CLIPSO CLIPSAL-ed

You may not be surprised to read that Perram J has found that CLIPSO is deceptively similar to CLIPSAL for electrical goods in class 9. This had the consequence that Clipso’s registration for “CLIPSO” was expunged from the Register and CLIPSO itself was found to infringe prospectively. Clipsal’s trade mark registration for the shape of its ‘dolly switch’, however, was not infringed by Clipso’s products.

A significant issue in the case was whether Clipso’s principal, a Mr Kader, was to be believed about how he came up with the mark. Perram J found he was not. Perhaps the most interesting feature of the case, however, is the market by which the issues fell to be assessed.

Some background facts

Clipsal has registered CLIPSAL as a trade mark in respect of all goods in class 9. While it and its predecessors claim to have been using the mark since the 1920s, the registration it relied on in this proceeding dates from 1989. It currently markets some 14,668 electrical products under the trade mark and, in 2011, its annual sales exceeded $500 million. Clipsal had some 77% of the market; its nearest competitors having only 11% each. Clipsal also has a shape mark registered for the shape of its dolly switch:

Clipsal’s Dolly Switch trade mark

in respect of ‘electrical wiring accessories which incorporate a rocker switch … including dimmer switches….’

Mr Kader had been importing electrical accessories since about 2005. The CLIPSO mark came into use, however, in 2008 and Clipso achieved its registration in respect of a range of class 9 goods, principally electrical switches and the like, from October 2008.

The market by which deceptive similarity assessed

Many of Clipsal’s products, and most if not all Clipso’s, are what is known in the trade as ‘Bakelite’. These are (generally) plastic products such as switches, power points and other electrical products. A significant feature of these products is that by law they can be installed only by licensed electricians. Thus, a key plank of Clipso’s defence was the nature of its goods which, it said, were essentially bought by electrical wholesalers and electrical tradies, who were not confused by the two trade marks. CLIPSAL, it was argued, was so famous that no reasonable tradie would mistake CLIPSO for it.

Perram J began by noting trade mark authority had held that an infringer’s conduct fell to be assessed in light of its effect on ordinary purchasers of the products in suit. His Honour noted that misleading or deceptive conduct under the ACL fell to be assessed by reference to the ordinary and reasonable consumer.[1] Acknowledging that other cases may lead to different conclusions, however, in the context of this case Perram J considered that Clipso’s conduct fell to be assessed under all heads according to its impact on the ordinary and reasonable consumer.

Perram J accepted that a large part of the market for Clipsal’s products were electrical wholesalers and electrical installers. For many people having a home or office built, the issue was whether there were light switches, their positioning and number. The actual purchasing decision was left to the builder or contractor. However, Perram J found that there was a (relatively small) but not insignificant section of the general public who were interested in such matters and did take into account the trade source of the products that were being installed in their building and so specified the products they wanted their contractors to install, non-purchasing end-consumers.[2]

A key factor in his Honour’s conclusion on this point was the extent and length of Clipsal’s marketing efforts directed to the general public, not just the trade. In addition to the usual forms of advertising, this included a software program, Cipspec, which Clipsal installed in showrooms and its consultants used to work through with customers the placement and appearance of various CLIPSAL products. At [122] and [123] of his Honour’s reasons, Perram J accepted:

However, the evidence of these witnesses (the marketing director, Mr Quinn, a store manager of an electrical wholesaler, Mr Kalimnios and the electrical wholesaler, Mr Micholos) nevertheless persuades me that the applicants’ efforts in bringing end-consumers into the process as part of its supply chain strategy are likely to have had some success. The evidence of Mr Kalimnios and Mr Micholos (referred to later in these reasons) was attacked on the basis that the firm for which they worked, P&R Electrical, was not independent of the applicants. It is not surprising that an electrical wholesaler might have a substantive commercial relationship with the market leader in electrical accessories, but I would not describe such a relationship as lacking independence. In any event, I do not think that the evidence of either man was adversely affected by this matter.

One is left in the situation then that the only evidence of the success of the strategy of seeking to increase demand at the consumer end of the market is the existence of the strategy itself. Although I am prepared to accept that some end-consumers do indeed purchase switches and sockets themselves, I do not accept that generally these are the same people who are involved in, or the targets of, Mr Quinn’s supply chain strategy. As best I can surmise, they are instead a small group of people who decide to buy Bakelite products to have an electrician install them, or possibly even a smaller group of unlawful renegades who buy Bakelite products to install themselves.

