Staying arbitration: Kraft, Bega, Warner Bros and Mad Max

In the face of misleading and deceptive conduct litigation in Australia, O’Callaghan J has granted injunctions restraining Kraft from pursuing its arbitration claims in New York against Bega’s sale and promotion of Bega Peanut Butter in what Kraft alleges is misleading or deceptive get-up.

Kraft had been selling peanut butter in Australia under the Kraft brand for over 50 years. It had about 65% of the peanut butter market in Australia valued at over Australian $110 million per year.

In 2012, however, Kraft restructured its operations globally into a grocery business and a snack food business. The snack food business was operated by Mondelez.

Mondelez was given a licence to use the Kraft brand on, amongst other things, peanut butter which included the right to use the get-up Kraft had been using. The licence was due to expire at the end of December 2017.

Before the licence expired, Mondelez sold its Australian and NZ business to Bega. Bega began marketing its peanut butter in the get-up shown below:

 

Kraft peanut butter
Bega peanut butter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kraft’s licence to Mondelez included a dispute resolution clause that all disputes arising under, or in relation to, the licence should go through the familiar three-tiered resolution process of consultation, mediation and, if not resolved, binding arbitration in New York:

Step Process: Any controversy or claim arising out of or relating to this Agreement, or the breach thereof (a “Dispute”), shall be resolved: (a) first, by negotiation and then by mediation as provided in Section 7.2; and (b) then, if negotiation and mediation fail, by binding arbitration as provided in Section 7.3. Each party agrees on behalf of itself and each member of its prospective Group that the procedures set forth in this Article VII shall be the exclusive means for resolution of any Dispute. The initiation of mediation or arbitration hereunder will toll the applicable statute of limitations for the duration of any such proceedings.

Kraft sought to initiate the dispute resolution process with Bega. Amongst other things, Kraft contends in the arbitration that Bega’s use of the Bega Trade Dress is in breach of the licence from Kraft to use the Kraft Peanut Butter Trade Dress. Kraft goes on to allege:

  1. Bega’s use of virtually identical trade dress on its peanut butter is likely to cause and is causing confusion, mistake or deception as to Kraft’s sponsorship and/or endorsement of Bega’s peanut butter product.

Considering that Bega was not complying with the process, Kraft launched proceedings in the Federal Court for the Southern District of New York to compel Bega to mediation. Bega, while reserving the right to claim it was not subject to the arbitration agreement, told the New York court it would participate in the mediation process.

In parallel with these developments, however, Kraft also commenced proceedings in Australia against Bega alleging that the promotion of the Bega peanut butter in the Bega get-up in Australia contravened the prohibitions on misleading or deceptive conduct in the Australian Consumer Law. According to Kraft, Bega’s advertisements and use of the Bega get-up misrepresented that Kraft peanut butter is now Bega peanut butter or is being replaced by Bega peanut butter and the Kraft brand has changed to Bega.

In the Australian proceedings, Bega cross-claimed and also sought injunctions ordering Kraft not to prosecute the arbitration proceedings. After careful consideration of the principles for ordering a party not to engage in arbitration, O’Callaghan J has granted that anti-arbitration injunction.

O’Callaghan J considered that the question of the ownership of the packaging and get-up was the central issue raised in both Kraft’s notice of arbitration and the proceeding under s 18 of the Australian Consumer Law.

If the question in the arbitration proceeding had simply been that the licence had expired and Bega had no right to use the get-up, there may not have been an overlap. As noted above, however, Kraft’s notice of arbitration went much further with allegations of false representations.

Kraft argued that its claims under s 18 of the ACL do not arise under or in relation to the contract, but are independent statutory causes of action. O’Callaghan J pointed out at [91] that whether the statutory cause of action was independent of, or in relation to, the contract depended on whether there was a nexus or connection between the contract and the contraventions which gave rise to the misleading or deceptive conduct claim.

