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ALDI lookalike survives moroccanoil, but is not natural

Morroccanoil Israel Ltd (MIL) has successfully obtained injunctions against some of Aldi’s lookalike products, but only on the basis that the marketing misrepresented they were “natural” products and further that their argan oil content conferred certain “performance” characteristics. MIL’s claims that the products infringed its trade marks and “passed off” failed. MIL did successfully appeal the Registrar’s refusal to register “Moroccanoil” as a trade mark and fended off Aldi’s attempt to have MIL’s trade marks removed on the grounds that they were not capable of distinguishing.

Katzmann J’s decision runs to 741 paragraphs, so there is a lot more ore to be mined than I shall cover in this blog post.

MIL has two registered trade marks in Australia1 in respect of, amongst other things, hair care products:

TM 1221017
TM 1375954

 

 

 

 

 

Although its get up varied over time, you can get a good idea of how it sold its products in Australia from the following:

Aldi (Like Brands, only cheaper) introduced its own range of Moroccan Argan Oil products such as:2

 

The Trade Mark Infringement Claim

MIL put its case on trade mark infringement on Aldi’s use of Moroccan Argan Oil, not the get up of any product packaging.

Despite Aldi’s reliance on the presence of the PROTANE (or PROTANE Naturals) or VISAGE house brands, Katzmann J had little difficulty despatching the claim that Aldi did not use Moroccan Argan Oil as a trade mark over the fence for six. The term was not purely descriptive; argan oil was only one ingredient of many and only the 11th or 12th ingredient in terms of volume. Viewed objectively, it clearly presented as a badge of origin, especially when depicted with oil drops instead of “o”.

However, Katzmann J held that Moroccan Argan Oil was not deceptively to either trade mark. A central consideration was that each of MIL’s trade marks was a composite mark. “Moroccanoil” was a prominent feature, but the prominent “M” was an equally prominent feature.3

Further, by the time Aldi came to adopt “its” trade mark, there other players in the market using the expression “Moroccan Argan Oil”.

Treating “Moroccanoil” as the relevant essential feature of MIL’s trade marks, Katzmann J accepted that the interposition of “Argan” between “moroccan” and “oil” may well not interrupt the recall of the brand moroccanoil but nonetheless went on to hold at [220]:

…. In my view, there is no real, tangible danger that an ordinary or reasonable consumer with an imperfect recollection of one or other or both those marks or, as was argued, the name “Moroccanoil”, would wonder whether a mark called “Moroccan Argan Oil” is or is associated with either of the composite marks that are the First and Second Trade Marks.  Ignoring similarities in the get-up of the respective products, including the colour-scheme and packaging, I am not satisfied that the hypothetical consumer would mistake the Aldi “Moroccan Argan Oil” mark for the First or Second Trade Marks or wonder whether the Aldi product is made by the owner of the First and Second Trade Marks.  Considering each of the First and Second Trade Marks as a whole, I find that the Aldi mark is not deceptively similar to either of the MIL marks.

Four other points

First, MIL placed heavy reliance on what it said was evidence of 58 consumers being confused that Aldi’s product was MIL’s. These included reports of people who said, or were reported to have said, that they had bought MIL’s products in Aldo’s stores although, of course, MIL’s products were not available in Aldo’s stores.

Only one of those consumers gave direct evidence and Katzmann J considered there were sufficient deficiencies in her evidence to regard her as an unreliable witness.

For example, the witness had a clear recollection of seeing different Aldi products displayed together although it appears to have been accepted they were only displayed in different parts of the store, she referenced MIL’s get up rather than its trade mark, she admitted to being distracted by a distressed child and it emerged that she had not disclosed her previous experience working in advertising as the basis for concluding Aldi’s product was some kind of brand extension.

All the other evidence was the more typical hearsay evidence of employees of MIL and its distributor and stockists about what customers told them. Katzmann J accorded this evidence no weight. Her Honour’s reasons warrant very careful consideration, especially as this type of evidence (if not its scale) is very typical.

206 That is because the evidence largely consists of reports given to others in a way that makes it impossible to decide what was responsible for the confusion. Certainly, there is nothing to suggest that any deceptive similarity arising from the get-up of the products or aspects of it were disregarded. The evidence provides either no or no sufficient foundation for the conclusion that any purchase of an Aldi product was made because of the deceptive similarity of the respective marks.

The indirect nature of the evidence was critical as it meant there was no context to assess the conduct:

207 …. Matters such as the following are often left unclear, or are completely unexplained: whether the person was aware of MIL’s products when they encountered the Aldi products, and if so to what extent; which Aldi product(s) were in issue; in what circumstances the alleged confusion occurred, including what level of attention the person gave to the Aldi products at the time; whether there were other factors at play that might have led to the person acting in the way that they did; and any other relevant circumstances. It would be essential to understand these matters in order to accord any weight to the evidence.

208 In view of the way in which the evidence was adduced (predominantly through witnesses to whom the reports were either directly or indirectly made by anonymous consumers), and in the absence of contemporaneous records, it was not possible for these matters to be explored in cross-examination.

209 Furthermore, even at face value a number of the reports do not bespeak of confusion, let alone deception. In one case, reported by Ms Williamson, the consumer said that she had bought products at Aldi that “look like” MIL’s products. While this is illustrative of similarity, it does not denote deceptive similarity. Some of the evidence consists of second-hand hearsay, such as the complaints received by Thierry Fayard. As a matter of common experience this evidence is unreliable ….

Secondly, MIL sought to rely on Aldi’s alleged intention to trade on MIL’s reputation in its trade marks. There does not seem to have been any real dispute on the evidence that Aldi had set out to “benchmark” its products at least partly on MIL, but also partly on another competing product by Organix:

214 Ms Spinks’4 evidence is insufficient to demonstrate that by the choice of the name “Moroccan Argan Oil” Aldi set out to mislead consumers into thinking that the Aldi brand was moroccanoil. No precise evidence was led as to how Aldi settled on the name “Moroccan Argan Oil” and no questions on this subject were asked in cross-examination. If its object were as alleged, then one would think it would call its products “Moroccan Oil”. The name Aldi chose was different. The name Aldi chose —“Moroccan Argan Oil” — was the name then used by Organix, whose products Aldi had used as the “benchmark” for its shampoo and conditioner. Further, the ultimate product was not taken to market before Aldi had received advice as to compliance with Australian laws. Ms Spinks said that an organisation known as “Silliker” (Silliker Australia Pty Ltd) was retained to undertake “due diligence checks” to ensure that proposed product packaging and labelling complied with relevant “regulations” and the Australian Consumer Law. She was not challenged about this evidence in cross-examination.

A third aspect is that MIL also sought to lead evidence of 13 other major brands which Aldi was said to have knocked off “lookalikes”. MIL wanted to use this evidence as tendency evidence under s 97 of the Evidence Act to show that Aldi deliberately copied product get ups to take advantage of their reputation.

