Bohemia Crystal shattered

Like MICHIGAN for farm equipment and OXFORD for books, Burley J has ordered that Bohemia Crystal’s trade marks, BOHEMIA and BOHEMIA CRYSTAL be revoked because they are not distinctive of “glassware”.

Bohemia Crystal (BCP) had been formed in 1975 to distribute in Australia Skloexport’s products. Skloexport was the State-owned entity responsible for the export of all crystal and glassware products made in Czechoslovakia. In 1999, Skloexport went into liquidation and BCP took an assignment of its Australian trade marks. The main trade mark BCP used in this period, which had been registered since 1962 was the stylised BOHEMIA Glass mark, TM No. 319701:

Versions of this mark were used with or without the words “Made in Czech Republic” or substituting the word “Glass” for “Crystal”.

On 5 October 2001, BCP applied for and successfully registered BOHEMIA CRYSTAL for glassware and on 2 May 2003 BCP applied for and successfully registered BOHEMIA for glassware.

Host is an importer and supplier of catering goods and equipment in Australia. The business was started in 1999. One range within its 2,500 product lines is its range of glassware sourced from another Czech supplier, Forincorp, marketed under BANQUET BY BOHEMIA [1] or:

Host started importing this line in 2015. BCP made the fateful decision to start proceedings for infringement of its registered trade marks and contravention of the Australian Consumer Law for false and misleading conduct.

Burley J held that BCP’s trade marks lacked any capacity to distinguish and had not been used in such a way as to have acquired secondary meaning for the purposes of s 41(6).[2] Burley J also dismissed BCP’s allegations of misleading or deceptive conduct.

It is not going to be possible in a blog post to do justice to Burley J’s 376 paragraphs. Instead five points particularly caught my eye.

First, Burley J (who was a very experienced intellectual property barrister before his appointment) pointed out that the High Court in Cantarella referenced both ordinary consumers and traders as the criterion for whether or not a sign was inherently adapted to distinguish.

BCP argued that the test focused on what ordinary consumers would think the sign meant. It had found an expert who opined that ordinary members of the public would think “bohemia” was a reference to persons with an artistic or unconventional lifestyle.

After analysing Cantarella from [86] on, his Honour concluded at [93]:[3]

in a case such as the present, it is necessary to consider the ordinary signification of the words “Bohemia” and “Bohemia Crystal” in the context of the “target audience”, being traders and consumers of the relevant goods, to determine whether at the relevant dates other traders might legitimately desire to use these words or something similar in connection with their goods, for the ordinary signification which they possess. …. (emphasis supplied)

Here, despite the evidence of BCP’s principle witness, the evidence was largely one way. It was beyond dispute that for many centuries the geographic region known as “Bohemia” which is now in the Czech Republic had a strong reputation for producing high quality crystal and glassware. There was evidence that between at least four and ten different manufacturers used the term “Bohemia” at an important annual glassware trade show to signify the geographic origins of their products. There was also evidence from a number of dealers that the term signified to the public glassware originating from the Bohemia region. BCP’s own registered user agreements for the use of Skloexport’s trade marks had also required it to promote its products as from the geographic region, Bohemia.

Burley J concluded that other traders who had glassware manufactured in the region formerly known as Bohemia legitimately and honestly wanted to use that word to describe the geographic origins of their products. The fact that Bohemia was no longer a separate country (and had not been since the World War I) and not even the contemporary name of the region was not significant.[4]

Second, Burley J found that the evidence of use of the BOHEMIA and BOHEMIA CRYSTAL did not establish that those terms had been used by BCP as trade marks or in such a way as to have acquired secondary meaning. There were three aspects to this conclusion.

Following BP v Woolworths, promotion and use is not enough. It had to be shown that the signs as registered had been used in some way to identify the signs as being trade marks.

