Don’t file in the wrong applicant’s name

Because, if you do, the Full Court has definitively ruled that the error cannot be rectified and any resulting registration will be irredeemably invalid.

This is the first of at least two rulings departing from the trial judge’s reasons which the Full Court made in the course of dismissing Pham Global’s appeal from the decision to revoke its trade mark registrations and find it infringed Insight Clinical Imaging’s trade marks. So Pham Global still lost, but with ramifications for us all.

Some background

Since 2008, Insight Clinical Imaging has been using the name INSIGHT and its composite mark for its radiology services largely in Perth, WA.[1]

Mr Pham is a radiologist and the sole director of the company through which a radiology business is conducted in NSW. Originally, the company was called AKP Radiology Consultants Pty Ltd. In December 2011, however, Mr Pham applied to register the Insight Radiology mark as a trade mark for radiology services.

Insight Clinical’s trade mark is below on the left. On the right below is the trade mark applied for by Mr Pham.

In March 2012, AKP Radiology Services first started using the Insight Radiology mark for its business.[2]

On 6 June 2013, Insight Clinical lodged its opposition to Mr Pham’s application.

On 17 June 2013, Mr Pham’s company changed its name from AKP Radiology Services to Insight Radiology Pty Ltd.[3] Then, on 1 July 2013, Mr Pham sought to assign the trade mark application to his company.

Insight Clinical Imaging’s opposition was successful before the Office and Mr Pham’s company appealed unsuccessfully. In accordance with the trial judge’s orders, Mr Pham’s company then changed its name to Pham Global Pty Ltd and sought leave to appeal.

While leave was granted, the appeal was dismissed.

Who is the applicant

The trial judge found that the Insight Radiology mark was designed for, and used by, Mr Pham’s company. It even paid the designer.

Mr Pham, however, maintained that it had not been a mistake that the application was made in his name rather than the company’s. There was no evidence that Mr Pham ever actually licensed his company to use the trade mark. Moreover, Mr Pham’s explanation for why he decided to assign the application to his company – “I just did it” – was not accepted. He explicitly rejected the proposition that he made the assignment in response to Insight Clinical’s opposition to registration of the trade mark or that it was a result of a mistake.

Accordingly, her Honour held that Mr Pham was not the owner of the application when it was made, his company was. In line with the decisions in Mobileworld and Crazy Ron’s, however, her Honour found that the assignment of the application to the company before the trade mark was actually registered rectified the error.

On appeal, the Full Court noted that Mobileworld and Crazy Ron’s were both obiter on this point.

The Full Court then noted that longstanding precedent required that grounds of opposition were assessed at the date the application was filed. That meant that, where the ground of opposition was under s 58 that the applicant was not the owner of the trade mark,[4] the applicant when the application was filed had to be the owner of the trade mark. At [32], the Full Court said:

Once it is understood that the legislative scheme operates in the context of established principle that the alternative sources of ownership of a trade mark are authorship and use before filing an application for registration or the combination of authorship, filing of an application for registration and an intention to use or authorise use, the relationship between s 27 and ss 58 and 59 of the 1995 Act becomes apparent. The grounds of opposition in ss 58 and 59 reflect the requirements of s 27. Only a person claiming to be an owner may apply for registration. That claim may be justified at the time the application is made based on either alternative source of ownership. But if the claim is not justified at that time, ss 58 and/or 59 are available grounds of opposition. Moreover, if the applicant is not the owner of the mark at the time of the filing of the application, the assignment provisions in ss 106 – 111 do not assist because they authorise the assignment of the mark and thus pre-suppose, consistent with established principle, that the applicant owns the mark.

Well, it’s a nice simple rule; should be pretty straightforward to apply in practice shouldn’t it? Of course, it does mean that the law for trade marks is way out of step with the law for patents and registered designs, sections 22A and 138(3)(4).[5]

When time permits, I shall try to do a post on the new law of substantial identity.

Pham Global Pty Ltd v Insight Clinical Imaging Pty Ltd [2017] FCAFC 83 (Greenwood, Jagot and Beach JJ)


  1. It did not apply to register its trade mark until October 2012.  ?
  2. On 17 June 2013, Mr Pham caused AKP Radiology Consultants to change its name to Insight Radiology Pty Ltd. As a consequence of the first instance decision, however, the name of the company was changed again – to Pham Global Pty Ltd.  ?
  3. Mr Pham’s company also made a further application to register the words INSIGHT RADIOLOGY alone. Insight Clinical has also opposed it, but it appears to be stayed pending the outcome of the court case. (There was also an earlier application in 2008, TM Application No 1236945 for INSIGHT IMAGING / INSIGHT RADIOLOGY. This application was made by a Daniel Moses and a Jason Wenderoth, but lapsed after acceptance without ever becoming registered.)  ?
  4. The same principle applies under s 59, which was also in play.  ?
  5. Foster’s Australia Limited v Cash’s (Australia) Pty Ltd [2013] FCA 527.  ?