Katzmann J accepted that could potentially be relevant evidence. MIL’s application failed, however, because its notice was not sufficiently specific to comply with the stringent requirements for the admissibility of such evidence and it was given too late. Moreover, the evidence would not carry matters further than the direct evidence of Ms Spinks. At [129]:

… tendency evidence is generally used to prove, “by a process of deduction, that a person acted in a particular way, or had a particular state of mind, on a relevant occasion, when there is no, or inadequate, direct evidence of that conduct or that state of mind on that occasion”: …. Here, however, there was direct evidence from Ms Spinks of the development process in relation to the goods in question. The evidence MIL wished to adduce as “tendency evidence” consisted merely of samples and images of other, unrelated products. It did not include any evidence as to how or why the get-up for the particular products was selected. It takes the evidence given by Ms Spinks no further. Consequently I am not persuaded that the evidence in question has significant probative value.

Even if the tendency evidence had been admitted, it would not have helped on the trade mark case as it was evidence of a tendency to adopt features of get up, not the trade mark itself.

Finally on this part of the case, Katzmann J held that Aldi’s hair brushes and dryers etc. were goods of the same description as the hair care products in class 3 covered by MIL’s registrations. As with Aldi’s own hair care products, however, there was no likelihood of deception or confusion so s 120(2) did not come into play.

The ACL claims

MIL brought three claims under the Australian Consumer Law alleging that Aldi had engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct by:

  1. misrepresenting that its products were MIL’s products or in some way sponsored or associated with MIL (i.e., a passing off type claim);
  2. misrepresenting that its products were made from, or substantially from, natural ingredients; and
  3. misrepresenting that the argan oil in the products gave the products performance benefits which they did not in fact have.

As noted above, MIL succeeded only on the latter two claims.

In relation to the passing off claim, Katzmann J accepted that Aldi had modelled the get up of some of its products on MIL’s get up5 and sought to appropriate some of the reputation of MIL’s products to its own benefit. At [380]:

Aldi unquestionably modelled its Oil Product on the MIL Oil Treatment. Ms Spinks referred to it as “the benchmark” product. Aldi copied several of its “diagnostic cues”, including the use of a bottle very similar in style, size, shape, and colour, the same pump mechanism for the extraction of the oil from the bottle, the use of a cardboard box, and the prominent use of a similar colour for both the bottle’s label and the box. Ms Spinks accepted in cross-examination that Aldi’s object was to achieve an exact colour match with the bottles and conceded that consumers would associate the colour of the bottle and the type of packaging with the MIL product. ….

and

384 The evident purpose of copying important features of the MIL Oil Treatment was to remind consumers of that product. It would be naïve to believe that in doing so Aldi was not seeking to capitalise on MIL’s reputation and attract to itself some of its custom. I find that in adopting the particular get-up for the Aldi Oil Treatment bottle and box, Aldi copied from the get-up of the MIL Oil Treatment and box and that it did so in order to appropriate part of MIL’s trade or reputation or the trade of MIL’s authorised distributors and resellers.

That was not sufficient in itself for a finding of misleading or deceptive conduct. The question was whether or not Aldi had sufficiently distinguished its products from MIL’s.

Katzmann J considered that, if regard were paid only to the similarities between the respective get ups, there would have been a likelihood of deception. However, it was necessary to have regard to the respective get ups as a whole. When considered as a whole, there were important differences which served sufficiently to distinguish Aldi’s products:

  • first, ALDI’s products were prominently branded with its well-established house brands PROTANE or VIGOUR;
  • secondly, MIL’s products featured the very prominent large “M”, which was not replicated in ALDI’s get up;
  • thirdly, in MIL’s products “moroccanoil” appeared vertically, while Aldi used “moroccan argan oil” horizontally only;
  • fourthly, there were significant differences in the packaging, especially the shampoo and conditioner which were closer to the Organix product than to MIL’s;
  • fifthly, the closest products – the competing oil treatment products – were sold by MIL in a glass bottle, but Aldi had used a plastic bottle only;

Her Honour considered that none of these differences were concealed and were at least as conspicuous as the similarities. Further, viewed as a whole, the Aldi range was cheaper and the use of the house mark clearly marked the products out as a different brand. Further, the two businesses marketed their products through completely different trade channels and at very different price ranges.

MIL’s heavy reliance on the similarity of the turquoise colours used did not avail:

413 Colour-blind, inattentive consumers, and consumers with an imperfect recollection of the MIL products might confuse the colours. I accept Professor Quester’s evidence that consumers are unlikely to detect subtle differences in colour between two sets of products as they would not ordinarily engage in a side-by-side comparison. Indeed, I am prepared to accept that a not insignificant number of consumers might think the colours are the same. On the other hand, as Ms Spinks’ evidence shows, at the time Aldi entered the market with “Moroccan Argan Oil”, at least one other company, Organix, was selling hair care products in turquoise containers and also under the name “Moroccan Argan Oil”. Other products, like Pure Oil of Marrakesh, were sold in cartons, bottles and other containers featuring various shades of blue.

414 Knowledge of third-party usage of a particular get-up or name can affect the chances that a consumer might be misled or deceived.

As in Cadbury v Darrell Lea, MIL did not have a monopoly in the colour.

MIL also failed in its attempt to rely on the printing of “Moroccan Oil” on (at least) some Aldi receipts. At [428], they were issued after purchase, which was too late.

As one would expect, the failure of this part of MIL’s ACL claim was also fatal to its passing off claim.

Natural products

I don’t propose to go into the detail of why the use of the brand name Protane Naturals was misleading or deceptive other than to record that Katzmann J did find the brand name deceptive since the relevant products were not substantially “natural” products. There is some quite involved evidence about what a “natural” product is or may be if you are going to get into that sort of thing.

Performance representations

Some of Aldi’s products claimed on their packaging to “helps strengthen hair” and “helps protect hair from styling, heat and UV damage” and similar claims.

Katzmann J rejected Aldi’s argument that this was a reference to the capabilities of the product as a whole rather than as a result of the use of moroccan argan oil. Apart from the presentation on the packaging and the prominence given to that oil, Aldi’s own internal documents claimed it was the argan oil that conferred these attributes.

MIL’s scientific evidence established, however, that there was too little argan oil (which is apparently very expensive) in Aldi’s products to have the desired effects. Needless to say, the expert evidence dealing with this part of the case is also rather involved.

Wrap up

Overall and barring the outcome of any appeal, this seems like a rather Pyrrhic victory for MIL. I don’t have any idea how much damages will flow for the breaches of the ACL. Nonetheless, here is plenty of scope for Aldi to continue using its lookalike get up; the prevention of which was surely the point of the exercise. What is more, the result was achieved only after a very lengthy trial including, amongst other things, eight experts: 2 lexicographers, four marketing experts and two chemists!

Moroccanoil Israel Ltd v Aldi Foods Pty Ltd [2017] FCA 823

  1. Following her Honour’s decision (and barring any appeal), it will have three including TM No. 1463962 “moroccanoil” in respect of Hair care products, including oil, mask, moisture cream, curly hair moisture cream, curly hair mask, curly and damaged hair mask, argan and saffron shampoo, hair loss shampoo, dandruff shampoo, dry hair shampoo, gel, mousse, conditioner and hair spray in class 3. ?
  2. In addition to hair “lotions” such as shampoo, Aldi also marketed hair brushes and powered hair dryers and the like. ?
  3. Those of you who read 140 year old case law might also be thinking about the striking colour scheme. Katzmann J, citing the 5th edition of Shanahan and the Office Manual, held that MIL’s trade marks were not limited to the specific colours as there was no endorsement under s 70 and so the marks were taken to be registered for all colours. One could be forgiven for thinking this approach renders the Register seriously misleading at times. ?
  4. The Aldi employee charged with introducing the range. ?
  5. The Aldi shampoo and conditioner products were “benchmarked” on Organix’ get up, not MIL’s. ?