Next, for the most part the relevant evidence showed that what BCP had been using as a trade mark was Skloexport’s composite mark, not the terms as registered. This was not use of either trade mark as registered. Moreover it was the combination of the elements in the signs as a whole which comprised the distinctiveness. These signs should not be dissected into their component parts:

228 I have some difficulty with the proposition that the words “Bohemia” or “Bohemia Crystal” should in this context be regarded as having separate trade mark signification beyond the combination in which they appear in the composite marks described above. In my view, it is the combination of elements that is distinctive. The trade mark should be viewed as a whole and not dissected into parts. Although this is likely to be a matter of fact for each case, it is notable that several cases have cautioned against the proposition that separate elements should be so distilled; see Diamond T Motor Car Company [1921] 2 Ch 583 at 588, Fry Consulting Pty Ltd v Sports Warehouse Inc (No 2) [2012] FCA 81; (2012) 201 FCR 565 at [61], [63].

229 To my eye, the whole of the 701 mark is to be regarded as creating a complicated image that taken collectively represents a sign, or badge of origin. I do not think that the elements within it may be dissected or that they would be dissected by an ordinary consumer of goods within the relevant classes. In any event, I consider that the words “Bohemia Crystal” and “Made in Czech Republic” within the 701 mark tend to reinforce the descriptive, geographical signification of those words. ….

The third factor is the way that evidence was advanced did not help BCP’s case. A lot of the evidence was vague, or general, rather than specific to what needed to be proved here: use of the signs as trade marks before the filing date. In this respect, his Honour’s discussion will repay careful study as it is not uncommon to see evidence prepared for the Office suffering from similar problems.

Third, BCP did not demonstrate any sufficient reason why its trade marks should not be removed from the Register. Burley J accepted that, Host having established the marks were invalidly registered, BCP bore the onus of satisfying the Court that there was sufficient reason not to order cancellation.

Here, the evidence did not establish that BCP had acquired distinctiveness in its signs. Importantly, allowing BCP to keep its registrations would give it an unfair advantage. At [248], his Honour explained:

…. The presence of the existing ground of revocation via the operation of subsection 88(2)(a) and s 41 indicates an intention on the part of the legislature to ensure that historical registrations should not remain on the Register where they should not have been granted in the first place. In the present case, to permit such a course would advantage the unmeritorious registrant who has incorrectly had the benefit of the monopoly since the relevant dates. BCP is able to apply to register the Bohemia marks now, should it choose to do so.

Of course, if it were to do so, it would run the risk of other traders wishing to use the terms opposing (if the Registrar got suckered into accepting the applications in the first place).

Fourth, if his Honour had not found BCPs trade marks invalidly registered, Host would have infringed. Its attempt to rely on s 122(1)(b) would have failed. This part of the case essentially turned on Host’s use being BANQUET by Bohemia (emphasis supplied) rather than BANQUET from Bohemia.

Burley J accepted that s 122 could be invoked to protect trade mark use, not just descriptive use. However, Host’s form of use showed that Host was trying to assert origin in some particular trade source rather than some geographical origin. At [301]:

…. Ms Flint and Mr Sullivan adopted this language, notwithstanding the obvious difficulty with the perception of “by” and with no knowledge of either BCP or the Bohemia marks. However, I find that they did not do so for the purpose of using “Bohemia” to designate the geographical origin of the goods, but to designate the trade origin of the goods lying in a particular entity (which was ultimately Forincorp). Accordingly, the use does not fall within the defence ….

Fifth, BCP’s allegations of misleading or deceptive conduct also failed. A number of factors contributed to this including the particular trade marks BCP had actually used and the good old-fashioned Hornsby Building Information Centre proposition.[5] In contrast to the trade mark case, in addition, it was highly significant that Host’s market and BCP’s market were quite different. BCP’s market was member of the general public looking for premium quality products. Host’s customers, however, were cafes, restaurants, pubs, clubs, community groups and the like who were cost conscious but attended to their purchases with considerable care. So, for example, at [370]:

