FPInnov

Where do you appeal to?

The Registrar of Trade Marks has successfully applied for dismissal of ADJR Act proceedings challenging decisions to revoke registrations and the acceptance of trade marks.

The Registrar used her powers under section 84A to revoke the registration of 8 of FPInnovation’s trade marks. Then the Registrar used her powers under s 84C to revoke their acceptance. (The Group A trade marks.[1]) The Registrar also used her powers under s 38 to recoke the acceptance of four other applications. (The Group B trade marks.) According to the judgment, the decisions to revoke registration and acceptance were all based on the ground that the trade marks were likely to deceive or cause confusion, contrary to s 43.

Section 84D confers a right of appeal to the courts[2] from a decision to revoke registration under ss 84A and 84C. there is no appeal from a decision to revoke acceptance under s 38. In the normal course, however, the trade mark would go through the examination process and a decision to refuse an application would also be subject to an appeal to the courts under s 35.[3] These “appeals” of course are really hearings de novo on the merits rather than appeals proper.

FPInnovation did not choose to exercise these appeal rights: instead it sought judicial review under the ADJR Act – that is, a challenge essentially to the “procedural” soundness of the decisions.[4]

The Registrar successfully applied to have the ADJR Act proceedings dismissed under s 10(2) and s 16 on the basis that the options for “appeals” which allowed for determinations on the merits provided a more suitable and efficacious avenue for review. Cowdroy J explained the purpose of the legislative scheme:

The legislative purpose is, as Katzmann J said at [67] in 1–800-Flowers, clear. Parliament intended with respect to decisions to revoke the acceptance of applications for registration ‘that any challenges be made to the decision to refuse or limit registration, not to the anterior decision to revoke acceptance’. The intent with respect to decisions to revoke the registration of trade marks is equally as clear; that is, the affected trade mark owner should file an appeal under s 84D. Such processes are, in the words of Finn J in Wyeth Australia at [44], ‘deliberately contrived’ by the legislature. It is against this background that the Court must consider the prejudice claimed by FPInnovation.

Cowdroy J considered thar any prejudice FPInnovation suffered from any defects in the decision-making process to revoke registration and/or acceptance should be cured by the subsequent decisions on the merits. In addition:

FPInnovation contends that certain factual findings would again have to be contended for should re-examination of the trade mark applications occur. Whilst this is true, it is a necessary consequence of the process of review intended by Parliament. It also ensures that the central issue in the overall dispute between the parties is resolved, namely whether the trade marks should ultimately be registered, and as a corollary, whether those trade marks in relation to the categories for goods and services for which they were, or were proposed to be, registered are likely to deceive or cause confusion. These are questions that the Court cannot entertain on judicial review.

FPInnovation Pty Ltd v Registrar of Trade Marks [2013] FCA 826


  1. They were for marks in class 36 such as KFH, Kuwait Finance House and amislamic. (Revocation of acceptance seems at best implied by s 84C(5). So may be, it was under s 38.)  ?
  2. That is, the Federal Court or the Federal Circuit Court.  ?
  3. Given the terms of s84C(5), re-examination would seem to be mandatory on revocation under s 84A.  ?
  4. See the grounds here.  ?

Will unsuccessful opponents be estopped?

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.

 

Health World v Shin Sun – round 563?

This round of the litigation raise the question ‘Who is a person aggrieved for the purposes of seeking revocation of a registered trade mark?’

Health World isn’t, at least when it comes to Shin Sun’s registration.

Health World uses and has registrations for INNER HEALTH PLUS in respect of probiotic capsules and has a registration for ‘Pharmaceutical preparations; dietetic substances adapted for medical use; products in this class sold by pharmacies and/or health food shops including vitamins, minerals, health foods, dietary foods, Chinese and ayurvedic herbs, and nutrition bars included in class 5’.

Shin Sun uses HealthPlus for products derived from bees, their wax and/or squalene (something to do with sharks) and its Australian trade mark registration is for ‘‘pharmaceutical products including vitamins and dietary supplements’ in class 5′. Shin Sun’s registration had 4 years’ priority over Health World’s.

Health World’s opposition to Shin Sun’s application having failed, it sought revocation on the basis of prior reputation (s 60 or via s 42(b)). This failed because, while anyone could oppose on the grounds of s 60 relying on anyone’s reputation, s 88 required an applicant for revocation to be an aggrieved person and this, in turn, required that the misleading and deceptive nature of the mark sought to be revoked must affect the application for revocation in a meaningful way – the legal or practical effect test from Ritz.

Health World failed this test because its established reputation was in a rather discrete field and there was no risk of overlap with Shin Sun’s own particular, narrow field.

Health World tried a number of arguments to avoid this conclusion, particularly based on the litigious history of the parties including Shin Sun’s own oppositions and other objections to Health World’s trade mark registration. These failed, largely because Shin Sun had withdrawn the objections by the time Health World launched its revocation proceeding or Shin Sun’s actions could be characterised as defensive manoeuvres in response to Health World’s attacks.

I’m not sure what the policy objective being served here is – as the Court notes, the requirement for standing is intended to keep out mere busybodies and officious bystanders. I guess, if there is no overlap in the respective parties’ business fields, the conclusion must follow.

As an aside, the Full Court appeared to endorse the trial judge’s finding that Shin Sun’s registration  was vulnerable on the grounds that it was confusing – because the goods Shin Sun’s trade mark was used on were not Shin Sun’s but some related entities (see [18]). I’m not at all clear why that’s the case, but it seems very bizarre that a ‘confusing’ trade mark can happily be left on the Register?

Health World Limited v Shin-Sun Australia Pty Ltd [2009] FCAFC 14 (Perram J with Emmett and Besanko JJ agreeing)