Mastronardi applied to register ZIMA as a trade mark in class 31 for tomatoes. The Registrar refused the application on the grounds that it was not inherently adapted to distinguish. Gordon J has now upheld Mastronardi’s appeal and directed the trade mark be registered.
ZIMA sofar as anyone knows is an invented word; it has no meaning at all. Apparently, however, it is only ever used in relation to one “variety” of tomato. The Registrar refused the application on the basis that:
“the word ZIMA appears to be a reference to a single kind of tomato plant and its fruit” and that the trade mark “lacks any inherent adaptation to distinguish the Applicant’s tomatoes as it appears to be an appropriate description of the goods in respect of which it is to be used”.
As the trade mark had not been used in Australia before the date of the application to register it, therefore, it failed.
The question fell to be determined under the old form of s 41 (although it should be the same under the (it is hoped, more clearly expressed) new form. Thus, a sign is registrable as a trade mark if it is “inherently adapted to distinguish”. Both Mastronardi and the Registrar accepted on the appeal that, even under the old form of s 41, a sign is presumed to be inherently adapted to distinguish unless the Registrar (or the Court) is (positively) satisfied it is not.
A sign would not be inherently adapted to distinguish if other traders in such products would legitimately wish to use it to refer to those products even if they were not the applicant’s products. The issue turns on:
the likelihood that other persons, trading in goods of the relevant kind and being actuated only by proper motives – in the exercise, that is to say, of the common right of the public to make honest use of words forming part of the common heritage, for the sake of the signification which they ordinarily possess – will think of the word and want to use it in connexion with similar goods in any manner which would infringe a registered trade mark granted in respect of it.
Consequently, Gordon J explained there were two questions that needed to be addressed:
(1) how would ZIMA be understood as at 25 July 2011 by ordinary Australians seeing it for the first time used in respect of tomatoes; and
(2) how likely is it that other persons, trading in tomatoes and being actuated only by proper motives, will think of the word ZIMA and want to use it in connexion with tomatoes in any manner which would infringe a registered trade mark granted in respect of it?
As it was an wholly invented word, with no meaning, the answer to the first question was easy: it wouldn’t convey any meaning.
The Registrar argued on the second question that ZIMA was in fact, and was treated by other traders, as the name of a particular variety of tomato. The expert evidence before the Court, however, disclosed that “variety” in the context of tomatoes was a very rubbery (no pun intended?) term and, while there were a few varieties of tomato registered under the Plant Breeder’s Rights Act, thousands were not.
More directly, Mastronardi’s evidence was that it did not source its ZIMA brand tomatoes from just one variety. In Australia, there are apparently 50 different cultivars of orange grape tomatoes; Mastronardi used only six of these and only two were supplied to it exclusively. Moreover, when it launched its product in Australia, it had been very careful in its usages referring to its ZIMATM golden grape tomatoes or sweet orange grape tomatoes or golden snacking tomatoes.
So, it followed that other tomato suppliers had a range of terms they could use to describe their own sweet orange/golden grape tomatoes and, therefore, ZIMA was inherently distinctive.
Her Honour’s decision highlights the importance of careful use of trade marks, particularly if there is a risk the trade mark may become the commonly accepted term for a variety or type: the trade mark should be used as an adjective and not as a noun (or verb). This is a problem that practices in the pharmaceutical industry have had to grow up to develop – a different name for the active ingredient to the “brand” name – but, as this case shows, of potentially much wider application.
Mastronardi Produce Ltd v Registrar of Trade Marks  FCA 1021