Playgro v Playgo

PLAYGRO v PLAYGO

Well, you’ll never guess what? It turns out that:

playgo

is deceptively similar to:

playgro

No April Fool’s. Now, maybe some of you (like me) are thinking, “Wait a minute, there must be ‘gazillions’ of trade marks for toys with PLAY in them. That’s true, but the second syllables of the verbal elements are just too close, both visually and aurally. As Moshinsky J explained:

In my view, the fact that there are other trade marks for goods in class 28 containing ‘PLAY’ as part of the word, does not assist in resolving the matter. Accepting that it is a crowded market for toys, games and playthings where the word ‘PLAY’ is used as an element of the trade mark, and therefore more attention than usual may be paid to the second syllable, there is nevertheless a closer degree of similarity between the trade marks in issue here and the marks referred to in paragraph [94] above. In the present case, the second syllable of each mark (‘GRO’ and ‘GO’ respectively) is visually and phonetically very similar, while in the other cases (for example, PLAYSKOOL and PLAYBOY) the second syllable is quite different.

The different shaped backgrounds and colours and arrangement of the verbal element(s) were not signficant matters.

A couple of other points.

Playgo is based in Hong Kong. It sold and supplied its products to Myer, Woolworths and Big W there (presumably FOB or some similar arrangement). It argued therefore that it did not use its trade mark in the course of trade in Australia as property in the goods passed on delivery in Hong Kong.

Moshinsky J rejected this argument. When Playgo sold its product to Myer and the others, it knew they were intending to import them into Australia for sale at retail. Moshinsky J considered this was just a straightforward application of Gallo and Estex. Until the goods passed into the hands of the ultimate consumers, they were still in the course of trade and the PLAYGO trade mark operated to denote Playgo as the trade source.

Perhaps surprisingly given this conclusion, however, his Honour considered that Playgo was not liable as a joint tortfeasor with Myer, Woolworths or Big W for the infringements committed by their use. Selling the goods to them, with knowledge of what they intended to do with them (i.e., import them into Australia for retail sale) did not have sufficient commonality of purpose to amount to a common design, to “acting in concert together”; it was merely facilitation:

Nevertheless, in my view, the facts do not establish that Playgo Enterprises and Myer engaged in a ‘common design’ to offer for sale and sell toys bearing the Playgo Device Mark. The relationship between Playgo Enterprises and Myer was merely that of vendor and purchaser. The Supply Agreement appears to be a standard agreement for the sale and purchase of goods; there are no special features which involve Playgo Enterprises in the process of offering for sale and sale of the goods to customers. The facts do not indicate that Playgo Enterprises played any role in the offering for sale or sale of the goods to customers. It is true that Playgo Enterprises sold goods bearing the Playgo Device Mark to Myer, and knew that they were to be offered for sale and sold to customers in Australia. Nevertheless, in my view, that is insufficient to amount to a ‘common design’ because Playgo Enterprises did not engage in any acts in furtherance of the alleged common design. At most, Playgo Enterprises facilitated the infringement by selling the goods to Myer; but mere facilitation is not enough to establish joint tortfeasorship.

Although it is not referred to in the judgment, presumably the other limb of joint tortfeasorship – directing, procuring or inducing the infringement – would also fail in the absence of some positive act (other than selling to the importer for importation in Australia and sale)?[1] If so, that illustrates that the common law principles are much less help to the right holder than the statutory prohibitions in copyright law and patent law against authorising infringement[2] and, even more so, s 117 of the Patents Act 1990.

Playgro Pty Ltd v Playgo Art & Craft Manufactory Limited [2016] FCA 280


  1. See e.g. Ramset Fasteners (Aust) Pty Ltd v Advanced Building Systems Pty Ltd [1999] FCA 898; 44 IPR 481 at [41], [52].  ?
  2. In Cooper v Universal Music, for example, the provision of links on a website which browsers could use to download infringing content did constitute infringement where the website was designed to enable anyone, including the primary infringers, to place the links on the website.  ?

The patent was valid, but not infringed

Foster J has ruled that Bitech’s patent for an apparatus that simulates log flames or coal fire in electric or gas fired domestic room heaters is valid, but not infringed.

An essential feature of the patent was that the simulated flames resulted from reflected light, however, the alleged infringements used directly projected light, not reflected light and consequently did not infringe.

The novelty attack failed because the relevant prior art did not possess all the features claimed. The attack on obviousness failed because s 7(3) was not available – the complete specification was filed before the 1990 Act came into force and so the Alphapharm rules were all that was relevant.

Of potentially greater interest, if there had been infringement, Foster J would have found the importer and retailer (Bunnings) were engaged in a common design.

Somewhat bizarrely, on of the respondents denied it had imported the allegedly infringing products, but led no evidence on the point. As a result, Foster J has foreshadowed some consequences in costs for putting the applicant to proof on this point.

Bitech Engineering v Garth Living Pty Ltd [2009] FCA 1393