Government consultation papers on patent and trade marks

Government consultation papers on patent and trade marks

Government consultation papers on patent and trade marks

The Australian government has issued 5 consultation papers on how to implement some of the recommendations it has accepted from the Productivity Commission’s Final Report into Intellectual Property Arrangements:

Submissions are required by 17 November 2017 (with a view to introducing a bill as soon as possible).

I can’t say that introducing yet another inventive step test (there are 4 if you count common general knowledge alone – depending on which regime applies to the patent in question) makes much sense.

Most of the Productivity Commission’s reasoning was based on the common general knowledge alone test used in Alphapharm.1 It did find, however, that there had not been much change in the Commissioner’s rate of granting patents relative to the EPO since the Raising the Bar act was passed. However, so far as I could see, it doesn’t tell us how many applications the Commissioner had examined under the Raising the Bar regime and you would have to guess a large number were still under the 2001 regime.2

Essentially, the Raising the Bar regime allows any piece of prior art to be combined with common general knowledge to test obviousness. It also allows prior art information to be combined in the same way as one might expect an English court or an EPO board would.3 The Raising the Bar regime should in fact operate just like the UK/EPC regime and one would have thought we should give it a good chance to work!

  1. See e.g. the reliance on Angiotech Pharmaceuticals v Conor Medsystems Inc. [2007 EWCA 5 at [43]. ??
  2. The Merial case is the only judicial consideration I am aware of applying the regime introduced in 2001 but, if you know of others, let me know. ??
  3. See e.g. KCI Licensing v Smith & Nephew [2010 EWCA Civ 1260 at 6. ??

 

A real estate franchise agreement

2The Court of Appeal has ruled that Century 21 Australia’s arrangements permitting Victorian Realty Group to trade as “Century 21 Complete Properties” was a franchise agreement for the purposes of the Estate Agents Act 1980 (Vic.).

Section 43(5) of the Victorian Estate Agents Act has its own definition of a “franchising agreement”:

franchising agreement means an agreement whereby an estate agent is authorized to carry on business under any name in consideration of any other person entitled to carry on business under that name receiving any consideration whether by way of a share in the profits of the estate agent’s business or otherwise (emphasis supplied)

One of the reasons this is significant is that each party to the franchising agreement is jointly and severally liable for any defalcations, or negligence, by the estate agent : s 43.

Victorian Realty Group (VRG), while trading as “Century 21 Complete Properties” in Craigieburn, had committed a number of defalcations which resulted in 13 of its clients losing money. Those clients were compensated out of the Victorian Property Fund. The Secretary brought proceedings against Century 21 Australia, the franchisor1 under s 43 to recover those payouts.

Under the terms of the franchise agreement, and the incorporated Policy and Procedures Manual, Century 21 Australia granted VRG the right and obligation to trade exclusively under the name Century 21 Complete Properties. There were other rights and obligations to use “Century 21” in the various ‘trademarked’ forms, and to use various systems and participate in the Century 21 marketing plan. In other words, you and I would consider it a pretty typical example of a franchise arrangement.

The trial judge, however, found that the arrangement was not a “franchise agreement” as defined in s 43 because of the words in the definition “under that name”. VRG was authorised only to carry on business under the name “Century 21 Complete Properties”, not just “Century 21”; and “Century 21 Australia”, the franchisor, did not carry on business under that name.

The Court of Appeal unanimously allowed the Secretary’s appeal. As a matter of practicality and commercial reality both VRG and Century 21 Australia were carrying on business under “Century 21”, not just their respective formal names:

50 In its written case, the respondent seemed to accept that the Franchise Agreement was an agreement that would ordinarily be described as, and understood to be, a franchise agreement. The respondent’s written case described the Franchise Agreement as ‘the unambiguous franchise agreement in this case’. That description was, with respect, apposite. While that description does not relieve the Court of its obligation to properly construe and apply the definition of ‘franchising agreement’, it brings into focus the question of what legislative purpose might possibly exist in differentiating between franchise agreements that have different provisions as to trade names and the terms upon which their use is or is not permitted. That said, it is of course the text of the statutory definition that is paramount in the resolution of this proceeding.

51 ‘Century 21’ is a name. Equally, one might describe the relevant circumstances in this case as involving the use of a name being ‘the Century 21 name’. When one examines the Franchise Agreement (including the P&P Manual) it seems to us that that agreement authorised VRG to carry on business under the name ‘Century 21’ or the Century 21 name. Like any franchise agreement, it did so on particular terms. We have already set out the relevant terms in the present case. The existence of those terms does not gainsay the fact that the Franchise Agreement was one which authorised VRG to carry on business under the Century 21 name.

52 Similarly, in our view, the International Agreement entitled the respondent to carry on business under the name ‘Century 21’ or the Century 21 name within the meaning of the statutory definition. In our view, this conclusion accords with the text of the definition construed, as it must be, in its context and by reference to the legislative purpose of the provisions of the Act.

The focus on commercial reality is no doubt to be welcomed. The decision, however, has little direct relevance to the broader definition of “franchise agreement” for the purposes of the Franchising Code of Conduct as that is not tied just to a name. Instead, clause 5 of schedule 1 to the Competition and Consumer (Industry Codes – Franchising) Regulation 2014 applies to agreements which satisfy 3 requirements including (by way of contrast to the Estate Agents Act) the rather more broadly expressed operation of a business substantially or materially associated with a trade mark, advertising or commercial symbol. More fully, a franchise agreement is an agreement:

(b) in which a person (the franchisor ) grants to another person (the franchisee ) the right to carry on the business of offering, supplying or distributing goods or services in Australia under a system or marketing plan substantially determined, controlled or suggested by the franchisor or an associate of the franchisor; and

(c) under which the operation of the business will be substantially or materially associated with a trade mark, advertising or a commercial symbol:

(i) owned, used or licensed by the franchisor or an associate of the franchisor; or

(ii) specified by the franchisor or an associate of the franchisor; and

(d) under which, before starting or continuing the business, the franchisee must pay or agree to pay to the franchisor or an associate of the franchisor an amount including, for example

Secretary to the Department of Justice and Regulation v Century 21 Australia Pty Ltd [2017] VSCA 205

  1. Century 21 Australia had been appointed the master franchisee for Australia by Century 21 International with powers to appoint and manage “Century 21” franchisees here. ??

Shape not misleading

Last week, we looked at Mortimer J’s reasons for dismissing Shape Shopfitters’ allegations of trade mark infringement against Shape Australia. Presumably, given the colour and stylistic constraints of the registered trade mark, Shape Shopfitters’ main attack was based on the prohibition against misleading or deceptive conduct under the Australian Consumer Law. It too was unsuccessful.

Shape Shopfitters’ contention was that, by changing its name from ISIS to Shape Australia, Shape Australia was misrepresenting to the public that the two businesses were affiliated in some way with Shape Shopfitters being the specialist shopfitting arm of the Shape Australia. The descriptive nature of the common term, Shape Shopfitters’ fairly confined reputation and the fact that most of its dealings were with well-established contacts combined to mean that there was no such misrepresentation.

