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Mainly intellectual property (IP) issues Down Under

Merial 2 – most of the claims were obvious too

Previously, we looked at Moshinsky J’s reasons for finding that Intervet was not entitled to the invention claimed in its patent application for a “soft chew” dosage. In what appears to be one of the first judicial considerations of the inventive step requirements introduced by the Patents Amendment Act 2001, Moshinsky J has also allowed Merial’s opposition on the grounds of lack of inventive step.

To recap, claim 1 of Intervet’s patent application was for:

A soft chew formulation for oral administration comprising a pharmaceutical for control of a parasite of Equidae, Canidae, Felidae, Bovidae, Ovidae Capridae, or Suidae organisms in a soft chew formulation, a flavouring component, a starch component, a sugar component, an oil component and an emulsifying agent that acts as a forming agent, wherein the moisture content of the composition is between 5.0 and 7.5 percent wt, the soft chew formulation is formed by knockout and the soft chew formulation is not an extrudate.

In addition to challenging Intervet’s entitlement to the claimed invention, Merial successfully argued that Intervet’s patent application lacked an inventive step in light of common general knowledge combined with the “Christensen” patent. The interest in the present case (unless you are in the business of developing soft chews) lies in how Moshinsky J applied the version of s 7(3) as amended by the Patents Amendment Act 2001 operates.

Section 7(2) and 7(3) in their second incarnation provided:[1]

(2) For the purposes of this Act, an invention is to be taken to involve an inventive step when compared with the prior art base unless the invention would have been obvious to a person skilled in the relevant art in the light of the common general knowledge as it existed in the patent area before the priority date of the relevant claim, whether that knowledge is considered separately or together with the information mentioned in subsection (3).

(3) The information for the purposes of subsection (2) is:

(a) any single piece of prior art information; or

(b) a combination of any 2 or more pieces of prior art information;

being information that the skilled person mentioned in subsection (2) could, before the priority date of the relevant claim, be reasonably expected to have ascertained, understood, regarded as relevant to work in the relevant art in the patent area and, in the case of information mentioned in paragraph (b), combined as mentioned in that paragraph.

The second version of s 7(3) should[2] liberalise the ability of the skilled addressee to combine 2 or more pieces of prior art. It also omitted the words struck out in the quote above which the High Court in Lockwood No 2 considered imposed a significant constraint on what information could be added to common general knowledge. Of those now omitted words, the High Court in Lockwood No 2 explained at [152] that:

… the phrase “relevant to work in the relevant art” should not be construed as meaning relevant to any work in the relevant art, including work irrelevant to the particular problem or long-felt want or need, in respect of which the invention constitutes an advance in the art. The phrase can only be construed as being directed to prior disclosures, that is publicly available information (not part of common general knowledge) which a person skilled in the relevant art could be expected to have regarded as relevant to solving a particular problem or meeting a long-felt want or need as the patentee claims to have done. Otherwise the words of limitation in the last 40 words of s 7(3) would have no role to play. Any piece of public information in the relevant art would be included, as is the case with the much broader and quite different formulation in the cognate provisions in the United Kingdom, which do not depend on the standard of a skilled person’s opinion of the relevance of the information.

This difference in wording between the first and second iterations of s 7(3) does not appear to have been the subject of debate between the parties. Rather, the evidence appears to have proceeded on the basis that it was necessary to show that the skilled addressee could reasonably have been expected to regard the additional information as relevant to the problem of developing a “soft chew” medicament for animals.[3] In addition, Merial pitched its attack on the basis of the modified “Cripps” question approved in Alphapharm. This does not appear to have been contested by Intervet.

On that basis the evidence showed that a skilled addressee, given that task at the priority date, would be both likely to have carried out a search of the patent literature and found the Christensen patent. Merial’s witnesses said that they would have regarded Christensen as relevant to the problem. Intervet’s witness said he would not, on the basis that it did not teach him anything he did not already know.[4] Moshinsky J accepted the evidence of Merial’s witnesses.

Having found that Christensen could be added to common general knowledge, Moshinsky J found that the claims of Intervet’s patent application were obvious. His Honour found that claim 1 for example could be characterised as having several elements:

(a) a flavouring component;

(b) a starch component;

(c) a sugar component;

(d) an oil component;

(e) an emulsifying agent that acts as a forming agent,

wherein the moisture content of the composition is between 5.0 and 7.5 percent wt, and the soft chew formulation is formed by knockout and the soft chew formulation is not an extrudate.

The inclusion of a flavouring component was taken as a given in such an exercise. All the experts said they would include flavouring in any product developed for such a project – apparently, animals have taste too! All three experts, Merial’s and Intervet’s, agreed that an emulsifying agent would be used as a forming agent.

The water content range, 5 to 7.5% wt, was the range Merial’s experts would aim for in a “soft chew” product. Intervet’s witness gave evidence that the moisture content he would have aimed for was between 18 to 21%, but that was discounted because he had been asked how he would have developed a “semi-moist formulation” rather than a “soft chew” formulation as claimed.

The Christensen patent supplied features (b), (c) and (d). Christensen described formulation by extrusion rather than knock-out. However, all experts agreed that, at the priority date, a knock-out process was known to be preferable to extrusion.

