Shades of green

Frucor’s attempt to register the colour green as the predominant colour applied to its “V” energy drinks has failed. The colour being applied for was not properly defined and, consequently, had not been used as a trade mark. Yet again, consumer survey results did not help.


Frucor’s application included a green swatch, copied from its New Zealand trade mark application and, in accordance with reg. 4.3(7) a written description:

The mark consists of the colour green (Pantone 376c), as shown in the representation attached to the application, applied as the predominant colour to the goods, their packaging or labels.

The fundamental problem was that the green colour of the swatch was not Pantone 376c.

What’s the trade mark

Frucor argued that the written description should be given priority over the coloured swatch as a matter of construction of the trade mark application.

Its argument was that any trader looking at the Register would realise the colour swatch was inherently unreliable due to the potential for corruption through scanning, printing etc. Consequently, anyone looking at the Register would recognise that Pantone 376c was the subject colour.

Yates J considered this analysis was informed by Frucor’s subjective intention. The matter needed to be determined objectively. Reg. 4.3 required the application to set out a representation of the mark and, in that context, r. 4.3(7) required a description of the mark “as represented”. It was the representation which was primary. At [122], his Honour concluded:

…. A person inspecting the Register is entitled to act on the assumption that the trade mark applicant’s own depiction of colour in the representation accompanying the application is accurate.

Once the person inspecting the Register appreciated there was an inconsistency between the graphic representation and the description, there was no way to resolve the disconformity.

“V” green had not acquired distinctiveness

As the application was for a single colour mark, this meant that Frucor could not possibly demonstrate its trade mark had acquired distinctiveness under s 41(6)(a), the old (or pre-Raising the Bar version).[1] At [145], his Honour explained:

As the Full Court explained in Woolworths/BP at [79], it is important to appreciate that it is the use of the mark applied for, as a trade mark, that determines what can be registered. In that connection, the Full Court emphasised that the mark that is the subject of the application for registration must conform to the mark that was, for the purposes of s 41(6), used before the filing date. Because, in the present case, the mark is defined ambiguously—its features are uncertain and cannot be determined objectively—it is not possible for Frucor to establish the factual condition of s 41(6)(a) by reference to its own particular use of “V” Green. It follows that, for that reason alone, registration should be refused in the present case.

Yates J would have rejected the application even if one assumed there was no ambiguity and the colour claimed was Pantone 376c.

Yates J accepted that Frucor’s use of “V” green was substantial, consistent and conspicuous. At [163], his Honour had “no doubt that … those familiar with Frucor’s “V” energy drinks would have associated “V” Green as the colour of Frucor’s core energy drink product.” (emphasis supplied)

Yates J held, however, that this extensive use and recognition was not use as a trade mark.[2] First, at [164] the “consistent presence” and “dominating display” of the “V” logo was what consumers would recognise as performing the function of the badge of origin for the goods.

Accepting that there could be more than one trade mark for a product, the second consideration was the role colour played in the soft drink market including energy drinks, soft drinks, sports drinks, fruit juices and bottled water.

Packaging and labels in this field are often brightly coloured. Soft drink producers used colour to denote a range of things: sometimes product flavour, more generally some “varietal characteristic”. Frucor itself had different varieties of “V” which were presented in different liveries (scroll down): red for berry flavoured, silver for sugarfree, black and also a yellow in addition to “V” green which was reserved for the “hero” of the range. So at [166]:

…. Although Frucor’s use of “V” Green was pervasive and no doubt fundamental to its whole marketing strategy, it was, nonetheless, reminiscent of its core product. In this way, Frucor’s use of “V” Green was essentially descriptive, not distinctive in the trade mark sense. It denoted the core product in the “V” energy drink range. I am not persuaded that, somehow, consumers would understand that colour in relation to the core product was being used differently to colour in relation to other varieties within the “V” energy drink range, or any differently from how colour was and is used descriptively across the range of non-alcoholic beverages sold through trade channels such as supermarkets and convenience stores.

So at [167], even though more than one trade mark could be used on any given product, the “V” green colour did not function as a trade mark.

What the market survey didn’t prove

Frucor’s evidence from a market research consultant based on two surveys did not help. His evidence showed, for example, that some 77% of the survey respondents identified Pantone 376c with a brand of energy drink and and 85% of those identified the drink as Frucor’s “V” energy drink. As a result, the expert concluded that Pantone 376c was part of Frucor’s “brand identity”, having properties that went well beyond decorative or functional attributes so that it distinguished Frucor’s products from other traders’.