In this case, there was such a connection as whether or not Bega’s conduct was misleading turned on the operation of the licence agreement. At [95], his Honour pointed out the alleged misrepresentations could only be false or misleading by virtue of the operation and effect of the terms of the licence agreement. Accordingly at [96]:

Kraft’s pleaded case in this proceeding is one in which it seeks to agitate a dispute which is properly to be characterised as being “in relation to” the master agreement. For that reason, in my view, Kraft should have invoked the dispute resolution provisions of the master agreement with respect to the claims made in this proceeding. It was not, as it contended, bound to bring the proceeding in this court.

Having found that the court proceeding and the arbitration addressed the same or at least overlapping subject matter, his Honour went on to find that it was appropriate to grant an injunction against pursuing the arbitration while the consumer law proceeding was on foot.

First, O’Callaghan J rejected any argument that it was necessary to show, in cases where parties had set up an arbitration process, an exceptional case or that the power to grant an injunction should be viewed through a “different prism”.

Secondly, his Honour acknowledged the tension between courts’ desire to hold parties to their bargains (i.e. respect the arbitration clause) and “deep and strong antipathy” to situations which could give rise to inconsistent verdicts.

Here, Kraft was the author of its own predicament. It could have (and should have) included its misleading and deceptive conduct claims in its arbitration notice, but instead had chosen to bring separate and additional proceedings in Australia. At [109]:

Kraft ought to have included the claims made in this proceeding under the Australian Consumer Law in its notice of arbitration because those claims, contrary to Kraft’s submission, do fall within the ambit of the arbitration clause in the master agreement. Instead, Kraft chose to initiate this proceeding, and then to prosecute it, including by filing a statement of claim and a reply to Bega’s defence, participating in procedural directions, seeking discovery, filing a notice to produce, consenting to the filing by Bega of a counterclaim (in which the issue of ownership of the trade dress issue is squarely raised) and then filing a defence to that counterclaim. As Bega submitted, Kraft is the party responsible for the bringing of both proceedings. It alone is the author of the possibility or probability of duplicated litigation and inconsistent findings. Each of those considerations also weighs significantly in favour of restraining the arbitration, at least until this proceeding is determined.

O’Callaghan J then went on to consider whether there were any equitable considerations that weighed against granting an injunction.

Finally, O’Callaghan J rejected Kraft’s argument that, instead of seeking an injunction against the arbitration proceedings, Bega should have applied under s 7(2) of the International Arbitration Act 1974 (Cth) for orders to stay the Australian proceeding. At [166]:

I reject that submission. First, Bega had no obligation to seek a stay under s 7 of the International Arbitration Act 1974 (Cth) or otherwise. Secondly, if the stay application was bound to have succeeded on those grounds, one would have thought it rather suggests that Kraft should not have brought the proceeding in this court in the first place.

After a subsequent hearing, O’Callaghan J rejected Kraft’s contention that the injunction against progressing the arbitration proceeding should only apply so long as Kraft’s application in the Australian proceeding was on foot. Kraft argued that Bega’s cross-claim was “a matter for Bega” and should not bear on the injunction. As his Honour noted, Kraft openly admitted the point here was that it may well discontinue its claim in Australia.

O’Callaghan J pointed out that the assessment of inconsistency was not made just on Kraft’s claim, but the pleadings as a whole. At [69], O’Callaghan J explained:

In assessing whether, and if so, to what extent, the issues in the two proceedings overlap, the scope of the relevant issues necessarily includes all the issues raised by the parties, including by Bega in its defence and counterclaim, and by Kraft in its statement of claim, reply and defence to counterclaim. That is so because when a foreign party brings a proceeding in an Australian court, it submits not only to its jurisdiction in respect of its own action, but also in respect of any cross-claim that a respondent brings: ….

Bega’s cross-claim and Kraft’s defence to it raised essentially the same central question as raised in Kraft’s claim and the arbitration proceeding: the ownership and rights to use the get-up in dispute.

