Not “hired to invent” so no entitlement – Merial v Intervet

In Australia, we are often told our US clients get title through the “work made for hire” or the “hired to invent” doctrines under US law. Intervet has failed in its attempt to rely on the latter doctrine in its unsuccessful attempt to patent a “soft chew” medicament for pets. Moshinsky J also accepted Merial’s opposition on grounds of lack of inventive step. This post will deal with the entitlement issue. Lack of inventive step case, based on the 2001 amendments, will be the subject of a later post.

Some background

In 2002, Intervet was part of the Akzo group. Most of its R & D activities were carried out at its plant in Delaware. However, a Ms Cady was based in New Jersey and had responsibility for developing formulations for commercialisation. She did not, however, have a laboratory. She had worked with a Mr Pieloch of Pharma Chemie to develop products before. Ms Cady engaged Pharma Chemie to develop a palatable “soft chew” dosage form for companion animals such as horses and dogs.

A formulation was developed. Intervet made a provisional application in the USA, naming a Mr Huron, Ms Cady and Mr Pieloch as inventors.[1] Like Ms Cady, Mr Huron was an employee of Intervet. When the PCT came to be filed on 13 August 2003, Mr Huron, Mr Pieloch and Ms Cady were named as the inventors.

Intervet’s in-house patent attorney sent a copy of the PCT specification to Mr Pieloch was a request to sign a declaration acknowledging that Intervet owned all the rights. Pharma Chemie and Mr Pieloch rejected the request, asserting through their lawyers:[2]

It is our client’s position that Pharma Chemie invented the soft chew technology as described in the above-referenced patent application in 1992, and continued its work on the technology through the 1990’s and into the new millenium [sic]. All of the work on this technology was completed prior to Pharma Chemie’s entry into the Manufacturing and Supply Agreement with Intervet in 2002. Pharma Chemie also invented the manufacturing procedure described in the patent application cited above, and provided Formax with this information well prior to its entry into the development agreement with Intervet in 2002.

Pharma Chemie is therefore the owner of the technology described in the above-referenced patent application, not Intervet. For this reason, Mr. Pieloch will not agree to sign the Declaration and Power of Attorney for this application. ….

Intervet made various attempts to prosecute the US application without Mr Pieloch’s signature. These did not progress, however, and the application in the USA ultimately lapsed. The Australian application, the subject of Merial’s opposition, was at least a divisional from the original PCT application.

Claim 1 of the patent application was for:

A soft chew formulation for oral administration comprising a pharmaceutical for control of a parasite of Equidae, Canidae, Felidae, Bovidae, Ovidae Capridae, or Suidae organisms in a soft chew formulation, a flavouring component, a starch component, a sugar component, an oil component and an emulsifying agent that acts as a forming agent, wherein the moisture content of the composition is between 5.0 and 7.5 percent wt, the soft chew formulation is formed by knockout and the soft chew formulation is not an extrudate.

Merial has lost its opposition to the application before the Commissioner and appealed to the Court. Both Mr Huron and Ms Cady had left Intervet by this time, and Ms Cady was one of the witnesses for Merial.

Entitlement

Section 15 requires that the grantee of a patent derive its title ultimately from all of the inventors. Although Intervet had identified Mr Pieloch as one of the three inventors, Merial’s opposition succeeded because Intervet could not claim title from Mr Pieloch whom Moshinsky J found was the sole inventor.

Moshinsky J accepted Mr Pieloch’s evidence that he had developed the technology used for Intervet’s product through his company, Pharma Chemie, before Ms Cady engaged Pharma Chemie to develop Intervet’s product. Pharma Chemie had used its own technology to make a “soft chew” which used Intervet’s additive. So, at least as claimed in Intervet’s application, Pharma Chemie was the inventor of the relevant technology.[3] Mr Pieloch was careful to eschew any claim to the specific product which embodied Intervet’s additive, but the claims were very much broader than that.

Intervet argued it was nonetheless entitled to the invention through an assignment in a Manufacturing and Supply Agreement under which Pharma Chemie developed the product. Alternatively, Intervet argued the assignment was implied under the US “hired to invent” doctrine.

Manufacturing and Supply Agreement

Intervet’s main problem with this argument was that it could not produce the agreement. Instead, it relied on evidence of other agreements with Pharma Chemie (after the event and relating to other projects) which did include express assignments and the importance to companies like Intervet of ensuring they had the rights to their products locked down.