The main problem was that evidence the public associated, or even identified, a particular colour with a “brand” by itself is not enough to establish that the colour is functioning as a trade mark. At [171], his Honour explained:

… evidence of an association (or, I would add, identification) of a sign, including a colour, with a particular product does not mean, without more, that the sign is functioning or has functioned as a trade mark in relation to that product. One needs to have an understanding of how the sign was used, in the proper context and setting, before that conclusion can be drawn. Moreover, the conclusion is not purely a factual one.

The last sentence in that extract points out that whether something is used as a trade mark is a legal conclusion.

If you are going to advance someone to give evidence that a colour has been used as a trade mark – as Frucor’s market survey expert purported to do, you will also need to demonstrate that the witness properly understands the legal concept. More practically, if you are trying to convert your colour into a trade mark, you need to educate your public that it is being used as your trade mark. At it’s most rudimentary level (and bearing in mind the range of other issues), can you tell your customers to “look for” you product by reference to its colour?[3]

Market survey blues

Approaching the matter in this way enabled Yates J to avoid having to deal with the numerous criticisms about the survey methodology raised by Coca-Cola. A couple of points, however, do emerge.

At [168], Yates J was sceptical that the sample used in the surveys was representative. Frucor’s expert had not bailed up survey respondents randomly in the street or at the shopping centre. Rather, as is quite common in marketing, they were drawn from a panel of people who had signed up to participate in surveys.

That criticism is all the more compelling given the second point. Yates J was not at all comfortable accepting Coca-Cola’s criticisms of Frucor’s survey methodology in the absence of support from Coca-Cola’s own expert evidence.

It does not appear that Frucor has appealed.

Frucor Beverages Limited v The Coca-Cola Company [2018] FCA 993

  1. Presumably, the same reasoning would apply under s41(3) in the “new” version.  ?
  2. At [148], Yates J recalled that this required “an understanding, from an objective viewpoint, of the purpose and nature of the use, considered in the context of the relevant trade” citing Woolworths/BP at [77].  ?
  3. See for example the evidence in Philmac about its khaki and then terracotta plastic pipe fittings leading to the conclusion at [40]. For more recent US practice see here.  ?

A Basket Is Still Not A Cylinder

Glaxo has lost its appeal against Beach J’s ruling that Apotex and Generic Partners did not infringe its sustained release paracetamol patent. In a battle between what the skilled addressee would understand and the plain, literal wording of the claim, the lawyers won out.

Interpreting the claim

Claim 1 of the patent is for a pharmaceutical composition with a bilayer tablet having both an immediate release phase of paracetamol and a sustained release phase wherein:

said composition has an in vitro paracetamol dissolution profile (as determined by the USP type III apparatus, reciprocating basket, with 250ml of 0.1M HCl at 37C set at a cycle speed of 15 strokes/min) with the following constraints:

(a) 30 – 48% released after 15 minutes,

(b) 56 to 75% after 60 minutes and

(c) more than 85% after 180 minutes.

The problem was in that reference to a “reciprocating basket”, as a USP type III apparatus had a reciprocating cylinder, not a basket.

At the relevant time, there were four types of apparatus for testing dissolution – a USP type I apparatus, a USP type II apparatus, a USP type III apparatus and a USP type IV apparatus. The four types of machines provided different hydrodynamics which, in turn, meant the user would obtain different dissolution results. If one used a different apparatus, therefore, one might get a different dissolution profile.[1]

As already noted, the USP type III apparatus did not have a reciprocating basket. “Pharmaceutical scientists” generally referred to the USP type 1 apparatus as a “basket”, the type II apparatus as a “paddle”, the type III apparatus as a “reciprocating cylinder” and the type IV apparatus as a “flow through cell”.

This reflected the different construction and working of the machines. To test dissolution using a type I apparatus, the composition was placed in a cylindrical mesh basket which was then placed inside a cylindrical vessel containg the dissolution medium. The basket then rotated around inside the cylindrical vessel.

In a type III apparatus, the composition is placed inside a glass reciprocating cylinder which is then moved up and down in a glass vessel containing the dissolution medium.

Apparently, it would be possible to modify a type III apparatus to use a “basket”, but there was no evidence anyone had ever done so.

Against this background, the evidence established that the skilled addressee would recognise that the reference to “basket” in the claim was a mistake.

The question is then how is the claim to be interpreted. GSK argued that the skilled addressee would simply read the reference to a “reciprocating basket” as a reference to the reciprocating cylinder that type III apparatus used. The Full Court considered that this went beyond a purposive construction and would involve impermissibly rewriting the claim.

