DGTEK v Digiteck I

Lander J has upheld the Registrar’s decision to allow Bitech to register DIGITEK for

“TV installation accessories including external TV antennas, none of the foregoing being set-top boxes” in class 9

in the face of Hills’ prior registration for DGTEC, DGTEK and DGTECH in respect of

“Digital and electronic products including televisions, video players, DVD players, CD players, decoders and cameras” also in class 9.

While the competing marks were deceptively similar, they were not in respect of the same goods or goods of the same description. At [110]:

…. The goods are fundamentally different. The brown goods which comprise the Hills products are goods which are digital and electronic and provide the display to the consumer visually or audibly. Bitek’s goods are as they have said; goods which allow the brown goods to function. They provide support of varying types to the brown goods.

At [114]:

It is right as Hills contend that the goods are interdependent and they rely on each other for their functionality. However, that does not take the matter far. Whilst the goods cannot operate on their own, they are not interchangeable. They are not “commonly used as alternatives or substitutes” for each other:… They each have their uses which are quite separate and distinct even though when they are put together they assist to perform the end function: ….

His Honour also rejected argument that the goods passed through the same trade channels, distinguishing the Gallo Full Court’s finding that beer and wine were similar goods because:

[126] …. the clear impression I have is that goods of the kind under the Hills’ mark are marketed at the retail level and by direct advertising to consumers. TV installation accessories are mainly sold to professional installers at the wholesale level. A retail store may have for sale some accessories but only as a side line.
[127] Where a retail store does have TV accessories for sale it does not display them in the same manner as brown goods. Brown goods are used as the bait for consumers. Consumers want to see the product which will at least from the consumers’ point of view deliver the visual image or audible sound. TV installation accessories do not have the attraction from a sales point of view that brown goods have.
Lander J agreed with Kenny J’ ruling in McCormick that the s 60 ground of opposition could defeat an application independently of the operation of s 44(3).
However, his Honour rejected Hills’ opposition on the basis of the old form of s 60: although Hills proved it had more than $20 million of sales under its DGTECH mark of set top boxes, there was simply no proof that it had a reputation in the mark, the sales might well have resulted from the fact that Hills had a marketable product (apparently it was the only set top box in the market at the time). His Honour noted Kenny J had recognised in McCormick that it was often common to infer reputation from sales and advertising figures. It was not appropriate, however, to do so in this case:
[195] The evidence by itself does not prove any reputation at all. It may tend to prove that the goods sold under the mark are very marketable goods. In this case the goods being marketed under the DGTEC mark were set-top boxes which having regard to changes in the industry were marketable to persons who wanted to upgrade their analogue equipment.
[196] I do not think the bald evidence supports a finding of a reputation in the mark.
[197] In my opinion, the Hills’ mark had not acquired a reputation in Australia of the kind that is contemplated in s 60. The mark had only been used on set-top boxes prior to the priority date and although Hills, and previously the company, had sold in excess of $20 million worth of set-top boxes, there is no evidence that the mark under which the set-top boxes had been sold had a reputation of the kind contemplated in this section.
[198] For that reason alone, I would have dismissed Hills’ objection under s 60.

Striclty obiter

Even if Hills had established a reputation, Bitek’s mark would not have been like to deceive or cause confusion as a result of that reputation, so the old form of s 60 still would not have applied.

[208] Assuming, contrary to my opinion, that the Hills’ mark had acquired a reputation, it had only acquired, at the priority date, a reputation in respect of set-top boxes. Hills did not contend for any other reputation. If that was the case, the use of the Bitek mark in respect of its goods was not likely to deceive or cause confusion because the goods were unrelated to a set-top box. Bitek’s goods specifically excluded set-top boxes. A consumer wishing to acquire a TV installation accessory or external antenna bearing the Bitek brand would not in my opinion be likely to be confused or deceived as to the origin or provenance of those products because of Hills’ mark’s reputation in set-top boxes. For that further reason, Hills could not rely upon s 60 to defeat Bitek’s application for registration.