Moshinsky J was not persuaded:

a) Mr Pieloch was adamant that Pharma Chemie had already developed the technology the subject of the application before the projects with Intervet and had even applied for a patent over it.

b) In re-examination, Mr Pieloch expressly denied that he had ever signed an assignment in the terms claimed by Intervet over the relevant technology (as opposed to the specific product using Intervet’s additives).

c) In 2003 in correspondence about the PCT application, Pharma Chemie’s lawyers had explicitly denied there was any such term and Intervet had not challenged that denial then or until the present proceedings.

d) If there had been such an express assignment, Intervet would have taken steps to keep it safe and secure and would have asserted it aginst Pharma Chemie when Pharma Chemie’s lawyers denied the assignment as long ago as 2003.

Hired to invent

Intervet next argued that US law implied a term to assign into the agreement by which Pharma Chemie developed the products for Intervet.

As foreign law, whether or not US law would in fact imply such a term was a question of fact to be determined on the evidence. Both Intervet and Merial advanced lawyers’ opinions on this question.

Both parties’ witnesses agreed that, under US law, a court could imply a term requiring an assignment. Intervet’s independent expert’s, a Mr Blackburn’s, evidence was that:

US law generally permits a court to imply a contract term in appropriate circumstances to handle developments and contractual gaps; one application of this principle is the “employed to invent” or “hired to invent” doctrine, which requires or obligates an inventor to assign an invention resulting from the development of a product that it was engaged to perform where the inventor was hired specifically to make the invention; while there is no binding precedent directly on point holding that a non-employee or independent contractor can be employed to invent or hired to invent, the reasoning of Standard Peeks and Dubilier suggest that the substance of the relationship between the parties and how the invention is made is the controlling factor.[4]

Merial’s expert, Mr Kowalski, contended that the case law relied on by Mr Blackburn applied only to the employer-employee relationship and did not extend to agreements with independent contractors.

Moshinsky J accepted that the cases relied on by Intervet dealt only with situations involving the employer-employee relationship, but his Honour was not satisfied that they were necessarily so limited. Moshinsky J had earlier noted that Mr Kowalski was Merial’s lawyer and had been involved in the preparation of Mr Pieloch’s affidavits for Merial. At [48(e)], his Honour considered that Mr Kowalski’s evidence at times appeared to be an exercise in advocacy and therefore generally preferred the evidence of Mr Blackburn where there were differences between them.

Having decided to proceed on the basis “that the “hired to invent” doctrine is capable of application notwithstanding that Pharma Chemie is a corporate entity and independent contractor rather than an employee”, Moshinsky J nonetheless held at [127] that no term to assign should be implied:

…. Mr Blackburn emphasised that what “controls” is the nature of the contractual relationship between the parties and how the invention was made; and that the critical fact is whether the contract specifically required the invention to be made. In the present case, I have found that Pharma Chemie was not engaged by Intervet Inc to develop a soft chew dosage form; it was engaged, rather, to incorporate Intervet Inc’s active ingredients into a formulation, using Pharma Chemie’s soft chew technology (see [89] above). Further, I have found that the Manufacturing and Supply Agreement referred to in Ms Marsh’s letter dated 16 September 2003 related to the development projects referred to in these reasons as the Horse Project and the Dog Project (see [75] above). It appears from the 16 September 2003 letter that the agreement contained (in paragraphs 1.4 and 9.3) express provisions relating to the assignment of intellectual property rights to Intervet Inc subject to prescribed conditions. In light of these express provisions, there is no room to imply a term (in this or any other agreement relating to the Horse Project or the Dog Project) requiring Pharma Chemie to assign to Intervet Inc any invention resulting from the projects. I have also found above that there was no response to the 16 September 2003 letter (see [80] above). If Intervet Inc had had a basis to contend that, contrary to the propositions set out in the letter, it acquired rights to an invention under the Manufacturing and Supply Agreement (or any other agreement) it is likely that it would have responded. This provides further support for the proposition that a term is not to be implied in the Manufacturing and Supply Agreement or any other agreement to the effect that Pharma Chemie was required to assign to Intervet Inc any invention resulting from the projects.

Accordingly, although the “hired to invent” doctrine could apply in principle, it did not apply on the facts.

