ORO and CINQUE STELLE are registrable as trade marks for coffee in Australia

December 3rd, 2014

In what might (with respect) be seen as a surprising decision, the High Court, by majority,[1] has allowed Cantarella’s appeal and restored its trade mark registrations for ORO and CINQUE STELLE in respect of coffee to the Register of Trade Marks. Gageler J dissented and would have dismissed the appeal.

Modena, which had been importing and selling Caffe Molinari’s Oro and Cinque Stelle “brands”, was found to have infringed Cantarella’s registrations[2] but for its successful cross-claim invalidating the registrations on the grounds that the marks were not capable of distinguishing the products.[3] As a result of the High Court’s decision, therefore, this infringed Cantarella’s rights:[4]

Unknown

Some facts

Cantarella registered ORO and CINQUE STELLE as trade marks for coffeee in Australia in, respectively, 2000 and 2001. Cantarella had first started using ORO to designate one of its lines of VITTORIA coffee in 1996 and CINQUE STELLE in 2000.

Caffe Molinari has been selling its Caffe Molinari Oro blend of coffee in Italy since 1965 and its Caffe Molinari Cinque Stelle blend since 1997. Its Caffe Molinari Oro products had been imported into Australia since 1996 and the Caffe Molinari Cinque Stelle products after their introduction.

Mr Pagent, one of the principals of Modena, had been selling VITTORIA products, including ORO and CINQUE STELLE in one of his previous businessnes since the mid–1990s. After he sold those businesses, through Modena he began importing and selling Caffe Molinari’s products in the UK and then, from 2009, in Australia. By the time the litigation started, there were literally “dozens” of “ORO” coffee brands in the market.

The legal question

In the High Court, the question was whether ORO and CINQUE STELLE iwere “capable of distinguishing” Cantarella’s coffee products under s 41.[5] That in turn turned on whether each was “inherently adapated to distinguish [coffee] … from the [coffee products] … of other persons”.

Both the majority and Gageler J agreed that “inherently adapted to distinguish” was to be interpreted in accordance with the longstanding case law and the statement of the basic test from the Clark Equipment case. That is:

by reference to the likelihood that other persons, trading in goods of the relevant kind and being actuated only by proper motives – in the exercise, that is to say, of the common right of the public to make honest use of words forming part of the common heritage, for the sake of the signification which they ordinarily possess – will think of the word and want to use it in connexion with similar goods in any manner which would infringe a registered trade mark granted in respect of it.

The words in italics were emphasised by the majority. Their Honours held that those italicised words imposed an additional and limiting requirement to the test for signs which lacked inherent adaptation to distinguish. It was not enough that another trader might with improper motives wish to use the sign, the sign must also have direct reference to the quality or some other characteristic of the products in question. So, at [59], French CJ, Hayne, Crennan and Kiefel JJ said:

The principles settled by this Court (and the United Kingdom authorities found in this Court to be persuasive) require that a foreign word be examined from the point of view of the possible impairment of the rights of honest traders and from the point of view of the public. It is the “ordinary signification” of the word, in Australia, to persons who will purchase, consume or trade in the goods which permits a conclusion to be drawn as to whether the word contains a “direct reference” to the relevant goods (prima facie not registrable) or makes a “covert and skilful allusion” to the relevant goods (prima facie registrable). When the “other traders” test from Du Cros is applied to a word (other than a geographical name or a surname), the test refers to the legitimate desire of other traders to use a word which is directly descriptive in respect of the same or similar goods. The test does not encompass the desire of other traders to use words which in relation to the goods are allusive or metaphorical. In relation to a word mark, English or foreign, “inherent adaption to distinguish” requires examination of the word itself, in the context of its proposed application to particular goods in Australia.

In the case of foreign words, as here, their meaning translated into English was relevant, but not necessarily critical.[6] What was critical was the meaning conveyed by the foreign term, if any, to those “who will be concerned with the relevant goods”. That is, what is the ordinary meaning, if anything, of that foreign word or expression to those in Australia who will purchase, consume or trade in the relevant products?

Then, at [71], their Honours explained:

…. Once the “ordinary signification” of a word, English or foreign, [if any, to those in Australia who purchase or consume or trade in such products] is established an enquiry can then be made into whether other traders might legitimately need to use the word in respect of their goods. If a foreign word contains an allusive reference to the relevant goods it is prima facie qualified for the grant of a monopoly[90]. However, if the foreign word is understood by the target audience as having a directly descriptive meaning in relation to the relevant goods, then prima facie the proprietor is not entitled to a monopoly of it[91]. Speaking generally, words which are prima facie entitled to a monopoly secured by registration are inherently adapted to distinguish. (footnote citations omitted)

The problem (for Modena) in this case is that apparently there are only 350,000 people in Australia speaking Italian at home.[7] However, the trial judge found:[8]

only a “very small minority” of English speakers in Australia would understand the meaning of the words, and that the Italian language is not “so widely spread” that the words would be generally understood as meaning “gold” and “five stars” respectively.

