Pokemon v Redbubble: the DMCA doesn’t apply Down Under

Pagone J has awarded Pokémon $1 in damages and 70% of its costs from Redbubble for misleading or deceptive conduct and copyright infringement. An interesting aspect of the case is that Redbubble’s implementation of a notice and take down scheme under the DMCA didn’t save it from liability, but did influence the ruling on remedies.[1]

Redbubble provides a print on demand online market place by which artists can upload their works to the Redbubble website and purchasers can then buy the artworks or designs applied to desired products such as t-shirts, cups and the like. A person uploading a work to the marketplace warrants that he or she has the relevant intellectual property rights and indemnified Redbubble against infringement claims.

The evidence showed Google searches in which paid (sponsored) and organic search results listing “Pokémon” products such as t-shirts bearing Pokemon’s Pikachu character[2] which could be ordered from the Redbubble site. The sponsored links were paid for and arranged by Redbubble through the Google Merchant Centre and the products themselves were offered for sale through Google Shopping. From the tenor of the judgment, I think that the designs were uploaded by third parties, but Redbubble arranged the “fulfillers” who printed and shipped the t-shirts (and other products) with the designs printed on them.

Pagone J found that Pokémon owned the copyright in the images of the Pokémon characters depicted on the various products in evidence. Further, the images were uploaded without Pokemon’s consent.

Pagone J found therefore that Redbubble had infringed Pokemon’s copyright and misrepresented, contrary to sections 18[3] and 29(1)(g) and (h) of the Australian Consumer Law, that the products were official or authorised Pokémon products.

In finding that there had been misrepresentations that the products were sponsored or approved by Pokémon, Pagone J referred, amongst other things, to the fact that the “sponsored” links did include the word “sponsored” (although this meant in fact that the products were sponsored by Redbubble, not Pokemon). His Honour also found significance in the fact that:

There was nothing on the Redbubble website to inform the consumer that there was no connection, authorised or otherwise, between Redbubble on the one hand and [Pokemon] (or any other entity authorised to exploit Pokémon products) on the other.

Copyright subsistence and ownership

Pokémon was able to prove it owned the copyright in the artistic works through the evidence of its attorney responsible for obtaining copyright registration in the USA. Although the attorney, Mr Monahan, had not been personally present when any works were created, Pagone J considered his evidence sufficient. At 36, his Honour said:

…. He conceded in cross?examination that he had not stood over the shoulder of any creator and, therefore, that he did not have direct eyewitness, or other direct, knowledge beyond that gained from “detailed consultation with the client” but that “with respect to each series of the cards, [he had] consult[ed] with the client to determine which – for instance, which Japanese card they derive[d] from, or [… where] the artwork comes from”. His specific and direct evidence was that of consulting with the client to determine that the works were made by the Japanese company and were made as the Japanese card, although, as mentioned, he did not fly personally to Japan and had not been witness to the creation process. It had been his specific professional responsibility to obtain and secure registrations in accordance with lawful entitlements and requirements. He was confident in that context of his conclusion that the Pikachu work was not a copy based upon an animation cell because of his experience over many years of consulting with the client as his professional obligations and legal duties. In specific response in cross?examination about being confident in giving evidence that the pose of Pikachu was not derivative of any other pose already published, Mr Monahan said that every investigation he had done about the card making process enabled him to say that the cards were generated on their own and were not derivative of the animation, “common poses notwithstanding”.[4]

Further, unlike Perram J in Dallas Buyer’s Club, Pagone J also accepted that the certificate of copyright registration in the USA identifying Pokémon as the claimant to copyright ownership was sufficient to enliven the presumption under s 126B(3) of the Copyright Act. (Given the history of the provision recounted by his Honour, one might think this should not be too controversial: afterall, how many other countries out there have a copyright registration system?)

Copyright infringement

Pagone J then held that Redbubble had infringed the copyright in three ways. First, his Honour held that Redbubble infringed by communicating the infringing images from its website. Although the images were uploaded by third parties, Redbubble made the communication for the purposes of [s 22(6)][22]: Pagone J distinguished Redbubble’s position from that of ISPs like iiNet at [48]:

In the present case Redbubble does not provide the content of the communications in the sense of being the originator of any of the 29 images on its website said to be infringements of the Pikachu work. In each case the originator was the artist who had placed the image on the Redbubble website. Redbubble, however, was responsible for determining that content through its processes, protocols and arrangements with the artists. Redbubble’s position is not like that of an internet provider. Redbubble is the host of the website with the infringing material. It has a user agreement with artists which deals with matters including the possibility of infringing materials, an IP policy, and a team dedicated to deal with impermissible content.

