Bohemia Crystal shattered

Like MICHIGAN for farm equipment and OXFORD for books, Burley J has ordered that Bohemia Crystal’s trade marks, BOHEMIA and BOHEMIA CRYSTAL be revoked because they are not distinctive of “glassware”.

Bohemia Crystal (BCP) had been formed in 1975 to distribute in Australia Skloexport’s products. Skloexport was the State-owned entity responsible for the export of all crystal and glassware products made in Czechoslovakia. In 1999, Skloexport went into liquidation and BCP took an assignment of its Australian trade marks. The main trade mark BCP used in this period, which had been registered since 1962 was the stylised BOHEMIA Glass mark, TM No. 319701:

Versions of this mark were used with or without the words “Made in Czech Republic” or substituting the word “Glass” for “Crystal”.

On 5 October 2001, BCP applied for and successfully registered BOHEMIA CRYSTAL for glassware and on 2 May 2003 BCP applied for and successfully registered BOHEMIA for glassware.

Host is an importer and supplier of catering goods and equipment in Australia. The business was started in 1999. One range within its 2,500 product lines is its range of glassware sourced from another Czech supplier, Forincorp, marketed under BANQUET BY BOHEMIA [1] or:

Host started importing this line in 2015. BCP made the fateful decision to start proceedings for infringement of its registered trade marks and contravention of the Australian Consumer Law for false and misleading conduct.

Burley J held that BCP’s trade marks lacked any capacity to distinguish and had not been used in such a way as to have acquired secondary meaning for the purposes of s 41(6).[2] Burley J also dismissed BCP’s allegations of misleading or deceptive conduct.

It is not going to be possible in a blog post to do justice to Burley J’s 376 paragraphs. Instead five points particularly caught my eye.

First, Burley J (who was a very experienced intellectual property barrister before his appointment) pointed out that the High Court in Cantarella referenced both ordinary consumers and traders as the criterion for whether or not a sign was inherently adapted to distinguish.

BCP argued that the test focused on what ordinary consumers would think the sign meant. It had found an expert who opined that ordinary members of the public would think “bohemia” was a reference to persons with an artistic or unconventional lifestyle.

After analysing Cantarella from [86] on, his Honour concluded at [93]:[3]

in a case such as the present, it is necessary to consider the ordinary signification of the words “Bohemia” and “Bohemia Crystal” in the context of the “target audience”, being traders and consumers of the relevant goods, to determine whether at the relevant dates other traders might legitimately desire to use these words or something similar in connection with their goods, for the ordinary signification which they possess. …. (emphasis supplied)

Here, despite the evidence of BCP’s principle witness, the evidence was largely one way. It was beyond dispute that for many centuries the geographic region known as “Bohemia” which is now in the Czech Republic had a strong reputation for producing high quality crystal and glassware. There was evidence that between at least four and ten different manufacturers used the term “Bohemia” at an important annual glassware trade show to signify the geographic origins of their products. There was also evidence from a number of dealers that the term signified to the public glassware originating from the Bohemia region. BCP’s own registered user agreements for the use of Skloexport’s trade marks had also required it to promote its products as from the geographic region, Bohemia.

Burley J concluded that other traders who had glassware manufactured in the region formerly known as Bohemia legitimately and honestly wanted to use that word to describe the geographic origins of their products. The fact that Bohemia was no longer a separate country (and had not been since the World War I) and not even the contemporary name of the region was not significant.[4]

Second, Burley J found that the evidence of use of the BOHEMIA and BOHEMIA CRYSTAL did not establish that those terms had been used by BCP as trade marks or in such a way as to have acquired secondary meaning. There were three aspects to this conclusion.

Following BP v Woolworths, promotion and use is not enough. It had to be shown that the signs as registered had been used in some way to identify the signs as being trade marks.

Next, for the most part the relevant evidence showed that what BCP had been using as a trade mark was Skloexport’s composite mark, not the terms as registered. This was not use of either trade mark as registered. Moreover it was the combination of the elements in the signs as a whole which comprised the distinctiveness. These signs should not be dissected into their component parts:

228 I have some difficulty with the proposition that the words “Bohemia” or “Bohemia Crystal” should in this context be regarded as having separate trade mark signification beyond the combination in which they appear in the composite marks described above. In my view, it is the combination of elements that is distinctive. The trade mark should be viewed as a whole and not dissected into parts. Although this is likely to be a matter of fact for each case, it is notable that several cases have cautioned against the proposition that separate elements should be so distilled; see Diamond T Motor Car Company [1921] 2 Ch 583 at 588, Fry Consulting Pty Ltd v Sports Warehouse Inc (No 2) [2012] FCA 81; (2012) 201 FCR 565 at [61], [63].