As a result, the majority explained at [73]:

Like “TUB HAPPY” in respect of cotton goods, “ORO” and “CINQUE STELLE” were not shown to convey a meaning or idea sufficiently tangible to anyone in Australia concerned with coffee goods as to be words having a direct reference to the character or quality of the goods.

Gageler J’s dissent

In broad terms, Gageler J, especially at [92] – [95] disagreed that the words from Clark Equipment emphasised by the majority were an additional and limiting requirement. Rather they were merely a “parenthetical reference”, a subset of the overall test which focussed:

on the extent to which the monopoly granted on registration of a trade mark would foreclose options otherwise available to rival traders acting in the ordinary course of their businesses without any desire to benefit from the applicant’s reputation.

For example, his Honour pointed out that in Clark Equipment itself, which conerned the trade mark MICHIGAN, there was no evidence that any other trader manufactured the farm machinery in question in Michigan. Indeed, as the trade mark was registered in the USA, no-one probably could.

Extraordinary or just a decision on its facts

Given the trial judge’s finding of fact, one could argue that this case is just a decision on its facts.

That overlooks the important difference in principle on how one tests inherent adaptation to distinguish between the majority and Gageler J. It is also hard to resist an impression that Gageler J’s approach adopted a broader or more “multicultural” perspective.

One consequence of the decision is that Caffe Molinari’s products, which had been imported into Australia since 1996 / 1997 have been found to infringe so many years after the event even though Cantarella’s trade marks were registered after the infringing conduct commenced.[9] Of course, as s 124 and s 44 illustrate, an assiduous infringer cannot gazump a trade mark owner.

Another “oddity”: Cantarella accepted that it could not stop Modena using QUALITA ORO, presumably because it is descriptive?

Further, by 2011, the evidence showed dozens of other traders in Australia using Oro or D’oro to identify their coffee products. These included Lavazza Qualità Oro, Caffè Incas Oro, Coffee Mio Brazil Oro …. A number of these uses appear to have predated Cantarella’s registrations. There were also one or two Five Stars or 5 Stelle and, of course, hundreds of businesses have Five Star in their names.[10]

French CJ, Hayne, Crennan and Kiefel JJ discounted these; for example at [75]:

The evidence led by Modena purporting to show that rival traders used (or desired to use) the word “oro” to directly describe their coffee products showed no more than that the word “oro” or the form “d’oro” had been employed on internet sites and coffee product packaging in respect of coffee products in a range of composite marks featuring Italian words which ostensibly were distinguishable aurally, visually and semantically. Further, the presence on the Register, before Cantarella’s trade mark “ORO” was registered, of another proprietor’s composite mark “LAVAZZA QUALITA ORO plus device” and Cantarella’s own composite mark “MEDAGLIA D’ORO” in respect of coffee products fell well short of proving that the word “oro”, standing alone, is understood in Australia by persons concerned with coffee products to be directly descriptive of the character or quality of such goods. (emphasis supplied)

One might hope that, being “distinguishable aurally, visually and semantically”, these other traders’ uses would not infringe Cantarella’s trade marks. But, putting Woolworths Metro to one side, one does not usually avoid infringement by making it clear from the surrounding circumstances that the trade source is different from, (i.e., not) the trade mark owner.[11] Correspondingly, would someone who uses “5 star” to designate its premium coffee infringe?

Cantarella Bros Pty Limited v Modena Trading Pty Limited [2014] HCA 48


  1. French CJ, Hayne, Crennan and Kiefel JJ.  ?
  2. Cantarella Bros Pty Limited v Modena Trading Pty Limited [2013] FCA 8.  ?
  3. Modena Trading Pty Ltd v Cantarella Bros Pty Ltd [2013] FCAFC 110.  ?
  4. As the trial judge, Emmett J discussed at [130] – [144], the packaging of the Molinari products made extensive use of ORO or CINQUE STELLE alone in many other respects.  ?
  5. This was s 41 in the form as originally enacted not in its current form following the commencement of the “Raising the Bar” amendments.  ?
  6. At [48] – [49].  ?
  7. This figure was apparently taken from the 2001 Census. As Gageler J pointed out in dissent [103], even this figure made Italian the second most spoken language in Australia.  ?
  8. French CJ, Hayne, Crennan and Kiefel JJ at [61].  ?
  9. The evidence is not entirely clear about the extent, if any, to which Modena’s use was different to what Caffe Molinari originally did. Gageler J and, according to his Honour, the Full Federal Court were prepared to infer it was not relevantly different.  ?
  10. Per Gageler J at [111].  ?
  11. Saville Perfumery Ltd v June Perfect Ltd (1939) 1B IPR 440; 58 RPC 147.  ?

Clip to Evernote

How long do you have to pay royalties for?

December 2nd, 2014

Vickery J in the Supreme Court of Victoria has had to construe how long an obligation to pay royalties under a sale of patents and technology and associated consultancy agreement lasts: ruling it is as long as the purchaser is using the “invention”.

