Appeal sinks luscious LIPS

One month after the appeal was heard, the Full Court has rejected Nature’s Blend’s appeal that Nestlé used Luscious Lips as a trade mark.

Nature’s Blend argued first that the trial judge had wrongly focused on the character of Nestlé’s use instead of the proper meaning of the Nature’s Blend mark. As the mark was registered for all confectionery, not just “lips”, it was said to be inherently distinctive. The Full Court, however, rejected this requirement and re-affirmed that the test was to examine whether or not the way Nestlé used the mark (the “impugned use”) would be understood by ordinary consumers as functioning as a badge of origin.

Nestlé’s Luscious Lips are part of its ‘Retro Party Mix’ pack. The expression ‘luscious Lips’ appeared only on the back of the packaging in the expression:

That’s right! All your old favourites are back, so put on those flares & get ready to party! Up to 7 lolly varieties including … cool COLA Bottles, those radical Racing Cars, yummy Honey flavoured Bears, totally freeeekie Teeth, luscious Lips, partying Pineapples and outrageous Raspberries.

You can see the front of the packaging at the product’s very own facebook page.

Nature’s Blend contended that the trial judge had improperly diluted the significance of the ‘luscious Lips’ expression on the Nestlé packaging by reference to the presence of other, more prominent brands.

This issue can be tricky because the Courts have long held that one does not take into account extraneous matters such as disclaimers or the presence of other trade marks when considering the question of deceptive similarity. On the question of use as a trade mark, it is permissible.

While the Full Court acknowledged that the fact that other trade marks were used more prominently on the packaging did not preclude ‘luscious Lips’ from being used as a trade mark, the characterisation of the impugned use depended on the particular usage in question in its own particular setting. In this case, the presence of ALLEN’s and Retro Party Mix did in fact undercut the likelihood that consumers would read ‘luscious Lips’ as a trade mark.

The Full Court also agreed that Nestlé had used the trade mark in good faith as a description.

Nature’s Blend Pty Ltd v Nestlé Australia Ltd [2010] FCAFC 117 (Stone, Gordon and Mckerracher JJ)

Comment on decision at first instance.

Luscious Lips confectionary

Sundberg J has dismissed Nature’s Blend’s action against Nestlé for infringement of its LUSCIOUS LIPS trade mark, passing off and misleading or deceptive conduct by selling Allens RETRO PARTY MIX.

Nature’s Blend, which was principally a supplier of veterinary products registered LUSCIOUS LIPS in respect of confectionery. Initially, at least, it gave chocolates away branded with the trade mark and a device to promote its business.

Around the same time as Nature’s Blend began marketing products with its trade mark, Nestlé introduced a new product under its ALLENS brand called ‘RETRO PARTY MIX’. This was a box or packet of mixed lollies. The back of the packaging included the following:

That’s right! All your favourites are back, so put on those flares and get ready to party! Up to 7 lolly varieties including…cool Cola Bottles, those radical Racing Cars, yummy Honey flavoured Bears, totally freeeekie Teeth, luscious Lips, partying Pineapples and outrageous Raspberries. [emphasis added]

The “luscious” Lips were a jelly product in the shape of lips.

Sundberg J found that the words used in this setting were not used as a trade mark. First, because the word “luscious” was descriptive and in context consumers would be likely to regard the expression as laudatory and possibly even humorous. Secondly, the effect of the combined expression in context was diluted by the prominence of the Allens, RETRO PARTY MIX and Nestlé trade marks.

Sundberg J would also have found, if necessary, that Nestlé was using the term as a good faith description: Nestlé’s product manager explained the development of the name in terms which made it clear she had been unaware of Nature’s Blend’s trade mark or product.

Interestingly, at [13] Sundberg J also considered it clear that the relevant time for determining liability under s 52 of the Trade Practices Act 1974 (Cth) is the date when the respondent’s conduct started; the same as for trade mark infringement and passing off. Middleton J did not consider it necessary to decide the point in Playcorp v Bodum [2010] FCA 23 at [58]-[59].

Nature’s Blend Pty Ltd  v Nestle Australia Ltd [2010] FCA 198