Secondly, offering the products for sale online was sufficient to enliven s 38 which, amongst other things, extends to exhibiting “infringing” articles in public by way of trade.

Although there appear to have been some rather unspecific complaints about copyright infringement by Pokémon between 2012 and 2014,[5] Pagone J found that Redbubble knew, or ought reasonably have known, that the products were infringing from the date of the letter of demand from Pokémon’s external solicitors on 25 November 2015.[6]

Thirdly, Pagone J held that Redbubble had infringed Pokemon’s copyright by authorising the manufacture of the infringing products when orders for their purchase were placed.

In this respect, it is worth noting that Redbubble had implemented and acted on a notice and takedown system under the (US) DMCA.[7] Pagone J recognised, therefore, that Redbubble did not expressly authorise infringement and took conscious, considered and reasonable steps, both proactively and responsively, to prevent infringements.[8] These, however, were not enough. At [67], his Honour said:

The business established by Redbubble carried the inherent risk of infringement of copyright of the kind complained of by [Pokemon]. It is true that Redbubble sought to mitigate the risk, but it was an inevitable incident of the business, as Redbubble chose to conduct it, that there were likely to be infringements. It could have prevented them by taking other steps but for business reasons Redbubble chose to deal with the risk of infringement by a process that enabled the infringements to occur. Such infringements were embedded in the system which was created for, and adopted by, Redbubble. There may have been a sound commercial basis for Redbubble to manage the risks of infringement as it did, but in doing so it authorised the infringements which occurred.

Remedies

Pokémon sought $44,555.84 in damages by way of lost royalties for the consumer law breaches and only nominal damages for copyright infringement. As already noted, however, Pagone J awarded only $1 in total.

The evidence did not establish that sales made by Redbubble were lost sales by Pokémon. There was, for example, no evidence that many of the sales were sales of kinds of products sold by Pokémon or its licensees. For example, his Honour said:

…. Many of the items sold through the Redbubble website involved a “mash up” of images, such as the combination of Pikachu and Homer Simpson. The finding of an infringing use of a work, or an impermissible representation in trade, does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that the sale made by the infringement or upon the misrepresentation was necessarily a sale that would have been made by the wronged party. The unreliability of such an assumption in this case can be seen from the fact that the infringements were in the use of the image in mash ups in, and in items that were not sold or authorised for sale by [Pokemon]. ….

Given the notice and take down processes put in place by Redbubble, Pagone J was not prepared to find the infringements were “flagrant”, warranting the award of additional damages under s 115(4)

Pokémon Company International, Inc. v Redbubble Ltd [2017] FCA 1541


  1. Implementation and compliance with the DMCA scheme explicitly affected the ruling on additional damages.  ?
  2. Even if you haven’t played it, you must have seen all those people milling around in parks at lunchtime trying to “capture” these imaginary Pokémon Go “critters”. Pokemon itself has an even longer history. There are also trading card games and a successful television series which has been broadcast in Australia since 2000 and distributed on over 57,000 DVDs.  ?
  3. If you are not sweltering in the southern summer sun, s 18 provides “A person must not, in trade or commerce, engage in conduct that is misleading or deceptive or is likely to mislead or deceive.” And s 29(1)(g) and (h) prohibit making false or misleading representations in trade or commerce about sponsorship, affiliation or approval.  ?
  4. Curiously, at [44] (when discussing ownership by proof of a certificate), his Honour also said Pokémon had not proved ownership on the basis of authorship.  ?
  5. In fact, Pagone J subsequently found that Redbubble did in fact remove listings when Pokemon notified it that they were infringing.  ?
  6. It is less than clear from the judgment what action Redbubble took in response to the letter of demand. Ordinarily, one would assume that it had continued engaging in the infringing conduct but that seems a bit surprising given Pagone J records that Redbubble did comply with other take down notices once the subject of complaint had been properly identified.  ?
  7. The DMCA, being US legislation, does not provide protection from infringement in Australia under the Australian Copyright Act 1968. Redbubble also purported to operate under the corresponding Australian provisions ss116AA – 116AJ but, of course, it is not a carriage service provider and so they do not apply either.  ?
  8. Cf. esp. Section 36(1A)(c)[s36].  ?

