Winnebago the damages or a reasonable royalty Down Under

You will remember that Winnebago (USA) successfully sued the Knotts for passing off in Australia but (in large part because of Winnebago (USA)’s delay in asserting its rights) the Knotts had developed their own reputation in Australia and so could continue using WINNEBAGO here provided it was used with an appropriate disclaimer (here and here). The damages were to be assessed.

Now we know what the damages will be:

Knott Investments, the company that built and supplied the “Australian” Winnebagoes will have to pay a royalty calculated at 1% of its sales on all sales made from 6 years before the proceedings were started until the disclaimer was put in place.

The dealers who sold the vehicles will also have to pay a royalty of 1% on their sales in addition, but only from the date proceedings were actually commenced.

Winnebago (USA) claimed damages on the basis of a reasonable royalty. The respondents resisted. It was clear that Winnebago (USA) would never have granted them a licence and, equally, they would never have taken a licence from Winnebago (USA). In those circumstances, the respondents said, the court could not impose a royalty on the basis of an assumed agreement that would never have happened:

the applicant suffered no damage by way of a lost royalty (in effect, no lost “sale”) because the applicant would not have licensed the respondents to use the Winnebago marks in the first place.

Yates J rejected that defence and held that compensation was required to be paid on what has been called “the user principle”:

Under this principle, a plaintiff is entitled to recover, by way of damages, a reasonable sum from a defendant who has wrongfully used the plaintiff’s property. The plaintiff may not have suffered actual loss from the use, and the wrongdoer may not have derived actual benefit. Nevertheless, under the principle, the defendant is obliged to pay a reasonable sum for the wrongful use. The reasonable sum is sometimes described as a reasonable rent, hiring fee, endorsement fee, licence fee or royalty (amongst other expressions), depending on the property involved and the nature of the wrongful use.

Black CJ and Jacobson J in a copyright case in the Full Court had appeared to reject the application of that principle.[1] Yates J, however, considered the principle could and should be adopted in the context of passing off (and trade mark infringement) on the basis of a long line of English and Australian cases applying the principle in the context of trespass to real property, conversion, detinue and intellectual property infringements.[2] Otherwise, the respondents would escape liability for damages as a result of the very thing that made their conduct unlawful: the lack of consent by Winnebago (USA).

The respondents also argued that no damages should be payable because, as the Full Court found, they had a concurrent reputation in WINNEBAGO in Australia. Yates J rejected this too. His Honour considered that the existence of concurrent reputations – one which did not require a disclaimer and one which did – meant there was value in being able to use the reputation without any disclaimer. Yates J arrived at the royalty of 1% on the basis that Winnebago (USA) had granted a licence to an Australian licensee at that rate and, while various other considerations were entered into, that was an appropriate round number.

Three points in relation to the dealers.

Yates J rejected their first argument: that they should not be liable for anything as the supplier, Knott Investments would already have paid a royalty. However, the dealers’ sales of vehicles in passing off were separate wrongs to those of the manufacturer and so required separate compensation.

Secondly, while Winnebago (USA) did not submit evidence about what damages the dealers’ actions caused, it claimed a royalty of 4 or 5%. Yates J considered, in the absence of evidence, that a royalty of 1% would be consistent with that imposed on the supplier.

Thirdly, the dealers (and for that matter, the Knotts) would be liable for damages for passing off only where they acted with fraud: that is, with knowledge of Winnebago (USA)’s reputation in Australia and its desire to assert those rights here. In the absence of evidence avout what the dealers knew, Yates J considered that they could only be held to have acted with fraud once proceedings were initiated:

The difficulty for the applicant is that the evidence does not address the question of what the dealers knew or thought. Even if they might have been aware of the applicant’s activities in the United States or in other overseas markets, it does not follow that they also understood that the applicant had a reputation of any significance in Australia, let alone one that was capable of legal protection, or, more importantly, that, prior to the commencement of this proceeding, the applicant was claiming that it had rights in Australia in respect of the Winnebago marks and that the commercial activities of the first respondent and its dealers constituted an infringement of those rights. However, from the time of commencement of this proceeding, when the applicant’s claims were exposed, the position of the second to twelfth respondents was different. From that time, they were on notice of the applicant’s claimed rights. Their persistence in using the Winnebago marks after this notice constitutes fraud in the relevant sense.

The need to show “fraud” is another difference between the tort of passing off and the action for misleading or deceptive conduct under the Australian Consumer Law.

