Posts Tagged ‘constructive trust’

Another designs case

Monday, June 24th, 2013

Well, a patents and designs case, but really it’s a case about entitlement: Kenny J has upheld the validity of patents and registered designs for “beer taps” which one company in the Fosters group – Foster’s Group Ltd – applied for “most likely [by] mistake”[1] as one of its subsidiaries, Fosters Australia, was the owner.

Fosters Australia commissioned another party to design some new beer taps for it, on terms that it would own the resulting IP.

When the applicatins for the patents and designs were filed, however, they were filed in the name of Fosters Group Ltd, Fosters Australia’s parent and the holding company of the group.

When the mistake was discovered, Fosters Group assigned everything to Fosters Australia. By then, however, the designs had been registered in Fosters Group’s name, although innovation patent applications were still pending.

Fosters Australia has sued Cash’s for infringing its patents and designs. Cash’s defences asserted invalidity on the basis, amongst other things, that Fosters Group was not an entitled person or the grant was obtained by fraud, false suggestion or misrepresentation.[2]

Kenny J rejected the attack on the patents on the basis that s 29 did not require an applicant for the patent to be the entitled person or someone claiming through him or her; it was necessary only that the patent was granted to someone who qualified under s 15. Kenny J further held that Fosters Group could assign the benefit of its applications to Fosters Australia.

Similar reasoning would apply to the designs s 21 and s 13, but the designs were already registered before Fosters Group assigned its rights to Fosters Australia. However, Kenny J found in circumstances that Fosters Group held the applications and registrations on constructive trust for Fosters Australia.

Patentology makes the point that, while all’s well that ends well, care needs to be taken in deciding who should make the application before it is filed.

Foster’s Australia Limited v Cash’s (Australia) Pty Ltd [2013] FCA 527


  1. [2013] FCA 527 at [127].  ?
  2. Patents Act 1990 s 138(3) and Designs Act 2003 s 93(3).  ?

Property in the proceeds of infringement

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

In a decision which no doubt has some further distance to run, Newey J (sitting in the Chancery Division of the High Court in England) has ruled that the owner of copyright does not have a proprietary interest in the proceeds (read profits) made by an infringer of the copyright.

Harris et al. are alleged to be the person (or persons) behind the Newzbin file sharing sites which, amongst other things, have been found to infringe the movie studios’ copyrights in a range of films (here and here, where Arnold J ordered the ISPs to block access).

In December last year, the Newzbin sites appear to have closed down, claiming they had run out of money.

Having obtained freezing orders (formerly called Mareva injunctions) against the assets of the defendants (such as the house in which Mr Harris lives and the Maclaren car he parks in its driveway), the movie studios sought “proprietary injunctions” over the assets as well. This seems to involve a court determination that the assets in question were the property of the movie studios rather than the defendants. For example, Newey J explained the difference between the (already in place) freezing order and the injunctions now sought by reference to Millett LJ’s description:

“The courts have always recognised a clear distinction between the ordinary Mareva jurisdiction and proprietary claims. The ordinary Mareva injunction restricts a defendant from dealing with his own assets. An injunction of the present kind, at least in part, restrains the defendants from dealing with assets to which the plaintiff asserts title. It is not designed merely to preserve the defendant’s assets so as to be available to meet a judgment; it is designed to protect the plaintiff from having its property expended for the defendant’s purposes”.

The movie studios based their argument on observations in the Spycatcher cases that Peter Wright may have held the rights in Spycatcher on constructive trust for the Crown in view of his breaches of duties of confidence and fidelity.

Newey J seems to have rejected this claim partly on the basis that there were cases binding on him (albeit apparently disapproved by the Privy Council) ruling that there was no such proprietary interest and partly on the basis that s 18 of the Copyright Act 1956 had expressly deemed the copyright owner to be the owner of infringing copies and provided remedies in conversion and detention. That remedy, however, had been repealed by the Copyright Design and Patents Act 1988 as unjust and unfair.

There are some interesting issues for Australians.

First, the conversion/detention remedy on the basis of deemed ownership has not been repealed (but is now discretionary) – see s 116 (but the Full Court may not be too keen on the remedy – see [94] of French and Kiefel JJ (as their Honours then were).

Secondly, in Lenah Game Meats, Gummow and Hayne JJ did say at [102]:

A cinematograph film may have been made, as in Lincoln Hunt, in circumstances involving the invasion of the legal or equitable rights of the plaintiff or a breach of the obligations of the maker to the plaintiff. It may then be inequitable and against good conscience for the maker to assert ownership of the copyright against the plaintiff and to broadcast the film. The maker may be regarded as a constructive trustee of an item of personal (albeit intangible) property, namely the copyright conferred by s 98 of the Copyright Act[96]. In such circumstances, the plaintiff may obtain a declaration as to the subsistence of the trust and a mandatory order requiring an assignment by the defendant of the legal (ie statutory) title to the intellectual property rights in question[97]. Section 196(3) of the Copyright Act provides that an assignment of copyright does not have effect unless it is in writing signed by or on behalf of the assignor.

Gaudron and Callinan JJ also agreed.

Newey J considered, however, that:

i) The point under consideration (viz. whether copyright in a film made unlawfully was subject to a trust) was rather different to that with which I am concerned (viz. whether a copyright owner has a proprietary claim to the fruits of infringement); and

ii) The Australian approach to constructive trusts is by no means the same as that in this jurisdiction. In particular, as the Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia noted in Grimaldi v Chameleon Mining NL (No. 2) [2012] FCAFC 6 (in paragraph 574)

His Lordship’s second point may be thought to be a second factor why an Australian court might take a different approach to his Lordship’s conclusion.

As to the first point, one might well think, if such a constructive trust arose, that the trustee would have to account for the fruits of the use of the trust property and possibly even handover such fruits as were still in his possession.

Finally, the Privy Council’s rejection of the authority binding on Newey J (and the determination of the movie studios) may well indicate that Newey J’s decision is just the first step in the war.

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation v Harris [2013] EWHC 159

Lid dip: Fiona Phillips