It is worth contrasting the approach taken by Moshinsky J based on the application of US law to the arrangements between Intervet and Pharma Chemie with that applied in copyright by the Full Court in Enzed Holdings. In Enzed Holdings, the Full Court held that ownership of copyright in an artistic work in Australia fell to be determined according to Australian law. So, even though the artistic work in question was created in New Zealand, it was irrelevant that under New Zealand law ownership vested in the commissioning party not the author.[5] This approach would not have saved Intervet in this case, however, as the reasons Moshinshky J found to reject the “hired to invent” argument should lead to the same conclusion under Australian law.

Merial, Inc. v Intervet International B.V. (No 3) [2017] FCA 21


  1. By the time of the trial, both Mr Huron and Ms Cady worked for competitors of Intervet and gave evidence for Merial.  ?
  2. 16 September 2003 letter from Pharma Chemie’s lawyer to Intervet’s inhouse patent attorney.  ?
  3. Patents Act 1990 s 15.  ?
  4. Referring to Standard Parts Co v Peck, 264 US 52 (1924) and United States v Dubilier Condenser Corp, 289 US 178, 187 (1933).  ?
  5. In contrast to Enzed Holdings, the US 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals applied the law of the place where the work was made to determine entitlement to copyright in the USA in *Itar-Tass v Russian Kurier Inc (1998) 43 IPR 565.  ?

Broadcast does not include internet streaming

The (NSW) Court of Appeal has rejected WIN’s argument that its exclusive licence to broadcast Nine Network’s content extended to “live streaming” over the internet.

Those of you who have emulated Burke and Wills and wandered out of the CBD of your state’s capital city may have discovered that free-to-air television is (a little bit) different. There are regional broadcasters who arrange at least some local news and advertising, but also carry a lot of the programming of the “big” broadcasters.

WIN Corporation is one such regional broadcaster. For many years, it had a “programming supply agreement” through which it took much of the Nine Network’s programming. Thereby bringing the joys of A Current Affair and the Block to those lucky enough to live in a place where WIN was a broadcaster.

The relevant clause (clause 2.1) said:

“Nine grants WIN the exclusive licence to broadcast on and in the licence areas covered by the WIN Stations the program schedule broadcast by Nine on each of the channels known as ‘Nine’, ‘NineHD’, ‘9Go’, ‘9Gem’, ‘Extra’ and ‘9Life’ (the ‘Nine Channels’), to be picked up by WIN at Nine’s NPC.”

The Court and the parties all agred that “exclusive” in this context meant that Nine could not license anyone else to broadcast its content in WIN’s territory. Nor could it “broadcast” its content in WIN’S territory itself.[1]

WIN’s case was that this clause also meant Nine could not allow people in WIN’s territory to access the content through Nine’s website too. (You may already be perceiving some practical difficulties with WIN’s argument, if right.)

The evidence showed that the scope of the grant had been the subject of some negotiation, with Nine contending for a narrow definition and WIN arguing for a broader definition. The trial judge had found this evidence of pre-contactual negotiations did not assist the interpretation exercise. Apart from anything else, it was inconclusive and incomplete.[2]

Barrett AJA pointed out that a playwright could grant an exclusive licence to perform his or her play at a particular time or place, but that did not prevent the playwright from granting someone else a licence to show the play as a film or to perform the play some other place or time. This was important because it meant (you will be surprised to read) that the scope of exclusivity depended on the terms of the grant. His Honour explained at [34]:

The important point is that a person who has a collection of rights and grants an exclusive licence in respect of only some of those rights does not, through the exclusivity undertaking, promise the grantee not to exercise (or allow others to exercise) the remainder of the rights that is not the subject of the grant. The exclusivity undertaking restricts the grantor only as regards the rights granted. Preclusion of the grantor in relation to the whole or any part of the remainder of the grantor’s rights could come only from some contractual stipulation over and above that which is implied by the exclusive quality of the grant.

Applying this, his Honour considered that WIN’s licence to broadcast was limited to the kinds of broadcasting it was licensed to engage in under the Broadcasting Services Act and only within the territories it held a commercial broadcasting licence for. So this meant its exclusivity related only to free-to-air broadcasting in its territory. In the judgment under appeal, Hammerschlag J had explained at [82]:

Where clause 2.1 refers to broadcasting on and in the licence areas covered by the WIN Stations this is, and can only be, a reference to free-to-air. The licence areas are the geographical delimitations imposed on WIN by its licences under the BSA. These licences cover only free-to-air. Unsurprisingly, it is common cause that the WIN Stations have only ever broadcasted free-to-air and under such licences. They are traditional television stations. They do not deliver by internet. Internet delivery is not geographically based in the same way as is free-to-air.