Roberts came up with the “Roberts Differential Lock”. It enables the driver of a vehicle, such as a 4-wheel drive vehicle, to lock the “dif” from the cabin without having to get out and manually adjust the wheels. The invention could be retrofitted to existing vehicles. Roberts made a provisional patent application for his invention in 1983 and a standard application followed in 1984. Corresponding applications were made in the USA, the UK and Japan in 1985. Roberts and his wife marketed the Roberts Differential Lock though their company, Altair.

In 1987, the Roberts and Altair sold all their rights in the invention to ARB. There was a lump sum payment and royalties to be paid on products made using the invention. Roberts also entered into a Consultancy Agreement for an initial period of 6 months and thereafter until terminated on 30 days’ written notice.

There were two questions before Vickery J:

(1) did ARB have to keep paying roylaties after (presumably) the (1984/1984) patents expired; and

(2) if so, to whom – the Roberts or also Altair?

The terms of the sale agreement

 2. In consideration of the consideration set out in clause 7 of this Sale Agreement and subject to clause 20 hereof, the Vendors hereby jointly and severally sell transfer and assign absolutely to [ARB] all the right title and interest in and to the Roberts Differential Lock including (without limiting the generality of the foregoing) all patent applications, patent rights and proprietary rights relating thereto, and the business name ‘Roberts Diff-Lock’.

11(a). In further consideration of the rights granted hereunder the Company shall pay to the Roberts the following royalties calculated on the net invoice value arising from the sale, lease, hire and use (hereinafter referred collectively as a ‘sale’ or ‘sold’ as the case may be) of the Products by the company and its licensees:-

[a specified dollar amount for each unit sold]. (Those amounts were subject to increase according to increases in the CPI – All Groups Index – Melbourne.)

For this purpose, “Products” were defined to mean:

‘Products’ means the differentials as manufactured pursuant to the patents as specified in the First Schedule

and the First Schedule listed the 1984 Australian patent application and the pending applications in the USA, the UK and Japan – none of which had been granted at that time.

How long?

You will have noticed that clause 11(a) does not say anything about how long the obligation to pay royalties lasted. Vickery J held as a matter of construction the obligation did not end when the “patents”[1] expired. A number of factors led to his Honour’s conclusion.

First, when the sale agreement was executed, the patent terms in the different countries where applications were pending were different. Moreover, as is typical in such agreements, the definition of “patents” extended to divisonals, re-issues, continuations, continuations in part and the like. So, his Honour concluded, the parties contemplated that there would be potentially be different expiry dates in different countries.

Secondly, although the obligation to pay royalties was imposed on sales of Products, what was sold by clause 2 were “all rights in and to the Roberts Differential Lock including … the patents and the proprietary rights relating thereto”. Then “proprietary rights” were defined not just as rights in patents, but also included copyright, confidential information, trade secrets, data, formulae and so on. So ARB was not just buying rights to the patents it was buying all rights to all the technology. Moreover, under the Consultancy Agreement, “all inventions, techniques and improvements developed in the course of the consultancy agreement ‘shall become the sole and exclusive property of ARB …’”

Together, these arrangements indicated the “ambulatory nature” of the proprietary rights ARB obtained.

Thirdly, if ARB was right and its obligations extended only to the “patents”, it had no obligation to pay royalties until at least one of the pending applications was actually registered. However, Vickery J considered it quite clear the obligation to pay was intended to apply to all products ARB sold as soon as the sale took effect whether an application had proceeded to grant or not.

Finally:

109 Further, the object and purpose of the Sale Agreement may be said to be the allocation of the risks and rewards of the patent rights and the proprietary rights to be assigned to ARB by the Vendors. The risk allocation was achieved by means of the mechanism selected for determination of the price to be paid for that assignment.

110 I accept that the Vendors’ construction is commercially sensible in that it provides for an arrangement whereby each party managed its risk as to the proper price to pay (from ARB’s perspective) and to charge (from the Vendors’ perspective) in relation to the bundle of rights sold under the Sale Agreement, which at the time of entry into the contract had a value which was difficult to calculate or even estimate. Accordingly, the Sale Agreement provided for an ambulatory consideration through the royalties regime. If the rights proved to be valuable so that commercialisation of them resulted in a higher number of total sales than anticipated, then ARB would pay a higher total purchase price to the Vendors. On the other hand, if the rights proved to be valuable so that commercialisation of them resulted in a higher number of total sales than initially expected, then ARB would pay a higher total purchase price to the Vendors.

111 I also accept that such a risk-sharing arrangement is not one that had any obvious connection to the life of the patents that might be granted on the assigned patent applications, or to whether any patents became registered at all. In this regard the following is to be noted:

(a) ARB received an immediate and continuing benefit from the sales that it made using the assigned patent rights. In other words, the benefits that ARB received were not contingent upon any patent application listed in the First Schedule of the Sale Agreement proceeding to grant; and

(b) the assigned rights included proprietary rights which did not depend upon a patent proceeding to grant or remaining registered.