After referring to Catnic[2] and Kirin-Amgen, the Full Court said at [109]:

It is important to note that Lord Hoffman [in Kirin-Amgen at [34]] was referring here to the meaning conveyed to the skilled addressee by the language used and was not directing himself to a situation in which the skilled addressee deduced that the language of the claim, although conveying to him or her a particular meaning, could never have been intended to mean what it conveyed.

Here, the skilled addressee knew what the term “basket” meant, but “deduced” it couldn’t be intended to mean that.

The Full Court then emphasised a point made in many cases: a patent is a document prepared by the patentee “in words of the patentee’s own choosing” and “the words will usually have been chosen upon skilled advice.”

First, if a mistake had been made, there was a procedure for amendment – which GSK had not invoked in this case. The availability of that procedure had the further significance that [s 115][s115] provided alleged infringers with some protection from damages before the amendments were allowed.

Secondly, in describing the device used for dissolution testing, GSK (at least on its case) was not trying to identify something new. So, the difficulties of describing something which had not existed before would not arise.[3]

Thirdly, the words had to have been put there to mean something. At [138]:

GSK’s infringement case can only succeed if the words “reciprocating basket” are either interpreted to mean “reciprocating cylinder” or simply ignored. Either approach involves an impermissible re-writing of the relevant claims.

And, really, that is the Full Court’s point. Athough one is supposed to interpet the claim through the eyes of the skilled addressee, reading claim 1 the way the skilled addressee apparently would have done did not make proper allowance for the function of the claims. At [139]:

This is a case in which the skilled addressee’s understanding of the claims, as found by the primary judge, does not make proper allowance for the function of the claims in defining the invention. Ultimately, it is for the court to decide the meaning of the claims. This is a case in which we think the language of the claim must be understood to mean what it actually says.

So, although the patent specification is addressed to, and to be understood through the eyes of the person skilled in the art, the Full Court qualified that approach in light of other policies gleaned fron the Act.

Fair basis

Apotex and Generic Partners also lost their appeals against the trial judge’s ruling that GSK’s patent was fairly based and there had been no failure to disclose the best method.

On fair basis, the claims were consistent with the consistory clauses, but Apotex argued the body of the specification showed that the invention was narrower than the broad consistory clauses. This appears to have been an attempt to read the claims down to two specific formulations discussed in the specification, Formulations C and D.

A key point was whether the trial judge had impermissibly taken into account information in an FDA report to ascertain if the claims travelled beyond the disclosure in the specification. Apotex argued this was excluded by the High Court’s decision in the first Lockwood decision, where it had said at [48]:

If all that is essential in assessing a fair basing objection is recourse to the contents of the specification, there is no call, for example, for an examination (except on construction questions) of common general knowledge (which is essential when considering an objection based on want of an inventive step), or of prior art (which is essential when considering novelty (s 7(1))) …

The Full Court, however, rejected this attack; concluding that the information in the FDA Report (which was common general knowledge) informed how the skilled addressee would understand the claims. At [166], the Full Court said:

What is critical to the pharmacokinetic behaviour of the many formulations within the claims is the dissolution profile (or release rate) of the formulation. The primary judge accepted that the FDA Report recognised that a variation of ±10% percentage points in the release rate was acceptable to the FDA even where no IVIVC had been established. This provides evidentiary support for the finding that the skilled addressee would know that various formulations within the claims apart from Formulations C and D were likely to have similar pharmacokinetic properties. This also provides a complete answer to Apotex’s argument that the skilled addressee (equipped with the common general knowledge) would approach the Patent with an understanding that there would be no reason to think that other formulations within the claims would have a similar pharmacokinetic profile to Formulations C and D in the absence of any established IVIVC.

The Full Court also rejected Apotex’ argument that a claim could not be fairly based unless the specification explained why the claims worked. Making it clear that they were dealing only with the position before the Raising the Bar Act reforms, the Full Court said at [170]:

Of course, it is important to note that s 40(2)(a) requires that the complete specification “describe the invention fully”. A complete specification may still “describe the invention fully” without explaining why the invention works. After all, the inventor, who presumably believes that the invention described works, may not understand why it works. But this does not prevent him or her from obtaining patent protection for the invention.

Best method

For best method, the argument built on the Servier ruling to argue there had been a failute to disclose the best method because the specification did not disclose the particular grade or viscosity of the high viscosity HPMC or the granulation end points used to make Formulations C and D.

At [192], the Full Court accepted that there could be a failure of best method if information was withheld even though it could be ascertained by routine experiment. The Full Court rejected the best method attack, however, finding that the informatin omitted was inessential manufacturing and production information. According to the Full Court at [201]:

It does not follow merely because the patent applicant uses a particular manufacturing process or a particular excipient in formulating its commercial embodiment that it will form part of the best method. The patent applicant may have adopted a particular process, or used a particular excipient, for reasons that are associated with its own particular circumstances rather than because it believes that they reflect the best method. The best method known to the patent applicant may be one that allows for the optimisation of a formulation by the skilled addressee rather than one that adheres to one specific formulation that the patent applicant seeks to commercialise.

