Shades of green

Frucor’s attempt to register the colour green as the predominant colour applied to its “V” energy drinks has failed. The colour being applied for was not properly defined and, consequently, had not been used as a trade mark. Yet again, consumer survey results did not help.


Frucor’s application included a green swatch, copied from its New Zealand trade mark application and, in accordance with reg. 4.3(7) a written description:

The mark consists of the colour green (Pantone 376c), as shown in the representation attached to the application, applied as the predominant colour to the goods, their packaging or labels.

The fundamental problem was that the green colour of the swatch was not Pantone 376c.

What’s the trade mark

Frucor argued that the written description should be given priority over the coloured swatch as a matter of construction of the trade mark application.

Its argument was that any trader looking at the Register would realise the colour swatch was inherently unreliable due to the potential for corruption through scanning, printing etc. Consequently, anyone looking at the Register would recognise that Pantone 376c was the subject colour.

Yates J considered this analysis was informed by Frucor’s subjective intention. The matter needed to be determined objectively. Reg. 4.3 required the application to set out a representation of the mark and, in that context, r. 4.3(7) required a description of the mark “as represented”. It was the representation which was primary. At [122], his Honour concluded:

…. A person inspecting the Register is entitled to act on the assumption that the trade mark applicant’s own depiction of colour in the representation accompanying the application is accurate.

Once the person inspecting the Register appreciated there was an inconsistency between the graphic representation and the description, there was no way to resolve the disconformity.

“V” green had not acquired distinctiveness

As the application was for a single colour mark, this meant that Frucor could not possibly demonstrate its trade mark had acquired distinctiveness under s 41(6)(a), the old (or pre-Raising the Bar version).[1] At [145], his Honour explained:

As the Full Court explained in Woolworths/BP at [79], it is important to appreciate that it is the use of the mark applied for, as a trade mark, that determines what can be registered. In that connection, the Full Court emphasised that the mark that is the subject of the application for registration must conform to the mark that was, for the purposes of s 41(6), used before the filing date. Because, in the present case, the mark is defined ambiguously—its features are uncertain and cannot be determined objectively—it is not possible for Frucor to establish the factual condition of s 41(6)(a) by reference to its own particular use of “V” Green. It follows that, for that reason alone, registration should be refused in the present case.

Yates J would have rejected the application even if one assumed there was no ambiguity and the colour claimed was Pantone 376c.

Yates J accepted that Frucor’s use of “V” green was substantial, consistent and conspicuous. At [163], his Honour had “no doubt that … those familiar with Frucor’s “V” energy drinks would have associated “V” Green as the colour of Frucor’s core energy drink product.” (emphasis supplied)

Yates J held, however, that this extensive use and recognition was not use as a trade mark.[2] First, at [164] the “consistent presence” and “dominating display” of the “V” logo was what consumers would recognise as performing the function of the badge of origin for the goods.

Accepting that there could be more than one trade mark for a product, the second consideration was the role colour played in the soft drink market including energy drinks, soft drinks, sports drinks, fruit juices and bottled water.

Packaging and labels in this field are often brightly coloured. Soft drink producers used colour to denote a range of things: sometimes product flavour, more generally some “varietal characteristic”. Frucor itself had different varieties of “V” which were presented in different liveries (scroll down): red for berry flavoured, silver for sugarfree, black and also a yellow in addition to “V” green which was reserved for the “hero” of the range. So at [166]:

…. Although Frucor’s use of “V” Green was pervasive and no doubt fundamental to its whole marketing strategy, it was, nonetheless, reminiscent of its core product. In this way, Frucor’s use of “V” Green was essentially descriptive, not distinctive in the trade mark sense. It denoted the core product in the “V” energy drink range. I am not persuaded that, somehow, consumers would understand that colour in relation to the core product was being used differently to colour in relation to other varieties within the “V” energy drink range, or any differently from how colour was and is used descriptively across the range of non-alcoholic beverages sold through trade channels such as supermarkets and convenience stores.

So at [167], even though more than one trade mark could be used on any given product, the “V” green colour did not function as a trade mark.