His Honour was unable to quantify how significant the involvement of such end-users in the market was, but at [129] considered it was not de minimis:

… one is still left with little compelling evidence that any of the end-consumers targeted by the strategy exist beyond the strategy itself and the amount spent on it. I have no particular difficulty describing the strategy as plausible. One can well see that there are likely to be some people who care very much about what the light switches and sockets installed in their homes are to be, whilst there will be others who are benignly indifferent. Amongst the first class, it requires no great mental athleticism to see that their fascinations are likely to be with the Bakelite products at the premium end of the market. Can I infer from these observations that such a class exists and in numbers which are significant? I believe that I can and I do. The widespread fascination with home renovations in some quarters is reflected in the programming that appears on popular television every week. I do not believe that Mr Quinn’s strategy of creating demand and driving it back up the supply chain is some quixotic venture which is pointless. To the contrary, I am prepared to infer that a significant portion of persons building a new house or renovating an existing dwelling do care about which Bakelite products are used.

It was not necessary that these end-users be the people who actually bought the goods in question; it was sufficient that they gave instructions for them to be purchased such as through their contractors. The size of this segment of the market was sufficient to qualify as ‘substantial’. The relevant market, therefore, was a segmented one consisting of electrical contractors, electrical wholesalers and ‘non-purchasing’ end-consumers.

One consequence of this conclusion was that Perram J considered the parts of the market consisting of electrical contractors and wholesalers was a specialised market which would require expert evidence about the conduct and purchasing habits of people in those trade channels. That was not be the case for that part of the market comprised of end-users.

For that part of the market, Perram J went on to hold that CLIPSO was deceptively similar to CLIPSAL. Perram J considered that the two words shared the same root and had very similar pronunciation – the primary stress would fall on the first syllable and the final syllable of both words would be unstressed. There was also expert evidence that some people might perceive CLIPSO as an hypocristic” for CLIPSAL.[3]

As noted above, Clipso argued that CLIPSAL was so well-known in the trade that there would be no confusion. Perram J rejected this on several grounds. First, in the context of s 44 resort could not be had to reputation except where the mark was so well-known as to be ubiquitous and, notwithstanding its market penetration, Perram J was not prepared to find CLIPSAL fell into that exceptional category.[4] Secondly, as his Honour had already held, the market was not limited to those in the trade but also included ordinary (non-purchasing) consumers. Thirdly, there was in any event evidence from people in the trade (well, at least one) that, while they were not necessarily confused, they were caused to wonder whether there was some connection between the two trade marks.[5] Consequently, CLIPSO was deceptively similar to CLIPSAL even for the segments of the market comprised of those in the trade.

Cancellation

These findings together with Perram J’s rejection of Mr Kader’s claims about how he chose the name CLIPSO meant that the CLIPSO registration was cancelled pursuant to s 44, s 60 and s62A.

Mr Kader had claimed that he chose the name while leafing through the list of goods in class 9 in the International Classification and noticing some references to “clips”. He also claimed that he knew very little if anything about CLIPSAL when he applied to register CLIPSO. Perram J found Mr Kader was lying about this based on a number of factors including the strength of Clipsal’s position in the market, Mr Kader’s involvement in the market for at least 3 years and, amongst other things, the fact that each day his trip to work involved passing a very large CLIPSAL hoarding.

Infringement

As s 122(1)(e) provides a defence to trade mark infringement when the sign used is itself a registered trade mark and is being used in respect of the goods for which it is registered, Clipso could not in fact infringe until Perram J’s orders cancelling the registration of CLIPSO were effected on the Register. Therefore, injunctions only would be available.

However, Perram J did go on to find that Clipso’s use of CLIPSO also contravened the prohibitions on misleading or deceptive conduct under the ACL and passing off, but only insofar as the public consisted of (non-purchasing) end-consumers. As Perram J considered those actually engaged in the trade would not be misled or deceived, but only caused to wonder if there was a connection, there was no contravention in respect of those segments of the market.