Taking all these matters together as a whole, Moshinsky J was clearly satisfied that the claimed invention was obvious at the priority date. On the other hand, some of the dependent claims would not have been obvious.

For example, claim 2 was for:

The soft chew formulation according to claim 1 characterized in that the emulsifier is a polyethylene glycol (PEG).

PEG was known at the priority date, but not for use in a moulding process for an oral formulation. PEG was not disclosed in Christensen. One of Merial’s experts, Dr Pougnas, gave evidence that he would have considered using it for the emulsifier. The other expert did not mention it and, while Intervet’s expert knew of PEG, he had not had cause to consider it for use in pet foods.

Moshinsky J was not satisfied that the skilled addressee would have been directly led as a matter of course to use PEG in the expectation that it might well produce a useful alternative or better formulation. At [193], his Honour explained:

… I am not satisfied that the skilled person or notional research team at 13 August 2002 would directly be led as a matter of course to try PEG in the expectation that it might well produce a useful alternative to or better formulation than the prior art. Dr Pougnas’s evidence did not contain, to my mind, a satisfactory explanation as to why he would have considered PEG in addressing the notional development task. It would be different if, for example, there had been evidence that the common general knowledge included that PEG imparted softness and evidence that, for that reason, the skilled person or notional research team would have tried PEG in the expectation that it might well produce a useful alternative or better formulation. That would provide a logic for trying PEG. However, in the absence of such a rationale, I am not persuaded that the skilled person or notional research team would be directly led as a matter of course to try PEG in the expectation that it might well produce a useful alternative or better formulation. ….

His Honour also expressed doubts as Dr Pougnas might be “too inventive”, having at least 13 patents to his name. He also admitted to being involved in some experimental work at the priority date, the details of which he was not at liberty to disclose. The research project did not form part of the common general knowledge. Moshinsky J was concerned, however, that that experience might explain why Dr Pougnas was willing to consider using PEG.

Moshinsky J’s decision does show the importance when assessing obviousness of ensuring the expert one advances is appropriately skilled and tasked. As it was sought to add only one piece of prior art to common general knowledge, the Christensen patent, it does not explore how much the second (2001 Act) version of s 7(3) liberalised the willingness of the Courts to combine prior art which did not form part of the common general knowledge. It was not necessary for Moshinsky J to explore the significance of the omission from the second version of s 7(3) of the words which the High Court focused on in Lockwood (No 2). The parties and hence his Honour appear to have proceeded on the basis that the skilled addressee must regard the prior art as relevant to the problem, or long felt want, that the patentee was seeking to address through the invention.

Merial, Inc. v Intervet International B.V. (No 3) [2017] FCA 21


  1. It has of course been superseded by the version introduced by the Intellectual Property Laws Amendment (Raising the Bar) Act 2012.  ?
  2. That appears to be the plain intendment of the amended wording, but I don’t think we have authoritative judicial confirmation how that works, yet.  ?
  3. See e.g. [162].  ?
  4. I’m not sure why that doesn’t suggest that the relevant knowledge was not therefore part of the skilled addressee’s skill set?  ?

Not “hired to invent” so no entitlement – Merial v Intervet

In Australia, we are often told our US clients get title through the “work made for hire” or the “hired to invent” doctrines under US law. Intervet has failed in its attempt to rely on the latter doctrine in its unsuccessful attempt to patent a “soft chew” medicament for pets. Moshinsky J also accepted Merial’s opposition on grounds of lack of inventive step. This post will deal with the entitlement issue. Lack of inventive step case, based on the 2001 amendments, will be the subject of a later post.

Some background

In 2002, Intervet was part of the Akzo group. Most of its R & D activities were carried out at its plant in Delaware. However, a Ms Cady was based in New Jersey and had responsibility for developing formulations for commercialisation. She did not, however, have a laboratory. She had worked with a Mr Pieloch of Pharma Chemie to develop products before. Ms Cady engaged Pharma Chemie to develop a palatable “soft chew” dosage form for companion animals such as horses and dogs.

A formulation was developed. Intervet made a provisional application in the USA, naming a Mr Huron, Ms Cady and Mr Pieloch as inventors.[1] Like Ms Cady, Mr Huron was an employee of Intervet. When the PCT came to be filed on 13 August 2003, Mr Huron, Mr Pieloch and Ms Cady were named as the inventors.

Intervet’s in-house patent attorney sent a copy of the PCT specification to Mr Pieloch was a request to sign a declaration acknowledging that Intervet owned all the rights. Pharma Chemie and Mr Pieloch rejected the request, asserting through their lawyers:[2]

It is our client’s position that Pharma Chemie invented the soft chew technology as described in the above-referenced patent application in 1992, and continued its work on the technology through the 1990’s and into the new millenium [sic]. All of the work on this technology was completed prior to Pharma Chemie’s entry into the Manufacturing and Supply Agreement with Intervet in 2002. Pharma Chemie also invented the manufacturing procedure described in the patent application cited above, and provided Formax with this information well prior to its entry into the development agreement with Intervet in 2002.