A more conventional outcome is illustrated by Warner Bros Feature Productions Pty Ltd v Kennedy Miller Mitchell Films Pty Ltd, in which the NSW Court of Appeal ordered a stay of the court proceedings in favour of arbitration.

In Warner, George Miller and Doug Mitchell are in dispute with the Warner group over payments for their roles in producing and directing Mad Max: Fury Road. The Court of Appeal dealt with a construction fight whether the arbitration clause formed part of the contract or not. Finding it did, on Warner’s application the Court ordered a stay of the NSW proceedings.

In this case, unlike Kraft v Bega, the party seeking to enforce the arbitration clause, Warner, had not brought the potentially inconsistent proceedings – Miller and Mitchell did.

Kraft Foods Group Brands LLC v Bega Cheese Limited [2018] FCA 549

Kraft Foods Group Brands LLC v Bega Cheese Limited (No 2) [2018] FCA 615

Pacific (f)ale

Moshinsky J has rejected Stone & Wood’s attempt to block Thunder Road Pacific Ale and, instead, ruled that Stone & Wood made unjustified threats of trade mark infringement.[1]

In 2010, Stone & Wood renamed its Draught Ale product as Stone & Wood Pacific Ale. Stone & Wood has 3 other main products in its line up of beers, but the Pacific Ale makes up some 80 – 85% of its sales. These sales were mainly in the Northern Rivers area of NSW, south eastern Queensland, Sydney and Melbourne.

Pacific Ale was a name Stone & Wood coined for its product. At the time, Stone & Wood was based in Byron Bay and ‘Pacific’ was chosen partly to reflect Byron Bay’s location on the Pacific ocean and partly for its ‘calming, cooling emotional response’.

The second respondent, Elixir,[2] also started up in 2010, in Brunswick, Melbourne Victoria, which some people might consider far from the Pacific. One of its lines of beers is its Thunder Road range. In 2015, it added a Thunder Road Pacific Ale to that range.

misleading or deceptive conduct / passing off

This is what individual bottles of the competing products looked like:

image002

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The Thunder Road logo is on the label around the neck. This is what a six pack of each looked like:

image006 image008

Stone & Wood contended that Elixir’s use of Pacific Ale and/or the ‘similar’ green and orange colour scheme misrespresented that the Thunder Road product was Stone & Wood’s or in some way associated with it in contravention of s 18 or s 29 of the ACL or a passing off.

The essential problem with this type of claim is that whether or not there is a real possibility of misrepresentation falls to be determined in all the circumstances. What would the ordinary consumer of the relevant products think in all the circumstances. Moshinsky J’s reasoning is much more detailed than I am going to attempt here, but notwithstanding the large and prominent display of Pacific Ale on Elixir’s product:

  • the dominant element on Stone & Wood’s packaging and get-up was its name: Stone & Wood;
  • there was no use of Stone & Wood on the Thunder Road product;
  • the words Pacific Ale on the Elixir product was very closely associated with Thunder Road, itself a well-known brand amongst the discerning hipsters and others in the market for craft beers;
  • although Pacific Ale was not a technical ‘style’ recognised at beer shows, it had become by the time Elixir introduced its product, descriptive for many consumers of a beer made from Galaxy hops, a particular Australian variety which gave the beer a fruity or tropical flavour – this was reinforced by the reasons why Stone & Wood had adopted the name in the first place;
  • the colour schemes and get-up are, shall we say, pretty different.

Moshinsky J accepted that Elixir knew full well that Stone & Wood had a Pacific Ale product when it decided to launch its own Pacific Ale and was trying “to some extent” to take advantage of consumers’ recognition of the term Pale Ale. That was not the same thing, however, as trying to take advantage of the name Stone & Wood or trick people into thinking the Thunder Road product was the Stone & Wood product which was what Stone & Wood needed to show.

