Shape shopped

Mortimer J has dismissed Shape Shopfitters claims against Shape Australia for misleading or deceptive conduct, passing off and trade mark infringement.

Much of the focus of the decision is on the misleading or deceptive conduct claim (and will have to be the subject of a future post). This post will look at the trade mark infringement claim.

Shape Shopfitters has registered Trade Mark No. 1731525 for shopfitting, construction and advisory services relating to construction in class 37 for this trade mark:

TM No. 1731525

It alleged that Shape Australia infringed that trade mark by using these signs:

Shape Australia provided construction services, apparently on a much larger scale, but was not specifically engaged in shopfitting – sub-contracting out those parts of its jobs. Also, Shape Australia did not provide its services to the particular people who were customers of Shape Shopfitters.[1]

Mortimer J found that Shape Australia’s trade marks were not deceptively similar to Shape Shopfitters’. Her Honour considered that the imperfect recollection of the relevant public would recall not just the word SHAPE, but also its collocation with the word Shopfitters (albeit it was subsidiary) and the distinctive “bottle cap” shape of the border.

Of the four elements comprising Shape Shopfitters’ trade mark (apart from the blue colouring), Mortimer J explained:

  1. The use of capitals for the word “SHAPE” in the applicant’s Mark is, I accept, a feature likely to be recalled. In part, it is the use of capitals which is likely to make the word “shape” stick in the memory, as well as its proportionate size in the Mark. It is also correct that the word “Shopfitters” is much smaller, as is “Est 1998”. I see no basis to find that the latter phrase would be generally recalled, however I consider the word “Shopfitters” may well be recalled in conjunction with the word “SHAPE”. There is an alliterative effect between the two words, as well the positioning of “Shopfitters” underneath the word “SHAPE”. An industry participant’s eye (to take the applicant’s wider class of people) will, in my opinion, be drawn to that word as well and what is just as likely to be recalled is the phrase “SHAPE Shopfitters”, rather than just the word “SHAPE”.

As a result, the prospect that the word mark would be deceptively similar was roundly dismissed. The two devices with the word in a circle were closer, but the absence of the word Shopfitters and the difference between a circle and the “bottle cap” border were decisive.

  1. The Circle Mark and the Transparent Mark have a closer similarity, because of – in combination – the use of capitals of the word “SHAPE”, the placement of that word inside a circle, and the use of a circle itself. However, as I have set out, in my opinion even imperfectly, a reasonable industry participant of ordinary intelligence and memory is likely to recall the word “Shopfitters” in conjunction with the word “Shape”, especially because of the alliteration involved. I also consider such a person will recall the applicant’s Mark has a distinctive border that is not a smooth circle.
  2. I do not consider the evidence about several industry participants referring to the applicant as “SHAPE” affects these findings in a way which means that word would be recalled as the only essential feature of the applicant’s Mark. Rather, that evidence is evidence of the contraction of the applicant’s business and trading name in ordinary speech, and such a contraction does not necessarily carry over to what a reasonable person is likely to recall of the applicant’s Mark. It goes only to how industry participants might refer to the applicant in conversation.

Given these findings, it was unnecessary for her Honour to express an opinion on whether the registration of Shape Shopfitters’ trade mark with the blue background imposed a limitation on the scope of the registration.[2]

Mortimer J’s conclusions do not explicitly turn on the fields of activity of the respective parties, apparently a closely fought battle in the context of the misleading or deceptive conduct case. Indeed, at [258] her Honour expressly said it made no difference whether the relevant public was defined as the “buyers” of construction services or participants in the commercial construction industry.

Shape Shopfitters Pty Ltd v Shape Australia Pty Ltd (No 3) [2017] FCA 865

  1. Although Shape Australia was much larger than Shape Shopfitters, you might recall that for much of its life it had operated under the name ISIS Group Australia and had changed its name after Shape Shopfitters came on to the scene and the name of the ancient Egyptian goddess took on some rather unfortunate (to say the least) connotations.  ?
  2. Referring to s 70 read with the definition of “limitation” provided by s 6.  ?

Should Michelin’s X block Continental’s Xking?