Pham Global 2: the new law of substantial identity

Having ruled that Pham Global’s trade mark was invalidly registered because Mr Pham was not the owner of the trade mark when he filed the application, the Full Court also indicated a substantially expanded role for the test of substantial identity in stating that Pham Global’s trade mark was substantially identical with Insight Clinical’s.

To recap, Insight Clinical’s trade mark is on the left below while Pham Global’s is on the right:

The trial Judge had applied the well-known ‘side by side’ test explained by Windeyer J:[1]

In considering whether marks are substantially identical they should, I think, be compared side by side, their similarities and differences noted and the importance of these assessed having regard to the essential features of the registered mark and the total impression of resemblance or dissimilarity that emerges from the comparison. “The identification of an essential feature depends”, it has been said, “partly on the Court’s own judgment and partly on the burden of the evidence that is placed before it”: de Cordova v. Vick Chemical Co. (1951) 68 R.P.C. 103, at p 106. Whether there is substantial identity is a question of fact ….[2]

capped with Gummow J’s summation in Carnival Cruise:

Thus, if a total impression of similarity emerges from a comparison between the two marks, the marks are “substantially identical”: Carnival Cruise Lines Inc v Sitmar Cruises Limited [1994] FCA 936; (1994) 120 ALR 495 at [62].

Generally, courts have found that the two trade marks must be virtually identical before a finding of substantial identity will be made.

The trial Judge had applied what many would consider to be a conventional analysis in rejecting substantial identity. At [18], her Honour held:

…. Whilst both composite marks use the word “insight”, there are clear visual differences in presentation. The appearance of the words “insight” and “radiology” in the IR composite mark run into each other, are equally prominent (the same font and size) and appear all in lower case. This is quite distinct from the words in the ICI composite mark where the letter “S” is capitalised in “inSight” and the words “Clinical Imaging” are secondary and beneath “inSight” in smaller and unbolded font. The capitalisation of the word “Sight” in “inSight” has the effect of emphasising the word “Sight”. There are also distinct visual differences in the appearance and positioning of the device. The ICI composite mark has a complete inner circle and is all in green with clear lines whereas the IR composite mark does not have a complete inner circle, the outside circle is in black and the lines are different. There is not a “total impression of resemblance”. The visual differences combined with the different wording, albeit that “imaging” and “radiology” may be interchangeable in relation to the services to which the marks relate, make the marks sufficiently different on a side by side comparison.

The Full Court held that the trial Judge had erred by failing to identify the essential features in the trade marks and make the comparison based on them. At [52], the Full Court stated:

…. The required exercise of side-by-side comparison is not carried out in a factual and legislative vacuum. The purpose of the exercise is to decide if two trade marks are substantially identical, where a trade mark is “a sign used, or intended to be used, to distinguish goods or services dealt with or provided in the course of trade by a person from goods or services so dealt with or provided by any other person” (s 17). Given this context, it is unlikely that the essential elements of a mark or its dominant cognitive clues are to be found in mere descriptive elements, which are not apt to perform this distinguishing role in respect of the relevant goods or services. While this does not mean that differences, including descriptive differences, may be ignored, it does mean that the side-by-side comparison is to be carried out cognisant of the essential elements of the mark. (emphasis supplied)

The Full Court held that the essential features of the two trade marks were the words “insight” and, to a lesser extent, the circular “eye” image. The words “radiology” and “clinical imaging” were merely descriptive and the differences in the circular devices were relatively minor. At [56]:

The essential elements are the words “Insight” and the device. The word is the same in both marks. The device appears to the left of the word in both marks. While the differences which her Honour noted do exist, the dominant cognitive clues in both marks is a device which is circular in shape evoking an eye to the left of the word “Insight”, in circumstances where the other words “clinical imaging” and “radiology” are descriptive of the services offered. The importance of the visual differences which her Honour noted, and which we accept exist, must be assessed having regard to these essential elements of the marks. Once this necessary exercise is undertaken, we consider that not only is there a total impression of resemblance between the marks, but also that the differences between the marks are slight having regard to their essential elements or the dominant cognitive clues which they present.