Pharma Chemie is therefore the owner of the technology described in the above-referenced patent application, not Intervet. For this reason, Mr. Pieloch will not agree to sign the Declaration and Power of Attorney for this application. ….

Intervet made various attempts to prosecute the US application without Mr Pieloch’s signature. These did not progress, however, and the application in the USA ultimately lapsed. The Australian application, the subject of Merial’s opposition, was at least a divisional from the original PCT application.

Claim 1 of the patent application was for:

A soft chew formulation for oral administration comprising a pharmaceutical for control of a parasite of Equidae, Canidae, Felidae, Bovidae, Ovidae Capridae, or Suidae organisms in a soft chew formulation, a flavouring component, a starch component, a sugar component, an oil component and an emulsifying agent that acts as a forming agent, wherein the moisture content of the composition is between 5.0 and 7.5 percent wt, the soft chew formulation is formed by knockout and the soft chew formulation is not an extrudate.

Merial has lost its opposition to the application before the Commissioner and appealed to the Court. Both Mr Huron and Ms Cady had left Intervet by this time, and Ms Cady was one of the witnesses for Merial.

Entitlement

Section 15 requires that the grantee of a patent derive its title ultimately from all of the inventors. Although Intervet had identified Mr Pieloch as one of the three inventors, Merial’s opposition succeeded because Intervet could not claim title from Mr Pieloch whom Moshinsky J found was the sole inventor.

Moshinsky J accepted Mr Pieloch’s evidence that he had developed the technology used for Intervet’s product through his company, Pharma Chemie, before Ms Cady engaged Pharma Chemie to develop Intervet’s product. Pharma Chemie had used its own technology to make a “soft chew” which used Intervet’s additive. So, at least as claimed in Intervet’s application, Pharma Chemie was the inventor of the relevant technology.[3] Mr Pieloch was careful to eschew any claim to the specific product which embodied Intervet’s additive, but the claims were very much broader than that.

Intervet argued it was nonetheless entitled to the invention through an assignment in a Manufacturing and Supply Agreement under which Pharma Chemie developed the product. Alternatively, Intervet argued the assignment was implied under the US “hired to invent” doctrine.

Manufacturing and Supply Agreement

Intervet’s main problem with this argument was that it could not produce the agreement. Instead, it relied on evidence of other agreements with Pharma Chemie (after the event and relating to other projects) which did include express assignments and the importance to companies like Intervet of ensuring they had the rights to their products locked down.

Moshinsky J was not persuaded:

a) Mr Pieloch was adamant that Pharma Chemie had already developed the technology the subject of the application before the projects with Intervet and had even applied for a patent over it.

b) In re-examination, Mr Pieloch expressly denied that he had ever signed an assignment in the terms claimed by Intervet over the relevant technology (as opposed to the specific product using Intervet’s additives).

c) In 2003 in correspondence about the PCT application, Pharma Chemie’s lawyers had explicitly denied there was any such term and Intervet had not challenged that denial then or until the present proceedings.

d) If there had been such an express assignment, Intervet would have taken steps to keep it safe and secure and would have asserted it aginst Pharma Chemie when Pharma Chemie’s lawyers denied the assignment as long ago as 2003.

Hired to invent

Intervet next argued that US law implied a term to assign into the agreement by which Pharma Chemie developed the products for Intervet.

As foreign law, whether or not US law would in fact imply such a term was a question of fact to be determined on the evidence. Both Intervet and Merial advanced lawyers’ opinions on this question.

Both parties’ witnesses agreed that, under US law, a court could imply a term requiring an assignment. Intervet’s independent expert’s, a Mr Blackburn’s, evidence was that:

US law generally permits a court to imply a contract term in appropriate circumstances to handle developments and contractual gaps; one application of this principle is the “employed to invent” or “hired to invent” doctrine, which requires or obligates an inventor to assign an invention resulting from the development of a product that it was engaged to perform where the inventor was hired specifically to make the invention; while there is no binding precedent directly on point holding that a non-employee or independent contractor can be employed to invent or hired to invent, the reasoning of Standard Peeks and Dubilier suggest that the substance of the relationship between the parties and how the invention is made is the controlling factor.[4]

Merial’s expert, Mr Kowalski, contended that the case law relied on by Mr Blackburn applied only to the employer-employee relationship and did not extend to agreements with independent contractors.

Moshinsky J accepted that the cases relied on by Intervet dealt only with situations involving the employer-employee relationship, but his Honour was not satisfied that they were necessarily so limited. Moshinsky J had earlier noted that Mr Kowalski was Merial’s lawyer and had been involved in the preparation of Mr Pieloch’s affidavits for Merial. At [48(e)], his Honour considered that Mr Kowalski’s evidence at times appeared to be an exercise in advocacy and therefore generally preferred the evidence of Mr Blackburn where there were differences between them.