Use of a shape trade mark

Perram J found that Clipso’s dolly switch very closely resembled Clipsal’s dolly switch which was depicted in its registered trade mark. Nonetheless, his Honour considered Clipso did not use its dolly switch as a trade mark. Perram J accepted that there were many shapes a dolly switch could take so that Clipso’s dolly switch was not dictated by function. Nonetheless, it was not used as a trade mark. At [154], his Honour explained:

Be that as it may, I still do not think that the first respondent was using the switch as a trade mark. Generally speaking, Clipso products were packaged in plastic sleeves emblazoned with the Clipso logo, and then placed in a cardboard box also emblazoned with the Clipso logo. There is no doubt that the word CLIPSO was being used as a badge of origin, which rather detracts from the idea that the switch located within the packaging could also have been operating as a badge of origin.

Perram J was not prepared to find that the shape of the dolly switch itself conveyed an association with Clipsal based on the sheer volume of sales of the product. This was so even though Clipsal’s packaging often included a statement that “The shape of this dolly switch is a trade mark of [Clipsal]”.

Clipsal Australia Pty Ltd v Clipso Electrical Pty Ltd (No 3) [2017] FCA 60


  1. Perram J noted that there could be subtle differences also between passing off and the ACL, but it was sufficient to proceed in this case on the basis that the same test applied for both actions notwithstanding their different bases.  ?
  2. There were also end-consumers who actually bought the products themselves, but they were considered too small a segment to qualify as ‘substantial’.  ?
  3. Apparently, this refers to the practice, particularly prevalent amongst Australians, of modifying words colloquially to suggest familiarity such as “kiddo” for “kid”.  ?
  4. Bridling at [179] – [180] against even that scope for reputation permitted by Henscke.  ?
  5. Relying on the Full Court in Vivo v Tivo.  ?

Selected links from the last week

I am going to try an experiment. With the rise of “week in review” style blogposts and your day job probably means you don’t have all day to watch Twitter streaming by, here is a selection of links to IP-related matters I found interesting this week:

Patents

Trade marks

  • MACCOFFEE? We’re not lovin’ it, says General Court here

    The “Mac” family of trade marks are too well known for someone esle to register MACCOFFEE in the EU

  • “Own Name” defence in Singapore–when “honest practices” does the heavy lifting here
  • CJEU says operators of physical marketplaces may be forced to stop trade mark infringements of market-traders

    although you could contrast that to Dowsett J’s decision

  • Book Review: The law and practice of trademark transactions – A global and local outlook

Not categorised

  • Employees Bound By Clickthrough Agreements–ADP v. Lynch (USA)

Bit of a slow week in the northern hemisphere, but I hope you find some interesting. If you did or have a question, leave a comment or send me an email

Keywords Are Not Trade Mark Use

Katzmann J “gets” the Internet and helps to bring Australian trade mark law well and truly into the 21st century: buying keywords for search engine advertising is not trade mark use. some instances of the use of the trade mark in the sponsored links, however, did infringe.

Malouf is business which helps people who get a bad credit report repair or correct that report.

Veda is a credit reporting agency. Amongst other things, it has registered VEDA in class 36 as a trade mark for:

Financial services; provision of credit risk, financial and asset information and reports; credit scoring and risk assessment services; information provision, advice, research, appraisal, analysis, credit enquiry and consultation ….[1]

Malouf bought advertisements for its business on Google search results pages using the Google AdWords program. Through that program, the advertiser selects terms – keywords – for which, when someone does a “Google” search including one of those keywords, they will pay to have their advertisement appear as an advertisement – a sponsored result – in the search results pages.[2] The keywords Malouf chose included VEDA and 85 other terms using it such as “contact veda”, “veda credit score” etc. Mr Malouf explained his strategy:

So, with Veda approximately anywhere from 20 to 40 per cent — which is published on their website — of people may have an adverse credit history with a credit reporting body. A lot of them don’t know that they’ve got bad credit. So, potentially, one in five customers that are trying to contact Veda may be our target market. … [W]e want to have our ad showing up — anyone trying to contact Veda — because, potentially, one in five of those customers may be wanting to fix their credit file.

Over time, the advertisements Malouf paid to place took 3 forms. Until October 2014, they were along the lines of these sponsored links:

Malouf Sponsored Link type 1
Malouf Sponsored Link type 1

After September/October 2014, the sponsored links did not feature “Veda” in the text.

This gave rise to two main issues: (1) did the use of “keywords” infringe and (2) did the uses in the actual advertisements (sponsored links) infringe?

Keywords

Katzmann J held that Malouf’s “purchase” of keywords using VEDA did not infringe Veda’s trade marks.[3] It was not use as a trade mark. Her Honour gave 3 reasons:

First, all Malouf did was select the keywords and provide them to Google. In doing that, objectively, it was not using the words to distinguish its services from those of other providers. “Rather, it has used them to identify internet users who may have an interest in using [Malouf’s] services.”

