Posts Tagged ‘opposition’

Trade mark oppositions (Australia)

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

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?

Friday, September 21st, 2012

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)

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

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?

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

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

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

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

Monday, May 16th, 2011

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

Sunday, March 20th, 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.

DGTEK v Digiteck I

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Lander J has upheld the Registrar’s decision to allow Bitech to register DIGITEK for

“TV installation accessories including external TV antennas, none of the foregoing being set-top boxes” in class 9

in the face of Hills’ prior registration for DGTEC, DGTEK and DGTECH in respect of

“Digital and electronic products including televisions, video players, DVD players, CD players, decoders and cameras” also in class 9.

While the competing marks were deceptively similar, they were not in respect of the same goods or goods of the same description. At [110]:

…. The goods are fundamentally different. The brown goods which comprise the Hills products are goods which are digital and electronic and provide the display to the consumer visually or audibly. Bitek’s goods are as they have said; goods which allow the brown goods to function. They provide support of varying types to the brown goods.

At [114]:

It is right as Hills contend that the goods are interdependent and they rely on each other for their functionality. However, that does not take the matter far. Whilst the goods cannot operate on their own, they are not interchangeable. They are not “commonly used as alternatives or substitutes” for each other:… They each have their uses which are quite separate and distinct even though when they are put together they assist to perform the end function: ….

His Honour also rejected argument that the goods passed through the same trade channels, distinguishing the Gallo Full Court’s finding that beer and wine were similar goods because:

[126] …. the clear impression I have is that goods of the kind under the Hills’ mark are marketed at the retail level and by direct advertising to consumers. TV installation accessories are mainly sold to professional installers at the wholesale level. A retail store may have for sale some accessories but only as a side line.
[127] Where a retail store does have TV accessories for sale it does not display them in the same manner as brown goods. Brown goods are used as the bait for consumers. Consumers want to see the product which will at least from the consumers’ point of view deliver the visual image or audible sound. TV installation accessories do not have the attraction from a sales point of view that brown goods have.
Lander J agreed with Kenny J’ ruling in McCormick that the s 60 ground of opposition could defeat an application independently of the operation of s 44(3).
However, his Honour rejected Hills’ opposition on the basis of the old form of s 60: although Hills proved it had more than $20 million of sales under its DGTECH mark of set top boxes, there was simply no proof that it had a reputation in the mark, the sales might well have resulted from the fact that Hills had a marketable product (apparently it was the only set top box in the market at the time). His Honour noted Kenny J had recognised in McCormick that it was often common to infer reputation from sales and advertising figures. It was not appropriate, however, to do so in this case:
[195] The evidence by itself does not prove any reputation at all. It may tend to prove that the goods sold under the mark are very marketable goods. In this case the goods being marketed under the DGTEC mark were set-top boxes which having regard to changes in the industry were marketable to persons who wanted to upgrade their analogue equipment.
[196] I do not think the bald evidence supports a finding of a reputation in the mark.
[197] In my opinion, the Hills’ mark had not acquired a reputation in Australia of the kind that is contemplated in s 60. The mark had only been used on set-top boxes prior to the priority date and although Hills, and previously the company, had sold in excess of $20 million worth of set-top boxes, there is no evidence that the mark under which the set-top boxes had been sold had a reputation of the kind contemplated in this section.
[198] For that reason alone, I would have dismissed Hills’ objection under s 60.

Striclty obiter

Even if Hills had established a reputation, Bitek’s mark would not have been like to deceive or cause confusion as a result of that reputation, so the old form of s 60 still would not have applied.

[208] Assuming, contrary to my opinion, that the Hills’ mark had acquired a reputation, it had only acquired, at the priority date, a reputation in respect of set-top boxes. Hills did not contend for any other reputation. If that was the case, the use of the Bitek mark in respect of its goods was not likely to deceive or cause confusion because the goods were unrelated to a set-top box. Bitek’s goods specifically excluded set-top boxes. A consumer wishing to acquire a TV installation accessory or external antenna bearing the Bitek brand would not in my opinion be likely to be confused or deceived as to the origin or provenance of those products because of Hills’ mark’s reputation in set-top boxes. For that further reason, Hills could not rely upon s 60 to defeat Bitek’s application for registration.