Having decided to proceed on the basis “that the “hired to invent” doctrine is capable of application notwithstanding that Pharma Chemie is a corporate entity and independent contractor rather than an employee”, Moshinsky J nonetheless held at [127] that no term to assign should be implied:

…. Mr Blackburn emphasised that what “controls” is the nature of the contractual relationship between the parties and how the invention was made; and that the critical fact is whether the contract specifically required the invention to be made. In the present case, I have found that Pharma Chemie was not engaged by Intervet Inc to develop a soft chew dosage form; it was engaged, rather, to incorporate Intervet Inc’s active ingredients into a formulation, using Pharma Chemie’s soft chew technology (see [89] above). Further, I have found that the Manufacturing and Supply Agreement referred to in Ms Marsh’s letter dated 16 September 2003 related to the development projects referred to in these reasons as the Horse Project and the Dog Project (see [75] above). It appears from the 16 September 2003 letter that the agreement contained (in paragraphs 1.4 and 9.3) express provisions relating to the assignment of intellectual property rights to Intervet Inc subject to prescribed conditions. In light of these express provisions, there is no room to imply a term (in this or any other agreement relating to the Horse Project or the Dog Project) requiring Pharma Chemie to assign to Intervet Inc any invention resulting from the projects. I have also found above that there was no response to the 16 September 2003 letter (see [80] above). If Intervet Inc had had a basis to contend that, contrary to the propositions set out in the letter, it acquired rights to an invention under the Manufacturing and Supply Agreement (or any other agreement) it is likely that it would have responded. This provides further support for the proposition that a term is not to be implied in the Manufacturing and Supply Agreement or any other agreement to the effect that Pharma Chemie was required to assign to Intervet Inc any invention resulting from the projects.

Accordingly, although the “hired to invent” doctrine could apply in principle, it did not apply on the facts.

It is worth contrasting the approach taken by Moshinsky J based on the application of US law to the arrangements between Intervet and Pharma Chemie with that applied in copyright by the Full Court in Enzed Holdings. In Enzed Holdings, the Full Court held that ownership of copyright in an artistic work in Australia fell to be determined according to Australian law. So, even though the artistic work in question was created in New Zealand, it was irrelevant that under New Zealand law ownership vested in the commissioning party not the author.[5] This approach would not have saved Intervet in this case, however, as the reasons Moshinshky J found to reject the “hired to invent” argument should lead to the same conclusion under Australian law.

Merial, Inc. v Intervet International B.V. (No 3) [2017] FCA 21


  1. By the time of the trial, both Mr Huron and Ms Cady worked for competitors of Intervet and gave evidence for Merial.  ?
  2. 16 September 2003 letter from Pharma Chemie’s lawyer to Intervet’s inhouse patent attorney.  ?
  3. Patents Act 1990 s 15.  ?
  4. Referring to Standard Parts Co v Peck, 264 US 52 (1924) and United States v Dubilier Condenser Corp, 289 US 178, 187 (1933).  ?
  5. In contrast to Enzed Holdings, the US 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals applied the law of the place where the work was made to determine entitlement to copyright in the USA in *Itar-Tass v Russian Kurier Inc (1998) 43 IPR 565.  ?

Productivity Commission’s Final Report

Updated to fix some broken links

The Productivity Commissions’s final report into “Intellectual Property Arrangements” has been published.

An overview and  recommendations is here.

The full report is here.

The key points sign off with a stirring call to action – or harbinger of what’s to come:

Steely resolve will be needed to pursue better balanced IP arrangements.

The Government has announced it is undertaking further consultations with us about the Commission’s recommendations and wants to hear your views by 14 February 2017. I wonder how many bunches of roses they will receive?

 

Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill 2017 – exposure draft

IP Australia has published an exposure draft of an Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill 2017 and the proposed accompanying regulations, explanatory memorandum and statement. So that everyone at IP Australia has something to do when they come back from their summer hols, you have to get your comments in by 22 January 2017.

A large part of the changes seem to be about aligning the administrative processes under the different statutory regimes According to the EM:

The patents, trade marks, designs and plant breeder’s rights (PBR) systems have a number of different administrative processes and rules specific to each IP right. A number of these differences are unnecessary or too onerous. Some processes take too long to resolve. This needlessly increases complexity, uncertainty and cost for users of the IP system.

This Bill will align and streamline the processes for obtaining, maintaining and challenging IP rights. Using similar processes for the different IP rights will make the IP system simpler and assist businesses dealing with more than one right. A simpler IP system will decrease administration costs for the Australian Government and reduce the regulatory burden for businesses that use it. The Bill will also enable greater use of electronic systems to manage and monitor IP rights.

A laudable objective! But, there are some 23 Parts and 596 items in the exposure draft bill alone. However, lots of them are plainly necessary changes such as replacing “reject” with “refuse” in the PBR Act, but there are others which will have more impact.

