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.  ?

ORO and CINQUE STELLE are registrable as trade marks for coffee in Australia

In what might (with respect) be seen as a surprising decision, the High Court, by majority,[1] has allowed Cantarella’s appeal and restored its trade mark registrations for ORO and CINQUE STELLE in respect of coffee to the Register of Trade Marks. Gageler J dissented and would have dismissed the appeal.

Modena, which had been importing and selling Caffe Molinari’s Oro and Cinque Stelle “brands”, was found to have infringed Cantarella’s registrations[2] but for its successful cross-claim invalidating the registrations on the grounds that the marks were not capable of distinguishing the products.[3] As a result of the High Court’s decision, therefore, this infringed Cantarella’s rights:[4]

Unknown

Some facts

Cantarella registered ORO and CINQUE STELLE as trade marks for coffeee in Australia in, respectively, 2000 and 2001. Cantarella had first started using ORO to designate one of its lines of VITTORIA coffee in 1996 and CINQUE STELLE in 2000.

Caffe Molinari has been selling its Caffe Molinari Oro blend of coffee in Italy since 1965 and its Caffe Molinari Cinque Stelle blend since 1997. Its Caffe Molinari Oro products had been imported into Australia since 1996 and the Caffe Molinari Cinque Stelle products after their introduction.

Mr Pagent, one of the principals of Modena, had been selling VITTORIA products, including ORO and CINQUE STELLE in one of his previous businessnes since the mid–1990s. After he sold those businesses, through Modena he began importing and selling Caffe Molinari’s products in the UK and then, from 2009, in Australia. By the time the litigation started, there were literally “dozens” of “ORO” coffee brands in the market.

The legal question

In the High Court, the question was whether ORO and CINQUE STELLE iwere “capable of distinguishing” Cantarella’s coffee products under s 41.[5] That in turn turned on whether each was “inherently adapated to distinguish [coffee] … from the [coffee products] … of other persons”.

Both the majority and Gageler J agreed that “inherently adapted to distinguish” was to be interpreted in accordance with the longstanding case law and the statement of the basic test from the Clark Equipment case. That is:

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.

The words in italics were emphasised by the majority. Their Honours held that those italicised words imposed an additional and limiting requirement to the test for signs which lacked inherent adaptation to distinguish. It was not enough that another trader might with improper motives wish to use the sign, the sign must also have direct reference to the quality or some other characteristic of the products in question. So, at [59], French CJ, Hayne, Crennan and Kiefel JJ said:

The principles settled by this Court (and the United Kingdom authorities found in this Court to be persuasive) require that a foreign word be examined from the point of view of the possible impairment of the rights of honest traders and from the point of view of the public. It is the “ordinary signification” of the word, in Australia, to persons who will purchase, consume or trade in the goods which permits a conclusion to be drawn as to whether the word contains a “direct reference” to the relevant goods (prima facie not registrable) or makes a “covert and skilful allusion” to the relevant goods (prima facie registrable). When the “other traders” test from Du Cros is applied to a word (other than a geographical name or a surname), the test refers to the legitimate desire of other traders to use a word which is directly descriptive in respect of the same or similar goods. The test does not encompass the desire of other traders to use words which in relation to the goods are allusive or metaphorical. In relation to a word mark, English or foreign, “inherent adaption to distinguish” requires examination of the word itself, in the context of its proposed application to particular goods in Australia.

In the case of foreign words, as here, their meaning translated into English was relevant, but not necessarily critical.[6] What was critical was the meaning conveyed by the foreign term, if any, to those “who will be concerned with the relevant goods”. That is, what is the ordinary meaning, if anything, of that foreign word or expression to those in Australia who will purchase, consume or trade in the relevant products?

Then, at [71], their Honours explained:

…. Once the “ordinary signification” of a word, English or foreign, [if any, to those in Australia who purchase or consume or trade in such products] is established an enquiry can then be made into whether other traders might legitimately need to use the word in respect of their goods. If a foreign word contains an allusive reference to the relevant goods it is prima facie qualified for the grant of a monopoly[90]. However, if the foreign word is understood by the target audience as having a directly descriptive meaning in relation to the relevant goods, then prima facie the proprietor is not entitled to a monopoly of it[91]. Speaking generally, words which are prima facie entitled to a monopoly secured by registration are inherently adapted to distinguish. (footnote citations omitted)

The problem (for Modena) in this case is that apparently there are only 350,000 people in Australia speaking Italian at home.[7] However, the trial judge found:[8]

only a “very small minority” of English speakers in Australia would understand the meaning of the words, and that the Italian language is not “so widely spread” that the words would be generally understood as meaning “gold” and “five stars” respectively.