Not “hired to invent” so no entitlement – Merial v Intervet

In Australia, we are often told our US clients get title through the “work made for hire” or the “hired to invent” doctrines under US law. Intervet has failed in its attempt to rely on the latter doctrine in its unsuccessful attempt to patent a “soft chew” medicament for pets. Moshinsky J also accepted Merial’s opposition on grounds of lack of inventive step. This post will deal with the entitlement issue. Lack of inventive step case, based on the 2001 amendments, will be the subject of a later post.

Some background

In 2002, Intervet was part of the Akzo group. Most of its R & D activities were carried out at its plant in Delaware. However, a Ms Cady was based in New Jersey and had responsibility for developing formulations for commercialisation. She did not, however, have a laboratory. She had worked with a Mr Pieloch of Pharma Chemie to develop products before. Ms Cady engaged Pharma Chemie to develop a palatable “soft chew” dosage form for companion animals such as horses and dogs.

A formulation was developed. Intervet made a provisional application in the USA, naming a Mr Huron, Ms Cady and Mr Pieloch as inventors.[1] Like Ms Cady, Mr Huron was an employee of Intervet. When the PCT came to be filed on 13 August 2003, Mr Huron, Mr Pieloch and Ms Cady were named as the inventors.

Intervet’s in-house patent attorney sent a copy of the PCT specification to Mr Pieloch was a request to sign a declaration acknowledging that Intervet owned all the rights. Pharma Chemie and Mr Pieloch rejected the request, asserting through their lawyers:[2]

It is our client’s position that Pharma Chemie invented the soft chew technology as described in the above-referenced patent application in 1992, and continued its work on the technology through the 1990’s and into the new millenium [sic]. All of the work on this technology was completed prior to Pharma Chemie’s entry into the Manufacturing and Supply Agreement with Intervet in 2002. Pharma Chemie also invented the manufacturing procedure described in the patent application cited above, and provided Formax with this information well prior to its entry into the development agreement with Intervet in 2002.

Pharma Chemie is therefore the owner of the technology described in the above-referenced patent application, not Intervet. For this reason, Mr. Pieloch will not agree to sign the Declaration and Power of Attorney for this application. ….

Intervet made various attempts to prosecute the US application without Mr Pieloch’s signature. These did not progress, however, and the application in the USA ultimately lapsed. The Australian application, the subject of Merial’s opposition, was at least a divisional from the original PCT application.

Claim 1 of the patent application was for:

A soft chew formulation for oral administration comprising a pharmaceutical for control of a parasite of Equidae, Canidae, Felidae, Bovidae, Ovidae Capridae, or Suidae organisms in a soft chew formulation, a flavouring component, a starch component, a sugar component, an oil component and an emulsifying agent that acts as a forming agent, wherein the moisture content of the composition is between 5.0 and 7.5 percent wt, the soft chew formulation is formed by knockout and the soft chew formulation is not an extrudate.

Merial has lost its opposition to the application before the Commissioner and appealed to the Court. Both Mr Huron and Ms Cady had left Intervet by this time, and Ms Cady was one of the witnesses for Merial.

Entitlement

Section 15 requires that the grantee of a patent derive its title ultimately from all of the inventors. Although Intervet had identified Mr Pieloch as one of the three inventors, Merial’s opposition succeeded because Intervet could not claim title from Mr Pieloch whom Moshinsky J found was the sole inventor.

Moshinsky J accepted Mr Pieloch’s evidence that he had developed the technology used for Intervet’s product through his company, Pharma Chemie, before Ms Cady engaged Pharma Chemie to develop Intervet’s product. Pharma Chemie had used its own technology to make a “soft chew” which used Intervet’s additive. So, at least as claimed in Intervet’s application, Pharma Chemie was the inventor of the relevant technology.[3] Mr Pieloch was careful to eschew any claim to the specific product which embodied Intervet’s additive, but the claims were very much broader than that.

