Trade mark licensing problems

Trident Seafoods has failed to get Trident Foods’ registrations for TRIDENT removed for non-use, but only because Gleeson J exercised her Honour’s discretion against removal.

Trident Foods has had TRIDENT registered for fish and fish products in class 29 since 1973, TM No. 266,625 and, since 1983, for meat, fish, poultry and various extracts, preservatives and pickles, TM No. 400,953.

Trident Seafoods was founded in the USA in 1973. It is apparently the largest seafood distributor in North America. It uses and has registrations all round the world – except for Australia and New Zealand – the trade marks “Trident Seafoods” and a stylised logo incorporating those words. It has been marketing its products in Australia since 2007 under the trade mark “Bountiful”, but its attempt to register “Trident Seafoods” has been blocked by Trident Foods’ prior registrations. It brought an action under s 92(4)(b) to remove those blocking registrations on the grounds of non-use. The non-use period was 7 January 2011 to 7 January 2014.

There is a good chance you have, or have had, some TRIDENT condiments on your shelf, but here’s the thing. Since at least 2000, Trident Foods did not itself manufacture and sell TRIDENT branded products. The products were manufactured and sold by Manassen Foods Australia. Trident Foods claimed Manassen’s use was use as an authorised user.[1] Gleeson J, however, rejected this claim but, as noted above, decided it was appropriate to exercise the discretion under s 101(3) not to order removal.

Manassen was not an authorised user

There was no written licence agreement between Trident Foods and Manassen until 3 November 2017.[2]

In addition to that licensing arrangement, Trident Foods relied on the corporate relationship with Manassen, the involvement in their respective businesses of two common directors and Manassen’s compliance with the Bright Food Group’s quality assurance manual.

Trident Foods is a wholly owned subsidiary of Manassen (and both are members of the same corporate group, the ultimate holding company of which is Bright “Cayman Islands”). Nonetheless, Trident Foods relied on the essentially pragmatic approach applied by the Registrar:[3]

There is nothing unusual in a large company such as Henry Schein, Inc and/or its predecessors (that is “the Company” as defined earlier) incorporating a wholly owned subsidiary in order to hold its worldwide trade mark (or, for that matter, patent or other IP right) portfolio. It is very common practice” because, inter alia, it efficiently streamlines processes for the prosecution and renewal of properties in the portfolio and it avoids the need to record name changes, mergers or assignments around the world should the parent company restructure or change names.

Gleeson J rejected this. Based on the Henschke v Rosemount and the Lodestar v Campari cases, her Honour held at [84] that “control” for the purposes of authorised use required “actual control” “as a matter of substance”.

The corporate relationship between Trident Foods and Manassen did not provide that. At [100(1)]: Gleeson J explained:

The corporate relationship between Trident Foods and Manassen does not place Trident Foods in a relationship of control over Manassen; rather, the converse is the case. The commonality of directors does not, without more, permit Trident Foods to exercise control over Manassen.

Trident Foods led evidence from a Ms Swanson, one of the two directors:

We have always maintained control over Manassen from the point of view of [Trident Foods’] as we have fiduciary obligations to act in the interest of [Trident Foods]. One of the things that has been considered, at least by me, since appointment as a director of Trident, is the quality and standard of the goods being sold under [Trident Foods’] trade mark registrations. As a director of Manassen, I appreciate the high standard of the goods that are sold by this company. As such, I have never had any cause for concern regarding the damage that could occur to the TRIDENT brand owned by [Trident Foods]. If there ever was a suggestion that poor quality goods were to be sold under [Trident Foods’] TRIDENT brand, I would be empowered and authorised to prevent such an occurrence.

Ms Swanson also gave evidence that Manassen had to comply with the Bright Food Group’s vendor quality management system (the VQM Manual) which was in place to maintain quality measures over all of the Group’s brands. In addition, she participated each month in meetings of Manassen’s “Innovation Council” which decided what products Manassen would sell, including “Trident” products, and were concerned with brand valuation and impairment to ensure that the brand was performing well and to avoid devaluation.