As a result, the majority explained at [73]:

Like “TUB HAPPY” in respect of cotton goods, “ORO” and “CINQUE STELLE” were not shown to convey a meaning or idea sufficiently tangible to anyone in Australia concerned with coffee goods as to be words having a direct reference to the character or quality of the goods.

Gageler J’s dissent

In broad terms, Gageler J, especially at [92] – [95] disagreed that the words from Clark Equipment emphasised by the majority were an additional and limiting requirement. Rather they were merely a “parenthetical reference”, a subset of the overall test which focussed:

on the extent to which the monopoly granted on registration of a trade mark would foreclose options otherwise available to rival traders acting in the ordinary course of their businesses without any desire to benefit from the applicant’s reputation.

For example, his Honour pointed out that in Clark Equipment itself, which conerned the trade mark MICHIGAN, there was no evidence that any other trader manufactured the farm machinery in question in Michigan. Indeed, as the trade mark was registered in the USA, no-one probably could.

Extraordinary or just a decision on its facts

Given the trial judge’s finding of fact, one could argue that this case is just a decision on its facts.

That overlooks the important difference in principle on how one tests inherent adaptation to distinguish between the majority and Gageler J. It is also hard to resist an impression that Gageler J’s approach adopted a broader or more “multicultural” perspective.

One consequence of the decision is that Caffe Molinari’s products, which had been imported into Australia since 1996 / 1997 have been found to infringe so many years after the event even though Cantarella’s trade marks were registered after the infringing conduct commenced.[9] Of course, as s 124 and s 44 illustrate, an assiduous infringer cannot gazump a trade mark owner.

Another “oddity”: Cantarella accepted that it could not stop Modena using QUALITA ORO, presumably because it is descriptive?

Further, by 2011, the evidence showed dozens of other traders in Australia using Oro or D’oro to identify their coffee products. These included Lavazza Qualità Oro, Caffè Incas Oro, Coffee Mio Brazil Oro …. A number of these uses appear to have predated Cantarella’s registrations. There were also one or two Five Stars or 5 Stelle and, of course, hundreds of businesses have Five Star in their names.[10]

French CJ, Hayne, Crennan and Kiefel JJ discounted these; for example at [75]:

The evidence led by Modena purporting to show that rival traders used (or desired to use) the word “oro” to directly describe their coffee products showed no more than that the word “oro” or the form “d’oro” had been employed on internet sites and coffee product packaging in respect of coffee products in a range of composite marks featuring Italian words which ostensibly were distinguishable aurally, visually and semantically. Further, the presence on the Register, before Cantarella’s trade mark “ORO” was registered, of another proprietor’s composite mark “LAVAZZA QUALITA ORO plus device” and Cantarella’s own composite mark “MEDAGLIA D’ORO” in respect of coffee products fell well short of proving that the word “oro”, standing alone, is understood in Australia by persons concerned with coffee products to be directly descriptive of the character or quality of such goods. (emphasis supplied)

One might hope that, being “distinguishable aurally, visually and semantically”, these other traders’ uses would not infringe Cantarella’s trade marks. But, putting Woolworths Metro to one side, one does not usually avoid infringement by making it clear from the surrounding circumstances that the trade source is different from, (i.e., not) the trade mark owner.[11] Correspondingly, would someone who uses “5 star” to designate its premium coffee infringe?

Cantarella Bros Pty Limited v Modena Trading Pty Limited [2014] HCA 48


  1. French CJ, Hayne, Crennan and Kiefel JJ.  ?
  2. Cantarella Bros Pty Limited v Modena Trading Pty Limited [2013] FCA 8.  ?
  3. Modena Trading Pty Ltd v Cantarella Bros Pty Ltd [2013] FCAFC 110.  ?
  4. As the trial judge, Emmett J discussed at [130] – [144], the packaging of the Molinari products made extensive use of ORO or CINQUE STELLE alone in many other respects.  ?
  5. This was s 41 in the form as originally enacted not in its current form following the commencement of the “Raising the Bar” amendments.  ?
  6. At [48] – [49].  ?
  7. This figure was apparently taken from the 2001 Census. As Gageler J pointed out in dissent [103], even this figure made Italian the second most spoken language in Australia.  ?
  8. French CJ, Hayne, Crennan and Kiefel JJ at [61].  ?
  9. The evidence is not entirely clear about the extent, if any, to which Modena’s use was different to what Caffe Molinari originally did. Gageler J and, according to his Honour, the Full Federal Court were prepared to infer it was not relevantly different.  ?
  10. Per Gageler J at [111].  ?
  11. Saville Perfumery Ltd v June Perfect Ltd (1939) 1B IPR 440; 58 RPC 147.  ?