229 To my eye, the whole of the 701 mark is to be regarded as creating a complicated image that taken collectively represents a sign, or badge of origin. I do not think that the elements within it may be dissected or that they would be dissected by an ordinary consumer of goods within the relevant classes. In any event, I consider that the words “Bohemia Crystal” and “Made in Czech Republic” within the 701 mark tend to reinforce the descriptive, geographical signification of those words. ….

The third factor is the way that evidence was advanced did not help BCP’s case. A lot of the evidence was vague, or general, rather than specific to what needed to be proved here: use of the signs as trade marks before the filing date. In this respect, his Honour’s discussion will repay careful study as it is not uncommon to see evidence prepared for the Office suffering from similar problems.

Third, BCP did not demonstrate any sufficient reason why its trade marks should not be removed from the Register. Burley J accepted that, Host having established the marks were invalidly registered, BCP bore the onus of satisfying the Court that there was sufficient reason not to order cancellation.

Here, the evidence did not establish that BCP had acquired distinctiveness in its signs. Importantly, allowing BCP to keep its registrations would give it an unfair advantage. At [248], his Honour explained:

…. The presence of the existing ground of revocation via the operation of subsection 88(2)(a) and s 41 indicates an intention on the part of the legislature to ensure that historical registrations should not remain on the Register where they should not have been granted in the first place. In the present case, to permit such a course would advantage the unmeritorious registrant who has incorrectly had the benefit of the monopoly since the relevant dates. BCP is able to apply to register the Bohemia marks now, should it choose to do so.

Of course, if it were to do so, it would run the risk of other traders wishing to use the terms opposing (if the Registrar got suckered into accepting the applications in the first place).

Fourth, if his Honour had not found BCPs trade marks invalidly registered, Host would have infringed. Its attempt to rely on s 122(1)(b) would have failed. This part of the case essentially turned on Host’s use being BANQUET by Bohemia (emphasis supplied) rather than BANQUET from Bohemia.

Burley J accepted that s 122 could be invoked to protect trade mark use, not just descriptive use. However, Host’s form of use showed that Host was trying to assert origin in some particular trade source rather than some geographical origin. At [301]:

…. Ms Flint and Mr Sullivan adopted this language, notwithstanding the obvious difficulty with the perception of “by” and with no knowledge of either BCP or the Bohemia marks. However, I find that they did not do so for the purpose of using “Bohemia” to designate the geographical origin of the goods, but to designate the trade origin of the goods lying in a particular entity (which was ultimately Forincorp). Accordingly, the use does not fall within the defence ….

Fifth, BCP’s allegations of misleading or deceptive conduct also failed. A number of factors contributed to this including the particular trade marks BCP had actually used and the good old-fashioned Hornsby Building Information Centre proposition.[5] In contrast to the trade mark case, in addition, it was highly significant that Host’s market and BCP’s market were quite different. BCP’s market was member of the general public looking for premium quality products. Host’s customers, however, were cafes, restaurants, pubs, clubs, community groups and the like who were cost conscious but attended to their purchases with considerable care. So, for example, at [370]:

the typical reasonable consumer is most likely to perceive the October 2015 catalogue use to represent that the manufacturer or producer of the glassware is an entity known as “Banquet by Bohemia” or “Bohemia”, there is no more than a remote prospect that reasonable customers are likely to consider that the goods offered in the catalogue are offered with the sponsorship or approval of BCP or are offered by Host with the approval of BCP or that the Banquet products emanate from BCP. First, I do not consider that the typical Host customer who encounters this publication would be likely to be aware of BCP. Secondly, I consider that any Host customers who are aware of BCP would understand it to be a retailer of a range of glassware products sold under a range of different brands. Thirdly, to the extent that such customers perceive that BCP has a trade connection with products that it sells, those customers are likely to do so by reference to the common use of the 701 mark or the modified 701 mark. Without the presence of that mark, in my view they are unlikely to consider that the word “Bohemia” as it appears in the impugned uses connotes a connection or association with BCP. Needless to say, no such mark appears in the October 2015 catalogue. Fourthly, such customers would also be influenced by the geographical nature of the term and the material differences between the Host and BCP products such as price, quantity and quality. ….

