No damages for unjustified threats

Following on from the Full Court’s warnings in Australian Mud Company v Coretell, Dowsett J has now dismissed Morellini’s claim for damages for unjustified threats. This is a short point, but it bears notice as people often come to me thinking it is enough to show there has been an unjustified threat – it isn’t, if you want monetary compensation.

Mizzi and Morellini are both in North Queensland and came up with machines for planting sugar cane. Mizzi patented his. Dowsett J found that Morellini’s machine did not infringe Mizzi’s patent and Mizzi had made unjustified threats of patent infringement. On appeal, the Full Court also ruled that Mizzi’s patent was invalid for false suggestion.

There was no dispute that Mizzi had made unjustified threats. On 5 April 2010, it had caused to be published in the Canegrower trade magazine a notice about its pending patent and an article by “Invention Pathways” about the consequences “[i]f the patent owner decides to pursue his rights ….” Then in June 2011, Mr Mizzi made oral threats to a Mr Girgenti about the use of a Morellini machine.

The problems for Morellini were essentially two fold. First, much of the evidence about people’s reluctance to deal with Morellini related to things which happened before the threats were made or in circumstances where Dowsett J could not attribute them to the actual threats as opposed to just rumours circulating in the industry:

There is no direct evidence that anybody declined to deal with Mr Morellini as a result of the threats. It seems that even before the newspaper article on 5 April 2010, there was a degree of reluctance concerning any such dealings. That reluctance cannot have been attributable to the threats. Mr Morellini has not demonstrated that any adverse effect resulted from either of the threats.

Secondly, Dowsett J accepted that damages could be available for lost sales opportunities and delayed sales, if they could be linked to the threats. However, Morellini did not provide detailed evidence about how he would have exploited his machine commercially and why he had not been exploiting it “in more recent times”. That is, Dowsett J wanted to know what was Morellini’s plan (if he had one) for exploiting his machine commercially and why he had not been doing so.

Mizzi Family Holdings Pty Ltd v Morellini (No 3) [2017] FCA 870

Now for the PLAYGO word mark

Moshinsky J has now extended the declarations and injunctions in the Playgro v Playgo proceedings to include the PLAYGO word mark, but refused orders to recall infringing products and for delivery up.

The previous decision concerned the use of the PLAYGO device. This device appeared prominently on the top and the four sides of the product packaging. In small print (6 point or 8 point) on the bottom of the packaging, the following legend was printed:

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 12.28.21 PM

Moshinsky J has now ruled that PLAYGO in the first line of that “notice” also infringed, but not the other occurrences of PLAYGO in the company names.

The respondents argued that the PLAYGO device placed prominently on the top and sides of the packaging was clearly the trade mark and would be understood by the consumers to be the trade mark. This “notice” was just a legend referring to that device. Consumers would never even see it, unless they picked the package up and looked at its underside. His Honour said at [17]:

In the present case, the word, ‘PLAYGO’ was immediately followed by the letters, ‘TM’ in superscript and the words “is a trademark of”. These are strong indicators that the word, ‘PLAYGO’ is being used as a trade mark, that is, as a ‘badge of origin’ to distinguish the respondents’ playthings from playthings made by others. While the nature and purpose of the use of the word must be considered in the context of the packaging as a whole, which includes the Playgo Device Mark on the front and sides of the box, the fact that the Playgo Device Mark is used as a trade mark does not diminish the fact, in this case, that the word, ‘PLAYGO’ in the small print is also being used as a trade mark. This case may be contrasted with cases where a word which is arguably descriptive is used in small print on the packaging and it is concluded that, in the context of the packaging as a whole, including the use of a prominent brand elsewhere on the packet, the word is not being used as a trade mark: compare, for example, Nature’s Blend Pty Ltd v Nestle Australia Ltd (2010) 86 IPR 1 at [22], [37]-[40] per Sundberg J; Nature’s Blend Pty Ltd v Nestlé Australia Ltd (2010) 87 IPR 464 at [42], [48] per Stone, Gordon and McKerracher JJ. In the present case, the word, ‘PLAYGO’ is not descriptive and the presence of the superscript letters, ‘TM’ and the words “is a trademark of” indicate use as a trade mark.

Even if the word PLAYGO in the first line of the “notice” could be seen as a legend, it would be sufficient that one of the impressions a consumer could take away from the use was that it was used as a trade mark and that was the case here.