Accordingly, the Full Court considered that Insight Clinical’s opposition to registration of the trade mark should also have succeed on the grounds that Pham Global was not the owner of the trade mark based on Insight Clinical’s prior use of its trade mark.

The Full Court’s analysis, with respect, has all the hallmarks of a deceptive similarity analysis. Given their earlier ruling that the trade mark was invalid because Mr Pham as not the owner when he applied to register it, this part of the Full Court’s decision is obiter.

For most purposes, it does not make much difference as most cases involving a comparison of marks ultimately turn on deceptive similarity.

It is (if followed), however, particularly significant in the context of ownership disputes. As Janice Luck (here and here) has noted, the Full Court’s approach gives much wider scope for the operation of s 58. It blurs the operation of the test for substantial identity with the test for deceptive similarity in ways arguably previously thought outside the scope of an ‘ownershp’ objection. In Carnival Cruise under the 1955 Act, for example, Gummow J had continued after the summation of principle quoted above:

…. The phrase “substantially identical” as it appears in s. 62 (which is concerned with infringement) was discussed by Windeyer J in The Shell Company of Australia Limited v Esso Standard Oil (Australia) Limited (1963) 109 CLR 407 at 414. It requires a total impression of similarity to emerge from a comparison between the two marks. In a real sense a claim to proprietorship of the one extends to the other. But to go beyond this is, in my view, not possible. There is, as Mr Shanahan points out in his work, p. 158, real difficulty in assessing the broader notion of deceptive similarity in the absence of some notional user in Australia of the prior mark (something postulated by s. 33) or prior public recognition built up by user (para. 28 (a)). [3] (emphasis supplied)

It means that we won’t be able to concede, or skip over, the “substantially identical with” limb of trade mark comparisons in future.

The Full Court’s explanation of the operation of s 60 will have to await a future post.

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


  1. The Shell Co. of Australia Ltd v Esso Standard Oil (Australia) Ltd (1963) 109 CLR 407 at 414; [1963] HCA 66.  ?
  2. Notwithstanding the high authority of Windeyer J’s statement, it is worth noting that Lord Radcliffe appears to have been referring to identification of essential features in the context of assessing whether or not a trade mark was likely to cause confusion or deception – the test for deceptive similarity. Thus, Lord Radcliffe rejected the appeal against the finding of infringement because “The likelihood of confusion or deception in such cases is not disproved by placing the two marks side by side and demonstrating how small is the chance of error in any customer who places his order for goods with both the marks clearly before him, for orders are not placed, or are often not placed, under such conditions. It is more useful to observe that in most persons the eye is not an accurate recorder of visual detail, and that marks are remembered rather by general impressions or by some significant detail than by any photographic recollection of the whole.” Compare de Cordova to s 10.  ?
  3. Note also the questions his Honour posed at 58.  ?

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.  ?

A couple of other points from Insight on appeal

Following on from the earlier post, the Full Court did, however, dismiss ACER’s appeals against Besanko J’s rulings that:

  1. Dr Hart owned the copyright in the SOQH, even though it was created while he was employed by the Department of Education; and
  2. The assignment of the right to sue for past infringements was valid.[1]

The ruling on the right to sue for past infringements is particularly important as it is the first substantial appellate consideration of the question. It is all the stronger because it was executed some 2 years after the assignment of copyright but Besanko J and the Full Court found there was sufficient nexus with the copyright assignment to support its validity.

Insight SRC IP Holdings Pty Ltd v Australian Council for Educational Research Ltd [2013] FCAFC 62


  1. Bit more on the ownership, assignment and additional damages questions here. ?

Mediaquest v Registrar

It turns out that the Registrar does have power to undo an assignment of a registered trade mark that has been registered wrongly.

A Mr Brailsford was the registered owner of the Peel Away trade mark for paint stripping preparations, TM No. 741047. He died in 2008.

On 23 Setember 2010, trade mark attorney McInnes filed an application to register an assignment of the trade mark to Mediaquest.

On 8 October 2010, the Registrar registered the assignment and Mediaquest became the owner of TM No. 741047.