Intervet argued it was nonetheless entitled to the invention through an assignment in a Manufacturing and Supply Agreement under which Pharma Chemie developed the product. Alternatively, Intervet argued the assignment was implied under the US “hired to invent” doctrine.

Manufacturing and Supply Agreement

Intervet’s main problem with this argument was that it could not produce the agreement. Instead, it relied on evidence of other agreements with Pharma Chemie (after the event and relating to other projects) which did include express assignments and the importance to companies like Intervet of ensuring they had the rights to their products locked down.

Moshinsky J was not persuaded:

a) Mr Pieloch was adamant that Pharma Chemie had already developed the technology the subject of the application before the projects with Intervet and had even applied for a patent over it.

b) In re-examination, Mr Pieloch expressly denied that he had ever signed an assignment in the terms claimed by Intervet over the relevant technology (as opposed to the specific product using Intervet’s additives).

c) In 2003 in correspondence about the PCT application, Pharma Chemie’s lawyers had explicitly denied there was any such term and Intervet had not challenged that denial then or until the present proceedings.

d) If there had been such an express assignment, Intervet would have taken steps to keep it safe and secure and would have asserted it aginst Pharma Chemie when Pharma Chemie’s lawyers denied the assignment as long ago as 2003.

Hired to invent

Intervet next argued that US law implied a term to assign into the agreement by which Pharma Chemie developed the products for Intervet.

As foreign law, whether or not US law would in fact imply such a term was a question of fact to be determined on the evidence. Both Intervet and Merial advanced lawyers’ opinions on this question.

Both parties’ witnesses agreed that, under US law, a court could imply a term requiring an assignment. Intervet’s independent expert’s, a Mr Blackburn’s, evidence was that:

US law generally permits a court to imply a contract term in appropriate circumstances to handle developments and contractual gaps; one application of this principle is the “employed to invent” or “hired to invent” doctrine, which requires or obligates an inventor to assign an invention resulting from the development of a product that it was engaged to perform where the inventor was hired specifically to make the invention; while there is no binding precedent directly on point holding that a non-employee or independent contractor can be employed to invent or hired to invent, the reasoning of Standard Peeks and Dubilier suggest that the substance of the relationship between the parties and how the invention is made is the controlling factor.[4]

Merial’s expert, Mr Kowalski, contended that the case law relied on by Mr Blackburn applied only to the employer-employee relationship and did not extend to agreements with independent contractors.

Moshinsky J accepted that the cases relied on by Intervet dealt only with situations involving the employer-employee relationship, but his Honour was not satisfied that they were necessarily so limited. Moshinsky J had earlier noted that Mr Kowalski was Merial’s lawyer and had been involved in the preparation of Mr Pieloch’s affidavits for Merial. At [48(e)], his Honour considered that Mr Kowalski’s evidence at times appeared to be an exercise in advocacy and therefore generally preferred the evidence of Mr Blackburn where there were differences between them.

Having decided to proceed on the basis “that the “hired to invent” doctrine is capable of application notwithstanding that Pharma Chemie is a corporate entity and independent contractor rather than an employee”, Moshinsky J nonetheless held at [127] that no term to assign should be implied:

…. Mr Blackburn emphasised that what “controls” is the nature of the contractual relationship between the parties and how the invention was made; and that the critical fact is whether the contract specifically required the invention to be made. In the present case, I have found that Pharma Chemie was not engaged by Intervet Inc to develop a soft chew dosage form; it was engaged, rather, to incorporate Intervet Inc’s active ingredients into a formulation, using Pharma Chemie’s soft chew technology (see [89] above). Further, I have found that the Manufacturing and Supply Agreement referred to in Ms Marsh’s letter dated 16 September 2003 related to the development projects referred to in these reasons as the Horse Project and the Dog Project (see [75] above). It appears from the 16 September 2003 letter that the agreement contained (in paragraphs 1.4 and 9.3) express provisions relating to the assignment of intellectual property rights to Intervet Inc subject to prescribed conditions. In light of these express provisions, there is no room to imply a term (in this or any other agreement relating to the Horse Project or the Dog Project) requiring Pharma Chemie to assign to Intervet Inc any invention resulting from the projects. I have also found above that there was no response to the 16 September 2003 letter (see [80] above). If Intervet Inc had had a basis to contend that, contrary to the propositions set out in the letter, it acquired rights to an invention under the Manufacturing and Supply Agreement (or any other agreement) it is likely that it would have responded. This provides further support for the proposition that a term is not to be implied in the Manufacturing and Supply Agreement or any other agreement to the effect that Pharma Chemie was required to assign to Intervet Inc any invention resulting from the projects.