Gleeson J considered this was inadequate to establish actual control. Trident Seafoods argued that the directors would be in breach of their fiduciary duties to Manassen if they sought to exercise quality control over its operations on behalf of Trident Foods. Thankfully, Gleeson J did not accept this in terms. Rather, it seems Ms Swanson’s evidence was insufficient because it was at the level of assertion, without demonstrating examples of control being exercised by Trident Foods. At [100] points (2) – (6), her Honour explained:

(2) Ms Swanson’s evidence is in the nature of assertion. It does not include any particular illustration of conduct by Trident Foods amounting to actual control of the use of the “TRIDENT” trade mark.

(3) The fact that Ms Swanson considered it unnecessary to give directions, whether by reason of the existence of the VQM Manual or otherwise, is not relevant to the question of whether Manassen had obligations to Trident Foods in relation to the use of the “TRIDENT” trade mark.

(4) Any control that Ms Swanson might personally exercise by virtue of her membership of the Innovations Council (which was asserted but not demonstrated) does not prove control by Trident Foods.

(5) The identification of Trident Foods as trade mark owner on products supplied by Manassen does not prove use of the trade mark under the control of Trident Foods.

(6) Assuming that the VQM Manual is owned by Trident Foods jointly with other corporate entities in the Bright Group, Trident Seafoods did not demonstrate that the VQM Manual conferred any relevant control on Trident Foods over Manassen.

Finally, Gleeson J was not prepared to find there had in fact been an unwritten licence agreement in place as claimed in the recitals to the 2017 document. The claim was inconsistent with the evidence of how things had actually operated.

It is not possible to tell from the judgment what the contents of the VQM Manual were. One must wonder, however, whether much would really be gained by requiring the directors of Trident Foods to have met and formally adopted the relevant parts of the VQM Manual (assuming there were any) as the quality standards that Manassen needed to comply with and, further, to meet formally as directors of Trident Foods and approve changes to any applicable quality standards or even to meet at regular intervals to consider whether Manassen was complying with quality standards they had prescribed. Unless a subsidiary can never exercise control of its parent or a related body corporate that was not a subsidiary, nonetheless, it would seem that level of formalism is required.

Her Honour’s approach may be compared to that of Nicholas J in Dunlop v Goodyear at [88] and [121]. Of course, in that case the trade mark was owned by the parent, not the subsidiary; there seem to have been numerous written agreements in place and some evidence of head office (i.e., the parent) issuing instructions about the business and the use of the trade marks in the business.

As already indicated, Gleeson J went on to exercise the discretion not to remove Trident Foods’ registrations. In what is already an overly long post, that and some other points of interest will have to await consideration another day.

Trident Seafoods Corporation v Trident Foods Pty Limited [2018] FCA 1490


  1. As you know, under s 7(3), authorised use of a trade mark by a person is taken to be use of the trade mark by the registered owner. And, under s 8 a person is an authorised user of a trade mark if that person uses the trade mark under the control of the trade mark owner. Section 8(3) and (4) provide that “control” may be “quality control” or “financial control”, although s 8(5) does provide that s 8(3) and (4) do not limit the meaning of “under the control of”.  ?
  2. The recitals stated that there had been an unwritten licence agreement between them since 2000 and this document reflected the parties’ wish to reduce the terms of their licence to writing. Apparently, in reliance on Film Investment Corporation of New Zealand Ltd (Receiver Appointed) v Golden Editions Pty Ltd [1994] FCA 11; (1994) 28 IPR 1 at 15; Black & Decker Inc at [147] and [148]; Allam at [430] and [431].  ?
  3. HS TM, LLC v Schein Orthopadie-Service KG [2016] ATMO 63 at [23]; heard before Lodestar, but decided afterwards.  ?

Notice and take down

If you have to send a take down notice to someone under the DMCA, send it to them and not their parent:

Prof. Goldman here; Plagiarism Today here.

Under our legislation, the notice must be sent to the carriage service provider’s “designated representative” (Reg. 20D) and the carriage service provider must publish a notice on its website prominently identifying the designated representative, and their contact details, to whom such notices should be sent: Reg. 20C.

Of course, all this begs the question, what on earth (or in cyberspace) is a “carriage service provider”? (Unhelpful) hint via s 10 of the Copyright Act, look at s 87 of the Telecommunications Act 1997.