Bohemia Crystal Pty Ltd v Host Corporation Pty Ltd [2018] FCA 235


  1. It also used BANQUET CRYSTAL BY BOHEMIA, CZECH CRYSTAL BY BOHEMIA and expressions like BANQUET FLUTE.  ?
  2. Given the filing dates of BCP’s trade marks, the original form of s 41 applied.  ?
  3. See also [153] – [155].  ?
  4. At [161], Burley J pointed out that PERSIA in the Persian Fetta case and Peking and Ceylon still retained their signification as place names.  ?
  5. If you are going to use a descriptive expression, you have to accept a certain degree of confusion is inevitable.  ?

Confidentiality orders in court proceedings

Motorola is suing Hytera for infringement of its patents relating to mobile phone technology.1 As part of the proceeding, Hytera is seeking to invoke a Digital Mobile Radio Essential Properties Cross Licence Agreement. Hytera has obtained an order that information about various terms in the agreement be kept confidential (I.e., suppressed) for 10 years after the proceeding is decided.

Section 37AF of the Federal Court of Australia Act provides the Court with power to suppress or restrict the publication of evidence. In the case of confidential information, such as trade secrets, the party seeking to restrict access to the information must show under s 37AGthat the restriction “is necessary to prevent prejudice to the proper administration of justice”.

Perram J noted that some scepticism might be felt towards the idea that protection of confidential information met the strict standard of necessity. His Honour accepted, however, case law recognised that commercial sensitivity, especially if it were likely that competitors could benefit from information which made public through the Court system, is a circumstance in which the necessity standard could be met.The integrity of the litigious process might be undermined if parties were precluded from advancing relevant information as a result of the harm potentially flowing from publication. In this case, the agreement in question was still on foot. And the information would place Hytera at a competitive disadvantage in future negotiations with third parties. At [15], his Honour explained:

disclosure of the information would be prejudicial to the proper administration of justice because it would tend to ‘destroy or diminish’ (Origin Energy at 148) the value of confidential information with the possible consequence that commercial parties will be more reticent to approach the Court to settle their disputes. I am therefore satisfied that an order under s 37AF in this case is appropriate.

Perram J was not prepared, however, to grant Hytera’s request that the information be kept sealed for 10 years. There was no evidence about the nature and lifespan of the digital mobile radio technology in issue or the life cycle of the telecommunications standards. Having reviewed the agreement and the substance of the information that had been disclosed, Perram J was prepared to order suppression for three years only. His Honour was prepared to reconsider if further evidence were put on.

If you are going to seek suppression orders – i.e, that information be kept confidential, therefore, you will need to lead evidence which establishes (1) that the information is in fact confidential and (2) there is a real risk of prejudice if the confidentiality is not preserved. Another factor which the Court seems to be mentioning more often was that the affidavit evidence was through the solicitor “on information and belief”, rather than from someone knowledgeable within Hytera itself.

Motorola Solutions, Inc. v Hytera Communications Corporation Ltd (No 2) [2018 FCA 17

  1. Apparently, the trial is scheduled to run for 5 weeks. There are also parallel actions in the USA, China and Germany. ?

Cutting the costs of designs litigation

Justice Carr in the UK has weighed into case management of design infringement cases in a big way.

Clingabeez[1] are apparently the runaway toy of the last year or so, being the Activity Toy of 2016 in the UK. They are the subject of a Registered Community Design. So, when what they allege are “copycats” hit the market, the letters of demand started flying. “Bunchem[2] is one such competitor.[3] It sued for unjustified threats and challenges the validity of the Registered Community Design. “Clingabeez” cross-claimed for infringement and denied invalidity.

At the initial case management conference, Clingabeez estimated a six-day trial and £776,000 costs; Bunchem estimated a four day trial and £360,000 costs.

Justice Carr considered both estimates were well out of order. His Lordship considered that a case relating to a registered design for a consumer product should be much simpler, largely dependent on the Court’s visual assessment of the evidence. In line with Court of Appeal decisions,[4] at [6], Justice Carr said:

(i) Registered design cases are concerned with the overall impression of the registered design, the alleged infringement and the design corpus. It is easier to see this than to describe it in words.

(ii) Admissible evidence in such cases is very limited, and is most likely to comprise technical evidence about design constraints. Such evidence is unlikely to require substantial cross-examination. It should be possible to decide a registered design case in a few hours.