Barrett AJA also rejected WIN’s argument that exclusivity over internet streaming followed from the implied term not to do anything that would deprive the other party of the benefit of the contract. WIN argued it was necessary for the exclusivity to extend to internet streaming as the promise of exclusivity meant it was to be free from competition.

Judging from the number of people watching TV on the train, tram and buses these days, you might think WIN had something of a point.

Barrett AJA, however, considered the benefit for which WIN had contracted was exclusivity from competition in free-to-air broadcasting. Nine was not under a duty to maximise WIN’s return under the contract, but to ensure that WIN had exclusive rights to broadcast Nine’s programming by free-to-air transmissions. His Honour said at [73]:

In the present case, the PSA, according to its correct construction, required Nine to desist from engaging in free-to-air transmission of Nine programs in the WIN licence areas and from enabling persons other than WIN to undertake free-to-air transmission of those programs in those areas. The “benefit” of the contract, from WIN’s perspective, was the right to transmit the Nine programs free-to-air in the WIN areas without free-to-air competition by Nine or anyone to whom Nine had given transmission rights. Extension of the negative stipulation binding on Nine so as to forbid live-streaming would entail a restriction on Nine and a corresponding “benefit” to WIN over and above those created by the contract and, in that way, enlarge rather than support and underwrite WIN’s contracted benefit. The value of the benefit of the contract to WIN was, as in the Queensland case, dependent on many contingencies, some of which were in Nine’s control. But Nine was not obliged to maximise WIN’s return from the contract.

At one level, the result is not too surprising. “We” have been generally aware at least from the Optus Now here and here controversies several years back that the major sporting organisations were generating very substantial revenues from internet streaming in addition to the broadcast (pay and/or free-to-air) rights. If you are drafting an exclusive licence relating to the right to communicate to the public, therefore, you will need to pay careful attention to what exactly is intended to be included: the whole right to communicate to the public, broadcasting (in some one or many of its multifarious forms), internet streaming etc.

WIN Corporation Pty Ltd v Nine Network Australia Pty Ltd [2016] NSWCA 297 (McColl JA, Sackville and Barrett AJJA)


  1. Barrett AJA conveniently collected the well-established propositions at footnote 15: “15. As a matter of general principle, an “exclusive” licence confers relevant rights upon the licensee to the exclusion of the whole world, including the licensor: Carr v Benson (1868) 3 Ch. App. 524 at 532; Reid v Moreland Timber Co Pty Ltd (1946) 73 CLR 1; [1946] HCA 48 at 5 (Latham CJ) and 15 (McTiernan J applying Heap v Hartley (1889) 42 Ch. D. 461). A “sole” licence resembles an “exclusive” licence but does not operate to exclude the grantor: see, for example, Black & Decker Inc v GMCA Pty Ltd (No 2) [2008] FCA 504; (2008) 76 IPR 99 at [131] (Heerey J).”  ?
  2. WIN Corporation Pty Ltd -v- Nine Network Australia Pty Limited [2016] NSWSC 523 at [71] – [80].  ?

capable of being confused with the trade mark

Jessup J has ruled that Idameneo’s use of:

Idameneo's trade mark

does not infringe Symbion’s registered trade mark for:

Symbion's trade mark

(As registered, the trade mark is not coloured; it was generally used in the colours depicted. See s 70(3).)

However, Idameneo’s use of its trade mark did breach its contractual obligations.


On the trade mark infringement front, you might have been thinking like me, “Who would have thought?” It turns out, however, that what enabled Idameneo to escape was the nature of the services: medical imaging services. Although the customer, you or I needing an x-ray, pays the bill and has the service practised on us, the relevant public were the doctors (and the odd dentist) who referred the patient to the service. This constituted a specialist market within Lord Diplock’s definition :

My Lords, where goods are of a kind which are not normally sold to the general public for consumption or domestic use but are sold in a specialised market consisting of persons engaged in a particular trade, evidence of persons accustomed to dealing in that market as to the likelihood of deception or confusion is essential. A judge, though he must use his common sense in assessing the credibility and probative value of that evidence, is not entitled to supplement any deficiency in evidence of this kind by giving effect to his own subjective view as to whether or not he himself would be likely to be deceived or confused.