Stone & Wood also deployed expert evidence from the marketing expert, Professor Lockshin.[3] Prof. Lockshin argued that marketing theory posited consumers might have come to identify Stone & Wood’s product just by the sub-brand Pacific Ale. Moshinksy J was not prepared, however, to overlook the significance of the prominent use of Stone & Wood on Stone & Wood’s products and the other differences between the products in the absence of testing which showed how consumers actually reacted.

In an attempt to repeat Bodum’s rather surprising success against Euroline, Stone & Wood pointed to a blackboard in a bar which simply listed PACIFIC ALE as one of the beers on tap; the beer of course being Thunder Road, not Stone & Wood. Moshinky J was not prepared to infer that patrons ordering the beer from that listing were necessarily trying to order Stone & Wood Pacific Ale as opposed to a pacific ale. Also, Elixir should hardly be liable for the actions of an independent bar owner.

Trade Mark infringement

Stone & Wood has a trade mark, No. 1395188, registered in class 32 for beer:[4]

image012

The problem Stone & Wood confronted with its infringement case is that Pacific Ale is such a subsidiary feature of the trade mark. Moshinsky J was not prepared to find that the words Pacific Ale in that configuration were likely to be an essential feature of the mark. His Honour considered that the Crazy Ron case required him to assess the essentiality of a feature in the context of the trade mark as a whole. It would have been wrong to focus on part of the mark in isolation only.

Groundless threats

Section 129 provides someone threatened with an action for trade mark infringement to bring proceedings for unjustified threats. A declaration that the threat was unjustified can be obtained, injunctions against repetition and, if damage be suffered, damages.

The Trade Marks Act is rather curious in that it is a defence to such an action if the trade mark owner starts proceedings for infringement “with due diligence”, even if the infringement allegation ultimately fails.[5] Moshinsky J denied Stone & Wood’s reliance on this defence in this case.

Stone & Wood had sent a letter of demand which included allegations of trade mark infringement as well as misleading or deceptive conduct, and threatened proceedings. When the correspondence did not lead to a resolution of the dispute, it started proceedings against Elixir, but only for misleading or deceptive conduct / passing off. It did not bring proceedings for trade mark infringement. It only brought the infringement proceedings by way of amendment after Elixir cross-claimed for unjustified threats.

In that respect, Moshinsky J distinguished Stone & Wood’s position from the trade mark owner in the Montana case. There, Wilcox J had rejected reliance on the ‘with due diligence’ defence, but the Full Court overturned that on appeal. In Montana, TTS did bring the infringement proceedings by way of cross-claim. However, it did not start the proceedings with a misleading or deceptive conduct claim. Montana started the earlier proceedings with its claim against unjustified threats and TTS brought the cross-claim at the first available opportunity.

The matter will continue to ascertain whether Stone & Wood will have to pay any damages.

It is tempting to wonder whether Stone & Wood would have had more success if it had promoted Pacific Ale more prominently and independently of its name, Stone & Wood. Perhaps, but these types of sign are slippery and it doesn’t take much for them to slide into descriptiveness. CAPLETS, for example, was a coined word, but not infringed.

If you have a comment or a question, please feel free to post it in the comments section. Or, if you would prefer, email me.

Stone & Wood Group Pty Ltd v Intellectual Property Development Corporation Pty Ltd [2016] FCA 820


  1. His Honour’s reasons run for some 95 pages or 245 paragraphs, so I am not going to try and convey all the nuances which were explored before his Honour in a blog post such as this.  ?
  2. The operation is sufficiently crafty, or un-boutiquey, that the first respondent is the holder of the group’s intellectual property rights.  ?
  3. If his name sounds familiar, that is because he was unsuccessfully deployed by Henschke in the Hill of Grace case.  ?
  4. It also has a pending application for PACIFIC ALE, but that has been opposed by, you guessed it, Thunder Road.  ?
  5. Dowsett J has recently pointed out that the patents legislation used to have this defence, but it was repealed a long, long time ago.  ?