(iii) If permission for expert evidence is to be given, then the precise ambit of that evidence should be defined. The expert should be told what question to address and the evidence should be confined to those questions.

(iv) It is clear law that whether the defendant has copied is irrelevant. It is equally irrelevant for the defendant to prove or to give disclosure about how his design was arrived at.

On the question of admissible evidence and further discovery, Justice Carr excluded evidence going to copying at this stage. Copying was not relevant to the question of infringement. However, it could be relevant to the remedy of additional damages. Accordingly, his Lordship postponed discovery and any evidence directed to that issue to any subsequent hearing on remedies if the trial on liability and validity resulted in a finding of infringement.

Both parties had already filed detailed particulars of, respectively, differences and similarities. Justice Carr did not consider the parties’ requests for further information about these matters would be helpful. However, his Lordship directed that each side should exchange concurrently enlarged photographs of the products alleged to infringe marked up to indicate the points it relied on.

His Lordship limited the expert evidence to the following matters;

There are very limited issues upon which expert evidence is admissible. The issues on which I intend to allow expert evidence are as follows. First, are any of the features listed in subparagraphs (1) to (9) of paragraph 6.5 of the Amended Particulars of Claim features of appearance of a construction toy such as Bunchems which are solely dictated by its technical function? Second, to what extent, if any, is the degree of freedom of design limited by the functional nature, if any, of the features of subparagraphs (1) to (9) of paragraph 6.5 of the Amended Particulars of Claim?

Bunchem” was happy with its expert evidence being limited to 10 pages and two pages (excluding exhibits) directed to the design corpus. “Clingabeez”, having asked for 20 pages, was permitted 15.

Justice Carr fixed the trial duration at three days including reading time, and did not think it would be necessary for any adjournment for preparation of final written submissions. His Lordship then set out at [23] eight “lessons for the future” to achieve shorter trials more expeditiously in such matters:

(i) The parties should, in appropriate cases, produce images at an early stage to show the differences or similarities upon which they rely, and in the case of the defendant, those features which are wholly functional or in which design freedom is said to be limited. Requests for further information are unlikely to be helpful.

(ii) Claimants should not try to introduce or seek disclosure in relation to copying. The parties should carefully consider why, if at all, disclosure is necessary, rather than agreeing to standard or even issue based disclosure.

(iii) Expert evidence as to whether the alleged infringement produces on the informed user the same or a different overall impression as the registered design should not be included in cases concerning consumer products.

(iv) The parties should try to limit the length of expert evidence to an agreed number of pages.

(v) If any evidence of fact is to be introduced, the court will need to be satisfied of its relevance.

(vi) The parties should be prepared at the pre-trial review to identify issues on which cross-examination is necessary, and to explain why.

(vii) Where multiple designs, or multiple infringements, are alleged, the parties should each select a limited number of samples on which the issues can be tested.

(viii) The parties should give careful thought to those issues which can be postponed to a damages enquiry, which will only need to be considered if liability is established.

Justice Carr’s approach would no doubt commend itself to Justice Finkelstein, were he still on the bench. It may also be rather more difficult for an Australian court to exclude evidence going to the “ultimate question”, given section 80 of the Evidence Act and the first Cadbury/Darrell Lea appeal. On the other hand, the relevance of copying is exactly the same.[5] Nonetheless, as both the Federal Court and the Federal Circuit Court are striving to make litigation more costs effective,[6] there may well be considerable interest in exploring Justice Carr’s admonitions DownUnder.

Spin Master Limited v PMS International Group [2017] EWHC 1477 (Pat)


  1. Otherwise known as PMS International Group.  ?
  2. Spin Master Limited.  ?
  3. Indeed, a Google search or visit to Youtube might see the two brand names used interchangeably. For example  ?
  4. Procter & Gamble Co v Reckitt Benckiser (UK) Limited [2007] EWCA Civ 936; [2008] Bus LR 801 and repeated and expanded by the Court of Appeal Dyson Ltd v Vax Ltd [2011] EWCA Civ 1206; [2013] Bus LR 328  ?
  5. Review 2 Pty Ltd v Redberry Enterprise Pty Ltd [2008] FCA 1588.  ?
  6. See also chapter 19 of the Productivity Commission’s Intellectual Property Arrangements – Final Report.  ?