Accordingly, although the “hired to invent” doctrine could apply in principle, it did not apply on the facts.

It is worth contrasting the approach taken by Moshinsky J based on the application of US law to the arrangements between Intervet and Pharma Chemie with that applied in copyright by the Full Court in Enzed Holdings. In Enzed Holdings, the Full Court held that ownership of copyright in an artistic work in Australia fell to be determined according to Australian law. So, even though the artistic work in question was created in New Zealand, it was irrelevant that under New Zealand law ownership vested in the commissioning party not the author.[5] This approach would not have saved Intervet in this case, however, as the reasons Moshinshky J found to reject the “hired to invent” argument should lead to the same conclusion under Australian law.

Merial, Inc. v Intervet International B.V. (No 3) [2017] FCA 21


  1. By the time of the trial, both Mr Huron and Ms Cady worked for competitors of Intervet and gave evidence for Merial.  ?
  2. 16 September 2003 letter from Pharma Chemie’s lawyer to Intervet’s inhouse patent attorney.  ?
  3. Patents Act 1990 s 15.  ?
  4. Referring to Standard Parts Co v Peck, 264 US 52 (1924) and United States v Dubilier Condenser Corp, 289 US 178, 187 (1933).  ?
  5. In contrast to Enzed Holdings, the US 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals applied the law of the place where the work was made to determine entitlement to copyright in the USA in *Itar-Tass v Russian Kurier Inc (1998) 43 IPR 565.  ?

Patent application data in Australia

IP Australia has published a report looking at patent backlogs, inventories and pendency. [1]

The Report has been prepared using the same framework used by the USPTO and UK IPO.

Apparently, the number of pending applications peaked in 2009 at 100,000. By 2013, it was down to 90,000. The number of applications being filed has finally recovered to “pre-GFC” levels.

There are 278 pending applications per examiner; the lowest number since 2001. In the USA (which has a much larger number of applications) the number is 169 applications per examiner and, in the UK, 198 per examiner.

There were 26,394 applications filed in 2008. Approximately 52% passed through examination and opposition (if any) to grant. Some 9.4% were still “pending” as at May 2013.

About 20% of applications made in 2008 were the subject of a voluntary request for examination; almost all of the remainder are subject to a direction to request examination.

Almost 20% of all applications lapsed or were withdrawn when the Commissioner directs the applicant to request examination. Almost 15% lapsed or were withdrawn at the first report stage. A further 2% lapsed or were withdrawn after further reports.

950 of the applications made in 2008 (0.36%) have been subject to opposition (to date). Of those, the opposition led to only 68 (0.026%) being rejected or withdrawn.

You can read the Report here.

The UK IPO and USPTO ‘Working draft‘ from last year (pdf) (media release).

Patently-O has been looking at aspects of the US data here, here and here.


  1. Ahmer Iqbal Siddiqui, Report on patent backlogs, inventories and pendency. IP Australia Economic Research Paper 01.  ?

Trade mark oppositions (Australia)

Andrew Sykes, a barrister and trade marks attorney, has started a new trade mark resource: Australian Trade Mark Opposition Law.

According to the website:

The purpose of this site is to provide quick, reliable answers to practitioners working with trade mark oppositions and appeals. Therefore the aim is to keep excessive academic discussion to a minimum and make good use of relevant and helpful citation to authorities. ….

The website is a work in progress with additional details and material dealing with further grounds and links to be added. Based on what is up already, however, Andrew has some interesting ideas.

Check it out!

Q1?

Mr Spagnuolo has been granted “special” leave to appeal to the Full Court from Reeves J’s dismissal of his opposition to Mantra registering Q1 for a range of accommodation, travel and holiday services.

Some background

Q1 is another one of those “iconic” high rise apartment buildings on the Gold Coast. Its 78 levels boast 526 residential apartments, a retail shopping plaza and a resort / conference complex.

In addition to operating the resort/conference part of the building under Q1 RESORT & SPA, Mantra also has arrangements for renting out 193 of the privately owned apartments.

Mr Spagnuolo owns two of the apartments himself and has arrangements to rent out a number of others’ apartments. He operates his rental business under the name Q1 Holidays Gold Coast and also holds the domain name q1holidaysgoldcoast.com.au.

Mantra’s predecessor applied to register 3 trade marks, Nos 1228706, 1228707 and 1228708 for a range of services in classes 36, 39, 35 and 43. (Not sure why they were in three different applications. has there been a change of practice about these things?)