Overall, the broad topics addressed are:

  • Part 1 relating to renewals and terminology
  • Part 2 relating to re-examination and re-consideration
  • Part 3 relating to extensions of time
  • Part 4 relating to written requirements
  • Part 5 relating to the filing requirements
  • Part 6 relating to Official Journals
  • Part 7 relating to amendments of applications or other documents
  • Part 8 relating to signature requirements
  • Part 9 relating to computerised decision-making
  • Part 10 relating to addresses and service of documents
  • Part 11 relating to examination of patent requests and specifications
  • Part 12 relating to requirements for patent documents
  • Part 13 relating to acceptance of trade mark applications
  • Part 14 relating to registration of designs
  • Part 15 relating to unjustified threats of infringement
  • Part 16 relating to ownership of Plant Breeder’s Rights and entries in the Register
  • Part 17 relating to trade mark oppositions
  • Part 18 relating to seizure notices
  • Part 19 relating to publishing personal information of registered patent or trade marks attorneys
  • Part 20 relating to (criminal) prosecutions
  • Part 21 relating to the Secretary’s role in the Plant Breeder’s Rights Act
  • Part 22 relating to updating references to Designs Act
  • Part 23 abolishing the Plant Breeder’s Rights Advisory Committee.

I have no hope of trying to cover all that. Some of the things that caught my eye:

Part 15 introduces substantive changes to “unjustified threats”. The provisions in the Trade Marks Act will be amended to remove the defence of bringing infringement proceedings with due diligence. This will bring the trade marks regime in line with that for patents, designs and copyright. A corresponding regime is to be introduced for PBR.

Part 15 will also introduce a right for a victim of an unjustified threat to seek additional damages. What will be a flagrantly unjustified threat should be fun to explore.[1] Curiously, this remedy is not proposed for copyright.[2]

Part 13 proposes to reduce the period for acceptance of a trade mark, but expand the grounds for deferment. Items 421, 423 and 425 of the exposure draft regulations propose to reduce the period under reg. 4.12 from 15 months to 9 months after an adverse first report. However, item 427 inserts a new ground for deferring acceptance on the basis that:

(1A) The Registrar may, at the request of the applicant in writing, defer acceptance of an application for registration of a trade mark if:

(a) the request is made within the period applicable under regulation 4.12 or that period as extended under section 224, 224B or 224C of the Act; and

(b) the Registrar reasonably believes that there are grounds for refusing the application under section 41 or 177 of the Act; and

(c) the applicant is seeking to gather documents or evidence as to why the applicant considers there are no grounds for so refusing the application.

For renewal and re-examination (Part 2), apparently, it is possible to request examination of a registered design even after it has already been examined and certified. A formal re-examination process will be introduced. A re-examination regime is also proposed for PBR. The regimes for re-examination of patents and trade marks will also be clarified.

For re-examination (Part 3)

The EM says there are three broad issues with the current regimes:

> There are three broad issues with the extension of time system. The first issue is the differences in the number and types of extensions available between the IP rights. This increases complexity and confusion as to which extension is applicable and what evidence is required for supporting the request in a given situation. The second issue is the administrative burden placed on customers and IP Australia. Short extensions rarely have a significant impact on third parties, yet require the same declarations from applicants and assessment by IP Australia as long extensions. The third issue is that the protection for third parties that used an invention or trade mark while the IP application or right was lapsed or ceased can be inadequate or burdensome to obtain.  

The EM then says the main changes are:

  • repeal the ‘despite due care’ extension for patents;
  • remove the Commissioner’s and Registrar’s discretion for all general extensions, for all rights. This will
  • simplify the process and ensure compliance with the Patent Law Treaty and Patent Cooperation Treaty;
  • require all requests for extensions to be filed within two months of the removal of the cause of the failure to comply, to ensure there are no unreasonable delays;
  • improve the compensation for third parties that use inventions when a patent lapsed or ceased to reduce the burden on third parties;
  • expand the protection against infringement for third parties that use a trade mark while it was ceased to include while a trade mark application was lapsed;
  • introduce a streamlined process for short extensions, but ensure IP Australia can review and remake a decision on an extension of time;
  • prevent applicants from obtaining consecutive ‘short’ extensions for the same action;
  • provide general extensions and corresponding third party protection for PBRs.

Part 6 plans repeal of the requirements to publish information in the Official Journals, replacing them instead with an obligation to publish some information on the website or other electronic means.

Part 7 plans changes to the processes for amendments of information entered on the Registers and in documents. Perhaps alarmingly, these include plans to allow rights owners to make some changes to the Registers themselves!

Part 9 proposes introducing the potential for computerised decision making. An example of what is intended is the situation where an application has been accepted and the opposition period has expired without an opposition being filed. In such a situation “the computer” will “decide” to grant the right (presumably after,checking the fee has been paid). This seems intriguing, but you will have to go to a proposed legislative instrument to find out what decisions can be (have been) automated.

No doubt there will be something else to meet your curiosity lurking in the details!

You can find links to the exposure draft documents here. Remember though, get your submissions by 22 January 2017.


  1. Of course, in line with the existing provisions for additional damages for infringements, it may be possible to “score” even if the threat itself is not flagrant.  ?
  2. It can’t be because copyright falls under a different department because the exposure draft amends the Copyright Act to allow for electronic notifications (“notice” is also deprecated in this new simplified regime) relating to customs seizures – see Part 18.  ?

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

Logan J has ruled that documents prepared by a firm of trade mark attorneys in connection with a domain name arbitration are not covered by trade marks attorney privilege. The limits on the scope of “trade marks attorney privilege” is the main takeaway – in particular, Logan J considered that a draft statutory declaration prepared in connection with a UDRP complaint did not fall within the scope of the privilege. There is a warning about how a claim of privilege is made too.