What the market survey didn’t prove

Frucor’s evidence from a market research consultant based on two surveys did not help. His evidence showed, for example, that some 77% of the survey respondents identified Pantone 376c with a brand of energy drink and and 85% of those identified the drink as Frucor’s “V” energy drink. As a result, the expert concluded that Pantone 376c was part of Frucor’s “brand identity”, having properties that went well beyond decorative or functional attributes so that it distinguished Frucor’s products from other traders’.

The main problem was that evidence the public associated, or even identified, a particular colour with a “brand” by itself is not enough to establish that the colour is functioning as a trade mark. At [171], his Honour explained:

… evidence of an association (or, I would add, identification) of a sign, including a colour, with a particular product does not mean, without more, that the sign is functioning or has functioned as a trade mark in relation to that product. One needs to have an understanding of how the sign was used, in the proper context and setting, before that conclusion can be drawn. Moreover, the conclusion is not purely a factual one.

The last sentence in that extract points out that whether something is used as a trade mark is a legal conclusion.

If you are going to advance someone to give evidence that a colour has been used as a trade mark – as Frucor’s market survey expert purported to do, you will also need to demonstrate that the witness properly understands the legal concept. More practically, if you are trying to convert your colour into a trade mark, you need to educate your public that it is being used as your trade mark. At it’s most rudimentary level (and bearing in mind the range of other issues), can you tell your customers to “look for” you product by reference to its colour?[3]

Market survey blues

Approaching the matter in this way enabled Yates J to avoid having to deal with the numerous criticisms about the survey methodology raised by Coca-Cola. A couple of points, however, do emerge.

At [168], Yates J was sceptical that the sample used in the surveys was representative. Frucor’s expert had not bailed up survey respondents randomly in the street or at the shopping centre. Rather, as is quite common in marketing, they were drawn from a panel of people who had signed up to participate in surveys.

That criticism is all the more compelling given the second point. Yates J was not at all comfortable accepting Coca-Cola’s criticisms of Frucor’s survey methodology in the absence of support from Coca-Cola’s own expert evidence.

It does not appear that Frucor has appealed.

Frucor Beverages Limited v The Coca-Cola Company [2018] FCA 993

  1. Presumably, the same reasoning would apply under s41(3) in the “new” version.  ?
  2. At [148], Yates J recalled that this required “an understanding, from an objective viewpoint, of the purpose and nature of the use, considered in the context of the relevant trade” citing Woolworths/BP at [77].  ?
  3. See for example the evidence in Philmac about its khaki and then terracotta plastic pipe fittings leading to the conclusion at [40]. For more recent US practice see here.  ?

The word yellow is descriptive of online directories

Telstra has lost its appeal in the “Yellow” case.

The Full Court upheld the trial judge’s conclusion that the word “yellow” lacked any capacity to distinguish print or online directories under (the old version of) s 41. However, the Full Court accepted that the word “yellow” had become sufficiently distinctive of Telstra by reason of use and promotion after the date of the application that it would have been registrable if it had had some inherent capacity to distinguish.

Following the High Court’s ruling in “Oro/Cinque Stelle“, the Full Court agreed with the trial judge that the word “yellow” signifies the colour yellow and the evidence showed that the colour yellow signified print and online directories. Consequently, the word itself was descriptive. At [117], in considering the ordinary signification of the word, the Full Court said:

We would say at the outset that it was appropriate for Telstra to proceed on the basis that capacity to distinguish could not be decided by reference to inherent adaption alone even if the Court accepted all of its arguments. The word yellow describes a colour and, even without evidence, it would be appropriate to infer that at least some other traders might wish to use that colour. Furthermore, there was at the very least evidence in this case of not infrequent use of the colour yellow in connection with print and online directories.

The Full Court then considered that the evidence of use by other traders in print and online directories confirmed that consumers did in fact consider the word “yellow” descriptive of such directories. Like the trial judge, the Full Court took into account the usage of traders overseas as well as within Australia, although it may have been to support the good faith of the local traders’ use.