In about October 2016 when Shape Australia changed its name, Shape Shopfitters had annual turnover of between $10 million to $13 million a year. Almost all of its business was in fitting out, or the maintenance of, retail food outlets; especially quick service restaurants. Two thirds of its jobs were for contracts under $5,000; over 90% was for jobs under $200,000. Most of its business was in Victoria. 88% of its business outside Victoria was for the same seven clients: Grill’d, Nando’s, Sumo Salad, San Churro, Mad Mex, Schnitz or Coco Cubano. All of whom were well-established customers. Most of its work came from invitations to participate in closed tenders requested by established clients or directly negotiated contracts, once again with established customers.

In contrast, Shape Australia had annual revenues of around $400 million and the average size of its contracts was $1.55 million. Its role was usually as head contractor and construction manager, contracting out the work to specialist sub-contractors. It did do, however, some shopfitting work.

Mortimer J rejected Shape Australia’s argument that the relevant public was restricted just to the purchasers of construction services. Section 18 is not limited just to consumers; it provides protection to all people dealing with the respondent. In this case, including suppliers such as architects and subbies.

Mortimer J also rejected Shape Australia’s argument that none of its customers would mistakenly think that there was a connection with Shape Shopfitters. That was irrelevant. The question was whether people aware of Shape Shopfitters’ reputation would be misled or deceived.

However, there was no real, practical risk that the public would be misled or deceived. The businesses were simply too different and those dealing with Shape Shopfitters were well aware of its identity: At [216] – [217]:

I am not satisfied that participants in the industry would be led into such an error [i.e. thinking that Shape Shopfitters was an arm of Shape Australia]. The parties’ business activities are too different, they operate in different areas, with the applicant being far more specialised and more geographically contained. The link the applicant posits is possible and not fanciful in a theoretical sense, but it is without any foundation in the reality of the way the parties’ business activities are conducted, and in the way the “participants in the commercial construction industry” encounter the two businesses. That is especially so when one considers evidence such as that from Mr Billings that the applicant secures a lot of its business through word-of-mouth referrals.

The most that can be said is that there is a likelihood that participants in the industry, on isolated occasions, may be led to confuse the two entities because they both have the word “Shape” in their name, and occasionally communications may be directed to one when meant for the other. That is what the evidence discloses has in fact occurred, from time to time, in relatively few instances.

While there was some evidence of confusion, confusion itself is not enough and they were isolated instances only. Quickly dispelled.

You might recall that her Honour excluded evidence of print outs of websites of various businesses as hearsay and prejudicial. Evidence of the registration of such businesses as companies or business names was admitted, however, because the evidence was official ASIC records. There were 12 such businesses.[1] While Mortimer J accepted that this evidence did not take the matter very far, nonetheless it showed that the public could well come across other “Shape” entities in circumstances which undermined the potential for Shape Shopfitters to be seen as an “arm” of Shape Australia:

I accept that evidence of the bare existence of these entities cannot take the matter very far. However, the number of such entities using the word “shape” in their corporate names, and (I am prepared to infer) trading activities, is not without significance. Even without more information about those entities, the relative prevalence of the word “shape” in corporate and trading names, frequently in conjunction with construction-related words such as “joinery” and “projects” suggests that “participants in the industry” (including potential clients, purchasers and subcontractors) might well come across other entities using the word “shape” in the provision, sale and promotion of their particular services. That possibility cannot be discounted, and it tends against the linear proposition on which the applicant’s case relies: namely, the likelihood that the applicant (and it would appear, only the applicant) will be perceived to be part of the respondent’s larger group, and perhaps as its specialist shopfitting arm. That linear proposition must depend, it seems to me, on the applicant occupying something of a unique place in the market so that such a representation by the respondent’s use of the word “SHAPE” could only be made in respect of the applicant, and not other entities. This evidence tends against such a conclusion.

There was also some evidence from a search engine optimisation expert. It showed that neither business had very active websites. Those people who searched for Shape Shopfitters, however, typically did so by reference to the term “shopfitters”. This reinforced her Honour’s impression that it was its shopfitting specialty that identified Shape Shopfitters. On the other hand, Shape Australia did not typically generate hits in searches on terms related to “shopfitting”. If it did come up, it was invariably placed below the result for Shape Shopfitters:

Because of this, people searching for the Shape Shopfitters Website through searches for these terms are very unlikely to be misdirected to the SHAPE Australia website.

The passing off allegations failed similarly for want of the necessary misreprensation.

Shape Shopfitters Pty Ltd v Shape Australia Pty Ltd (No 3) [2017] FCA 865


  1. Shape Building Pty Ltd; Shape Design; Shape Property Developments; Shape Consulting; Shape Constructions Pty Ltd; Shape Project Management Pty Ltd; Shape Builders Pty Ltd; Shape Joinery & Design Pty Ltd; Shape Fitouts Pty Ltd; Shape Projects Pty Ltd; Shape Construction; the 12th, Shape Developments Pty Ltd changed its name in the course of the litigation although the reasons for that were not known.  ?

Shape shopped

Mortimer J has dismissed Shape Shopfitters claims against Shape Australia for misleading or deceptive conduct, passing off and trade mark infringement.

Much of the focus of the decision is on the misleading or deceptive conduct claim (and will have to be the subject of a future post). This post will look at the trade mark infringement claim.

Shape Shopfitters has registered Trade Mark No. 1731525 for shopfitting, construction and advisory services relating to construction in class 37 for this trade mark:

TM No. 1731525

It alleged that Shape Australia infringed that trade mark by using these signs:

Shape Australia provided construction services, apparently on a much larger scale, but was not specifically engaged in shopfitting – sub-contracting out those parts of its jobs. Also, Shape Australia did not provide its services to the particular people who were customers of Shape Shopfitters.[1]

Mortimer J found that Shape Australia’s trade marks were not deceptively similar to Shape Shopfitters’. Her Honour considered that the imperfect recollection of the relevant public would recall not just the word SHAPE, but also its collocation with the word Shopfitters (albeit it was subsidiary) and the distinctive “bottle cap” shape of the border.

Of the four elements comprising Shape Shopfitters’ trade mark (apart from the blue colouring), Mortimer J explained:

  1. The use of capitals for the word “SHAPE” in the applicant’s Mark is, I accept, a feature likely to be recalled. In part, it is the use of capitals which is likely to make the word “shape” stick in the memory, as well as its proportionate size in the Mark. It is also correct that the word “Shopfitters” is much smaller, as is “Est 1998”. I see no basis to find that the latter phrase would be generally recalled, however I consider the word “Shopfitters” may well be recalled in conjunction with the word “SHAPE”. There is an alliterative effect between the two words, as well the positioning of “Shopfitters” underneath the word “SHAPE”. An industry participant’s eye (to take the applicant’s wider class of people) will, in my opinion, be drawn to that word as well and what is just as likely to be recalled is the phrase “SHAPE Shopfitters”, rather than just the word “SHAPE”.

As a result, the prospect that the word mark would be deceptively similar was roundly dismissed. The two devices with the word in a circle were closer, but the absence of the word Shopfitters and the difference between a circle and the “bottle cap” border were decisive.