In case it became necessary on appeal, Lander J would have rejected Bitek’s attempt to rely on s 44(3) honest concurrent user or “other circumstances”.

Bitech failed on “honest concurrent user”  and “other circumstances” because the use occurred after the priority date.

Under “other circumstances”, Bitek sought to rely on the inconvenience it would suffer through loss of the goodwill it had built up. If it had been permissible to take use after the priority date into account under “other circumstances”, Lander J would still have rejected this:

[187] However, I would not have exercised my discretion in favour of Bitek under s 44(3)(b) even if events after the priority date were relevant for two reasons. First, because Bitek had not used the mark prior to the priority date. It did not make any sales under the brand. Secondly, its case was that its goods are not sold by reference to its mark. As Hills contended, Bitek’s case was that the consumers of its goods are unlikely to be concerned with brands because brands are unimportant with TV installation accessories.

[188] If that is so, then it seems to me that little goodwill could have attached to the brand or the mark since it has been used and in those circumstances where there is a finding under s 44(1), there would be insufficient evidence to support the exercise of discretion in favour of the applicant for registration. If Bitek is right that its consumers do not depend upon brand or mark, then little would be lost to Bitek in arranging for a mark which is not deceptively similar to the Hills’ mark.

Hills Industries Limited v Bitek Pty Ltd [2011] FCA 94

ps The decision also addresses removal for non-use and infringement issues which, in view of the length of this post, will need to be the subject of a later post.

Upholding a patent opposition on appeal

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

Adrian Crooks, at IPnow, provides his summary of Besanko J’s ruling in Aspirating IP v Vision Systems [2010] FCA 1061.

The onus on appeal from a trade mark opposition

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

If there were any doubt about it, the Full Federal Court has confirmed that the person opposing the registration of a trade mark bears the onus of proving a successful ground of opposition on appeal to the Court. (As a side note, I think this is the new Chief Justice’s first IP decision, at least since joining this Court.)

The Food Channel Pty Ltd (Channel) had applied to register TM 967804:

TM 967804

TM 967804

in class 16 for printed matter. During the application process, it assigned the trade mark application to The Food Channel Network Pty Ltd (Network). Both companies were related entities as a Mr Lawrence was the sole director and shareholder of both.

The registration of TM 967804 was opposed by Television Food Network GP (Television), a US entity. Television is the owner of TM 881666 for TELEVISION FOOD NETWORK and TM 881667, both registered in classes 9, 38, 41 and 42 and  TM938228 for services in class 41. TM 881667 and 938228 were for devices:

TM 881667

TM 938228

The Registrar rejected Television’s opposition. The trial judge, however, upheld the appeal finding that Network bore the onus of establishing it was the owner of the trade mark, had used it in good faith and that it was confusingly similar to Television’s trade marks.

The onus point

The Full Court (Keane CJ, Stone and Jagot JJ) dealt with this point quite quickly as inconsistent with the the presumption of registrability established by s 33, long standing principle and the legislative scheme.

The Full Court rejected Television’s argument that the difficulties facing an opponent attempting to establish lack of ownership (s 58) or lack of intention to use (s 59) meant that an evidential onus should shift to the applicant. While the Court appeared to accept that an evidential onus might arise under s 59 where the opponent raises a prima facie case of lack of intention, it considered the difficulties that could arise in the context of s 59 did not attend s 58 which was usually directed to showing that someone else, often the opponent, had used the trade mark first.