Survey and acquired distinctiveness – s 41(5)

If the word “yellow” had had some capacity to distinguish print and online directories, the Full Court would have allowed Telstra’s appeal that it had become sufficiently distinctive under s 41(5) by use after application. A 2008 survey (not the 2007 survey relied on by the primary judge) showed that after several years of use including millions of dollars of expenditure on advertising, at least 12% of the survey respondents identified (associated?) the word “yellow” with Telstra’s directory unprompted. A further 4%, making 16% in total, had similar unprompted association.

The Full Court distinguished British Sugar and held that would be sufficient. (The report does not disclose the terms of the question that elicited those responses.) Arguably, makes a nice contrast to the Oro/Cinque Stelle case.

What about

In dismissing a second, cross-appeal in which was found to be deceptively similar to Telstra’s Yellow Pages trade mark, the Full Court treated the domain name “accoutrement” as largely insignificant for the purposes of the deceptive similarity analysis.

The interesting point here is that the Full Court considered this may not always be the case. It was appropriate to disregard the element here in the context where the services were online directories and consumers were shown largely to disregard such elements.

The question of onus

The Full Court also seems to have resolved the ongoing disputes about the onus of proof. The Full Court held that the opponent has the onus of proving that a proposed trade mark has no inherent capacity to distinguish. It further held that that onus was on the balance of probabilities, not the practically certain standard which some courts at first instance have applied.

Telstra Corporation Limited v Phone Directories Company Australia Pty Ltd [2015] FCAFC 156 (Besanko, Jagot and Edelman JJ)

Apple can’t register APP STORE as a trade mark in Australia

Yates J has rejected Apple’s attempt to register APP STORE in Australia as a trade mark for retail store services featuring computer software provided via the internet or for use on handheld mobile devices and the like.

Apple applied to register APP STORE in Australia on 18 July 2008 for retail store services featuring computer software […] in class 35 and related services in classes 38 and 42, TM App No 1252301. The application claimed Convention priority from 7 March 2008. Apple’s “App Store” launched in Australia on 11 July 2008 – that is, one week before the application was filed – with the release of the iPhone 3G. The Registrar rejected the application on the grounds that the trade mark lacked any inherent capacity to distinguish and, there having been no use prior to 11 July 2008, it was not factually distinctive of Apple as at the claimed Convention priority date.

Yates J, as noted, has rejected Apple’s “appeal” on the basis that APP STORE is not capable of distinguishing the services specified in the application.[1] As one would expect, his Honour’s decision provides an excellent tutorial on how one should approach questions arising under s 41 including, apart perhaps from questions of onus, the new form.

The relevant date

Yates J held that capacity to distinguish fell to be assessed at the filing date of the application not, as the Registrar contended based essentially on s 72, on the priority date applicable as a Convention application. This was potentially significant as there had been no use of the trade mark at the priority date, but there had been at least one week’s use at the filing date.

Capacity to distinguish

Yates J began by pointing out that whether something has inherent capacity to distinguish depends on the occasion and circumstance. It turns on both the nature of the particular mark itself and also the nature of the particular goods or services specified in the application.[2]

To overcome the Registrar’s rejection, Apple relied on evidence from a linguistics expert, analysis of internet usage on Google Trends and in the Internet Archive and a Newspoll online survey

Apple’s primary argument was that the expression “app store” could not be fully understood by simply combining the meanings of its component parts “app” and “store”. At [88]:

…. In other words, the combination “app store” does not have a “compositional” meaning. According to him, “the compound APP STORE can only be fully?understood non?compositionally”. ….

The argument here was that, while the term “app” had been used as “clipped” form of application since 1985, that usage was restricted to specialised computer circles. In addition, the word “store” meant a physical place where one went to buy goods or services: Apple’s App Store introduced a new meaning: an online, virtual “place” where one did not so much buy things as a “licence” to use software. That is, in more traditional terms, the expression is at best “allusive” rather than directly descriptive.