Print outs of third party websites ruled inadmissible

Mortimer J has ruled that print outs of third party websites are inadmissible as hearsay and, if not, excluded under s 135 of the Evidence Act as unduly prejudicial.

Shape Shopfitters is suing Shape Australia for infringement of several registered trade marks which, it says, include SHAPE as the essential feature and the usual passing off-type actions.[1] Both are in the commercial construction business. Shape Australia used to be called ISIS Group Australia, but changed its name in October 2015, as her Honour said “for reasons that are immediately obvious.”

Shape Shopfitters is contending that the use of “Shape” in Shape Australia’s name is likely to lead people to think that Shape Shopfitters is the “shopfitting” arm of Shape Australia, which it is not.

As part of its defence Shape Australia sought to lead evidence of ASIC and Australian Business Register records of other companies and businesses with the word SHAPE in their name. Shape Australia also sought to introduce print outs of the websites of various businesses resulting from Google searches such as “shape building”.[2] Some, but not all, of the print outs were from the Wayback Machine. The print outs purported to be of businesses called Shape Consulting, Shape Builders Pty Ltd, Shape Joinery & Design Pty Ltd, Shape Fitouts Pty Ltd and Shape Finance (Aust) Pty Ltd. You will immediately appreciate that Shape Australia was hoping to show that “shape” itself was not distinctive or to rely on the well-known proposition from the Hornsby Building Information case.[3]

Mortimer J noted that no objection was taken to the ASIC or Australian Business Register print out – presumably, because they were official records.[4]

However, the print outs of the websites of the businesses themselves were hearsay. They were being advanced to show that there were other businesses out there claiming to have and use the names appearing in the print outs. At [24], her Honour ruled:[5]

the evidence sought to be adduced by the respondent is clearly hearsay within the meaning of s 59 of the Evidence Act. The statements made on various internet sites of other corporations or business entities (including the archived material to which Mr Henry deposes in [24] of his affidavit)[6] constitute a previous representation made by the person or persons who constructed the website, wrote the text and inserted the graphics. The purpose of adducing evidence of those statements of text and graphics is to prove the existence of a fact it can reasonably be supposed was intended by the drafter of the text and the person who constructed the graphics. The fact is that there were business entities trading on the dates specified (between August and October 2016) in the industries and markets set out on the pages exhibited by Mr Henry, in the locations those webpages identified using the names those webpages identified. It is the actual existence of those business entities, the names they were using, the industries and markets in which they were trading, the services they were offering and the locations in which they were offering those services which the respondent in my opinion seeks to use as part of its case to prove that there was no confusion in the marketplace generated by its use of the word “shape” in SHAPE Australia.

Even if the print outs were not hearsay, Mortimer J would have excluded them under s 135 if the Evidence Act on the basis that their probative value was substantially outweighed by the danger of prejudice to Shape Shopfitting.

the evidence … constitutes no more than a snapshot of what was available through a series of internet searches on a particular date, without any context being available to be tested about the nature of the businesses these searches have turned up. The probative value of such searches is limited on any view. The applicant’s case is a very specific one about what participants in the commercial construction industry may or may not be led to believe concerning the relationship between the applicant and the respondent, and whether the applicant might be seen as no more than a “specialist shop fitting arm” of the respondent. To have evidence in the nature of single date extracts of internet searches showing businesses using the word “shape”, without calling evidence from witnesses who operate or control those businesses, and allowing the applicant to test the similarities or differences between those businesses and its own, between the customer base(s) of those business and its own, and in turn between those businesses and the respondents, is in my opinion to create a danger of unfair prejudice to the applicant. Snapshots of internet searches on particular dates, all of which are between just under and just over a year after the respondent adopted the name “SHAPE Australia” contribute little by way of proof as to what participants in the commercial construction industry were likely to believe about the commercial relationship between the applicant and the respondent since 26 October 2015, but it is not the kind of evidence the applicant can test as it should be able to.

What Shape Australia should have done was get affidavits, or subpoena, from (1) witnesses from the companies it wished to prove existed and (2) consumers who might be searching for the relevant services.

Now, depending on which side of the case you find yourself, you will be cheering or in tears. But, at the very least one might wonder if that correct approach is really conducting litigation “as quickly, inexpensively and efficiently as possible”? It will be very interesting to see how her Honour deals with Shape Australia’s substantive arguments whether it’s name is too similar to Shape Shopfittings’? Meanwhile, the Registrar can treat the Wayback Machine as valid evidence.