Winnebago Industries Inc v Knott Investments Pty Ltd (No 4) [2015] FCA 1327


  1. Aristocrat Technologies Australia Pty Ltd v DAP Services (Kempsey) Pty Ltd (2007) 157 FCR 564; [2007] FCAFC 40 (Aristocrat) at [27]-[28].  ?
  2. One of those cases was Bunnings Group Ltd v CHEP Australia Ltd (2011) 82 NSWLR 420; [2011] NSWCA 342, in which the leading judgment was given by Allsop P, now the present Chief Judge.  ?

Turns out, damages were payable after all

The Full Court has upheld Insight SRC’s appeal that it was entitled to compensatory damages under s 115(2) of the Copyright Act.

When ACER committed the infringements by reproducing the SOHQ, Dr Hart, the owner of the copyright, exploited it through his Insight company as an informal licensee or licensee at will.[1] As is probably not uncommon with “family” companies, the terms of the licence were so unclear Besanko J could not ascertain them. In these circumstances, Besanko J had ruled at [118]:

it is necessary to consider what action Dr Hart could have taken immediately prior to the execution of the Deed on 12 May 2011 by way of a damages claim for infringement of the copyright in the SOHQ. The possibilities are general damages under subs 115(2) and additional damages pursuant to subs 115(4) of the Act. As to the former, the difficulty for the applicants is that Dr Hart was not personally conducting a business involving the use of the SOHQ between the beginning of 2006 and 1 October 2009 and it has been no part of their case before me that Dr Hart personally would have exploited any commercial opportunities with ISV. Furthermore, Dr Hart did not claim that he could recover any such loss as the major shareholder of Insight SRC and that the Court could lift the corporate veil. On the other hand, what Dr Hart did have as the copyright owner was a right to nominal damages for infringement of copyright and a right to claim additional damages under subs 115(4). ….

ACER had used the copyright infringements to obtain contracts with ISV. It appears to have been accepted by both sides on the appeal that ISV would have had to award the contracts to Insight to be permitted to use the copyright. Bearing in mind that damages under s 115(2) are compensatory, the Full Court considered Dr Hart had suffered loss in the form of being prevented from procuring for his company the contracts ACER obtained by its copyright infringements. At [23]:

it is safe to infer that Dr Hart’s damage was the value of the loss of his ability to cause Insight to enter into a contract with ISV that would have generated the profit of $130,000 for Insight as found by the primary judge. Neither party at the trial asked his Honour to assess, as an alternative, the value of the loss of a chance to make such a contract.

From here, things get tricky. The Full Court went on to say at [24] that Dr Hart’s loss was not the royalty he would have received through the licence arrangement or the dividend he might have been paid from Insight’s profits:

An important component of this identification of what Insight’s damage would have been, is that Dr Hart wanted Insight to benefit by receipt of the profit. That is different to the characterisation urged by ACER that his damage was what might be received by him after Insight, Insight Holdings and the interposed trusts had received and made sequential distributions. Dr Hart used his efforts in exploiting the copyright to benefit Insight.

The reasoning seems to have been influenced by the proposition that a donor of a gift is entitled to recover the replacement value of the gift if it is wrongfully destroyed by another before receipt by the intended donee. (Perhaps, the real problem was that the licence arrangement was so amorphous[2] that it was not really possible to identify what fee was payable for the use of the copyright.)

In an attempt to kill off the case once and for all, the Full Court then went on to say that Dr Hart was entitled to at least $130,000 and, if the parties didn’t accept that, maybe more.

The $130,000 figure is interesting. It is the amount of profit Besanko J found ACER made on the ISV contracts it obtained by infringing the copyright. Presumably, that is the damages that Besanko J would have awarded on the basis that Insight would also have made that much profit.[3] I’m not sure why that follows but, perhaps, the Full Court had in mind that, possibly, Insight’s profit may have been higher than ACER’s as it may have had lower overheads?

Wouldn’t things have been easier if the majority in Aristocrataristocrat had agreed with Rares J’s view (and that of the English courts) that a reasonable royalty could be awarded as compensatory damages?

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


  1. Insight did not become a formal, exclusive licensee until ACER’s infringements ceased. Bit more on the ownership, assignment and additional damages questions here.  ?
  2. The Full Court described it as “the informal, oral or bare licence that he granted it, or treated it as having had before the formal, exclusive licence [was] granted”. (emphasis supplied)  ?
  3. Damages under s 115(2) being an alternative to an account of profits must be the loss the copyright owner suffered, not the profits the infringer made which is the remedy obtained through an account. See e.g. Aristocrat and Rifai.  ?