  1. The Circle Mark and the Transparent Mark have a closer similarity, because of – in combination – the use of capitals of the word “SHAPE”, the placement of that word inside a circle, and the use of a circle itself. However, as I have set out, in my opinion even imperfectly, a reasonable industry participant of ordinary intelligence and memory is likely to recall the word “Shopfitters” in conjunction with the word “Shape”, especially because of the alliteration involved. I also consider such a person will recall the applicant’s Mark has a distinctive border that is not a smooth circle.
  2. I do not consider the evidence about several industry participants referring to the applicant as “SHAPE” affects these findings in a way which means that word would be recalled as the only essential feature of the applicant’s Mark. Rather, that evidence is evidence of the contraction of the applicant’s business and trading name in ordinary speech, and such a contraction does not necessarily carry over to what a reasonable person is likely to recall of the applicant’s Mark. It goes only to how industry participants might refer to the applicant in conversation.

Given these findings, it was unnecessary for her Honour to express an opinion on whether the registration of Shape Shopfitters’ trade mark with the blue background imposed a limitation on the scope of the registration.[2]

Mortimer J’s conclusions do not explicitly turn on the fields of activity of the respective parties, apparently a closely fought battle in the context of the misleading or deceptive conduct case. Indeed, at [258] her Honour expressly said it made no difference whether the relevant public was defined as the “buyers” of construction services or participants in the commercial construction industry.

Shape Shopfitters Pty Ltd v Shape Australia Pty Ltd (No 3) [2017] FCA 865


  1. Although Shape Australia was much larger than Shape Shopfitters, you might recall that for much of its life it had operated under the name ISIS Group Australia and had changed its name after Shape Shopfitters came on to the scene and the name of the ancient Egyptian goddess took on some rather unfortunate (to say the least) connotations.  ?
  2. Referring to s 70 read with the definition of “limitation” provided by s 6.  ?

Should Michelin’s X block Continental’s Xking?

Over at the IPKat, there is a report about a CJEU decision upholding Michelin’s opposition based on its “X” trade mark to the registration of Continental’s “XKING” mark (below on the right), both in respect of tyres.

Michelin X v Continental Xking

You should read the report, if for no other reason, than the revelation of the EU’s “scientific” approach to trade mark conflicts.

Putting to one side the peculiar procedural posture the CJEU seems to take in these kinds of ‘appeals’, Merpel quite rightly thunders about scope afforded to ‘descriptive’ marks. After pointing out that it has taken 5 years to get to this point, Merpel says:

The end result here is that one trader with a weakly distinctive trade mark for the single letter X, distinguished from the letter of the alphabet only by the merest stylisation, can prevent the registration (and potentially use) of a stylised mark XKING. It must also follow that the same trader can prevent other X-formative marks, especially if the other element is in some way laudatory (and the word “king” is hardly at the top of the laudatory scale). Might it be said that this hands too strong a right to the trader?

Merpel makes a cogent case for the rejection of the opposition. What I wonder about, however, is what is the ordinary consumer likely to recall imperfectly? Would the ordinary consumer recall the mark is just an “X” alone so that the inclusion in Continental’s mark of rather bland “KING” is sufficient to dispel any potential for confusion? Or is the putative consumer likely to be struck by the common use of the hollow (or white) X? Under our version of trade mark law, all that is required is a (significant?) number of people being caused to wonder and the nature of the recollection is explained by Latham CJ:[1]

They will compare the actual mark which they see upon goods which are offered to them with the memory of the other mark, which they will retain in a more or less distinct form… The court must endeavour to put itself in the position of ordinary purchasers of goods who have noticed a trade mark as being distinctive of particular goods, but who have not compared that mark with any other mark, and who are quite probably not aware of the fact that another more or less similar mark exists.

If you’re really motivated, leave a comment explaining why!


  1. Jafferjee v Scarlett [1937] HCA 36; 57 CLR 115 at 122.  ?

Pham Global 3: Did Insight have enough reputation?

This third post looks at the Full Court’s rejection of Pham Global’s arguments that its use of its trade mark in NSW and Tasmania was not caught by s 60 because (Pham Global claimed) Insight Clinical did not have a reputation outside WA.

To recap, Pham Global was appealing Insight Clinical’s successful opposition to the registration of Pham Global’s mark (below on the right) on the basis of its own trade mark (below on the left) and the subsequent finding of infringement.[1]

As Insight Clinical had not registered its trade mark before Mr Pham had applied to register the Pham Global trade mark, one of its grounds of opposition was its reputation under s 60.

As you no doubt recall, s 60 now provides:

The registration of a trade mark in respect of particular goods or services may be opposed on the ground that:

(a) another trade mark had, before the priority date for the registration of the first?mentioned trade mark in respect of those goods or services, acquired a reputation in Australia; and

(b) because of the reputation of that other trade mark, the use of the first?mentioned trade mark would be likely to deceive or cause confusion.

It was not in dispute between the parties that Insight Clinical had a reputation in its mark in Perth, Western Australia. Pham Global contended, however, that reputation was not enough to succeed under s 60 when Pham Global was operating 3,000+km away in NSW and Tasmania where, it contended, Insight Clinical’s reputation did not extend.

The Full Court first pointed out that s 60(a) required only a reputation in Australia. It did not require a reputation throughout Australia. Accordingly, the first requirement under s 60 was satisfied, and s 60 was engaged.

Immediately following that conclusion, however, the Full Court appeared to accept the basic thrust of Pham Global’s argument, recognising that there had to be a causal link between the proven reputation and the potential for deception or confusion.

The Full Court recognised that what and how much reputation might be required to give rise to sufficient risk of deception or confusion would depend on the relevant field of activity. Much of the Full Court’s consideration concentrates on affirming the trial Judge’s findings that Insight Clinical had a reputation with relevant sections of the public outside WA through its attendance and advertising at national conferences, evidence of some interstate referrals and advertising for staff on national websites and Google search “hits”. In that connection, the trial Judge had recorded evidence of one referral to Insight Clinical from Victoria, two from NSW, four from Queensland and one each from South Australia and the Northern Territory. Her Honour also identified Insight Clinical as having provided services to 237 interstate patients.[2]

At [81], their Honours emphasised the national nature of much commercial activity today:

Conagra was decided 25 years ago. In 1992 the World Wide Web was in its infancy. There were no publicly available internet browsers. There was no Google, no Seek, no web browsing or the like. With the internet and travel both overseas and within Australia now ubiquitous in the lives of Australian people, the essential conceptual underpinning of IR’s case is unsound. IR accepted that, before IR conceived of the IR composite mark, ICI had acquired a substantial reputation in its marks in Western Australia. IR’s case depended on the proposition that ICI’s reputation in its marks did not extend outside Western Australia and IR would accept any condition or limitation not to use its marks in Western Australia. We accept that the Act permits a condition or limitation to this effect to be imposed (discussed below). But the reality of modern life, with widespread use of the internet for advertising, job seeking, news gathering, entertainment, and social discourse and free and frequent movement of people across Australia for work, leisure, family and other purposes, necessarily impacts on both the acquisition of a reputation in a mark and the likelihood of the use of another mark being likely to deceive or confuse because of that reputation. Given current modes of communication and discourse and free and unfettered rights of travel within Australia, a substantial reputation in Western Australia in this national industry constituted a sufficient reputation in and across Australia for s 60(b) to be engaged. IR’s attempts to subdivide the nation into its component States and Territories, in the present context at least, could not succeed. Its approach resonates with sentimental notions of pre or early Federation train track gauge differences. (emphasis supplied)