On 12 November 2010, trade mark attorney Wilson wrote to the Registrar complaining about the registration of the assignment without notification to him and challenging it. Mr Wilson was acting for Mr Brailsford’s heirs and had been the address for service entered in the Register when the application to register the assignment was lodged.[1]

On 22 November 2010, the Registrar wrote to Mr McInness stating that the documentation relied on to establish the assignment was inadequate and so the Registrar intended to cancel the registration of assignment pursuant to s 81. Mediaquest objected to this and pointed out, amongst other things, that it had withdrawn a pending non-use action once the assignement was registered.

Further correspondence took place and, in due course, a hearing at which the delegate concluded Mediaquest had not established its entitlement to be registered as the assignee. Mediaquest appealed.

On appeal, Emmett J held that:

1 Mediaquest was not entitled to an assignment; and
2 the Registrar did have power to cancel the registration of the assignment.

Ownership

Mediaquest claimed it had an assignment from CRT. Mr Brailsford was the president and a director of CRT. Mediaquest sought to argue that his registration of TM No 741047 in Australia was in breach of his duties to CRT as a director and consequently the trade mark belonged in equity to CRT and, as a result of an assignment from CRT to Mediaquest, to it.

It seems Mr Brailsford may well have coined the mark and used it in the USA. At one point, the US mark was owned by another of Mr Brailsford’s companies, Pilgrim. In November 1992, Pilgrim assigned all its rights to Mr Brailsford and, in August 1993, Mr Brailsford assigned all his (US)[2] rights to CRT. It was after this, in 1997, that Mr Brailsford applied to register what became TM No. 741047 in Australia in his own name. In 1998, CRT applied to register a patent in the UK, identifying Mr Brailsford as the inventor and claiming entitlement through agreement with him.[3]

Emmett J found Mr Brailsford was entitled to register TM No. 741047 in his own name:

  • CRT was clearly the owner of the US trade marks;
  • both Pilgrim and CRT were creatures of Mr Bailsford;
  • while CRT was incorporated in Jersey in the Channel Islands, there was no evidence that it had ever traded anywhere other than in the USA or the UK.

At [34]:

The contention advanced on behalf of Mediaquest is that Mr Brailsford acquired the opportunity to register the Peel Away Mark in Australia by reason of his being a director of CRT. However, that can only be an inference. The circumstance that Mr Brailsford had dealings with the Peel Away mark before CRT was incorporated gives rise to a contrary inference. That is to say, it does not necessarily follow that the opportunity of registering the Peel Away mark in Australia was one that came to Mr Brailsford by reason of his being a director of CRT. Rather, an inference is at least available, and may perhaps be more easily drawn, that CRT acquired whatever opportunity it had to exploit the Peel Away Mark, and associated technology and knowhow, because Mr Brailsford chose to make it available to CRT. (emphasis supplied)

In these circumstances, his Honour concluded at [36] that the opportunity to register the trade mark in Australia did not come Mr Brailsford’s way because of his role in CRT and so CRT was not entitled to the trade mark in equity.

Power to cancel

Section [88(2)(e)] provides a power to rectify the Register on the basis that an entry in the Register “was made, or has previously been amended, as a result of fraud, false suggestion or misrepresentation.” This power, however, is conferred on the Court, not the Registrar.

Emmett J noted that under s 109 and s 110 the Registrar only had power to register an assignment of a trade mark. Whether there had been a valid assignment was a jurisdictional fact and, if there had not been a valid assignment, there was no power to register the assignment. In such a case, therefore, the Registrar had power to cancel the erroneous entry. As a result at [54]:

There was no actual assignment of the Registered Mark to Mediaquest, either from Mr Brailsford or from his executors. Accordingly, the Registrar’s decision of 8 October 2010 to record the assignment in the Register was tainted by jurisdictional error and was no decision at all. It was therefore open to the Registrar to reconsider whether the duty imposed by s 110 had been enlivened, by revisiting the question of whether there was an actual assignment or transmission of the Registered Mark to Mediaquest. Having determined that there was no actual assignment or transmission, it was open to the Registrar to take steps to cancel the earlier action. There is nothing in the Act to indicate that a decision of the Registrar under Part 10 that was affected by jurisdictional error should continue to have legal effect. Indeed the considerations outlined above suggest the contrary.