Vickery J then rejected ARB’s argument that it would be faced with a perpetual obligation to pay royalties: its obligation was to pay only on products that embodied the invention described in the patents. If it didn’t use that invention, it had no obligation to pay.

Pay the royalty to whom

This is one of those odd arguments where ARB was trying to contend Altair, the Roberts’ company, had no standing to sue. While cl. 11 did say that ARB had to pay “the Roberts”, Vickery J noted that the Roberts and Altair were the “Vendors” as defined and so cl. 11 should be understood as requiring payment to all three.

The conclusions reached by Vickery J, assuming there is no successful appeal, may immediately be contrasted with Maggbury Pty Ltd v Hafele Australia Pty Ltd.[2] One obvious point of difference, is that it appears that patents did actually issue in this case. Moreover, it appears that there was, or may have been, further technology of value apart from the patents – such as copyright, confidential information and further improvements.

The conclusion may also seem at odds with the policy in s 145 of the Patents Act. Even at its strongest, however, that only gives a right to terminate and does not automatically terminate the contract. As we have recently seen, however, the operation of the provision, particularly in a multi-jurisdictional context involving many faceted technologies, is less than clear.[3] In any event, ARB did not invoke the provision and it is not clear from the judgment whether there are other patent, or for that matter other “proprietary”, rights still on foot.

Nonetheless, if ARB could terminate the contract, it is an interesting question how Vickery J’s approach would sit with Maggbury if ARB used only technology now in the public domain.

Finally, as I am sure you have already concluded, if you are acting for the payor in this type of situation this case illustrates the importance of considering very carefully and providing specifically in the agreement for the duration of the obligation to pay royalties and what it is payable on if you are drawing a clause providing for a royalty – especially when the technology comes into the public domain and others may use it royalty free.

ARB Corporation v Roberts & Ors [2014] VSC 495

Lid dip: James McDougall


  1. That is, the patent applications that were pending when the sale agreement was executed.  ?
  2. (2001) 210 CLR 181.  ?
  3. MPEG LA, L.L.C. v Regency Media Pty Ltd [2014] FCA 180  ?

Clip to Evernote

ZIMA trade mark again

November 24th, 2014

Tim Golder, the solicitor who successfully secured the ZIMA trade mark registration, has a 6 minute podcast:

  1. explaining why they succeeded and
  2. offering some useful tips on how to stop such sign becoming generic.

Clip to Evernote

Dallas Buyers Club sues to identify internet subscribers

November 19th, 2014

When the (inaptly named) Online Copyright Infringement Discussion Paper was released, Minister Turnbull was reported as suggesting copyright owners should sue the downloading end-users.

Last month, Dallas Buyers Club LLC was reported to have started that process. It has commenced proceedings against various telcos and ISPs seeking preliminary discovery from them of the identities of their customers who were using IP (as in Internet Protocol) addresses at times Dallas Buyers Club LLC says illegal copies of the film were being downloaded from those addresses.

Last Monday, Perram J rejected an application by some journalists and others for access under FCR r 2.29 to most of the documents on the court file. His Honour noted the usual rule that affidavits are not “public” until they have been used in court and the potential privacy sensitivities or releasing, amongst other things, subscriber identification information at this very early stage of the proceeding.

Apparently, Dallas Buyers Club LLC’s application for preliminary discovery will be heard all the way off on 17 – 18 February 2015.

For cases where the record companies successfully obtained preliminary discovery from the Universities of some student details alleged to be engaging in infringing activities, see Sony v University of Tasmania here, here, here and here.

On a slightly different tack, it was reported on 19 November that some Universities have been suspending staff and student access to the internet, and in at least the case of UNSW, issuing fines where “internet piracy” has been discovered.

Dallas Buyers Club, LLC v iiNet Limited (No 1) [2014] FCA 1232

Clip to Evernote

Alphapharm may have a big bill coming

November 18th, 2014

The High Court has dismissed Alphapharm’s appeal from the Full Federal Court’s ruling granting Lundbeck an extension of time to apply to extend the term of the escitalopram patent. It was close though: 3 to 2.

You will recall that Lundbeck applied 10 years late to extend the term of its pharmaceutical patent. So, not only was Lundbeck applying to extend the term of its patent (under s70), it was applying for an extension of time in which to make that application. In granting special leave, the High Court accepted that, if the power were available, the circumstances justified the 10 year extension. The question was a matter of statutory interpretation: was there power to extend.

Section 71(2) specifies when an application to extend the term of a pharmaceutical patent must be made:

(2) An application for an extension of the term of a standard patent must be made during the term of the patent and within 6 months after the latest of the following dates:

(a) the date the patent was granted;

(b) the date of commencement of the first inclusion in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods of goods that contain, or consist of, any of the pharmaceutical substances referred to in subsection 70(3);

(c) the date of commencement of this section.

Lundbeck’s application was made within the term of the standard patent (with 1 day to spare), but well outside the dates specified in paragraphs (a) – (c).