On the evidence, however, Yates J found that both “app” and “store” had relevantly well-understood descriptive meanings in the relevant sense for the general public at the filing date. There was evidence at [121] – [123] that before the filing date “app” had been used in 83 articles in publications such as PC World, Technology Review, Rolling Stone and Atlantic Monthly to refer to software applications running on PCs in the Windows environment. At [181], his Honour found:

well before 2008, the word “app” had a well-established and well-understood meaning as a shorthand expression for computer software that is application, as opposed to operating, software. I do not accept that, at the filing date, this use of the word was restricted to computer experts. I am satisfied that it was the received meaning for many interested users of computer software and certainly for those involved in the trade of supplying computer programs, including by retail.

and at [190]:

I am not persuaded that the word “store”, as used in APP STORE, ushered in a new meaning of that word. On the evidence, I am satisfied that, at the time that Apple applied for the APP STORE mark, the word “store” had a well-established and well-understood meaning among traders and the general public that was not confined to the traditional notion of a physical store, but extended, as well, to an online store for the provision of goods or services.

His Honour gave as examples’s launch of its e-Books store in 2000, its software download store launched in 2001 and Apple’s own iTunes Music Store launched in 2003.

Consequently, his Honour concluded that members of the public seeking to acquire application software at the filing date would have understood APP STORE to be no more than a description of a trade channel. It had no inherent capacity to distinguish:

I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that, at the filing date, members of the public seeking to acquire application software would have understood APP STORE as no more than an expression to describe a trade channel – a store – by or through which application software could be acquired. The fact that the “acquisition” would have involved the acquisition of rights by way of licence does not, in my view, bear upon the matter.

Even if Apple was the first to use the combined expression, which Yates J does not seem to have been convinced it was, “the words in combination bore no more than their ordinary signification when applied to the designated services in Class 35.”

While his Honour drew on the Full Federal Court’s ruling in Oro / Cinque Stelle overturned by yesterday’s ruling in the High Court, these factual findings of what the terms and combined expression would mean to members of the public, unless somehow overturned, would appear to be fatal to any appeal.

Acquired distinctiveness (secondary meaning)

Yates J considered the evidence on acquired distinctiveness “opaque”. There was no real evidence about how the press releases issued with the launch of the store were used or of any other advertising or promotional steps undertaken. His Honour was prepared to accept that people had done internet searches in the week following launch of the term “app store” and “perhpas many persons” had come to associate the App Store service with Apple, but that was not enough.

The Newspoll survey

The Newspoll survey was drawn from an online pool of people who were willing to participate in market surveys for reward. It disclosed that some 65% of participants associated the term “App Store” with a particular company or brand[3] and at least 88% of those nominated Apple as the company or brand. There were at least 2 main problems with this survey. First, it was conducted in 2011 – 3 years after the relevant date – “well after the relevant period” at [223]. Secondly at [224] – [231], applying cases like Woolworths v BP and Chocolaterie Guylian, it was not enough to demonstrate that the expression APP STORE was associated with Apple; it was necessary to show the nature of that association was to identify the trade source of the product – i.e., as a badge of origin.

The ‘pro-active’ role of the Registrar

Apple criticised the active role the Registrar took in this case: going to the lengths of filing her own expert evidence in answer to Apple’s expert and relying on affidavits provided by solicitors acting for Microsoft. Such an active role is indeed unusual in such appeals. Yates J, however, did not accept that the Registrar’s role could fairly be described as “partisan”. His Honour pointed out that the Registrar is entitled to appear as a party and what role she should take when doing say would depend on the circumstances of particular cases:

In the present appeal, a large body of evidence, including expert evidence, was adduced by Apple. The Registrar was not bound to accept either the completeness or the correctness of that evidence. If, as here, there was a genuine alternative case available on the facts or evidence which materially qualified the case brought by Apple, then that alternative case could only be advanced by evidence adduced by the Registrar in the appeal, including by way of expert evidence, bearing in mind the nature of the proceeding as a hearing de novo. I do not think that the Registrar should be criticised for advancing a case for the Court’s consideration. To deny the Registrar that opportunity would be to deny the Court the opportunity to make findings on an appropriately-informed basis. This is not to encourage the Registrar, as a party to such an appeal, to make the case before the Court more factually complex or extensive than it need reasonably be or to take other than appropriately measured steps in the conduct of the litigation. Quite clearly, appropriate judgment must be exercised in considering what evidence is truly necessary, and what forensic decisions should be taken, to fulfil the Registrar’s role, which must be to take reasonable steps under the Act to protect the public interest in respect of the registration of trade marks in Australia. I do not think that the Registrar has over-stepped the mark in this case. ….