In case it became necessary on appeal, Lander J would have rejected Bitek’s attempt to rely on s 44(3) honest concurrent user or “other circumstances”.

Bitech failed on “honest concurrent user”  and “other circumstances” because the use occurred after the priority date.

Under “other circumstances”, Bitek sought to rely on the inconvenience it would suffer through loss of the goodwill it had built up. If it had been permissible to take use after the priority date into account under “other circumstances”, Lander J would still have rejected this:

[187] However, I would not have exercised my discretion in favour of Bitek under s 44(3)(b) even if events after the priority date were relevant for two reasons. First, because Bitek had not used the mark prior to the priority date. It did not make any sales under the brand. Secondly, its case was that its goods are not sold by reference to its mark. As Hills contended, Bitek’s case was that the consumers of its goods are unlikely to be concerned with brands because brands are unimportant with TV installation accessories.

[188] If that is so, then it seems to me that little goodwill could have attached to the brand or the mark since it has been used and in those circumstances where there is a finding under s 44(1), there would be insufficient evidence to support the exercise of discretion in favour of the applicant for registration. If Bitek is right that its consumers do not depend upon brand or mark, then little would be lost to Bitek in arranging for a mark which is not deceptively similar to the Hills’ mark.

Hills Industries Limited v Bitek Pty Ltd [2011] FCA 94

ps The decision also addresses removal for non-use and infringement issues which, in view of the length of this post, will need to be the subject of a later post.

Beery barefeet on appeal

Curiouser and Curiouser!

The Full Court has affirmed the trial judge’s finding that Gallo’s registration of the trade mark BAREFOOT for wine should be removed for non-use. However, the Full Court has overturned his Honour’s finding that Lion Nathan’s use of Barefoot Radler for beer did not infringe that registration (before it was removed). Consequently, the Full Court has found that Lion Nathan did infringe the registration up until the date the registration was removed from the Register.

Gallo acquired the trade mark by assignment. Neither it nor the assignor had ever consciously used it in Australia.  However, some wine bearing the trade mark had made their way into Australia for resale via, presumably, a parallel importer. (More detailed summary of the facts from the decision at 1st instance here and here – the internal links are broken I’m afraid.)

On the question of whether or not Gallo (or its predecessor) had used the trade mark as a trade mark, the Full Court said:

34 In our opinion, the conclusion of the primary judge was correct. The contention of Gallo that an owner of a registered trademark uses the mark in Australia simply because goods to which the owner (or an authorised user) has affixed the mark are traded in the ordinary course of trade in Australia should be rejected.

and

38 …. The essence of Gallo’s case in this matter is this is all that is necessary to establish use in Australia by the manufacturer or producer. However, that is not what the Full Court said. Projection by the manufacturer of goods bearing its mark into the course of trade in Australia was the other factor which, together with the display, sale or offering for sale, led to the conclusion that there had been use of the mark in Australia by the manufacturer and its owner. We think fairly plainly what the Full Court was saying was that for there to be use in Australia of the mark by the owner, the owner of the mark must have engaged in conduct of some type which the owner might reasonably contemplate would result in dealings with its goods marked with its mark in Australia while the goods were in the course of trade.

As a matter of interpretation, the Full Court concluded, contrary to Lion Nathan, that the trade mark could be expunged only from the date the Court made the order under s 101.

This was particularly significant because the Full Court, as noted above, found that Lion Nathan’s use infringed the trade mark while it was registered.