Logan J has ruled that documents prepared by a firm of trade mark attorneys in connection with a domain name arbitration are not covered by trade marks attorney privilege. The limits on the scope of “trade marks attorney privilege” is the main takeaway – in particular, Logan J considered that a draft statutory declaration prepared in connection with a UDRP complaint did not fall within the scope of the privilege. There is a warning about how a claim of privilege is made too.

Titan is suing a Mr Cross and a Dr Harmon alleging that a website they, or one of them, operated – Beware of Titan Garages – infringed its trade mark rights and copyright.

Titan alleges that Mr Cross is a fictitious person.[1]

Titan had previously brought a complaint against Mr Cross under the UDRP unsuccessfully. Mr Cross was represented in that dispute by a firm of patent and trade mark attorneys (the attorneys) and not their associated law firm.

Titan issued a subpoena to the attorneys for production of documents which disclosed information about the identity of Mr Cross. The subpoena allowed redaction of information in the documents protected by client legal privilege (apart from name and contact details). The attorneys produced documents in answer to the privilege in redacted form. After inspection, Titan sought to access the documents in unredacted form. The attorneys objected, citing s 229.

Section 229 provides that a communication, or a record or document, made for the dominant purpose of a registered trade marks attorney providing “intellectual property advice” is privileged in the same way and to the same extent as if made by a lawyer.

The attorneys recognised that the privilege was Mr Cross’ privilege; not theirs. They had made efforts to obtain his instructions, but these were not forthcoming. Mr Cross did not appear at the hearing before Logan J either. As it was Mr Cross’ privilege to waive or not, the attorneys properly maintained the objection.

Why the claim of privilege was refused

In support of the claim, the trade mark attorneys provided an affidavit by the solicitors acting for them in connection with the subpoena. It stated that the deponent was informed the documents:

(1) were part of the trade mark attorney firm’s confidential files; and

(2) contained confidential communications with the attorneys for the purpose of them giving advice in connection with the UDRP complaint.

Logan J considered that the evidence did not rise above “mere assertion” and, in the circumstances of this case, was insufficient to discharge the onus on the person claiming the privilege to prove the privilege applied. His Honour had earlier explained at [9] that:

“the essential issue on a claim for privilege is the purpose for which the document or communication in question was made”: Hancock v Rinehart at [32]. It necessarily follows that the best, though not the only sufficient, source of evidence is the direct evidence of the person whose purpose is in question: Hancock v Rinehart at [32]. Procedural fairness questions in relation to other affected parties intrude in relation to any endeavour to prove the requisite purpose just by an inspection by the Court of the document which is the subject of the asserted privilege. That means that a court ought to be cautious about acting upon an invitation so to do, especially if that invitation is not attended by separate evidence describing the document and the circumstances of its creation….

Logan J did acknowledge that there might be other situations where the circumstances could lead to a different result. His Honour’s approach, however, highlights the risks that can be run by what might be thought to have been a fairly typical form of claim to privilege.

No doubt the attorneys were hampered in preparing the response by Mr Cross’ failure to provide instructions. One might also speculate whether his failure to provide instructions or to appear in circumstances where Titan alleged he was fictitious influenced his Honour’s approach. Titan did not take the point that the affidavit was “on information and belief”, but that is often problematic.[2] Logan J was not invited to inspect the documents and did not consider it appropriate to do so of his own motion. Presumably the point of claiming the privilege would be lost if his Honour had inspected the documents.

The scope of trade mark attorney privilege

Logan J noted that s 229 provides a privilege only in respect of communications and documents made for the dominant purpose of providing “intellectual property advice”.

Relevantly, that was defined as advice in relation to “trade marks” or (one might add) “any related matters”.

His Honour pointed out at [11] – [12] that the privilege was conferred only in respect of the advisory aspect of client legal privilege and did not extend to the litigation aspects.[3] While s 19(2) of the Code of Conduct for Patent and Trade Marks Attorneys 2013 incorporates a duty of confidentiality into the attorneys’ retainer. The terms and scope of that obligation were not co-extensive with the privilege. Consequently at [14]:

As s 229 is presently drawn, it is certainly possible to conceive of anomalous outcomes concerning the existence or otherwise of s 229 privilege with respect to such an arbitral proceeding. For example, it is not controversial that advice as to whether the rights associated with a registered trade mark confer rights in respect of an Internet domain name fall within the definition of “intellectual property advice” in s 229(3). And so, too, would advice as to whether the contents of a statutory declaration for use in an arbitral proceeding were sufficient to demonstrate that those rights did or did not extend to an Internet domain name seem to fall within the ambit of s 229 privilege – either by virtue of paragraph (b) or (e) of the s 229(3) definition. But the mere drafting of that statutory declaration by a registered trade mark attorney would not attract s 229 privilege. Likewise, advice as to what submission ought to be made to demonstrate that the asserted trade mark right did or did not extend to cover a domain name would seem to fall within the scope of the privilege, whereas the mere drafting of such a submission for use in an arbitral proceeding would not. However this may be, the present claim must be determined solely by reference to the scope of the privilege as presently enunciated by Parliament. (emphasis supplied)

If with respect his Honour’s approach is right, there would appear to be potentially quite drastic consequences for the normal practice of attorney firms, and for that matter patent attorneys,[4] in drafting statutory declarations and preparing submissions in contested hearings before the Office such as opposition proceedings.