Bearing in mind that Playgo was outside Australia (in China) and supplied its products there to retailers who imported them into Australia for sale, the injunctions Moshinsky J ordered were against supplying for sale in Australia playthings under or by reference to the PLAYGO device or in packaging bearing both the PLAYGO device and the word PLAYGO in small print on the packaging (other than as part of a company name).

The words “under or by reference to” were preferred to “use as a trade mark” as, while the latter expression is the term used in the Act, it was liable to debate and uncertainty about its scope. The use of PLAYGO in the company names was not enjoined as it was not trade mark use. In addition, his Honour was not prepared to enjoin wider uses of PLAYGO where the trial had concerned only the limited use in small print on the bottom of the packaging.

Moshinsky J refused to order Playgo to recall all unsold goods. Playgo had stopped supplying goods with the trade mark in November 2014. His Honour considered it unlikely that stocks would still be held by retailers. Even if there were, there was no evidence that Playgo had any right to require the retailers to return the products. (That of course does not mean that retailers who sell would not infringe.)

The order for delivery up was also refused. This was because any goods in Playgo’s possession or control were in China – where it was located and operated – and could be sold to places other than Australia where there might not be an infringement.

Playgro Pty Ltd v Playgo Art & Craft Manufactory Limited (No 2) [2016] FCA 478

3 stripes v 4 stripes: the remedies

4 stripes 3 stripes now the remedies

Following the decision a couple of months back that 3 of 12 Pacific Brands’s shoes had infringed adidas’ 3-stripes trade mark, Robertson J has now:

  1. made a declaration that Pacific Brands infringed;
  2. granted an injunction permanently restraining Pacific Brands from making or selling etc. 2 of the 3 shoes found to infringe;[1]
  3. awarded $20,000 damages; and
  4. ordered Pacific Brands to pay 30% of adidas’ costs.

The amount of damages was resolved between the parties. There are a couple of points of interest in the terms of the injunction and the costs order.

First, in relation to the injunction, adidas had sought an injunction which restrained Pacific Brands both in relation to the specific shoes found to infringe and also “from otherwise infringing” the 3-stripes trade mark. Robertson J refused this wider injunction. The practical reality of 9 styles either abandoned or found not to infringe served a telling warning against the injunction sought:

because, as these proceedings have shown, such an order would lack sufficient clarity and definition and the Court should not make an order in relation to conduct where a person would not readily know whether or not its proposed conduct breached the order. What is the appropriate relief must depend on the facts and on the underlying dispute and I do not derive much assistance from the form of relief granted in trade mark cases which concerned primarily words because infringements by words are generally clearer than by designs.[2]

His Honour also refused to include one of the 3 infringing styles in the order because the shoe had been taken off the market 7 years earlier and there was no sufficient risk of its reintroduction. While the other 2 infringing shoes had been taken off the market in 2009, an injunction was warranted. First, no unconditional undertaking had been given in relation to them. Secondly, while a broad undertaking had been given, his Honour considered the sale of these 2 styles after that undertaking was in place breached it. His Honour also considered that the evidence that Pacific Brands’ Global Trading division – the “division” which had sold the shoes – had been closed down was not “sufficiently cogent” to persuade him that there was no sufficient further risk of infringement.

Thirdly, the terms of the injunction extend also to authorising, directing or procuring other to make or sell the infringing shoes.

On the costs question, Robertson J considered the “old” rules which included an automatic one third reduction to the costs where less than $100,000 was recovered were applicable as the action started before the new, 2011, rules came into force. However, his Honour exercised his discretion not to apply that rule. The Federal Court was an appropriate forum to have brought the action in and damages were not the primary relief being sought. The costs were reduced, however, to reflect the degree of adidas’ success, particularly bearing in mind it had pursued 12 styles of shoe as part of an overall strategy to obtain broad injunctive relief. The little weight accorded to the survey having regard to the substantial amount of evidence it involved, in the face of Pacific Brands’ objections, was also a factor in the reduction of costs.

Adidas AG v Pacific Brands Footwear Pty Ltd (No 4) [2013] FCA 1335

  1. The terms of the injunction were:  ?

    The respondent, whether by its servants, agents or otherwise, be permanently restrained from:

    (a) manufacturing, procuring the manufacture of, importing, purchasing, selling, offering to sell, supplying, offering to supply or distributing footwear in the form depicted in any of Exhibits K or L in these proceedings, being the footwear depicted in Annexures B and C to these Orders;
    (b) authorising, directing or procuring any other company or person to engage in any of the conduct restrained by sub-paragraph (a).

  2. This may be contrasted with the typical injunction in a patent case that thou shalt not infringe the patent; leaving the infringer to run the gauntlet.  ?

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.