Second, anyone could acquire the keywords, not just Malouf. This was not determinative, but it was a consideration. What it meant was that anyone, including any of Malouf’s competitors could also “buy” the same keyword(s). Thus, the keywords were not performing the function of a trade mark: distinguishing (identifying) the trade source to the exclusion of all others.

Thirdly, and perhaps most significantly, the keywords were invisible to consumers. Katzmann J explained:

… the proposition that using words which are invisible and inaudible, indeed imperceptible, to consumers is using them as a trade mark makes no sense. How could the keywords be understood to be used to distinguish the services of one trader from those of another when the keywords are indiscernible? How could it appear to consumers that, by Malouf’s designation of the Veda keywords to Google, the words are used to denote a connection in the course of trade between Malouf’s services and the services provided by another trader, or to distinguish its services from the services of others, when the consumers have not seen or otherwise perceived the keywords?

Also, when the consumer did not search on the term VEDA alone, how would he or she know which term(s) generated the search results?

At this point, Veda relied on Accor. Katzmann J, however, pointed out, first, that Accor involved metatags, not keywords. More significantly, her Honour noted Accor was inconsistent with Kenny J’s ruling in Complete Technology where Kenny J had said:

I do not accept that the use of any of CTI’s Registered Trade Marks in Green Energy’s metatags would constitute a trade mark infringement for the purposes of s 120(1). Metatags are invisible to the ordinary internet user, although their use will direct the user to (amongst other websites) Green Energy’s website. Once at the Green Energy website, then, in the ordinary course, the internet user will be made aware that the website is concerned with Green Energy’s services. It cannot, therefore, be said that the use in a metatag of CTI’s Registered Trade Marks is a use that indicates the origin of Green Energy’s services.Thus, metatag use is not use as a trade mark …. (emphasis supplied by Katzmann J)

Katzmann J agreed with Kenny J’s analysis.

Katzmann J then rejected Veda’s reliance on 2 New Zealand cases and the CJEU’s decision in Google France. They were decisions in a different context and, in any event, the English courts since Google France had held that keywords did not infringe.

Sponsored links

Whether the sponsored links which used Veda in their text infringed turned on the nature of the actual use.

Malouf had used expressions like[4] “Clean Your Veda File”, “Fix My Veda History”, “Get Your Veda Report File”, “Veda Credit File Repairs”, but also “The Veda Report Centre” and “The Veda-Report Centre”.

Katzmann J held that the uses like “Clean Your Veda File” were descriptive and used in a descriptive rather thant trade mark sense:

In all but the advertisements featuring “The Veda Report Centre”, I am not satisfied that Malouf has used the Veda Trade Marks as trade marks. Rather, it seems to me that they have been used to describe the object to which its services are directed — fixing, cleaning or repairing Veda credit files or reports — not as a badge of the origin of its business and therefore not as a trade mark. …. the Veda Trade Marks have not been used by Malouf to distinguish its services from those provided by others but to describe the kind or character of the services it provides. ….

The Veda Report Centre, however, was a different case. That was used as a badge of origin to market the Malouf business under the Veda name.

The second conclusion seems to me, with respect, uncontroversial. I also personally agree with the first conclusion that the descriptive uses were not infringements too. In the “old days”, that would have been beyond controversy as the case law clearly established that use of the trade mark Yeastvite in an expression such as “Substitute for Yeastvite” was not use as a trade mark – use of a registered trade mark to refer to the products which the trade mark owner marked with the trade mark was not trade mark use. What the North Americans call “nominative fair use”.

The wrinkle here is that, with the introduction of s 123 into the Act, the High Court has left open the question whether that “old” law is still “good” law.[5] Following that, a number of Full Courts – in which the question did not arise because the goods in question were in fact pirate or counterfeit goods, not genuine goods – have proceeded on the basis that the “old” rule no longer applies.[6]

Even if the Full Court (assuming there is an appeal) continues down that, with respect, heretical path, all may not be lost as Malouf did invoke s 122 in its defence. In reaching her Honour’s, with respect eminently sensible conclusion, Katzmann J did note that it was unclear from the case law how s120 related to s 122. In any event, her Honour found that Malouf could rely on the s 122 defence except in relation to the usage “The Veda Report Centre”. Katzmann J rejected Veda’s arguemnt that the sheer number of keywords showed a systematic and targetted attempt to undermine the registered trade mark. Almost all of those uses were not infringements.