Shape Shopfitters Pty Ltd v Shape Australia Pty Ltd (No 2) [2017] FCA 474


  1. In which I include the usual misleading or deceptive conduct actions under the Australian Consumer Law too.  ?
  2. It is not clear whether the search was just of the two words or the two words in quotation marks.  ?
  3. At [25].  ?
  4. At [13].  ?
  5. Noting that at least 2 prior decisions had ruled internet archive materials inadmissible: Athens v Randwick City Council [2005] NSWCA 317 and E & J Gallo Winery v Lion Nathan Australia Pty Limited [2008] FCA 93.  ?
  6. I.e., the Wayback Machine print outs.  ?

A problem of expert evidence

VIP Plastics has successfully sued BMW Plastics for infringing its patent for a “Variable-length Dip Tube for a Fluid Transfer Container”. The most interesting point to emerge is why the expert evidence on one side prevailed and, on the other, failed – even so far as being rejected as inadmissible.

How the battle was won

As is typically the case, much of the battle turned on whether applicant’s expert evidence or the respondent’s was accepted. Kenny J denied that the respondent’s expert’s evidence was not admissible and, even if it were, would have preferred the applicant’s witnesses. The applicant’s witnesses were the named inventor and his assistant.

In construing a patent (whether for deciding its validity or if it has been infringed), it has to be read through the eyes of the (non-inventive) person skilled in the art.

Who is the person skilled in the art

Kenny J found at [20] that the relevant field or art in this case was:

the manufacture and use of dip tubes, particularly in chemical transfer drums or like containers used in the agricultural and veterinary fields.

The named inventor gave evidence about the attributes of the person skilled in this art at [21]:

these attributes included a good working understanding of the processing of plastics and the manufacture of plastic products (involving, amongst other things, an understanding of varying grades and types of plastics and manufacturing processes such as extrusion and blow, injection and vacuum moulding, as well as the economies of such processes). According to Mr Mandile, it was also necessary to have some experience and understanding of the manufacture of large plastic fluid containers (of a size more than 20 litres in volume) incorporating some sort of extraction system. Further, it was necessary to have an understanding (of the kind that a chemical engineer would have) of the environmental stress effects on plastics and the performance characteristics of varying grades of polymers under stress and when interacting with the types of chemicals solutions used in agriculture and likely to be stored in the drums. Finally, it was necessary to have some familiarity with the various products and solutions that had been tried in the industry. In Mr Mandile’s opinion, knowledge of this kind was generally confined to people working in the plastics industry, who had experience in the design and processing of plastic containers of larger sizes and the manufacture of plastic packaging and transfer of chemical fluid to and from such packaging. In cross-examination, Mr Mandile stated that he regarded himself as a person skilled in working in the field of dip tubes for agricultural and horticultural purposes.

Kenny J noted that Aickin J had accepted that evidence about the experiments undertaken by an inventor leading up to the invention could be relevant even if “not always likely to be helpful”. As a result, Kenny J considered at [22] that the inventor could also give evidence about the characteristics of a the person skilled in the relevant art, albeit such evidence needed to be assessed carefully. On the other hand, the respondent contended that “just about any engineer with a basic knowledge of manufacturing techniques and a basic knowledge of mechanics of devices could be classified as a skilled addressee”. Kenny J rejected this on the evidence.

Accordingly, her Honour accepted at [23] that:

the skilled addressee is a person with practical knowledge of and experience in the manufacture of plastic products, particularly large fluid containers incorporating some kind of extraction system. That is, such a person would have practical knowledge and experience in the manufacture of plastic packaging for the storage of fluid and the transfer of such fluid from the packaging. Such a person would also have an understanding of the environmental stress effects on plastics.

Why the professor was not a psa

There were a number of problems why Kenny J considered that the evidence of the professor advanced by the respondent was not relevant (and so not admissible). The chief reason was that he had no relevant or special expertise and was unable to give evidence about what those in the art would know or do.

Section 76 of the Evidence Act generally rules opinion evidence inadmissible. One important exception is provided by s 79 for “expert” opinion (about a relevant issue). The opinion is “expert” for this exception where it is evidence from a person if the person “has specialised knowledge based on the person’s training, study or experience” and the opinion “is wholly or substantially based on that knowledge” (emphasis supplied).