In answer to Mediaquest’s concerns about the uncertainty this would give rise, Emmett J pointed out at [56] that:

the scheme of the Act is not proprietorship by registration but registration of proprietorship. Registration under the Act is only prima facie evidence of ownership, as is provided by s 210. The registered owner is always susceptible to action being taken under Part 8 to revoke a trade mark that should never have been registered, or to substitute the true owner of the trade mark for that of a wrongful claimant. True ownership of a trade mark is a defence to infringement proceedings brought under the Act.

That is, registration was only prima facie evidence of ownership. Accordingly, all registrations were subject to an inherent level of uncertainty.

One interesting aspect of his Honour’s approach is that it does not appear to be based on the power conferred by s 81. Rather, it seems to have a much more fundamental underpinning in “jurisdictional error”.

No doubt, there is a sense here that the Court is not interested in technicalities that would force all of these types of disputes to be brought before it rather than knocked on the head in the Office. One might wonder, however, why the Registrar does not require documentation signed by the assignor as well as the assignee in the first place. This may well become more of an issue with the recordal of security interests as the Registrar’s practice is apparently to allow an interest to be recorded by the person claiming to have taken out a security interest alone.

Mediaquest Communications LLC v Registrar of Trade Marks [2012] FCA 768


  1. At the moment, as a result of Emmett J’s decision, Mr Brailsford is shown as the owner, but (presumably) Mr McInnes’ firm is shown as the address for service.  ?
  2. It is not clear from the judgment whether the agreement was in terms limited expressly to the US rights or this is an inference from the limited rights then existing.  ?
  3. The nature of the agreement is not specified in the judgment.  ?

Arbitrating IP disputes in Australia

Last year, IPwars reported on Hammerschlag J’s ruling that arbitrators under the Commercial Arbitration Acts 1984 (here and here (repealed and replaced by a 2010 Act)e.g.) can settle disputes about (1) the ownership of improvements under a technology licence agreement and (2) the licence fees payable if the technology be exploited in various ways in the future.

The arbitrator has now made an award finding that the patents owned by Lloyd or its subsidiary Solfast, the Solfast and Asura patents, were improvements covered by the licence and so should be assigned to Larkden.

Larkden has secured from Hammerschlag J orders enforcing that award and so requiring Lloyd to transfer ownership to Larkden.

Section 35 of the Commercial Arbitration Act 2010 (NSW) provides that an arbitrator’s award must be recognised and is enforceable subject to the formal requirements of s 35 and substantive grounds in s 36. The substantive grounds are:

Grounds for refusing recognition or enforcement

(1)Recognition or enforcement of an arbitral award, irrespective of the State or Territory in which it was made, may be refused only:

(a)at the request of the party against whom it is invoked, if that party furnishes to the Court proof that:

(i)a party to the arbitration agreement was under some incapacity, or the arbitration agreement is not valid under the law to which the parties have subjected it or, failing any indication in it, under the law of the State or Territory where the award was made, or

(ii)the party against whom the award is invoked was not given proper notice of the appointment of an arbitrator or of the arbitral proceedings or was otherwise unable to present the party’s case, or

(iii)the award deals with a dispute not contemplated by or not falling within the terms of the submission to arbitration, or it contains decisions on matters beyond the scope of the submission to arbitration, provided that, if the decisions on matters submitted to arbitration can be separated from those not so submitted, that part of the award which contains decisions on matters submitted to arbitration may be recognised and enforced, or

(iv)the composition of the arbitral tribunal or the arbitral procedure was not in accordance with the agreement of the parties or, failing such agreement, was not in accordance with the law of the State or Territory where the arbitration took place, or

(v)the award has not yet become binding on the parties or has been set aside or suspended by a court of the State or Territory in which, or under the law of which, that award was made, or

(b)if the Court finds that:

(i)the subject-matter of the dispute is not capable of settlement by arbitration under the law of this State, or

(ii)the recognition or enforcement of the award would be contrary to the public policy of this State.

Lloyd argued that the award in relation to the Solfast patents fell foul of s 36(1)(a)(iii) because the shares in Solfast, originally owned by Lloyd, had been transferred to GENV. Hammerschlag J found this was untenable: the transfer of shares in Solfast was void and set aside under s 267(1) of the Corporations Act. In addition, although developed by Solfast, the Solfast patents were improvements within the meaning of the licence because Lloyd had developed the patents through the medium of Solfast.