The Registrar’s delegate had upheld Mr Spagnuolo’s opposition, but Reeves J overturned that decision on appeal.

Why?

While a party may appeal to the Court from the Registrar’s decision in an opposition proceedings as a matter of right, there is no automatic right of appeal from the Court’s decision at first instance. Leave is required: s 195(2).  It is fairly unusual for unsuccessful opponents to the registration of a trade mark to get leave to appeal to the Full Court.

One key factor in why Logan J granted leave was the legal point Mr Spagnuolo wants to run: he argues that Q1 is not inherently adapted to distinguish Mantra’s services as other people wanting to rent out their properties in the Q1 building will legitimately want to use Q1 too. That is, Mr Spagnuolo wishes to contend that Q1 is not inherently adapted to distinguish under s 41 because the Q1 building is not owned by one person. As a result of the disparate ownership of the properties comprising the Q1 building, therefore, Q1 may be the name of “a locality”.

According to Logan J and the parties, this question has not been the subject of judicial decision.

Another consideration was that there were conflicting decisions in the Office and at first instance, with the Registrar’s delegate allowing the opposition and Reeves J rejecting it.

After some rumblings about the potential for litigants with deep pockets to oppress those “not as well financially provided”, Logan J also pointed out that the parties had filed extensive evidence in the court proceedings, the benefit of which would be lost if Mr Spagnuolo was not permitted to appeal and was left to start revocation proceedings anew.

Finally, Logan J granted Mr Spagnuolo an extension of time in which to file his application for leave to appeal. Under the “old” Rules, an applicant for leave had 21 days to file the application. Under the new rules (in force since August 2011), however, applications for leave must be filed within 14 days. That wasn’t an obstacle in this case as Mr Spagnuolo’s advisers filed only 1 week late so there wasn’t really any special prejudice Mantra could point to.

Finally, Logan J granted a stay on Reeves J’s direction that the trade marks proceed to registration:

… Mantra IP has only briefly enjoyed the benefits of the judgment. Before then, its applications stood rejected. It was not greatly pressed, on its behalf, that there was any particular commercial harm that it would suffer beyond the obvious one of its position being unclear until there was a final judgment. It seems to me there would be much potential for mischief in the marketplace in the event that there were not a stay.

Spagnuolo v Mantra IP Pty Ltd [2012] FCA 1038

A business method patent (not yet)

RPL applied for an innovation patent of a method entitled ‘Method and System for Automated Collection of Evidence of Skills and Knowledge’.

The applied for innovation relates to a method for people to obtain recognition for their prior learning. Apparently, there are some 35,000 qualifications and 34,000 units in the vocational educational and training sector in Australia. Hence it can be difficult for people to identify a particular qualification which they have qualified for as there is no single point of access to the system. The applied for innovation claimed methods for using technology, particularly the internet, to automate the process of identifying relevant criteria and applying for the relevant recognition.

Claim 1 claimed:

1. A method of gathering evidence relevant to an assessment of an individual’s competency relative to a recognised qualification standard, including the steps of:

  • a computer retrieving via the Internet from a remotely-located server a plurality of assessable criteria associated with the recognised qualification standard, said criteria including one or more elements of competency, each of which is associated with one or more performance criteria;
  • the computer processing the plurality of assessable criteria to generate automatically a corresponding plurality of questions relating to the competency of an individual to satisfy each of the elements of competency and performance criteria associated with the recognised qualification standard;
  • an assessment server presenting the automatically-generated questions via the Internet to a computer of an individual requiring assessment; and
  • receiving from the individual via said individual’s computer a series of responses to the automatically generated questions, the responses including evidence of the individual’s skills, knowledge and/or experience in relation to each of the elements of competency and performance criteria,
  • wherein at least one said response includes the individual specifying one or more files stored on the individual’s computer, which are transferred to the assessment server.
Myall opposed alleging lack of novelty based on prior use. The applicant didn’t even need to file evidence to defend this allegation which failed on the evidence submitted by the opponent.
However, it appears that the delegate hearing the opposition raised the objection that the innovation claimed was not a manner of manufacture (see [62]).
The delegate noted (at [45]) that the Full Federal Court’s decision in Grant had qualified NRDC so that a manner of manufacture required
‘an artificial state of affairs, in the sense of a concrete, tangible, physical, or observable effect’
and
A physical effect in the sense of a concrete effect or phenomenon or manifestation or transformation is required.
This had been further explained by the Deputy Commissioner in Invention Pathways:
I do not take [Grant] to suggest that patentability is merely determined on the presence of a physical effect. Rather it clearly must be an effect of such substance or quality that the method considered as a whole is “proper subject of letters patent according to the principles which have been developed for the application of s. 6 of the Statute of Monopolies”.
Accordingly, the Deputy Commissioner considered:
… the “concrete effect or phenomenon or manifestation or transformation” referred to must be one that is significant both in that it is concrete but also that it is central to the purpose or operation of the claimed process or otherwise arises from the combination of steps of the method in a substantial way. Consequently while the step of building a house involves a concrete physical effect it is peripheral to the method of acquiring a house and indeed could hardly be said to characterise the subject matter of the method such that it is considered an artificially created state of affairs. I consider the same to apply to a business scheme implemented in some part by computer and do not believe the patentability of such a method can arise solely from the fact that, in a general sense, it is implemented in or with the assistance of a computer or utilises some part a computer or other physical device in a incidental way.
In this case, the delegate considered at [54]:
54. It is clear that the claim relates to gathering information where the internet is used for transmitting and receiving data, and a computer is used for data retrieval, processing, presentation and storage of information in a well known manner. The process of automatically generating questions based on assessable criteria, as stated in the description, includes applying a question template into which the text of the relevant assessable criteria may be merged. In a simple form, a question may be generated from the criteria by prepending the text such as ‘How can you show evidence that’.
and so found at [55]:
55. The claimed invention defines a method for gathering information where the data retrieval, processing and storage of information appear to have no physical effect other than that would arise in the computer with standard software in conventional use. Furthermore, there is no substantial effect or transformation in generating the questions by concatenating text matters. While the internet and the computer facilitate the operation of the claimed method by retrieving, generating and conveying information, they are not central to the purpose of the claimed invention. [So unlike the loyalty card in Welcome-Catuity], the claimed invention simply monopolises a scheme where the internet and the computer are used for mere convenience for operating the scheme.
Accordingly, the delegate rejected the application in that form. However, at [59], the delegate considered there could nonetheless be patentable subject matter:
the description of the opposed patent contemplates generating the questions automatically based upon the identification of particular keywords within the assessable criteria, and upon additional contextual information obtained from Evidence Guides, Range Statements and Employability Skills associated with Qualifications and Units of Competency without requiring human intervention.
and so allowed 60 days for amendments to be brought in (the delegate also flagged a potential fair basing problem for the proposed amendment).
Myall Australia Pty Ltd v RPL Central Pty Ltd [2011] APO 48 (link to be provided when available)
Lid dip: Patentology


        

Will unsuccessful opponents be estopped?

As noted previously, the “Raising the Bar” bill aims to change the standard of proof required for acceptance of a patent application and for successful opposition from the prevailing “practically certain” or “clear” standard to a balance of probabilities.

Currently, an unsuccessful opponent is not estopped from bringing revocation proceedings, largely because of the difference in onus applying at the opposition versus revocation stage: Genetics Institute v Kirin-Amgen at [17] and note Clinique at [13] (trade mark). At [17], the Full Court in Kirin-Amgen said:

17       During the hearing there was some discussion as to the possibility of the owner of a patent the grant of which was unsuccessfully opposed, defending a revocation proceeding instituted by the pre-grant opponent by raising an issue estoppel in respect of the findings of fact of the single judge. In the present case, however, the respondent has conceded that no issue estoppel would apply to the findings of fact of Heerey J in any revocation proceeding instituted by the applicant in respect of the patent. In any event, the difference between the issue determined by his Honour in the pre-grant opposition proceeding, and the issue that would arise for determination in any revocation proceeding instituted by the applicant, is in our view sufficient to preclude the operation of issue estoppel principles in that second proceeding. The overriding issue in the pre-grant opposition proceeding before Heerey J was whether it was practically certain that the patent to be granted on the specification would have been invalid on the ground that the content of the specification was not in accordance with the requirements of s 40 of the Patents Act 1952 (Cth) (Genetics Institute Inc v Kirin-Amgen Inc (No 3) (1998) 156 ALR 30 at 39-41). Even if revocation of the patent was subsequently sought by the applicant on the virtually identical ground of non-compliance with subs 40(2) or subs 40(3) of the current Act (see par 138(3)(f) of the Act), the issue for determination by the judge hearing that revocation application would be whether the patent should be revoked for the specification’s non-compliance with subs 40(2) or subs 40(3). The decision of Heerey J that it was not practically certain that the patent should be so revoked would be inconclusive of this issue. Accordingly, there would be no scope for the operation of an issue estoppel in relation to the decision of Heerey J in any post-grant revocation proceeding instituted by the applicant in respect of the current patent. (emphasis supplied)

What the Full Court said in the emphasised passages was obiter as the point was conceded. Given the reason why the Court accepted the concession, however, it may well be that an unsuccessful opponent will be estopped from from bringing revocation proceedings in those cases where the “practically certain” standard no longer applies.