the typical reasonable consumer is most likely to perceive the October 2015 catalogue use to represent that the manufacturer or producer of the glassware is an entity known as “Banquet by Bohemia” or “Bohemia”, there is no more than a remote prospect that reasonable customers are likely to consider that the goods offered in the catalogue are offered with the sponsorship or approval of BCP or are offered by Host with the approval of BCP or that the Banquet products emanate from BCP. First, I do not consider that the typical Host customer who encounters this publication would be likely to be aware of BCP. Secondly, I consider that any Host customers who are aware of BCP would understand it to be a retailer of a range of glassware products sold under a range of different brands. Thirdly, to the extent that such customers perceive that BCP has a trade connection with products that it sells, those customers are likely to do so by reference to the common use of the 701 mark or the modified 701 mark. Without the presence of that mark, in my view they are unlikely to consider that the word “Bohemia” as it appears in the impugned uses connotes a connection or association with BCP. Needless to say, no such mark appears in the October 2015 catalogue. Fourthly, such customers would also be influenced by the geographical nature of the term and the material differences between the Host and BCP products such as price, quantity and quality. ….

Bohemia Crystal Pty Ltd v Host Corporation Pty Ltd [2018] FCA 235


  1. It also used BANQUET CRYSTAL BY BOHEMIA, CZECH CRYSTAL BY BOHEMIA and expressions like BANQUET FLUTE.  ?
  2. Given the filing dates of BCP’s trade marks, the original form of s 41 applied.  ?
  3. See also [153] – [155].  ?
  4. At [161], Burley J pointed out that PERSIA in the Persian Fetta case and Peking and Ceylon still retained their signification as place names.  ?
  5. If you are going to use a descriptive expression, you have to accept a certain degree of confusion is inevitable.  ?

The word yellow is descriptive of online directories

Telstra has lost its appeal in the “Yellow” case.

The Full Court upheld the trial judge’s conclusion that the word “yellow” lacked any capacity to distinguish print or online directories under (the old version of) s 41. However, the Full Court accepted that the word “yellow” had become sufficiently distinctive of Telstra by reason of use and promotion after the date of the application that it would have been registrable if it had had some inherent capacity to distinguish.

Following the High Court’s ruling in “Oro/Cinque Stelle“, the Full Court agreed with the trial judge that the word “yellow” signifies the colour yellow and the evidence showed that the colour yellow signified print and online directories. Consequently, the word itself was descriptive. At [117], in considering the ordinary signification of the word, the Full Court said:

We would say at the outset that it was appropriate for Telstra to proceed on the basis that capacity to distinguish could not be decided by reference to inherent adaption alone even if the Court accepted all of its arguments. The word yellow describes a colour and, even without evidence, it would be appropriate to infer that at least some other traders might wish to use that colour. Furthermore, there was at the very least evidence in this case of not infrequent use of the colour yellow in connection with print and online directories.

The Full Court then considered that the evidence of use by other traders in print and online directories confirmed that consumers did in fact consider the word “yellow” descriptive of such directories. Like the trial judge, the Full Court took into account the usage of traders overseas as well as within Australia, although it may have been to support the good faith of the local traders’ use.

Survey and acquired distinctiveness – s 41(5)

If the word “yellow” had had some capacity to distinguish print and online directories, the Full Court would have allowed Telstra’s appeal that it had become sufficiently distinctive under s 41(5) by use after application. A 2008 survey (not the 2007 survey relied on by the primary judge) showed that after several years of use including millions of dollars of expenditure on advertising, at least 12% of the survey respondents identified (associated?) the word “yellow” with Telstra’s directory unprompted. A further 4%, making 16% in total, had similar unprompted association.

The Full Court distinguished British Sugar and held that would be sufficient. (The report does not disclose the terms of the question that elicited those responses.) Arguably, makes a nice contrast to the Oro/Cinque Stelle case.

What about .com.au

In dismissing a second, cross-appeal in which yellowbook.com.au was found to be deceptively similar to Telstra’s Yellow Pages trade mark, the Full Court treated the domain name “accoutrement” .com.au as largely insignificant for the purposes of the deceptive similarity analysis.

The interesting point here is that the Full Court considered this may not always be the case. It was appropriate to disregard the element here in the context where the services were online directories and consumers were shown largely to disregard such elements.

