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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why the claim of privilege was refused

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The scope of trade mark attorney privilege

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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