Over at the IPKat, there is a report about a CJEU decision upholding Michelin’s opposition based on its “X” trade mark to the registration of Continental’s “XKING” mark (below on the right), both in respect of tyres.

Michelin X v Continental Xking

You should read the report, if for no other reason, than the revelation of the EU’s “scientific” approach to trade mark conflicts.

Putting to one side the peculiar procedural posture the CJEU seems to take in these kinds of ‘appeals’, Merpel quite rightly thunders about scope afforded to ‘descriptive’ marks. After pointing out that it has taken 5 years to get to this point, Merpel says:

The end result here is that one trader with a weakly distinctive trade mark for the single letter X, distinguished from the letter of the alphabet only by the merest stylisation, can prevent the registration (and potentially use) of a stylised mark XKING. It must also follow that the same trader can prevent other X-formative marks, especially if the other element is in some way laudatory (and the word “king” is hardly at the top of the laudatory scale). Might it be said that this hands too strong a right to the trader?

Merpel makes a cogent case for the rejection of the opposition. What I wonder about, however, is what is the ordinary consumer likely to recall imperfectly? Would the ordinary consumer recall the mark is just an “X” alone so that the inclusion in Continental’s mark of rather bland “KING” is sufficient to dispel any potential for confusion? Or is the putative consumer likely to be struck by the common use of the hollow (or white) X? Under our version of trade mark law, all that is required is a (significant?) number of people being caused to wonder and the nature of the recollection is explained by Latham CJ:[1]

They will compare the actual mark which they see upon goods which are offered to them with the memory of the other mark, which they will retain in a more or less distinct form… The court must endeavour to put itself in the position of ordinary purchasers of goods who have noticed a trade mark as being distinctive of particular goods, but who have not compared that mark with any other mark, and who are quite probably not aware of the fact that another more or less similar mark exists.

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If you’re really motivated, leave a comment explaining why!

  1. Jafferjee v Scarlett [1937] HCA 36; 57 CLR 115 at 122.  ?

similar to or capable of being confused with

Idameneo (No. 789) won its appeal from Symbion. The competing trade marks can be viewed here.

The Full Court agreed with the trial judge that the contractual restraint against using:

any Mark similar to or capable of being confused with any of the Trade Marks or which contain the words SYMBION

imposed a different standard to the trade mark infringement test of substantial identity or deceptive similarity. However, the Full Court did not treat it as a single over-arching test.

For the purposes of the outcome, however, the crucial point was that both companies were using their respective marks in different specialist markets. Hence it was important to consider how persons in the relevant specialist market would react to Idameneo’s sign:

  1. Here, although the Symbion registration does extend to diagnostic and imaging services, there was no evidence that the goods or services of Symbion and Idameneo would find markets in substantially common areas or among the same classes of people. To the contrary, the evidence established that each of the parties currently operated in distinct and different specialised markets. And, as we have found above, the Symbion marks, on the one hand, and the Idameneo mark, on the other, are not the same and do not closely resemble one another. Thus, although the Symbion marks had been used in the same sector as the Idameneo mark prior to the demerger in 2008 and for a time afterwards, they were always distinct and did not so closely resemble one another that there was a real risk of anyone being caused to wonder whether the respective marks identified or were associated with services that come from the same source.
  2. The parties must have intended in cl 5.5(b) that Idameneo not “use… any Mark … capable of being confused with any of” the Symbion registration or Symbion device mark as a restraint that protected Symbion’s legitimate commercial interests in those two marks themselves and the reputation and goodwill associated with them. While the Symbion device mark had been used to brand the Healthcare imaging business before the merger in 2008, by April 2010 only the Idameneo mark was used by Idameneo for all its imaging businesses, including Healthcare. Having regard to the lack of resemblance between the marks and the lack of any evidence of any possibility of confusion in the specialised markets, Symbion’s claim based on a breach of cl 5.5(b) must fail.

(emphasis supplied)

As the Court accepted that the contractual formulation must have a broader scope than the statutory test (albeit to no practical effect in this case), which formulation will you use when you are drafting a contractual restraint delimiting competing users’ respective fields of use?

Idameneo (No 789) Ltd v Symbion Pharmacy Services Pty Ltd [2011] FCAFC 164 (Rares, Gilmour and Dodds-Streeton)