The question of onus

The Full Court also seems to have resolved the ongoing disputes about the onus of proof. The Full Court held that the opponent has the onus of proving that a proposed trade mark has no inherent capacity to distinguish. It further held that that onus was on the balance of probabilities, not the practically certain standard which some courts at first instance have applied.

Telstra Corporation Limited v Phone Directories Company Australia Pty Ltd [2015] FCAFC 156 (Besanko, Jagot and Edelman JJ)

Apple can’t register APP STORE as a trade mark in Australia

Yates J has rejected Apple’s attempt to register APP STORE in Australia as a trade mark for retail store services featuring computer software provided via the internet or for use on handheld mobile devices and the like.

Apple applied to register APP STORE in Australia on 18 July 2008 for retail store services featuring computer software […] in class 35 and related services in classes 38 and 42, TM App No 1252301. The application claimed Convention priority from 7 March 2008. Apple’s “App Store” launched in Australia on 11 July 2008 – that is, one week before the application was filed – with the release of the iPhone 3G. The Registrar rejected the application on the grounds that the trade mark lacked any inherent capacity to distinguish and, there having been no use prior to 11 July 2008, it was not factually distinctive of Apple as at the claimed Convention priority date.

Yates J, as noted, has rejected Apple’s “appeal” on the basis that APP STORE is not capable of distinguishing the services specified in the application.[1] As one would expect, his Honour’s decision provides an excellent tutorial on how one should approach questions arising under s 41 including, apart perhaps from questions of onus, the new form.

The relevant date

Yates J held that capacity to distinguish fell to be assessed at the filing date of the application not, as the Registrar contended based essentially on s 72, on the priority date applicable as a Convention application. This was potentially significant as there had been no use of the trade mark at the priority date, but there had been at least one week’s use at the filing date.

Capacity to distinguish

Yates J began by pointing out that whether something has inherent capacity to distinguish depends on the occasion and circumstance. It turns on both the nature of the particular mark itself and also the nature of the particular goods or services specified in the application.[2]

To overcome the Registrar’s rejection, Apple relied on evidence from a linguistics expert, analysis of internet usage on Google Trends and in the Internet Archive and a Newspoll online survey

Apple’s primary argument was that the expression “app store” could not be fully understood by simply combining the meanings of its component parts “app” and “store”. At [88]:

…. In other words, the combination “app store” does not have a “compositional” meaning. According to him, “the compound APP STORE can only be fully?understood non?compositionally”. ….

The argument here was that, while the term “app” had been used as “clipped” form of application since 1985, that usage was restricted to specialised computer circles. In addition, the word “store” meant a physical place where one went to buy goods or services: Apple’s App Store introduced a new meaning: an online, virtual “place” where one did not so much buy things as a “licence” to use software. That is, in more traditional terms, the expression is at best “allusive” rather than directly descriptive.

On the evidence, however, Yates J found that both “app” and “store” had relevantly well-understood descriptive meanings in the relevant sense for the general public at the filing date. There was evidence at [121] – [123] that before the filing date “app” had been used in 83 articles in publications such as PC World, Technology Review, Rolling Stone and Atlantic Monthly to refer to software applications running on PCs in the Windows environment. At [181], his Honour found:

well before 2008, the word “app” had a well-established and well-understood meaning as a shorthand expression for computer software that is application, as opposed to operating, software. I do not accept that, at the filing date, this use of the word was restricted to computer experts. I am satisfied that it was the received meaning for many interested users of computer software and certainly for those involved in the trade of supplying computer programs, including by retail.

and at [190]:

I am not persuaded that the word “store”, as used in APP STORE, ushered in a new meaning of that word. On the evidence, I am satisfied that, at the time that Apple applied for the APP STORE mark, the word “store” had a well-established and well-understood meaning among traders and the general public that was not confined to the traditional notion of a physical store, but extended, as well, to an online store for the provision of goods or services.

His Honour gave as examples Amazon.com’s launch of its e-Books store in 2000, its software download store launched in 2001 and Apple’s own iTunes Music Store launched in 2003.