In similar vein, Pham Global’s offer to accept a voluntary disclaimer that its registration did not extend to WA was rejected. The proposed disclaimer read:

Registration of this trade mark gives no exclusive right to use or authorise the use of the words INSIGHT RADIOLOGY in the State of Western Australia

While s 74 did not provide a statutory basis for the proposed disclaimer as the proposal was not limited to a part of the mark only, s 33 and s 55 did. The Full Court said at [89]:

The national nature of the market and the fact of free and unfettered movement around Australia cannot be ignored. Despite IR’s express willingness not to use the IR composite mark at all in Western Australia, there is one national specialist market for radiological services of which Western Australia forms a substantial part. Given the facts set out above, use of the IR composite mark outside Western Australia will not ameliorate the likelihood of a substantial number of people in the relevant class around Australia being deceived or confused. As a result, the use of the IR composite mark in Australia is a use which would be likely to deceive and cause confusion. Moreover, enforcement of any such condition would be problematic. The prospect that IR’s behaviour could be disciplined by infringement or other proceedings at the suit of ICI if IR used its mark in Western Australia contrary to the condition may not be a satisfactory answer to the deception or confusion that might be caused in the interim. IR’s submissions did not satisfactorily confront any of these matters.

Pham Global Pty Ltd v Insight Clinical Imaging Pty Ltd [2017] FCAFC 83


  1. For previous posts on the ruling that the trade mark was invalid because Mr Pham was not the proper applicant see here and the trade mark was substantially identical to Insight Clinical’s see here.  ?
  2. At [78] and [79] respectively. The Full Court referred to 440 patients. The national conferences were directed to the relevant professions: radiographer and radiologists, both of which were registered to practice nationally and regulated and organised on a national basis: [65] – [66].  ?

Pham Global 2: the new law of substantial identity

Having ruled that Pham Global’s trade mark was invalidly registered because Mr Pham was not the owner of the trade mark when he filed the application, the Full Court also indicated a substantially expanded role for the test of substantial identity in stating that Pham Global’s trade mark was substantially identical with Insight Clinical’s.

To recap, Insight Clinical’s trade mark is on the left below while Pham Global’s is on the right:

The trial Judge had applied the well-known ‘side by side’ test explained by Windeyer J:[1]

In considering whether marks are substantially identical they should, I think, be compared side by side, their similarities and differences noted and the importance of these assessed having regard to the essential features of the registered mark and the total impression of resemblance or dissimilarity that emerges from the comparison. “The identification of an essential feature depends”, it has been said, “partly on the Court’s own judgment and partly on the burden of the evidence that is placed before it”: de Cordova v. Vick Chemical Co. (1951) 68 R.P.C. 103, at p 106. Whether there is substantial identity is a question of fact ….[2]

capped with Gummow J’s summation in Carnival Cruise:

Thus, if a total impression of similarity emerges from a comparison between the two marks, the marks are “substantially identical”: Carnival Cruise Lines Inc v Sitmar Cruises Limited [1994] FCA 936; (1994) 120 ALR 495 at [62].

Generally, courts have found that the two trade marks must be virtually identical before a finding of substantial identity will be made.

The trial Judge had applied what many would consider to be a conventional analysis in rejecting substantial identity. At [18], her Honour held:

…. Whilst both composite marks use the word “insight”, there are clear visual differences in presentation. The appearance of the words “insight” and “radiology” in the IR composite mark run into each other, are equally prominent (the same font and size) and appear all in lower case. This is quite distinct from the words in the ICI composite mark where the letter “S” is capitalised in “inSight” and the words “Clinical Imaging” are secondary and beneath “inSight” in smaller and unbolded font. The capitalisation of the word “Sight” in “inSight” has the effect of emphasising the word “Sight”. There are also distinct visual differences in the appearance and positioning of the device. The ICI composite mark has a complete inner circle and is all in green with clear lines whereas the IR composite mark does not have a complete inner circle, the outside circle is in black and the lines are different. There is not a “total impression of resemblance”. The visual differences combined with the different wording, albeit that “imaging” and “radiology” may be interchangeable in relation to the services to which the marks relate, make the marks sufficiently different on a side by side comparison.

The Full Court held that the trial Judge had erred by failing to identify the essential features in the trade marks and make the comparison based on them. At [52], the Full Court stated:

…. The required exercise of side-by-side comparison is not carried out in a factual and legislative vacuum. The purpose of the exercise is to decide if two trade marks are substantially identical, where a trade mark is “a sign used, or intended to be used, to distinguish goods or services dealt with or provided in the course of trade by a person from goods or services so dealt with or provided by any other person” (s 17). Given this context, it is unlikely that the essential elements of a mark or its dominant cognitive clues are to be found in mere descriptive elements, which are not apt to perform this distinguishing role in respect of the relevant goods or services. While this does not mean that differences, including descriptive differences, may be ignored, it does mean that the side-by-side comparison is to be carried out cognisant of the essential elements of the mark. (emphasis supplied)

The Full Court held that the essential features of the two trade marks were the words “insight” and, to a lesser extent, the circular “eye” image. The words “radiology” and “clinical imaging” were merely descriptive and the differences in the circular devices were relatively minor. At [56]:

The essential elements are the words “Insight” and the device. The word is the same in both marks. The device appears to the left of the word in both marks. While the differences which her Honour noted do exist, the dominant cognitive clues in both marks is a device which is circular in shape evoking an eye to the left of the word “Insight”, in circumstances where the other words “clinical imaging” and “radiology” are descriptive of the services offered. The importance of the visual differences which her Honour noted, and which we accept exist, must be assessed having regard to these essential elements of the marks. Once this necessary exercise is undertaken, we consider that not only is there a total impression of resemblance between the marks, but also that the differences between the marks are slight having regard to their essential elements or the dominant cognitive clues which they present.

Accordingly, the Full Court considered that Insight Clinical’s opposition to registration of the trade mark should also have succeed on the grounds that Pham Global was not the owner of the trade mark based on Insight Clinical’s prior use of its trade mark.

The Full Court’s analysis, with respect, has all the hallmarks of a deceptive similarity analysis. Given their earlier ruling that the trade mark was invalid because Mr Pham as not the owner when he applied to register it, this part of the Full Court’s decision is obiter.

For most purposes, it does not make much difference as most cases involving a comparison of marks ultimately turn on deceptive similarity.

It is (if followed), however, particularly significant in the context of ownership disputes. As Janice Luck (here and here) has noted, the Full Court’s approach gives much wider scope for the operation of s 58. It blurs the operation of the test for substantial identity with the test for deceptive similarity in ways arguably previously thought outside the scope of an ‘ownershp’ objection. In Carnival Cruise under the 1955 Act, for example, Gummow J had continued after the summation of principle quoted above:

…. The phrase “substantially identical” as it appears in s. 62 (which is concerned with infringement) was discussed by Windeyer J in The Shell Company of Australia Limited v Esso Standard Oil (Australia) Limited (1963) 109 CLR 407 at 414. It requires a total impression of similarity to emerge from a comparison between the two marks. In a real sense a claim to proprietorship of the one extends to the other. But to go beyond this is, in my view, not possible. There is, as Mr Shanahan points out in his work, p. 158, real difficulty in assessing the broader notion of deceptive similarity in the absence of some notional user in Australia of the prior mark (something postulated by s. 33) or prior public recognition built up by user (para. 28 (a)). [3] (emphasis supplied)

It means that we won’t be able to concede, or skip over, the “substantially identical with” limb of trade mark comparisons in future.