The not the owner point

The difficulty which Television seized on here was the assignment from Channel to Network and some evidence in chief from Mr Lawrence:

1. I am the Founder and Managing Director of Food Channel Network Pty Ltd (The Food Channel) and am authorized to make this affidavit. [Network] is based in Queensland Australia.
5. In 1996, and with the advent of pay television being developed in Australia, The Food Channel trademark was created and a logo device attached to its name. In 1997 after filing the required documentation with our then solicitors MALLESON STEPHEN JACQUES which was then AIPO – (Australian Industrial Property Organisation) and after their search of the database that was conducted, it was concluded that there was no applications [sic] that had been filed or applications that were pending for the trademark – The Food Channel. The Food Channel trademark proceeded to registration without any opposition. The Food Channel is a REGISTERED AUSTRALIAN TRADEMARK – NUMBER 733265 – The Food Channel trademark has been registered in Australia since 1997 and is registered until 2017 when it again comes up for renewal. Annexed hereto and marked annexure H. ….

Television’s argument was that Mr Lawrence defined “The Food Channel” as Network in his affidavit and deposed that it was The Food Channel (i.e., Network) which created and used the trade mark.

The trial judge had found that, the onus being on Network and it not being clear from Mr Lawrence’s evidence who created the trade mark, the ground of opposition was successfully made out.

The Full Court noted that Mr Lawrence had drawn his affidavit himself and commented:

61 The courts should be cautious to allow the legal fiction of the corporate veil to defeat registration in a case where one of a group of companies, all controlled by the same directing mind and will, used the mark prior to the other. This is particularly so where, as here, the conclusion that the words The Food Channel in Mr Lawrence’s affidavit meant Network and only Network depends on a single opening definition in an affidavit drafted by a layperson, in a case where Network was the sole respondent attempting to answer a notified ground of opposition that Network was not the owner of the mark, and where any distinctions Mr Lawrence drew between his companies were few, random and confused. In this case, this evidence does not establish that Network was the prior owner through use. It may establish that Network used the mark at a time before registration, but it doesn’t negate the possibility that Channel was, in fact, also a user (and indeed the first user) of the mark before registration. Further, there is no evidence as to how the mark was used by Network. Use needs to be in relation to the goods or services claimed; on the only evidence before the Court, there was “no set formula” with regard to use. This tends against a conclusion that any mark was used by Mr Lawrence, Network or Channel to distinguish one company’s goods from another. Finally, the requirement of prior user as a trademark is that it is used to distinguish one’s goods from another’s: if Network did use the mark, there does not seem to be evidence of an attempt to use it in such a manner as to distinguish its goods from those of Channel. And of course, it is inherently unlikely that Mr Lawrence, as the directing mind and will of both companies, would have had any such an intention.

62 To treat Mr Lawrence’s statement that Network ‘created’ and ‘used’ the mark as exclusive of permitted use by Channel is counter-intuitive, given her Honour’s observation at [77] that the “evidence …is that Mr Lawrence tended to confuse his own business interests with those of his companies, and appeared to randomly use companies and trade marks depending on the circumstances…”.

This with respect pragmatic approach may be constrasted with the very strict approach taken by a rather different Full Court in Crazy Ron at [109] – [127].

As the Full Court noted, further, to the extent there was any confusion about ownership, it fell to Television to clarify the position since the onus lay on it as the opponent.

(It would appear from the Register that TM 733265 was in fact registered by Channel and subsequently assigned to Network.)

The no intention to use point

The trial judge’s finding that Network had no intention to use the trade mark when it was filed was tied up with the confusion in Mr Lawrence’s evidence about who created the trade mark.

Mr Lawrence did give evidence that “The Food Channel” had provided recipes bearing the trade mark to butchers for distribution by the butchers to their customers. It was not clear whether or not the recipes were sold to the butchers or there was some other quid pro quo. However, the Full Court accepted that this uncontested evidence demonstrated that there had in fact been use of the trade mark in the course of trade.

Trade mark comparison

Finally, the Full Court found that Network’s trade mark was not deceptively similar to Television’s trade marks when viewed as a whole – they neither looked nor sounded similar – and having regard to the differences in the goods and services specified.

Food Channel Network Pty Ltd v Television Food Network GP [2010] FCAFC 58 (Keane CJ, Stone and Jagot JJ)