Section 223 confers a general power to extend the time for making an application. Under s 223(11), however, the power cannot be used to extend time in relation to “prescribed actions”.[1] One of those prescribed actions related to s 71(2):

(b) filing, during the term of a standard patent under subsection 71(2) of the Act, an application under subsection 70(1) of the Act for an extension of the term of the patent; ….

Crennan, Bell and Gageler JJ, after noting the long history in patents legislation of the power to apply for an extension of time, even after the time had expired, as an important safety valve in the system, ruled that s 71(2) specified 2 requirements. The first time requirement is that the application must be filed within the term of the standard patent. The second time requirement was that the application must also satisfy at least one of the requirements set out in paragraphs (a) – (c).

Crennan, Bell and Gageler JJ held, however, that reg. 22.11 applied only to the first requirement: that the application was made within the term of the standard patent. Their Honours considered this was important otherwise a “gap” could arise between when a patent expired but was then restored. That would be highly undesirable.[2] In contrast, there was no policy reason why reg. 22.11 should apply to the second time requirement. At [71]:

There is nothing in any of the extrinsic materials, or in the long policy debates on simplifying extensions of term, which would suggest any rationale for excluding the second time requirement from the remedial power to extend time under s 223(2)(a). Alphapharm’s senior counsel conceded, correctly, that if Alphapharm’s construction of reg 22.11(4)(b) were correct, the remedial power in s 223(2)(a) could never apply to extend time in relation to the second time requirement, no matter what the quality or provenance of any “error or omission” made in respect of that time. Alphapharm’s construction would introduce an inexplicable asymmetry between a patentee and a competitor opposing a s 70(1) application. An opponent can access the general remedial power to extend times cast upon it in mandatory terms[102]. Had it been the legislature’s intention to exclude the second time requirement in s 71(2) from the general remedial power in s 223(2)(a), that would have been simple to accomplish.

Accordingly, s 223 could be invoked as Lundbeck had satisfied the first time requirement (and so did not need it to be extended) but needed an extension in relation to the second time requirement – which reg.22.11 did not apply to.

In dissent, Kiefel and Keane JJ rather tersely said at [111]:

s 71(2) cannot reasonably be read as referring to two actions. There is but one action referred to in s 71(2) – making an application for extension of the term of a patent. That one action is to be done on a date that satisfies the two requirements as to time set out in s 71(2). It is that action to which s 223(2) would apply, were it not for reg 22.11(4)(b).

Their Honours did explain why they considered policy and historical considerations did not lead to a different conclusion. Of potentially more general interest, however, their Honours took a different stand on the role of statutory interpretation at [121]:

In any event, as was said in Federal Commissioner of Taxation v Consolidated Media Holdings Ltd, legislative history and extrinsic materials cannot displace the meaning of statutory text; nor is their examination an end in itself. (footnote omitted)

While acknowledging the primary role of the text, Crennan, Bell and Gageler JJ invoked the more nuanced role of context espoused in CIC Insurance and Project Blue Sky.

A big bill coming? After the standard term of the patent expired but before the expiry of the extended term, Alphapharm and other generics commenced marketing their own versions of the drug.

Alphapharm Pty Ltd v H Lundbeck A/S [2014] HCA 42


  1. The “prescribed actions” are found in reg. 22.11.  ?
  2. See Crennan, Bell and Gageler JJ at [68].  ?

Clip to Evernote

(Not) patenting business methods

November 12th, 2014

The Full Federal Court has upheld the Commissioner’s refusal to grant Research Affiliates’ patent for a computer implemented method for constructing a portfolio management index.

The central claim reads:

A computer-implemented method for generating an index, the method including steps of:

(a)        accessing data relating to a plurality of assets;

(b)        processing the data thereby to identify a selection of the assets for inclusion in the index based on an objective measure of scale other than share price, market capitalization and any combination thereof;

(c)        accessing a weighting function configured to weight the selected assets;

(d)        applying the weighting function, thereby to assign to each of the selected assets a respective weighting, wherein the weighting:

(i)   is based on an objective measure of scale other than share price, market capitalization and any combination thereof; and

(ii)  is not based on market capitalization weighting, equal weighting, share price weighting and any combination thereof;

thereby to generate the index.

The Court posed the issue before it as being:

whether computer implementation of an otherwise unpatentable business scheme is sufficient to make the claimed method properly the subject of letters patent.

One might think, put that way, there is only one answer. May be. It makes it very important, however, how one determines whether the “scheme” is itself unpatentable.

Another intriguing aspect of the decision is that, before it embarked on analysing whether this was indeed a “manner of manufacture, the Court engaged in a very extensive review of how this issue is approached in other jurisdictions, including the USA and UK.

Time pressures don’t permit extended analysis at this stage. In the meantime:

and no doubt others. It will be interesting to see what happens to the RPL Central appeal.