The Full Court’s explanation of the operation of s 60 will have to await a future post.

Pham Global Pty Ltd v Insight Clinical Imaging Pty Ltd [2017] FCAFC 83 (Greenwood, Jagot and Beach JJ)


  1. The Shell Co. of Australia Ltd v Esso Standard Oil (Australia) Ltd (1963) 109 CLR 407 at 414; [1963] HCA 66.  ?
  2. Notwithstanding the high authority of Windeyer J’s statement, it is worth noting that Lord Radcliffe appears to have been referring to identification of essential features in the context of assessing whether or not a trade mark was likely to cause confusion or deception – the test for deceptive similarity. Thus, Lord Radcliffe rejected the appeal against the finding of infringement because “The likelihood of confusion or deception in such cases is not disproved by placing the two marks side by side and demonstrating how small is the chance of error in any customer who places his order for goods with both the marks clearly before him, for orders are not placed, or are often not placed, under such conditions. It is more useful to observe that in most persons the eye is not an accurate recorder of visual detail, and that marks are remembered rather by general impressions or by some significant detail than by any photographic recollection of the whole.” Compare de Cordova to s 10.  ?
  3. Note also the questions his Honour posed at 58.  ?

Don’t file in the wrong applicant’s name

Because, if you do, the Full Court has definitively ruled that the error cannot be rectified and any resulting registration will be irredeemably invalid.

This is the first of at least two rulings departing from the trial judge’s reasons which the Full Court made in the course of dismissing Pham Global’s appeal from the decision to revoke its trade mark registrations and find it infringed Insight Clinical Imaging’s trade marks. So Pham Global still lost, but with ramifications for us all.

Some background

Since 2008, Insight Clinical Imaging has been using the name INSIGHT and its composite mark for its radiology services largely in Perth, WA.[1]

Mr Pham is a radiologist and the sole director of the company through which a radiology business is conducted in NSW. Originally, the company was called AKP Radiology Consultants Pty Ltd. In December 2011, however, Mr Pham applied to register the Insight Radiology mark as a trade mark for radiology services.

Insight Clinical’s trade mark is below on the left. On the right below is the trade mark applied for by Mr Pham.

In March 2012, AKP Radiology Services first started using the Insight Radiology mark for its business.[2]

On 6 June 2013, Insight Clinical lodged its opposition to Mr Pham’s application.

On 17 June 2013, Mr Pham’s company changed its name from AKP Radiology Services to Insight Radiology Pty Ltd.[3] Then, on 1 July 2013, Mr Pham sought to assign the trade mark application to his company.

Insight Clinical Imaging’s opposition was successful before the Office and Mr Pham’s company appealed unsuccessfully. In accordance with the trial judge’s orders, Mr Pham’s company then changed its name to Pham Global Pty Ltd and sought leave to appeal.

While leave was granted, the appeal was dismissed.

Who is the applicant

The trial judge found that the Insight Radiology mark was designed for, and used by, Mr Pham’s company. It even paid the designer.

Mr Pham, however, maintained that it had not been a mistake that the application was made in his name rather than the company’s. There was no evidence that Mr Pham ever actually licensed his company to use the trade mark. Moreover, Mr Pham’s explanation for why he decided to assign the application to his company – “I just did it” – was not accepted. He explicitly rejected the proposition that he made the assignment in response to Insight Clinical’s opposition to registration of the trade mark or that it was a result of a mistake.

Accordingly, her Honour held that Mr Pham was not the owner of the application when it was made, his company was. In line with the decisions in Mobileworld and Crazy Ron’s, however, her Honour found that the assignment of the application to the company before the trade mark was actually registered rectified the error.

On appeal, the Full Court noted that Mobileworld and Crazy Ron’s were both obiter on this point.

The Full Court then noted that longstanding precedent required that grounds of opposition were assessed at the date the application was filed. That meant that, where the ground of opposition was under s 58 that the applicant was not the owner of the trade mark,[4] the applicant when the application was filed had to be the owner of the trade mark. At [32], the Full Court said:

Once it is understood that the legislative scheme operates in the context of established principle that the alternative sources of ownership of a trade mark are authorship and use before filing an application for registration or the combination of authorship, filing of an application for registration and an intention to use or authorise use, the relationship between s 27 and ss 58 and 59 of the 1995 Act becomes apparent. The grounds of opposition in ss 58 and 59 reflect the requirements of s 27. Only a person claiming to be an owner may apply for registration. That claim may be justified at the time the application is made based on either alternative source of ownership. But if the claim is not justified at that time, ss 58 and/or 59 are available grounds of opposition. Moreover, if the applicant is not the owner of the mark at the time of the filing of the application, the assignment provisions in ss 106 – 111 do not assist because they authorise the assignment of the mark and thus pre-suppose, consistent with established principle, that the applicant owns the mark.

Well, it’s a nice simple rule; should be pretty straightforward to apply in practice shouldn’t it? Of course, it does mean that the law for trade marks is way out of step with the law for patents and registered designs, sections 22A and 138(3)(4).[5]

When time permits, I shall try to do a post on the new law of substantial identity.

Pham Global Pty Ltd v Insight Clinical Imaging Pty Ltd [2017] FCAFC 83 (Greenwood, Jagot and Beach JJ)


  1. It did not apply to register its trade mark until October 2012.  ?
  2. On 17 June 2013, Mr Pham caused AKP Radiology Consultants to change its name to Insight Radiology Pty Ltd. As a consequence of the first instance decision, however, the name of the company was changed again – to Pham Global Pty Ltd.  ?
  3. Mr Pham’s company also made a further application to register the words INSIGHT RADIOLOGY alone. Insight Clinical has also opposed it, but it appears to be stayed pending the outcome of the court case. (There was also an earlier application in 2008, TM Application No 1236945 for INSIGHT IMAGING / INSIGHT RADIOLOGY. This application was made by a Daniel Moses and a Jason Wenderoth, but lapsed after acceptance without ever becoming registered.)  ?
  4. The same principle applies under s 59, which was also in play.  ?
  5. Foster’s Australia Limited v Cash’s (Australia) Pty Ltd [2013] FCA 527.  ?

The Australian Bar Association “gets” Australian Barristers Chambers

The Australian Bar Association[1] (the ABA) has obtained declarations that Australian Barristers Chambers Pty Ltd[2] and associates (the Chambers entities) have infringed the ABA’s registered trade marks:

  • No 1587902 – AUSTRALIAN BAR ASSOCIATION; and
  • No 1558252 – for the ABA “logo”:

by using the names:

  • Australian Barrister Chambers;
  • AustBar Chambers; and
  • Australian Barrister,

in close proximity to an image of the scales of justice. For example:

The ABA has also obtained declarations that the Chambers entities have engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct contrary to s 18 etc. of the Australian Consumer Law by using those names and also by using:

  • the URL ?www.austbar.com.au?;
  • the name AustBar Chambers;
  • the name AustBar ADR;
  • the tweet identifier ?Australian Barrister@AustBar?;
  • and all of the above in in proximity to, the scales of justice.