As with the trade mark infringement case, the allegations of misleading or deceptive conduct all failed except in respect of the “Veda Report Centre” usage in the sponsored links.

Lid dip: James McDougall

Veda Advantage Limited v Malouf Group Enterprises Pty Limited
[2016] FCA 255


  1. Veda also has registrations for VEDA ADVANTAGE, VEDACHECK and VEDASCORE.  ?
  2. Hal Varian explained how AdWords advertising works in 2009 and with more polish in 2014.  ?
  3. The claim was brought under s 120(1), the allegation under s 120(2) was abandoned during the trial.  ?
  4. The full list is at [161] of her Honour’s judgment.  ?
  5. See E. & J. Gallo Winery v Lion Nathan Australia Pty Limited (2010) 241 CLR 144; [2010] HCA 15 at [33] – [34].  ?
  6. The cases are discussed by Allsop CJ in Scandinavian Tobacco at [65] – [71].  ?

Appeal sinks luscious LIPS

One month after the appeal was heard, the Full Court has rejected Nature’s Blend’s appeal that Nestlé used Luscious Lips as a trade mark.

Nature’s Blend argued first that the trial judge had wrongly focused on the character of Nestlé’s use instead of the proper meaning of the Nature’s Blend mark. As the mark was registered for all confectionery, not just “lips”, it was said to be inherently distinctive. The Full Court, however, rejected this requirement and re-affirmed that the test was to examine whether or not the way Nestlé used the mark (the “impugned use”) would be understood by ordinary consumers as functioning as a badge of origin.

Nestlé’s Luscious Lips are part of its ‘Retro Party Mix’ pack. The expression ‘luscious Lips’ appeared only on the back of the packaging in the expression:

That’s right! All your old favourites are back, so put on those flares & get ready to party! Up to 7 lolly varieties including … cool COLA Bottles, those radical Racing Cars, yummy Honey flavoured Bears, totally freeeekie Teeth, luscious Lips, partying Pineapples and outrageous Raspberries.

You can see the front of the packaging at the product’s very own facebook page.

Nature’s Blend contended that the trial judge had improperly diluted the significance of the ‘luscious Lips’ expression on the Nestlé packaging by reference to the presence of other, more prominent brands.

This issue can be tricky because the Courts have long held that one does not take into account extraneous matters such as disclaimers or the presence of other trade marks when considering the question of deceptive similarity. On the question of use as a trade mark, it is permissible.

While the Full Court acknowledged that the fact that other trade marks were used more prominently on the packaging did not preclude ‘luscious Lips’ from being used as a trade mark, the characterisation of the impugned use depended on the particular usage in question in its own particular setting. In this case, the presence of ALLEN’s and Retro Party Mix did in fact undercut the likelihood that consumers would read ‘luscious Lips’ as a trade mark.

The Full Court also agreed that Nestlé had used the trade mark in good faith as a description.

Nature’s Blend Pty Ltd v Nestlé Australia Ltd [2010] FCAFC 117 (Stone, Gordon and Mckerracher JJ)

Comment on decision at first instance.

Not using a trade mark

An Austrian company, Maselli, sells clothing under its brand WELLNESS.  It has the trade mark registered for clothing in class 25 and also in classes 16 (for printed matter) and class 32 (for alcohol free drinks).  It gave away bottles of a non-alcoholic drink bearing the WELLNESS brand, but never sold the drinks independently of the clothing.

On application by Silberquelle, a producer of alcohol free drinks,  the ECJ has ruled that affixing the mark to goods, which are given away free of charge to purchasers of other goods, is not genuine use of the trade mark for the free goods in the EU.

That is, it should follow that Maselli’s mark will be revoked.

Here, of course, there has to be use as a trade mark and the use (as a trade mark) has to be in good faith see s. 92 and Gallo v Lion Nathan

As the IPKat asks, what happens to a newspaper’s trade mark where the newspaper is given away free?

Ever since the old Irish case about “Golden Pages” TM, where a classified directory was given away for free, but contained paid advertising, we have thought the trade mark was being used in the course of trade (or in more modern parlance, in good faith as a trade mark).  Wonder if that’s still the case?

C-495/07 Silberquelle GmbH v Maselli-Strickmode GmbH