The absence of discovery and, usually, cross-examination and, possibly, the very nature of opposition proceedings may however lead to a contrary conclusion: see the Court of Appeal’s ruling in Special Effects v L’Oreal (commentary by IPkat and Birds), albeit

(a) involving an opposition in the Registry and not the Court; and

(b) recognising the possibility that the revocation proceedings may be stayed as an abuse of process.

The fact the earlier UK proceeding was in the Registry and did not involve discovery or cross-examination could be a highly important point of distinction as cross-examination and, sometimes, discovery do occur when opposition proceedings are appealed to the Court.

When the change takes effect, prospective opponents would still be very well advised to consider carefully whether to oppose, or keep their powder dry, and, if they do oppose, do it properly right from the start. Of course, even under the current standard, a half-hearted opposition can seriously prejudice the outcome of both the opposition and subsequent revocation proceedings.

 

The Raising the Bar Bill

Senator Carr introduced the Intellectual Property Laws (Raising the Bar) Bill 2011 into Parliament today.

Press release

Download the text of the Bill and EM from here (choose your own format).

You will remember that (according to the Press Release) the main objects of the Bill include:

  • raising patent standards to ensure Australian innovators are well placed to take their inventions to the world;
  • increasing penalties for trade mark counterfeiters;
  • improvements to border security measures for goods that infringe copyright and trade marks;
  • providing free access to patented inventions for researchers; and
  • cutting red tape and delays when seeking an IP right.

While there have no doubt been modifications to the text of the Exposure Draft (and Patentology flags a big change to the transitional provisions for the new patentability standards), you can get a very good feel for what the various parts of the Bill are trying to achieve:

in relation to patents from Dr Summerfield’s 8 part series over at Patentology:

  1. Part 1: inventive standard
  2. Part 2: usefulness
  3. Part 3: provisional specifications
  4. Part 4: enablement
  5. Part 5: claims supported by description
  6. Part 6: experimental use
  7. Part 7: miscellanea including standard of proof
  8. Part 8: transitional

Kim Weatherall also commented on a number of aspects, exploring in particular the (proposed) trade mark criminal offences.

You do need to bear in mind that these commentaries were on the text of the Exposure Draft and it was intended that anomalies identified through the Exposure Draft would be corrected in the Bill so, as I have already noted, there will be changes. Nonetheless, these comments should give you a good fell for what was being intended and issues that might be thrown up.

As you will see from the commentaries on the exposure draft, there are a host of issues to be considered. Time doesn’t permit anything but a cursory attempt on a couple of points here:

Item 113 of Sch 6 will replace the current s 41 of the Trade Marks Act (requiring a trade mark to be capable of distinguishing) with a new provision intended to reverse Blount and ensure that there is a presumption that a trade mark is registrable. It does this by requiring the Registrar to be satisfied that the trade mark is not capable of distinguishing before the Registrar can reject the application on this ground.

So clause 41(2) says “A trade mark is taken not to be capable of distinguishing … only if ….”

(Now I look at it, I wonder how long before it will be before someone tries to argue that “taken not to be capable of distinguishing” means something different to (and less than) “is not capable of distinguishing”. Oh well. Surely that one would be dispatched over the fence for six?)

While the Bill does seek to change the standard of proof against patent applications and patent oppositions from the existing “practically certain to fail” or “clear” type standard to the usual “balance of probabilities (see e.g. items 14 and 15 of Sch 1), no such amendment is proposed for trade mark oppositions. Therefore, the current state of uncertainty on this issue will continue (contrast e.g. Hills v Bitek at [43] – [55] to Sports Warehouse v Fry at [26] – [40]) , even though the school of thought favouring the “practically certain” or “clear” standard was imported from the Patents Act.

The bill will also introduce a whole new regime of oppositions to the registration of trade marks.

Item 18 of Sch. 3 will replace s 52 so that there is an obligation to file a Notice of Opposition which the Registrar, not the opponent, will serve on the applicant. Item 19 will introduce a new s 52A. This will require an applicant to file a notice of intention to defend or the application will lapse.