Consequently, his Honour concluded that members of the public seeking to acquire application software at the filing date would have understood APP STORE to be no more than a description of a trade channel. It had no inherent capacity to distinguish:

I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that, at the filing date, members of the public seeking to acquire application software would have understood APP STORE as no more than an expression to describe a trade channel – a store – by or through which application software could be acquired. The fact that the “acquisition” would have involved the acquisition of rights by way of licence does not, in my view, bear upon the matter.

Even if Apple was the first to use the combined expression, which Yates J does not seem to have been convinced it was, “the words in combination bore no more than their ordinary signification when applied to the designated services in Class 35.”

While his Honour drew on the Full Federal Court’s ruling in Oro / Cinque Stelle overturned by yesterday’s ruling in the High Court, these factual findings of what the terms and combined expression would mean to members of the public, unless somehow overturned, would appear to be fatal to any appeal.

Acquired distinctiveness (secondary meaning)

Yates J considered the evidence on acquired distinctiveness “opaque”. There was no real evidence about how the press releases issued with the launch of the store were used or of any other advertising or promotional steps undertaken. His Honour was prepared to accept that people had done internet searches in the week following launch of the term “app store” and “perhpas many persons” had come to associate the App Store service with Apple, but that was not enough.

The Newspoll survey

The Newspoll survey was drawn from an online pool of people who were willing to participate in market surveys for reward. It disclosed that some 65% of participants associated the term “App Store” with a particular company or brand[3] and at least 88% of those nominated Apple as the company or brand. There were at least 2 main problems with this survey. First, it was conducted in 2011 – 3 years after the relevant date – “well after the relevant period” at [223]. Secondly at [224] – [231], applying cases like Woolworths v BP and Chocolaterie Guylian, it was not enough to demonstrate that the expression APP STORE was associated with Apple; it was necessary to show the nature of that association was to identify the trade source of the product – i.e., as a badge of origin.

The ‘pro-active’ role of the Registrar

Apple criticised the active role the Registrar took in this case: going to the lengths of filing her own expert evidence in answer to Apple’s expert and relying on affidavits provided by solicitors acting for Microsoft. Such an active role is indeed unusual in such appeals. Yates J, however, did not accept that the Registrar’s role could fairly be described as “partisan”. His Honour pointed out that the Registrar is entitled to appear as a party and what role she should take when doing say would depend on the circumstances of particular cases:

In the present appeal, a large body of evidence, including expert evidence, was adduced by Apple. The Registrar was not bound to accept either the completeness or the correctness of that evidence. If, as here, there was a genuine alternative case available on the facts or evidence which materially qualified the case brought by Apple, then that alternative case could only be advanced by evidence adduced by the Registrar in the appeal, including by way of expert evidence, bearing in mind the nature of the proceeding as a hearing de novo. I do not think that the Registrar should be criticised for advancing a case for the Court’s consideration. To deny the Registrar that opportunity would be to deny the Court the opportunity to make findings on an appropriately-informed basis. This is not to encourage the Registrar, as a party to such an appeal, to make the case before the Court more factually complex or extensive than it need reasonably be or to take other than appropriately measured steps in the conduct of the litigation. Quite clearly, appropriate judgment must be exercised in considering what evidence is truly necessary, and what forensic decisions should be taken, to fulfil the Registrar’s role, which must be to take reasonable steps under the Act to protect the public interest in respect of the registration of trade marks in Australia. I do not think that the Registrar has over-stepped the mark in this case. ….

Apple Inc. v Registrar of Trade Marks [2014] FCA 1304


  1. This too was decided under the “old” form of s 41 not the new form introduced by the [Raising the Bar Act][rtb].  ?
  2. Although not referred to specifically by his Honour, this is well illustrated by “North Pole” in respect of “bananas” in contrast to, say, “Whopper” in respect of hamburgers.  ?
  3. There was considerable variation among age groups: 90% of those aged 18 to 34, 81% of those aged 35 to 49 and 60% of those aged 50 to 64.  ?