Those preparing specifications might want, first, to note the reservation that the Full Court was not dealing with the “new” post-Raising the Bar regime. Secondly, [192] appears to carry with it the warning that, if one leaves something out, one does so at one’s own peril.

GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare Investments (Ireland) (No 2) Limited v
Generic Partners Pty Limited
[2018] FCAFC 71 (Middleton, Nicholas and Burley JJ)

  1. At [50], the Full Court explained, “There is no established correlation between dissolution results measured using the different USP apparatus. Sometimes small differences are measured, other times the measured differences are large. Differences in measured dissolution profiles as between each of USP type I, II and III apparatus may not be predictable.”  ?
  2. Catnic Components Limited & Anor v Hill & Smith Limited [1982] RPC 183 (HL).  ?
  3. Referring to another aspect of the construction problem adverted to by Lord Hoffmann at [34] in Kirin-Amgen. Leading of course to the irony that GSK did in fact describe something new!  ?

Calling The Pot Black

Vickery J has struck out parts of a statement of claim for misuse of confidential information and ordered that the plaintiff’s solicitors and barristers who have had access to the information be barred from continuing to act in the proceeding.

DC Payments is suing Next for misuse of confidential information. The two companies compete in supplying ATM machines to retail, convenience and hospitality venues and Next was set up by some disgruntled ex-employees from DC Payments.

Next’s General Manager, Bosma, emailed a spreadsheet of its customers to 2 other employees: Solomon and Whale. Like Bosma, Whale had been an emploee of DC Payments too. Somehow, Bosma’s email to Whale went to his old account at DC Payments. DC Payments’ General Counsel recognised the mistake and instructed her staff not to look at it, but to delete it. However, the email and the spreadsheet were included in DC Payments’ discovery and eventually information from the spreadsheet found its way into Annexures identifying misused confidential information in DC Payments’ Amended Statement of Claim and some particulars.

Next has successfully sued to have those parts of the pleading struck out for misuse of its confidential information.

DC Payments sought to argue that the information was not confidential as it could discover who Next’s customers were by going around to the shops and venues to see which ATMs were installed and by whom. That might seem questionable as use of the spreadsheet saved DC Payments all the time and trouble of going through such an exercise. Further, the judgment indicates that the information used from the spreadsheet was very much more detailed than just the identity of the customers. The Master Customer List constituted by the spreadsheet included some 26 categories of information in addition to the customer’s name, address and ACN/ABN. These included details such as the names and contact details of the customer contacts, the customer’s bank account details, the Next sales agent responsible for the customer, the number of transactions made a month through the ATM at the customer’s site, the rebates payable to the customer and the maximum withdrawls authorised for the ATM.

It would appear that DC Payments did not admit it had used the confidential information to prepare the Schedules and particulars in the amended pleadings. However, Vickery J found there must have been misuse. Essentially, the Schedules and particulars included information which corresponded to the information in the spreadsheet, including information about the Next sales representative for the customer which was not in the public domain, and DC Payments did not advance any evidence to explain how it had sourced the information.

Vickery J therefore ordered that the Schedules and particulars incorporating Next’s confidential information be struck out. This was ordered even though his Honour considered that DC Payments could have obtained the information in question through “well drafted interrogatories”. His Honour accepted that the relevant principle was that DC Payments should not gain any advantage from its breach of confidentiality. In addition, it was ordered to delete any electronic copies of the Master Customer List and destroy any documents which contained information derived from it.

Further, as noted above, Vickery J ordered that DC Payments’ solicitors and counsel who had access to the confidential information could no longer act for it in the proceeding:

Any lawyer or person within the organisation of any firm of lawyers engaged by DC Payments, or any counsel retained on behalf of DC Payments, who has seen or directly or indirectly made use of the Master Customer List, should be retrained from continuing to act or work for DC Payments in this litigation.

Presumably, armed with his Honour’s judgment, the first job for DC Payments’ new lawyers will be to draft the well-crafted interrogatories foreshadowed by his Honour. It will be interesting to see if such an application would be rejected by the potential exclusion through s 138 of the Evidence Act 2008 (Vic) as, perhaps, his Honour warned at [83].

If you have a comment or question about this post, please feel free to post it in the comments section below or send me an email.

DC Payments Pty Ltd v Next Payments Pty Ltd [2016] VSC 315