In this case (and will not necessarily be true in every case), the professor had worked in the wool industry “for 10 years in the 1980s” and, since then, he had “mainly been an academic, teaching in the area and consulting in minor ways for engineering” when the priority date for the patent was in 2000. Then at [60]:

Of course, in a case such as this, a court may receive expert evidence from persons other than skilled addressees if it is otherwise relevant. There was, however, a serious difficulty with [the professor’s] evidence in another respect: it was not just that he was not a skilled addressee but that he had no history of working in the fields of dip tubes or plastics, or some related field. Without this specialised knowledge, based on training, study or experience, [the professor] was not in a position to give relevant evidence to the court bearing on the meaning of the VIP Patent or a prior publication, the issue of novelty and the issue of obviousness:

Then, so far as the professor gave evidence about the innovation process based on his specialised knowledge, it was not knowledge relevant to the art in question.

There were other problems too: opinions were expressed about questions of mixed fact and law – e.g. it was obvious – based on misunderstanding of key legal concepts; there was also a problem of hindsight.

The use of relative terms

The infringer’s attack on the patent as lacking clarity because it used relative terms such as “inhibits bending” and “just below the end” were dismissed. Kenny J accepted that they were not precise, but found they applied Nesbit Evans Group Australia Pty Ltd v Impro Ltd (1997) 39 IPR 56 at 95 to find they provided a workable standard.

VIP Plastic Packaging Pty Ltd v B.M.W. Plastics Pty Ltd [2011] FCA 660

An earlier round in the dispute where Kenny J refused to refer the matter to the Commissioner by a direction under s 97(3) of the Patents Act.

Patent appeals from the Commissioner

Merck & Co. had successfully opposed Sherman’s application for a patent.  Sherman appealed to the Federal Court from that rejection.  Merck subsequently withdrew from the proceeding in the Court and the Commissioner was added as a party.  The Commissioner filed an affidavit exhibiting a copy of the delegate’s decision upholding the opposition and the declarations which Merck had relied on in the opposition.

The trial judge ruled these materials were inadmissible.  The Full Court (Heerey, Kenny and Middleton JJ) upheld the Commissioner’s appeal against this exclusion of material. 

When an appeal is brought in the Federal Court from the Commissioner (or the Registrar of Designs or of Trade Marks), FCR O 58 r8 provides that evidence before the Commissioner may, with leave of the Court and saving all just exceptions, be admissible in the Court.

Unlike the usual situation in “appeals” of this kind where the parties to the opposition may be relying on the statutory declarations they had filed in the Office, Merck had withdrawn and so the statutory declarations of its witnesses were hearsay – presumably, the Commissioner did not intend, or was unable, to call them.

The Full Court confirmed that the rules of evidence still apply to the evidence sought to be “uplifted” so that, if there are objections such as that the evidence is hearsay, evidence which was before the Commissioner may be excluded before the Court.  However, the Full Court went on to find that both the decision and the declarations were admissible.

The delegate’s decision itself was relevant on two bases (at [37]):

First, the fact that it was made was a fact on which the jurisdiction of the Court depended.

Secondly (and more substantively), the Commissioner’s decision and the reasons for it were admissible before the Court as a form of expert evidence because (unlike the Court) the Commissioner (and the various Registrars) is credited with having some technical expertise which the Court is entitled to take into account.

As the decision itself was relevant and admissible, the Full Court went on to hold that so too were the materials on which it was based.

The weight actually to be accorded to the Commissioner’s decision ultimately would depend on what other evidence was adduced before the Court.

Depending on the extent to which the evidence before the Commissioner and the Court overlaps, the decision-maker’s opinion on these matters carries some weight in the Court’s assessment. Viewed in this way, the decision of the delegate is plainly not inadmissible on the ground that it is irrelevant. 

The Full Court noted that, because the declaratory evidence was admissible on the grounds that it was relevant to an understanding of the Commissioner’s decision, it was admissible for all purposes.  Further, however, the Full Court agreed with Lindgren J’s analysis in Alphapharm v Lundbeck (at [762 – 770]) of why articles cited by an expert were admissible even though hearsay.  

The Court did not address Heerey J’s earlier decision in Cadbury v Darrell Lea (No. 3) in which market survey reports were excluded as ‘double’ hearsay.  It would seem that the difference is that in Sherman and Lundbeck the materials were adopted or referred to by the expert as the basis for the expert opinion.

Commissioner of Patents v Sherman [2008] FCAFC 182.