The NSW Bar Association[3] has also obtained declarations that its trade marks for BARADR have been infringed, and s 18 of the ACL contravened, by the Chambers entities by the use of BARADR and the domain names ?www.baradr.com.au? and ?www.austbaradr.com.au?.

As James McDougall points out, the decision is 360 paragraphs long and so will no doubt require further, careful consideration. A few points caught my eye skimming through:

One point which should be noted (as clients often raise it) is Greenwood J’s orthodox rejection of the claim that Chambers’ name(s) were defensible because the business name registration or domain name registration system permitted them. Greenwood J pointed out at [175]:

The circumstance that a domain name registration might or might not meet the eligibility criteria for registration is no answer to the question of whether use of such a domain name is either confusing or misleading or constitutes infringement of a registered trade mark, in Australia. Prior to the introduction of the dispute resolution protocols governing domain name registrations, it had become something of an art form for registrants to register, as domain names, the names of traders who had developed a reputation for a name or mark within a jurisdiction and often internationally. Processes were adopted as a result of that practice to try and address that conduct. Whatever the perceived “validity” might be of the domain name registration ?www.austbar.com.au? within the confines of that system and its protocols, austbar and AustBar are terms, names or indicia associated, particularly electronically, with the ABA.

The signpost point

Greenwood J was prepared to find that AUSTRALASIAN BARRISTERS CHAMBERS by itself, or even in the logo form:

by itself for a virtual chambers of barristers would not have infringed the ABA’s rights. However, traffic to the website was directed by the “signpost” <www.austbar.com.au> and that conduct was infringing:

[181] As to the use of the name Australasian Barrister Chambers, I do not regard the use of that name as being either substantially identical with or deceptively similar to either TM 902 or TM 252. However, traffic is directed to a website for and on behalf of that company (and later Austbar PL) by use of the domain name ?www.austbar.com.au?. Use of that domain name involves use of a mark or sign in the course of that company’s trade in services for which TM 902 is registered. I regard the use of austbar in this context as a use of a mark or sign deceptively similar to TM 902. Once a person engages with austbar as the conduit to the website operated by Australasian Barrister Chambers, the sense of confusion or wonderment about whether the person is engaging with the ABA or a provider connected with the ABA remains.

[182] However, by itself, the name Australasian Barrister Chambers might be thought to suggest a set of chambers occupied by barristers “virtually” (and in this case only a virtual presence is relevant), engaged or seeking to be engaged, in work in the Australian and Asian markets for legal services, by seeking direct electronic access to those who engage barristers in that work. In this case, of course, the key electronic point of connection is a domain name using austbar. Barristers might seek greater direct access to the legal profession in this way but it is also important to remember that the website addresses clients and the community directly through the website. Mr Minus, entities controlled by him (or over which he has influence) and other barristers would be entitled, plainly enough, to engage in an undertaking of establishing an online virtual presence for barristers associated together in some way, shape or form. The difficulty is the use of sign, mark or signpost which directs traffic to the site under or by reference to the dominant domain name descriptor austbar associated with the Australian Bar Association. The use of austbar as a mark signposting the electronic route to the site operator is the vice and the infringing conduct.

It will be very interesting to see what form of injunction is fashioned in response to these findings.

Unincorporated associations and ownership trade marks

Greenwood J rejected various attacks on the ABA’s title to its registered trade marks. When the applications for the ABA’s registered trade marks were filed in 2013, “it” was still an unincorporated association, so the 12 members of “its” executive council were the applicants, each described “as trustee for the Australian Bar Association”. Subsequently, three of the original applicants retired from the executive council and assigned their interests to the remaining members. Greenwood J held:

[222] I accept that as a matter of construction of the TM Act, a joint owner may assign his or her “share” or “interest” in the trade mark to another with or without an assignment by any other joint owner. Mr Colbran QC, Mr Traves SC and Mr Walker were joint owners (with the other nine AB Council members) and joint applicants as trustees for the ABA for each trade mark. When they assigned their interest in each trade mark, the incoming assignees took, between them, that aliquot share of the three assignors impressed with the same trust upon which that interest had been held by them. The interest of each of the remaining nine applicant owners as trustees remained entirely as it was.

[223] There is no defect in title in the sequence of transfers as discussed.

Chambers’ disclaimer did not help

Chambers’ website seems to have various forms of disclaimer appearing at different times – his Honour considered the evidence was not fully clear about all the forms or timings.

Greenwood J considered that none of the forms sufficiently proved were sufficient. His Honour explained at [237] that to be effective the disclaimer had to satisfy the following test:

the critical matter in relation to the efficacy of the disclaimer is whether the respondents have discharged the onus of demonstrating that the disclaimer is likely to be seen and understood by all those reasonable fair minded members of the various cohorts engaging with the website (leaving aside extreme and fanciful reactions and isolated exceptions), who would otherwise be misled. In order to be effective, the disclaimer must be such as to leave the fair minded reasonable member of the class in no doubt about the source or origin of the services provided under and by reference to the website; in no doubt about whether the ABA is associated or affiliated with the site operator or the services offered by the operator; and in no doubt about whether the ABA is in some way, shape or form standing behind the website operated by the respondents.

Chambers’ disclaimer did not achieve that. By the time the reader had reached the website, there had already been infringement and misleading or deceptive conduct:

[240]: First, by the time a person engages with the website, they have already been taken there by a sign, the use of which involves an infringement of TM 902 and taken there by reason of conduct in contravention of s 18(1), s 29(1)(g) and s 29(1)(h) of the ACL. The user is already drawn to the site. He or she is already attracted and engaged by the conduct. At that point, the disclaimer needs to operate in such a causative way that it cures an existing problem (if able to do so at all which is likely to be difficult and rare), by making it absolutely clear to the reader who is looking at the site electronically for particular information that this site is not a website operated by the ABA and nor are the services provided by the website the services of the ABA or services associated with or approved by the ABA. One imagines that the disclaimer would need to capture the eyes of the viewer with significant text with appropriate emphasis. Small text located two thirds of the way down the page is never likely to be sufficient and in the facts of this case, it is not sufficient. It is a classic example of the message being “in the small print”.

[241] Second, in the facts of this case, the truth of the matter is that the unlawful conduct was complete once the trade mark infringement had occurred and once the misleading conduct had taken the person to the site. At that point, the disclaimer had to be powerful enough to undo the harm.

Thirdly, some of the public who would land on the website would be consumers looking to access the views of a national body like the ABA, but misdirected there by Chambers’ cues.

One might also question the relevance of any disclaimer to infringement under s 120(1) as opposed to s 120(2) or s 120(3).[4]

Selth v Australasian Barrister Chambers Pty Ltd (No 3) [2017] FCA 649


  1. Now a company limited by guarantee but, from 1963 until 20 May 2015, an unincorporated association of, you guessed it, Australian barristers.  ?
  2. now in liquidation, and various associated entities including its principals Mr Minus and Ms Minasian.  ?
  3. which was incorporated as long ago as 1936.  ?
  4. See e.g. Optical 88 Limited v Optical 88 Pty Limited (No 2) [2010] FCA 1380 at [99]  ?
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