Zima is a registrable trade mark

Mastronardi applied to register ZIMA as a trade mark in class 31 for tomatoes. The Registrar refused the application on the grounds that it was not inherently adapted to distinguish. Gordon J has now upheld Mastronardi’s appeal and directed the trade mark be registered.

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ZIMA sofar as anyone knows is an invented word; it has no meaning at all. Apparently, however, it is only ever used in relation to one “variety” of tomato. The Registrar refused the application on the basis that:

“the word ZIMA appears to be a reference to a single kind of tomato plant and its fruit” and that the trade mark “lacks any inherent adaptation to distinguish the Applicant’s tomatoes as it appears to be an appropriate description of the goods in respect of which it is to be used”.

As the trade mark had not been used in Australia before the date of the application to register it, therefore, it failed.

The question fell to be determined under the old form of s 41 (although it should be the same under the (it is hoped, more clearly expressed) new form. Thus, a sign is registrable as a trade mark if it is “inherently adapted to distinguish”. Both Mastronardi and the Registrar accepted on the appeal that, even under the old form of s 41, a sign is presumed to be inherently adapted to distinguish unless the Registrar (or the Court) is (positively) satisfied it is not.

A sign would not be inherently adapted to distinguish if other traders in such products would legitimately wish to use it to refer to those products even if they were not the applicant’s products. The issue turns on:

the likelihood that other persons, trading in goods of the relevant kind and being actuated only by proper motives – in the exercise, that is to say, of the common right of the public to make honest use of words forming part of the common heritage, for the sake of the signification which they ordinarily possess – will think of the word and want to use it in connexion with similar goods in any manner which would infringe a registered trade mark granted in respect of it.[1]

Consequently, Gordon J explained there were two questions that needed to be addressed:

(1) how would ZIMA be understood as at 25 July 2011[2] by ordinary Australians seeing it for the first time used in respect of tomatoes; and

(2) how likely is it that other persons, trading in tomatoes and being actuated only by proper motives, will think of the word ZIMA and want to use it in connexion with tomatoes in any manner which would infringe a registered trade mark granted in respect of it?

As it was an wholly invented word, with no meaning, the answer to the first question was easy: it wouldn’t convey any meaning.

The Registrar argued on the second question that ZIMA was in fact, and was treated by other traders, as the name of a particular variety of tomato. The expert evidence before the Court, however, disclosed that “variety” in the context of tomatoes was a very rubbery (no pun intended?) term and, while there were a few varieties of tomato registered under the Plant Breeder’s Rights Act, thousands were not.

More directly, Mastronardi’s evidence was that it did not source its ZIMA brand tomatoes from just one variety. In Australia, there are apparently 50 different cultivars of orange grape tomatoes; Mastronardi used only six of these and only two were supplied to it exclusively. Moreover, when it launched its product in Australia, it had been very careful in its usages referring to its ZIMATM golden grape tomatoes or sweet orange grape tomatoes or golden snacking tomatoes.

So, it followed that other tomato suppliers had a range of terms they could use to describe their own sweet orange/golden grape tomatoes and, therefore, ZIMA was inherently distinctive.

Her Honour’s decision highlights the importance of careful use of trade marks, particularly if there is a risk the trade mark may become the commonly accepted term for a variety or type: the trade mark should be used as an adjective and not as a noun (or verb). This is a problem that practices in the pharmaceutical industry have had to grow up to develop – a different name for the active ingredient to the “brand” name[3] – but, as this case shows, of potentially much wider application.

It is also interesting that her Honour has directed that the trade mark be registered rather than accepted and advertised.[4]

Mastronardi Produce Ltd v Registrar of Trade Marks [2014] FCA 1021


  1. Kitto J in Clark Equipment Co v Registrar of Trade Marks (1964) 111 CLR 511 at 514.  ?
  2. The date of Mastronardi’s application to register its trade mark in Australia.  ?
  3. See also s. 25.  ?
  4. Which in some cases carries the risk of opposition.  ?

An oro stamp and cinque stelle (or maybe not)

The Full Federal Court found that Cantarella Bros’ trade mark registrations for ORO and CINQUE STELLE, being “gold” and “five stars” in Italian, lacked any inherent capacity to distinguish coffee in Australia.

Last Friday, 14 March, the High Court granted Cantarella special leave to appeal from that decision.

From the transcript, it appears that neither side disputes the basic test to be applied:

[T]he question whether a mark is adapted to distinguish [is to] be tested by reference to the likelihood that other persons, trading in goods of the relevant kind and being actuated only by proper motives – in the exercise, that is to say, of the common right of the public to make honest use of words forming part of the common heritage, for the sake of the signification which they ordinarily possess – will think of the word and want to use it in connexion with similar goods in any manner which would infringe a registered trade mark granted in respect of it.

Canatarella’s complaint seems to be that the Full Court found the words lacked capacity to distinguish even though it did not overturn the trial judge’s finding that the words had no meaning to the general public. That is, the question seems to be in applying that test, particularly in the context of foreign language words, must the word(s) have a descriptive meaning to the consuming public (as opposed to the traders in the goods).

  1. Cantarella Bros Pty Limited  v Modena Trading Pty Limited (S202/2013)

Transcript of special leave application here.