First, the Full Court rejected the trial judge’s finding that beer and wine were not goods of the same description:

72 The primary judge accepted that there were a number of factors which supported the view that Lion Nathan’s beer and wine were goods at the same description. They were both alcoholic beverages and generally distributed by this same major wholesale distributors. The beer was intended to be an appealing alternative to wine and in developing the product, Lion Nathan deliberately set out to attract people who did not drink beer. Indeed it was developed with the deliberate objective of enticing consumers who previously drank wine but not beer. Producers of alcoholic beverages are no longer confined to the production of beer, as opposed to wine, and large producers of alcoholic beverages now produce a range of products and market themselves as doing so. Companies which were once brewers now market and distribute a range of products including beer, wine, spirits, cider and non-alcoholic drinks. Wine and beer are now frequently distributed by the same retailers. We agree that these matters point, and in our opinion point convincingly, to Lion Nathan’s beer and wine being goods of the same description.

73 The considerations which led his Honour to reach the opposite conclusion are, in our opinion, of materially less significance. The first, which concerned the origin of the goods, focused on the manner of manufacture of beer on the one hand and wine on the other. While this clearly establishes that they are not the same goods, it is unlikely that this difference would be significant to the consuming public if, as his Honour found, large producers of alcoholic beverages produce a range of products. Additionally it is important to bear in mind that this issue is being considered in the more general context of whether consumers might see the goods as having the same trade origin: Southern Cross at 606. The same can be said of the next consideration relied on by his Honour, namely the specific manner of sale in restaurants on the one hand and retail outlets on the other. If large producers of alcoholic beverages are producing a range of products then the fact that the wine might be sold in a slightly different way would not be a difference of significance to the consuming public who may come to consider the trade origins of Lion Nathan’s beer. The next consideration was the manner in which beer is consumed, that is drunk for its refreshing qualities, and not, like wine, consumed in a “sipping fashion”. For our part, we doubt this is a relevant consideration. Nor do we think the last consideration, the detailed corporate structure of Lion Nathan, is of any real significance.

Then, the Full Court upheld the trial judge’s finding that Lion Nathan’s BAREFOOT RADLER trade mark was deceptively similar to Gallo’s trade mark.

Finally, the Full Court rejected Lion Nathan’s attempt to rely on the (rarely used) proviso to s 120(2)(b) which provides:

However, the person is not taken to have infringed the trade mark if the person establishes that using the sign as the person did is not likely to deceive or cause confusion.

The Full Court foreshadowed that this was a tough requirement to hurdle:

76 …. However, any conclusion about deceptive similarity would usually inform consideration of whether the actual use was likely to deceive or cause confusion. In a sense, an affirmative answer to the question of whether the alleged infringing mark was deceptively similar would be the starting point. If it was, then it would, in many instances, render it more likely (though not inevitable) that the actual use of the allegedly infringing mark was likely to deceive or cause confusion. Also relevant, in our opinion, would be the matters considered in determining whether the alleged infringer’s goods are of the same description as the goods in respect of which the registered mark is registered.

Lion Nathan had not satisfied this requirement here. The facts that the usage was on beer, the beer was packaged in six packs and in retail stores from the “beer” section did not help:

77 …. The use of the image of a bare foot with the words “BAREFOOT RADLER” would be more likely to reinforce the significance or prominence of the word “BAREFOOT”. The fact that the allegedly infringing mark was on beer packaged in the way described does not, in our opinion, tell against the likelihood that a person looking at beer packaged in this way would think that the beer originated from Gallo. If, in a retail liquor outlet, there was beer bearing the trade mark “BAREFOOT RADLER” where the word “RADLER” was the description of a type of beer and also wine with the trade mark “BAREFOOT” immediately followed by a description of the type of wine (by reference to grape type), then there is, in our opinion, little room to doubt that it is likely many would view the former as originating from the producer of the latter.

The matter will be remitted to the trial judge to deal with remedies. Wonder what the damages will be?

So, it would seem you should bring and conclude your non-use action before you launch the product. That will require a client with a very long term commitment to the brand!

E & J Gallo Winery v Lion Nathan Australia Pty Limited [2009] FCAFC 27 (Moore, Edmonds and Gilmour JJ)