Research Affiliates LLC v Commissioner of Patents [2014] FCAFC 150 (Kenny, Bennett and Nicholas JJ)

 

 

Clip to Evernote

Computer Hacking and “property”

October 20th, 2014

Software hacking and “property”

Clive Elliot QC draws attention to a New Zealand Court of Appeal decision ruling that downloading data from a computer does not constitute dishonestly obtaining property.

Watchorn was an employee of TAG. He downloaded to his personal computer files containing geophysical data relating to oil and gas exploration TAG had engaged in. The files were downloaded between 4:00pm and 9:30pm. The next day he went on holiday to Canada where amongst other things he met with officers from one of TAG’s competitors; the end result being he resigned from TAG on his return to start work for the competitor.

Watchorn was convicted in the District Court on 3 counts of accessing a computer system and thereby dishonestly obtaining property contrary to s 249 of the Crimes Act.

As the data downloaded was not “property”, the Court of Appeal quashed the convictions. The Court also refused to substitute convictions for dishonestly obtaining a benefit as the Crown had not sought to articulate what the “benefit” was. The Court did, however, accept the benefit could be a non-pecuniary advantage.

It might be possible to fit Watchorn’s actions within the scope of s 247H of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic), but the other “serious computer offences” seem like a stretch[1] and, on the Court of Appeal`s approach the “theft” provisions shouldn’t apply.

Watchorn v R [2014] NZCA 493


  1. Is it, e.g. “impairment of reliability, security or operation of data”?  ?

Clip to Evernote

Parallel imports

October 8th, 2014

Well, it seems the 10th anniversary of IPwars has come and gone! Yes, the first IPwars blogpost (on the now defunct iBlog system) was back on 4 October 2004, inspired by Marty Schwimmer, Denise Howell, Evan Brown, Ernie the Attorney and others who were originally “Between Lawyers” but have since moved on to podcasting, video casting and other, bigger things.

In the meantime, my article on Trade Marks and Parallel Imports has been published in Volume 22 No. 1 of the Competition & Consumer Law Journal starting at p. 54. It is essentially an overview of the Federal Court’s case law on s 123(1) to date.

In the same issue of the CCLJ, you will also find articles by:

  • David Brennan “Shifting shades of grey – International price discrimination and Australian copyright” law starting at p. 1; and
  • Matthew Taylor and Arlen Duke “Refocussing the parallel import debate” starting at p. 54.

I am afraid the online versions of these papers are behind the LexisNexis paywall.

Happy anniversary! and thanks for stopping by, especially those of you who have left a comment.

Clip to Evernote

Zima is a registrable trade mark

September 25th, 2014

Mastronardi applied to register ZIMA as a trade mark in class 31 for tomatoes. The Registrar refused the application on the grounds that it was not inherently adapted to distinguish. Gordon J has now upheld Mastronardi’s appeal and directed the trade mark be registered.

Unknown

ZIMA sofar as anyone knows is an invented word; it has no meaning at all. Apparently, however, it is only ever used in relation to one “variety” of tomato. The Registrar refused the application on the basis that:

“the word ZIMA appears to be a reference to a single kind of tomato plant and its fruit” and that the trade mark “lacks any inherent adaptation to distinguish the Applicant’s tomatoes as it appears to be an appropriate description of the goods in respect of which it is to be used”.

As the trade mark had not been used in Australia before the date of the application to register it, therefore, it failed.

The question fell to be determined under the old form of s 41 (although it should be the same under the (it is hoped, more clearly expressed) new form. Thus, a sign is registrable as a trade mark if it is “inherently adapted to distinguish”. Both Mastronardi and the Registrar accepted on the appeal that, even under the old form of s 41, a sign is presumed to be inherently adapted to distinguish unless the Registrar (or the Court) is (positively) satisfied it is not.

A sign would not be inherently adapted to distinguish if other traders in such products would legitimately wish to use it to refer to those products even if they were not the applicant’s products. The issue turns on:

the likelihood that other persons, trading in goods of the relevant kind and being actuated only by proper motives – in the exercise, that is to say, of the common right of the public to make honest use of words forming part of the common heritage, for the sake of the signification which they ordinarily possess – will think of the word and want to use it in connexion with similar goods in any manner which would infringe a registered trade mark granted in respect of it.[1]

Consequently, Gordon J explained there were two questions that needed to be addressed:

(1) how would ZIMA be understood as at 25 July 2011[2] by ordinary Australians seeing it for the first time used in respect of tomatoes; and

(2) how likely is it that other persons, trading in tomatoes and being actuated only by proper motives, will think of the word ZIMA and want to use it in connexion with tomatoes in any manner which would infringe a registered trade mark granted in respect of it?

As it was an wholly invented word, with no meaning, the answer to the first question was easy: it wouldn’t convey any meaning.

The Registrar argued on the second question that ZIMA was in fact, and was treated by other traders, as the name of a particular variety of tomato. The expert evidence before the Court, however, disclosed that “variety” in the context of tomatoes was a very rubbery (no pun intended?) term and, while there were a few varieties of tomato registered under the Plant Breeder’s Rights Act, thousands were not.