Of course, given the view Logan J took about the adequacy of the claim to privilege, his Honour’s view on the scope of the privilege is “only” obiter dicta.

And, it must be said, the circumstances were rather unusual given Mr Cross’ failure to provide instructions or defend his claim.

Further, his Honour was not considering the potential application of the privilege to proceedings in the Office. And it might be possible to argue that such proceedings are not what is normally within the scope of litigation privilege rather than “advisory” privilege. Both privilege provisions for trade mark attorneys and patent attorneys draw a clear line between “intellectual property advice” and “court proceedings”. But “arbitrations” under the UDRP are not court cases either, officially being styled administrative proceedings without prejudice to the parties’ rights to litigate in court.

It may be arguable that, given the traditional role of patent attorneys and trade marks attorneys in preparing such documents before the Office (at least), it can be argued that they fall within the scope of the “any related matters” part of the definition of “intellectual property advice”. That may be seen as straining the concept of “advice” too far in the dichotomy Logan J acted under.

On a positive note, Logan J accepted that documents prepared by persons who were not registered trade marks attorneys could benefit from the privilege if prepared under the supervision of a registered trade marks attorney.

Titan Enterprises (Qld) Pty Ltd v Cross [2016] FCA 1241


  1. at [4].  ?
  2. For example, Ansell Healthcare Products LLC v Reckitt Benckiser (Australia) Pty Ltd (No 2)
    [2016] FCA 765 at [32] – [35].  ?
  3. Contrast s 118 and s 119 of the Evidence Act 1995.  ?
  4. Patents Act 1990 s 200  ?

Two points about exclusive licences of patents in Australia

The Full Court has upheld Rares J’s decision that Novartis was an exclusive licensee with standing to sue for patent infringement. However, its sub-licensee was not.[1]

Under the Patents Act 1990, only the patentee and an exclusive licensee have standing to sue for infringement: s 120. For this purpose, the licensee must be the exclusive licensee of all the rights to exploit the patent.[2]

In its initial licence, Orion had reserved to itself the right to manufacture the relevant drugs; granting Novartis the exclusive rights to import, use, offer to sell and sell the drugs. Orion also had rights to introduce its own generic product if a generic producer entered the market.

Following the Full Court’s ruling in BMS v Apotex (Aripiprazole), those terms meant that Novatis was not an “exclusive licensee” as (at the least) the grant did not include also the exclusive right to make the drugs.

Following Aripiprazole, however, Orion and Novartis amended the terms of the licence. Under the terms of the new licence, Orion simply granted Novartis the exclusive licence to exploit the patent in Australia “to the exclusion of all other persons”. In clause 2, however, Novartis undertook to buy all its requirements for the licensed products from Orion. There was also a side agreement that Novartis’ exclusive licence terminated if its rights under another, umbrella agreement[3] terminated.

As Actavis did not contend that the new arrangements were a sham, the Full Court affirmed Rares J’s conclusion that the new arrangements superseded the previous arrangements in which Orion had reserved rights of manufacture. Further, the agreement to buy all its requirements for the patented products did not undercut that exclusivity.

There were textual arguments to support that conclusion, such as recognition that Novartis could apply to IP Australia to register its status as exclusive licensee. Perhaps, the key point is that an exclusive licensee could, if it so wished, contract with some other person for that person to make the products for it. The fact that the “other person” was the patentee did not undermine that proposition.

We are persuaded that the primary judge’s analysis of the relationship between clause 1 and clause 2 is correct. Although it is true to say that the two clauses are connected, we think that the primary judge was correct to conclude that they represent separate promises in the sense that clause 1 creates the plenary rights of an exclusive licensee and clause 2 reflects the agreement between the parties as to how Novartis will exercise its rights. We do not think that clause 2 acts as some exclusion clause or limitation clause in the way in which the appellants contend, such as to cut down the legal effect of the rights granted by clause 1.

The sub-licensee

Novartis itself had granted an exclusive sub-licence of its rights under the exclusive licence to Novartis Australia.

The Full Court rejected the argument (and Novartis itself did not try to defend it) that there had been an assignment of its rights to Novartis Australia.

The Full Court ruled that s 120 is mandatory and not permissive only. That is, only a patentee or an exclusive licensee had standing to sue for infringement. As Novartis Australia was only a sub-licensee, therefore, it had no standing to sue for infringement.

As a sub-licensee, however, Novartis Australia had sufficient interest to have standing as a proper party to the cross-claim for invalidity under s 139.

