conferred upon it.

The question has to be asked, however, on what basis could REA group’s logo be revoked or refused registration? Given the device elements (and the large number of other, competing devices), it would surely be held to be capable of distinguishing. The “good” old days (i.e., before the 1995 Act) were at least better in this respect: the Registrar could impose disclaimers to ensure these sorts of monopolies should not arise.

Two short points in conclusion:

His Honour did also find that Real One’s “real commercial” logo infringed REA group’s registration for its “real commercial” logo.

It would seem that Real One is still able to operate from its “.net.au” URL.

REA Group Ltd v Real Estate 1 Ltd [2013] FCA 559


  1. Bromberg J found at [258] that the principal of Real One adopted the name to pressure REA group into buying him out at some point, but also went on reluctantly to find no accessorial liability (akin to authorising).  ?
  2. For simplicity, I will treat that term as covering the actions for misleading or deceptive conduct (now under s 18 of the ACL formerly known as s 52 of the Trade Practice Act 1974) which, of course, was really the focus of that part of the case.  ?
  3. The number doesn’t seem to be identified, but TM Nos 811931 and 1075935 are for the mark in black and white and TM No. 1478263 is for the colour version reproduced in his Honour’s reasons.  ?
  4. Also contrast this result with the Thredbo Resort’s failure to stop ThredboNet using Thredbo in domain names to market rental accommodation at Thredbo village: Kosciuszko Thredbo Pty Limited v ThredboNet Marketing Pty Limited [2013] FCA 563 – Thredbo Resort having only pending opposed applications.  ?
  5. Decision under the UDRP have reached similar positions.  ?

More ‘fun’ with initial interest confusion

Following last week’s post where Arnold J found Marks & Spencer liable for buying ads on the keyword INTERFLORA because of the initial interest confusion, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in the USA has heavily qualified when (perhaps that should be “if” or “if ever”) initial interest confusion can constitute trade mark infringement in the USA.

The case is 1-800 Contacts, Inc. v. Lens.com, Inc., 2013 WL 3665627 (10th Cir. July 16, 2013).

It involved Lens.com buying ads on the keyword, 1800contacts, for contact lenses.

The 10th Circuit  upheld the trial judge’s exclusion of a consumer survey proferred by 1-800 Contacts to establish confusion. There were a number of reasons for its rejection including its flawed methodology. The 10th Circuit went on to conclude that the approximately 7% confusion shown by the survey would be insufficient to rise to trade mark infringement under US law. Accepting that each case depended on its own facts, the 10th Circuit endorsed the general proposition that:

The great weight of authority appears to be that “[w]hen the percentage results of a confusion survey dip below 10%, they can become evidence which will indicate that confusion is not likely.” 6 McCarthy § 32:189 at 32-440 (emphasis added by 10th Circuit).

One wonders whether an Australian court, which must ascertain whether a [substantial][OR a significant] number of the relevant audience might be caused to wonder, would be so robust as to conclude that 5% or 7% of the market was not a substantial (or significant) number?

Professors Goldman and Tushnet identify a range of reasons to regret the 10th Circuit’s decision not to drive a stake through the heart of initial interest confusion. Prof. Goldman does speculate, in particular, whether measuring “click-throughs” as a proxy for confusion could ever cross the 10% threshold.