More directly, Mastronardi’s evidence was that it did not source its ZIMA brand tomatoes from just one variety. In Australia, there are apparently 50 different cultivars of orange grape tomatoes; Mastronardi used only six of these and only two were supplied to it exclusively. Moreover, when it launched its product in Australia, it had been very careful in its usages referring to its ZIMATM golden grape tomatoes or sweet orange grape tomatoes or golden snacking tomatoes.

So, it followed that other tomato suppliers had a range of terms they could use to describe their own sweet orange/golden grape tomatoes and, therefore, ZIMA was inherently distinctive.

Her Honour’s decision highlights the importance of careful use of trade marks, particularly if there is a risk the trade mark may become the commonly accepted term for a variety or type: the trade mark should be used as an adjective and not as a noun (or verb). This is a problem that practices in the pharmaceutical industry have had to grow up to develop – a different name for the active ingredient to the “brand” name[3] – but, as this case shows, of potentially much wider application.

It is also interesting that her Honour has directed that the trade mark be registered rather than accepted and advertised.[4]

Mastronardi Produce Ltd v Registrar of Trade Marks [2014] FCA 1021


  1. Kitto J in Clark Equipment Co v Registrar of Trade Marks (1964) 111 CLR 511 at 514.  ?
  2. The date of Mastronardi’s application to register its trade mark in Australia.  ?
  3. See also s. 25.  ?
  4. Which in some cases carries the risk of opposition.  ?

Clip to Evernote

Fraudulent imitation

September 22nd, 2014

The Full Court has dismissed both Bluescope’s appeal and Gram’s cross-appeal from the ruling that Bluescope infringed Gram’s registered design for the Smartascreen fencing panel.

This is an “old Act” case.[1] At first instance, Jacobson J held that Bluescope’s product was an obvious imitation of Gram’s registered design. However, his Honour rejected the allegation that it was also a fraudulent imitation.

Bluescope (then Lysaghts, part of BHP) had long been the market leader for fencing made from metal sheeting. There was a problem, however: one side of the fence was less desirable because the posts and rails supporting the cladding were visible. Gram came up with its Gramline solution which was symmetrical, looking the same from both sides. It quickly usurped Bluescope’s position as the market leader. Bluescope then spent (roughly) 6 years trying to come up with a competing design. In the course of doing so, it rejected a number of alternatives in favour of one that so closely resembled Gram’s product that the two could be stacked one on top of the other.

AU 121344

AU 121344

Smartascreen

Smartascreen

Construction of the design

Besanko and Middleton JJ endorsed the trial judge’s principles for construing the design, summarising them at [28]:

(a) a design is the mental picture of a shape, configuration, pattern or ornamentation of the article to which it is to be applied;

(b) construction is a question of fact for the Court to determine by the eye alone;

(c) expert evidence may be led to assist the Court;

(d) the Court is to apply an ‘instructed eye’ to the design – that is the Court must be made aware of the characteristics of the article to which the design is applied, and the manner in which such articles would normally be found in trade, commerce and in use; and

(e) however, considerations of utility have no relevance to the proper construction of a design.

In applying those principles, the trial judge found

“the primary feature was the sawtooth pattern consisting of six identical repeating pans, oriented vertically. The sawtooth pattern was the product of the unique proportions of the wavelength, amplitude and angles of each sawtooth module”.

It was this combination of features, which contributed to the symmetricality of the product, that ultimately conferred the design with novelty[2] and which were taken by Bluescope, leading to the finding of obvious imitation.[3] Three points of note on these parts of the case.

First, at [51] Besanko and Middleton JJ rejected Bluescope’s challenge to the trial judge’s reliance on Gram’s design being viewed vertically as an in-fill sheet between posts so that the saw-tooth ran top to bottom:

While considerations of utility are not relevant, designs cannot be construed without context. It is often the case that features of the article to which the design applies, will serve both visual and functional purposes. Where this is the case, the implication of BlueScope’s submission is that the feature’s appearance and utility must be divorced. However, a design without context is a meaningless drawing. As Lockhart J observed in Dart Industries 15 IPR 403 at 408, the design is ‘the mental picture of the shape, configuration, pattern, or ornament of the article to which it has been applied’ (emphasis added). It is inescapable that the Design is for sheet metal fencing and the construction of the Design must reflect this.[4]

That is, because the design was for a sheet metal fencing panel which “worked” in one way, it should be interpreted in the way (presumably) those who would use it for that would understand it.

Secondly, the trial judge had not impermissibly referred to the fact that the Bluescope product could be “nested” with the Gram product (embodying the design). But, it was not the fact of “nestability” as such that was important. Rather, it was relevant because it was helpful in forming a view about the similarity of the sawtooth profile. Besanko and Middleton JJ explained at [89]:

the nesting qualities are instructive. As has been discussed at length, the combination of amplitudes, wavelengths and angles create the sawtooth profile. For the GramLine and Smartascreen sheets to nest, albeit imperfectly, they must by logical extension, have similar amplitudes, wavelengths and angles. This is clearly helpful in deciding if Smartascreen is an obvious imitation of GramLine, and it was entirely open for the primary judge to be assisted by the nesting properties of the two articles. It is further relevant because as noted above, an obvious imitation is not one which is the same as the design, but one that is an imitation apparent to the eye notwithstanding slight differences.