It is difficult to imagine that in this case this delicate footwork will have much reflection in who pays whose costs. One point where it could have a real impact, however, could be on what damages, if any, were payable. It might well not be possible to claim damages for sales lost by Novartis Australia, if it did in fact lose any sales, as Novartis Australia did not have standing to sue for infringement.[4]

Actavis Pty Ltd v Orion Corporation [2016] FCAFC 121 (Allsop CJ, Nicholas and Yates JJ)


  1. There are 193 paragraphs before the discussion of this issue, dealing with questions of validity and infringement (which seem to turn mainly on points of construction).  ?
  2. From the Dictionary: “exclusive licensee ” means a licensee under a licence granted by the patentee and conferring on the licensee, or on the licensee and persons authorised by the licensee, the right to exploit the patented invention throughout the patent area to the exclusion of the patentee and all other persons.  ?
  3. A so-called Rest of the World Agreement, setting out arrangements between the parties except for the USA and the European Union.  ?
  4. In Insight SRC v ACER, however, a Full Court held that a copyright owner could recover damages for sales lost non-exclusive licensees who did not have standing to sue for infringement.  ?

The patent was not infringed

Thank you to all those readers who expressed a view in last Tuesday’s poll. The good news is that better than 80% of you answered correctly. According to the traditional view, recently applied by Rares J, there would be no infringement in Australia in the circumstances outlined.

On the traditional view, a patent (like any other intellectual property right in Australia) is a territorial right. A patent, of course, confers the exclusive right to exploit the claimed invention in the patent area. Exploit in this context meaning:

(a) where the invention is a product–make, hire, sell or otherwise dispose of the product, offer to make, sell, hire or otherwise dispose of it, use or import it, or keep it for the purpose of doing any of those things; or

(b) where the invention is a method or process–use the method or process or do any act mentioned in paragraph (a) in respect of a product resulting from such use.

Under the old form of the patent grant, the patentee was granted the exclusive right to make, use, exercise and vend the invention. In BASF v Hickson, the House of Lords ruled that a defendant in England, who entered into a contract with another party to make some goods for that third party in Switzerland and deliver them to that third party in Switzerland, did not infringe even though the third party subsequently imported the goods into England.[1] Lord Davey said:[2]

It must be such a vending as will be in a sense a working or use and exercise of the invention in this country or an appropriation by the vendor of some advantage which the patentee can derive from such use and exercise. A contract to deliver the goods abroad does not in any way interfere with the patentee’s rights to work and utilize his invention in this country. It is a contract to do a perfectly lawful act, and whether the contract be made in this country or abroad does not in itself affect the patentee’s monopoly of working his invention. Nor is it material to consider whether or when the property in the goods passed to the purchaser. It is lawful to be the owner of the goods if made and situate abroad, and neither the vendor nor the purchaser in my opinion thereby infringes the patent. The goods may or may not be afterwards brought into this country, and a different question will then arise, but that is no concern of the vendor after he has parted with them. I am of opinion that “vending the invention” in the common form of patent is confined to selling goods made or brought into this country ….

Load and Move has a patent in Australia for spreaders and tipplers, which are apparently used in the loading and tipping of shipping containers. CTS, another Australian company, entered into a contract with a mine in Eritrea to supply the mine with spreaders and tipplers which Load and Move considered would infringe its patent. However, CTS agreed to have the spreaders and tipplers made in China and delivered to the port in China FOB or ex works for delivery directly to the mine in Eritrea. The spreaders and tipplers would never come into Australia.

Load and Move was seeking preliminary discovery from CTS to establish whether payments for the contract with the Eritrean mine were received in Australia.

Rares J has refused preliminary discovery.

One of the conditions that must be established to obtain preliminary discovery is that the applicant reasonably believes it has a right to obtain relief against a prospective respondent.[3]

Rares J began by pointing out that a subjective belief that one’s right was being infringed was not enough; the belief had to be reasonably held. That required the existence of facts from which a reasonable person could form the required belief. That is, the belief was tested objectively.

Here, the question was whether there were facts from which a reasonable person could conclude that Load and Move’s patent was being infringed in Australia. In light of BASF v Hickson, however, Rares J held that a reasonable person could not hold such a view.

Load and Move Pty Ltd v Container Rotation Systems Pty Ltd
[2016] FCA 843

ps Sorry no post on Friday: let’s just say there was a synchronisation glitch.


  1. The third party would infringe by importing.  ?
  2. Badische Anilin Und Soda Fabrik v Hickson [1906] AC 419 at 422 – 423 cited by Rares J in Load and Move at [26].  ?
  3. FCR r 7.23.  ?

Was the patent infringed?

Both A Pty Ltd and R Pty Ltd are located in Australia.

A Pty Ltd has a patent in Australia over a gizmo.

R Pty Ltd has entered into a contract with T LL C to make 100 gizmos for T for delivery to T’s facility in Eritrea. R Pty Ltd won’t make the gizmos itself; they will be made by its manufacturer in Shenzhen, China . Once made, R’s manufacturer will deliver the 100 gizmos FOB to a ship T has chartered in Hong Kong.

Assuming that the gizmos made in Shenzhen fall squarely within the claims of A’s patent, has R Pty Ltd infringed A’s patent? Cast your vote (anonymously) below:

[socialpoll id=”2382621″]

The answer should be posted on Friday.

Selected links,from last week

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

Patents

Trade marks

Copyright

Remedies

Not categorised

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