Lloyd’s second argument was predicated on s 36(1)(b)(ii) contending that some of the orders in the award were too vague and uncertain to be enforceable. This allegation included the order that Lloyd take all necessary steps to ensure that [Lardken]’s interests in the prosecution of the Assigned Patent Applications are protected and secured.

Hammerschlag J rejected this ground too. The orders were not vague and uncertain. Further, his Honour doubted they would offend public policy as not sufficiently concerning “the State’s basic notions of morality and justice”.

Larkden Pty Limited -v- Lloyd Energy Systems Pty Limited [2011] NSWSC 1331

The arbitrator.

The onus on appeal from a trade mark opposition

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)

Larrikin Merry As It Can Be

While on the subject of Mars and darkened conference rooms, Men at Work have been found to infringe Larrikin’s copyright in Kookaburra Sits on the Old Gum Tree.

It would seem (from newspaper reports) that 2 bars were a substantial part – shades of the old Colonel Bogey newsreel case.

The video on the Age’s website has the clips of every kid’s favourite folk song and that flute riff.

Richard Acland highlights the crucial comparison in a vacuum:

Even though there was evidence that the pitch, key, rhythm, melodic shape, harmony, musical sentences and context are different, Justice Jacobson found that there was nonetheless a reproduction of a substantial part of Kookaburra in Down Under. This is not to say that Kookaburra amounted to a substantial part of the pop song.

but it all seems rather academic when Jacobson J found at [111]:

Mr Hay also accepted that for a period of about two or three years from around 2002, when he performed Down Under at concerts, he sometimes sang the words of Kookaburra at about the middle of Down Under, at the point at which he reached the flute line.

Looks rather like the crucial battle was last year’s fight over whether or not the Girl Guides or Larrikin owned the copyright in the first place.

Larrikin Music Publishing Pty Ltd v EMI Songs Australia Pty Limited [2010] FCA 29

Selected microblog posts (w/e 11/09/09)

Selected microblog posts from the past week:

  • RT @VogeleLaw: Found: Mary Beth Peter’s testimony (via @cathygellis – thanks!) http://bit.ly/Cijau #gbs_hearing [US Copyright Register opposes Google Book Settlement]
  • Google Book in the EU? http://ff.im/-7OYfA
  • RT @MegLG: A Billion Dollar Test of the DMCA Safe Harbors in Viacom v YouTube http://ow.ly/om66 via Cyberlaw Cases
  • RT @michaelgeist: Microsoft wins stay of injunction on Word. Case arises from patent claim by Toronto’s i4i.http://bit.ly/oDmLU
  • IP Think Tank Blog looks at i4i v Microsofthttp://ff.im/-7zfKp
  • AAR on UWA v Gray – Universities and their employees: who owns developed IP? http://ff.im/-7RmgI
  • Hannahland: Ph D candidate on UWA v Gray http://ff.im/-7WcoR

Procul Harum: paler shade of white afterall

In its last ever IP judgment, the House of Lords restored Matthew Fisher’s claim to a declaration that he owned 40% of the copyright in Whiter Shade of Pale, after the Court of Appeal found his claim barred by delay.

IPKat has an extensive post and explanation.

As summarised by IPKat, their Lordships focused on the fact that Mr Fisher was seeking a declaration and not an injunction. In doing so, they indicated that the remedy of injunction might well not follow as opposed to damages:

If the declarations set aside by the Court of Appeal are reinstated, then, were Mr Fisher subsequently to apply for injunctive relief to prevent unauthorised use of the work, such an application would be dealt with on its merits. If the court was satisfied that it would be oppressive to grant an injunction in the particular circumstances, for instance because of prejudicial delay, it would refuse an injunction to restrain the infringement, and leave Mr Fisher to his remedy in damages …

Their Lordships also pointed out that the Copyright legislation, unlike real property, does not recognise a concept of acquisition of property by adverse possession.

Fisher v Brooker [2009] UKHL 41

In October, their Lordships (?) return as members of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom: Wikipedia here and Lord Bingham  here (pdf).