Care definitely needs to be taken with this as the physical embodiment of the registered design is not always the same as the design and the comparison must be between the accused product and the registered design. It is important to note, therefore, that the Full Court treated this as confirming or reinforcing the view based on comparison of the appearance of the infringing article to the registered design.

Thirdly, the Full Court considered the trial judge had impermissibly taken into account Bluescope’s commercial objectives – to introduce a product to compete with the Gramline product – in deciding whether or not the Smartascreen was an obvious imitation. With respect that must be right as the test of obvious imitation is an objective test based on visual resemblance. Yates J, however, was prepared to accept at [198] to [201] evidence such as that Bluescope was attracted to the design because “it had a similar appearance to the GramLine sawtooth profile and would gain ready market acceptance” as a kind of expert evidence about the similarity of Bluescope’s product to Gram’s design.

Fraudulent imitation

In Polyaire, the High Court rejected the interpretation of fraudulent imitation which had required the alleged infringer to have attempted to disguise its copying. Instead, the High Court had said at [17]:

the application of a “fraudulent imitation” requires that the application of the design be with knowledge of the existence of the registration and of the absence of consent to its use, or with reason to suspect those matters, and that the use of the design produces what is an “imitation” within the meaning of par (a). This, to apply the general principle recently exemplified in Macleod v The Queen, is the knowledge, belief or intent which renders the conduct fraudulent.

At [36], the High Court approved Lehane J’s formulation of the test for fraudulent imitation in the following terms:

[T]he essential questions are, first, whether the allegedly infringing design is based on or derived from the registered design and, then, whether the differences are so substantial that the result is not to be described as an imitation. ….

In this case, the trial judge considered that fraudulent imitation required a finding that the infringing product was deliberately based on the registered design. The Besanko and Middleton JJ endorsed that test at [115]:

In our opinion, it must be shown that there was deliberate, in the sense of conscious, copying for there to be fraudulent imitation. If imitation imports the notion of making use of the registered design, there must be at least a conscious use of the registered design before it could be concluded there was fraudulent imitation.

The trial judge had found that:

  • Bluescope knew the Gramline design was registered;
  • Bluescope knew that Gram had achieved runaway commercial success with its product;
  • Bluescope was trying to design a “Gram lookalike”;
  • Bluescope had come up with a number of different symmetrical designs to Gram’s design, but rejected those in favour of the Smartascreen design; and
  • Bluescope had adopted a panel size of 762mm which was the same as Gram’s but different to the standard 820mm panel prevailing in the industry at the time.

His Honour was also “sceptical” of Bluescope’s claim that the resemblance to Gram’s design was coincidental. Gram argued that, given these findings, what other conclusion could there be but deliberate copying.

The Full Court upheld the trial judge’s refusal to find the Smartascreen was deliberately based on the Gramline design. Two factors seem to have played an important role here.

First, the Full Court accepted at [118] that an allegation of fraudulent imitation was a serious matter and the level of proofs needed to reflect the gravity of that.

Secondly, the evidence showed that the Bluescope employees who came up with the final design from 2000 onwards were influenced by, or at least referred to, design work done by a Mr Field in 1996.

Mr Field did not give evidence so it was not clear on the evidence what influences or references he made use of. Now, in many cases, the unexplained failure of a key player in the design process to give evidence (especially when there are inferences (at least) suggestive of copying available) might be sufficient to give rise to a Jones v Dunkel that the witness could not say anything helpful to the defendant’s case. Here, however, Mr Field’s absence was explained: he was old and in very poor health. His design work had taken place in 1996 very early in the picture. Moreover, Bluescope’s product had been introduced in 2002. Gram had of course known about it pretty much straightaway, but had delayed until 2010 before taking action. One may speculate, therefore, that the Court was not willing to allow Gram the benefit of negative inferences when its own delay had contributed to the witness being unavailable.

BlueScope Steel Limited v Gram Engineering Pty Ltd [2014] FCAFC 107


  1. Given the transitional provisions, there are potentially almost 6 more years for designs for designs under the old Act to still be in force. Design applications that were pending on 17 June 2004, when the 2003 Act came into force, continue to be governed by the old Act’s provisions for validity and infringement unless they were “converted” to “new” Act designs.  ?
  2. Full Court at [63], [71] – [72] (Besanko and Middleton JJ), [163] – [181] (Yates J).  ?
  3. Full Court at [89] – [93], with a useful summary of the key principles at [82] (Besanko and Middleton JJ). There were differences between the Smartascreen’s appearance and the registered design, but these were treated as insubstantial: [] (Besanko and Middleton JJ) and [188]ff (Yates J).  ?
  4. Yates J to similar effect at e.g. [166], [174].  ?

Clip to Evernote