According to the EM, the regulations (when they are promulgated) will include power for the Notice of Opposition to specify the particulars of the grounds of opposition. The EM explains:

Opponents are currently required to state the grounds on which they intend opposing an application when they file their notice of opposition. However, they are not required to set out the particulars of those grounds. Frequently, this means that the opponent sets out all possible grounds, whether or not they have any intention of relying on them. As a result, the trade mark applicant may be faced with a number of grounds to deal with and no indication of which are key to the opposition until late in the opposition proceedings and sometimes not until the hearing

makes it difficult for the applicant to prepare their case. It also increases costs as the applicant is obliged to prepare a case in response to all grounds raised in the statement of grounds, including those on which the opponent may no longer rely.

The amendment addresses this problem by allowing for regulations to be made to require the opponent to file a statement of particulars of the grounds on which they intend to oppose. This will help focus oppositions earlier, reducing costs and unnecessary effort for the applicant.

The EM talks of the regulations conferring a power to require particulars. Whether this will be a discretionary power to be exercised on a case by case basis or an obligation on all opponents will need to await the terms of the regulations themselves. For example, the EM on items 24 and 25 states that opponents will be required to file both statements of grounds and particulars and  the last paragraph of the EM on item 17 states that the particulars will be required to be filed within 1 month of the filing of the Notice of Opposition.

The regulations will also apparently include a power to amend the statement(s) of grounds and particulars. However, the EM on items 24 and 25 states:

The regulations will only permit the opponent to amend the statement of grounds and particulars under tightly controlled circumstances.

The Federal Magistrates Court will get original jurisdiction in matters under the Designs Act and the Trade Marks Act alongside its existing original jurisdiction in copyright and (what used to be called) trade practices matters.

 

 

Amazon’s 1-click in Australia

On Telstra’s opposition to the grant of Amazon’s 1-click patent in Australia, the Commissioner’s delegate has found that:

  • claims 1, 2 and 4 to 61 were invalid;
  • but:

It seems to me that the use to which server generated client identifiers [i.e., cookies] are put in the present invention is both an elegant and inventive way of achieving one action ordering functionality. Therefore I consider that any of the claims having this integer fulfil the requirement of subparagraph 18(1)(b)(ii) of involving an inventive step. These are claims 3 and 62 to 141.

Patentology has a detailed consideration here.

DCC takes a slightly different tack.

Telstra Corporation Limited v Amazon.com, Inc. [2011] APO 28

The specification in AU 762715 (pdf)

Draft Intellectual Property Laws Amendment (Raising the Bar) Bill 2011

A few weeks back now, IP Australia released a draft Intellectual Property Laws Amendment (Raising the Bar) Bill 2011 (pdf) and draft Explanatory Memorandum (pdf).

You can probably guess its overall objective from the exposure draft bill’s longer short title. The range of matters covered extends across 6 schedules:

  • Schedule 1- Raising the quality of granted patents
  • Schedule 2– Free access to patented inventions for research and regulatory activities
  • Schedule 3– Reducing delays in resolving patent and trade mark applications
  • Schedule 4- Assisting the operations of the IP profession
  • Schedule 5- Improving mechanisms for trade mark and copyright enforcement
  • Schedule 6 – Simplifying the IP system

Of the many things that struck my eye, the proposals:

  • seek to introduce the diligent searcher standard for testing the obviousness of patents;
  • seek to have patent applications and oppositions (but not, so far, trade mark oppositions) tested on the balance of probabilities instead of being practically certain not to be valid
  • introduce the new statutory experimental use defence;
  • seek to introduce a presumption of registrability for trade mark applications;
  • introduce the patent opposition “pleading” system to trade mark oppositions; and
  • confer original jurisdiction in trade mark and registered design mattters on the Federal Magistrates Court.

As IP Australia’s announcement says:

Bill does not deal with gene specific issues, rather it seeks to raise patentability standards across all technologies. Gene specific issues are being considered separately by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, and by the Government in its response to the Senate Community Affairs Committee’s Gene Patents report.

Over at Patentology Dr Mark Summerfield gives very detailed consideration to the pros and shortcomings of the obviousness reform, the changes to the requirement that patents be useful,  the attempt to fix the law of fair basis (at least insofar as provisional specs are concerned), the new enablement requirement. Dr Summerfield seems to be on a roll, so there may well be more to come.

Comments and submissions should be provided by 4 April 2011.