How much to pay for an infringement

Over at the Fortnightly Review, Ass. Pro. David Brennan takes issue with the economists who argued that Larrikin should not have been paid any damages for the Kookaburra infringements.

The economists’ argument seems to have been that Larrikin didn’t lose any sales as a result of Men at Works’ infringements and so suffered no loss.

Damages under s 115(2) of the Copyright Act are compensatory: that is, they are calculated to compensate the copyright owner for the loss suffered as a result of the infringement. One way to measure that may be the profit the copyright owner lost on sales which typically applies where the copyright owner and the infringer are competing in the same market. One problem with this is that the figure for lost sales must be discounted to reflect infringements by the infringer which would never have been sales made by the copyright owner. So for example in Autodesk v Cheung, the infringer gave the pirate copies away for free while the copyright owner’s genuine software programs sold for hundreds of dollars.

Another measure often used is the licence fee approach, particularly applicable where the owner exploits the copyright by licensing. So, Autodesk wanted the licence fees it would have been paid as if Cheung had taken out a distribution agreement like its other distributors. Wilcox J was not prepared to order damages at a reasonable royalty level because, as is typically the case, there was no way Autodesk would have licensed Cheung or, for that matter, that Cheung would have paid for a licence from Autodesk. In that situation, Wilcox J felt that the basis for a reasonable royalty — the price a hypothetical willing (but not overly anxious) licensor and a hypothetical willing (but not overly anxious) licensee would have struck — could not apply.

While some courts at first instance have been willing to use a ‘reasonable royalty’ as a basis, Wilcox J’s concerns have been endorsed by Black CJ and Jacobson J in Aristocrat.

It is interesting to contrast this approach with the way the courts in the UK have dealt with it. Relying on some “old” patent cases (including a House of Lords decision), the Court of Appeal in Blayney (trading as Aardvark Jewellery) v Clogau St David’s Gold Mines was willing to use a “notional royalty” as the measure of the damages. The foundation of this approach was a rejection of the idea that the only loss suffered by the copyright owner was lost profits. Thus, in Watson, Laidlaw & Co Ltd v Pott, Cassels and Williamson (1914) 31 RPC 104, Lord Shaw expressed the principle:

wherever an abstraction or invasion of property has occurred, then, unless such abstraction or invasion were to be sanctioned by law, the law ought to yield a recompense under the category or principle, as I say, of price or hire. If A, being a liveryman, keeps his horse standing idle in the stable, and B, against his wish or without his knowledge, rides or drives it out, it is no answer to A for B to say: “Against what loss do you want to be restored? I restore the horse. There is no loss. The horse is none the worse; it is the better for the exercise.

and applied it in the context of patent infringement:

If with regard to the general trade which was done, or would have been done by the Respondents within their ordinary range of trade, damages be assessed, these ought, of course, to enter the account and to stand. But in addition there remains that class of business which the Respondents would not have done; and in such cases it appears to me that the correct and full measure is only reached by adding that a patentee is also entitled, on the principle of price or hire, to a royalty for the unauthorised sale or use of every one of the infringing machines in a market which the infringer, if left to himself, might not have reached. Otherwise, that property which consists in the monopoly of the patented articles granted to the patentee has been invaded, and indeed abstracted, and the law, when appealed to, would be standing by and allowing the invader or abstractor to go free. In such cases a royalty is an excellent key to unlock the difficulty, and I am in entire accord with the principle laid down by Lord Moulton in Meters Ld. v Metropolitan Gas Meters Ld. (28 R.P.C. 163). Each of the infringements was an actionable wrong, and although it may have been committed in a range of business or of territory which the patentee might not have reached, he is entitled to hire or royalty in respect of each unauthorised use of his property. Otherwise, the remedy might fall unjustly short of the wrong.

The Meters case was referred to by Wilcox J, but it does not seem that Watson, Laidlaw was cited to his Honour.

Now, of course, the 19th century considerations of a horse owner and “borrower” seem “quaint” in the age of Gogle and P2P torrents. But is the principle really so different?

It appears that the third member of the Court in Aristocrat, Rares J, may well have been willing to adopt the Watson, Laidlaw approach, but the evidence failed to provide a basis for any “judicial” estimate.