By law, the doctor (and presumably the dentist) could not make a referral without providing the patient with the name and address of the service provider: i.e., they had to know who was going to provide the service.

It is rather a messy deal how Symbion came to license its trade mark to the corporate group of which Idameneo was a member. Under the terms of the licence, however, the licensee agreed (for itself and the other members of the corporate group which included Idameneo) by cl. 5.5:

Use of Similar Marks

Except as permitted by this deed, the [respondent] must not, and must ensure that each Licensee does not, use:

(a)       any Trade Mark; or

(b)     any Mark similar to or capable of being confused with any of the Trade Marks or which contain the words SYMBION or FAULDING,

as a trade mark, business name, domain name or otherwise anywhere in the world.

(emphasis supplied)

Jessup J was not prepared to treat the obligation as being 2 separate obligations: not to use similar trade marks or ones capable of being confused …. Rather, his Honour considered that the notion of ‘similar’ had to take colour from its context.

On the other hand, his Honour rejected Idameneo’s argument that the contractual obligation was no different to the test provided by s 10 for deceptive similarity for trade mark infringement:

36. …. The respect in which the test stated by the contractual provision conspicuously differs from that under s 10 is that it is concerned with similarity which is capable of causing confusion, whereas the section is concerned with resemblance which is likely to deceive or to cause confusion.  Here I think that the applicant has the better of the argument.  It is as clear as may be that the parties to the licence agreement were conscious of the circumstance that many of the marks referred therein were registered under the Trade Marks Act; and it may be inferred that they had an active appreciation of the requirements of s 10.  I have no reason to doubt that their choice of different language by which to express the prohibition in cl 5.5(b) was a conscious one.  I consider that for the court to conflate, as it were, the terms of that prohibition into those of s 10 of the Trade Marks Act would be to neutralise that choice, and would go against the parties’ intentions.

In [37], Jessup J went on to note that the contractual prohibition was part of the consideration Symbion had extracted in return for granting the licence and must be thought to have some intended value.

Applying the usual rules of visual comparison and imperfect recollection, the lower threshold established by capable of confusion compared to likely to deceive or cause confusion meant the contract had been breached.

Jessup J did accept that the setting in which the competing marks were used should be taken into account in deciding whether or not cl. 5.5 was breached. The facts that Idameneo used its mark for medical diagnotic imaging while Symbion used its mark for the wholesale distribution of pharmaceuticals, however, did not save Idameneo:

47 But I do not accept the respondent’s factual submission that the circumstances in which the respondent’s mark is used are so distinct from the business activities of the applicant as to leave no realistic scope for confusion by reason of similarity.  Both marks are used in the allied health sector: indeed, before 2008, the applicant’s mark was used by the respondent and its subsidiaries (then not part of the Primary group) in both the pharmaceutical and the imaging parts of that sector.  I think I am entitled to regard it as notorious that there is a degree of contact, at both the professional and the consumer levels, as between these parts, such as would make it quite unsurprising if the same people – to some extent at least – had occasion to encounter both the respondent’s mark and the applicant’s mark from time to time.  And there is some evidence that the respondent’s mark is used in settings, such as the premises of hospitals, where those who have regular business dealings with the applicant – pharmacists and the staff of hospital pharmacy departments, for example – might be expected to be found. …. (emphasis supplied)

Idameneo argued that cl. 5.5 should be read down so as not to apply to its use of its trade mark because it had been using its trade mark before Symbion’s trade mark had been developed and it was in use when the licence was negotiated. Thus, it argued it was unreasonable to read cl. 5.5 as applying to its continued use of the trade mark. Jessup J rejected this argument, noting the strictness of the test for implying terms into a comprehensive, professionally drafted written agreement. Moreover, Idameneo’s business appears to have been something of a sideline or relatively remote activity within the corporate group as a whole. Jessup J pointed out at [42]:

there is no evidence that the applicant … knew of the existence of the respondent’s mark in the period August-October 2008.

Thus, the conditions for implication of a term could not be made out.

Symbion Pharmacy Services Pty Ltd v Idameneo (No 789) Limited [2011] FCA 389