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:
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 ….
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  FCA 936; (1994) 120 ALR 495 at .
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 , 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 , 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 :
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)). (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  FCAFC 83 (Greenwood, Jagot and Beach JJ)