Apple Inc. v Registrar of Trade Marks [2014] FCA 1304

  1. This too was decided under the “old” form of s 41 not the new form introduced by the [Raising the Bar Act][rtb].  ?
  2. Although not referred to specifically by his Honour, this is well illustrated by “North Pole” in respect of “bananas” in contrast to, say, “Whopper” in respect of hamburgers.  ?
  3. There was considerable variation among age groups: 90% of those aged 18 to 34, 81% of those aged 35 to 49 and 60% of those aged 50 to 64.  ?

When do 4 stripes infringe 3?

adidas has successfully sued Pacific Brands for infringing its “3 stripes” trade mark through the sale of three styles of shoes with 4 stripes; but failed in respect of six other styles. Three other styles settled before action, 2 without admissions.

adidas relied on 2 registered trade marks, TM No 131325 dating from 1957 and TM No 924921 dating from 2002. (If you have been on Mars for the last 50 years) you get the basic picture from TM No 924921:

TM 924921
TM 924921

registered for “footwear including sport shoes and casual shoes” in class 25. There is also an endorsement:

Trade Mark Description: The trademark consists of three stripes forming a contrast to the basic color of the shoes; the contours of the shoe serves to show how the trademark is attached and is no component of the trademark. * Provisions of subsection 41(5) applied.*

First, accepting that the stripes played a decorative role, Robertson J nonetheless found that Pacific Brands used all the stripe combinations on the shoe styles in issue as trade marks. In reaching this conclusion, his Honour was heavily influenced at [64] by the evidence [1] that sports shoe manufacturers typically placed their trade marks on the side of the shoe. Consistently with orthodoxy, it was nothing to the point that consumers might not know which manufacturer was actually behind the product or that other trade marks such as “Grosby” also appeared on the shoe.

The Airborne Shoe illustrates why Robertson J held some styles infringed:

Airborne shoe
Airborne shoe

The fact that there were 4 stripes rather than 3 tended against a finding or infringement. However, that was outweighed by the overall impression conveyed. At [235], his Honour explained:[2]

this shoe is deceptively similar to the applicants’ trade marks. I note in particular the parallel equidistant stripes of equal width (with blue edgings) in a different or contrasting colour to the footwear, running from the lacing area to the instep area of the shoes.

In contrast, the shoes found not to infringe were all found not to convey the sense of equidistant stripes against a contrasting background, let alone a sub-set of three “parallel” stripes.[3]

Perhaps, most strikingly, the Basement style at [282] conveyed the idea of two sets of two stripes rather than three or four equidistant stripes.

Basement shoe
Basement shoe

Next, the Boston shoe:

Boston shoe
Boston shoe

did not convey the idea of a group of stripes against a contrasting background:

there are four stripes rather than three and an obvious slightly wider gap between the second and third stripes. That is the first point. I do not conclude that there are two groups of two stripes. In addition, the inclusion of panels in the shoe of a similar colour to the stripes (black or close to black), and the stitched-in element of contrasting colour (white) extending behind the stripes, mean that as a matter of impression there is no deceptive similarity with the applicants’ trade marks. There is no sufficiently clear impression of the stripes forming a contrast to the basic colour of the shoes or being a colour different from that of the article of footwear to which the stripes were applied.

The idea of four stripes with the central pair “bridged” extended through into the Apple Pie Pink style at [296]:

Apple Pie shoe
Apple Pie shoe

Robertson J also found that the Stingray Black style did not infringe:

Stingray Black shoe
Stingray Black shoe

At [305], his Honour explained:

there are four “stripes”; the stripes taper to a narrower end towards the sole of the shoe and are therefore not of equal width; the gaps between the stripes are not equal and taper towards the top of the shoe at the lacing; and the four stripes have a curved element and are therefore not parallel. The features of the applicants’ trade marks relied on by the applicants in relation to this shoe are not those which give rise to the dominant visual impression of the trade marks as three parallel equidistant stripes of equal width. This shoe does not create the visual impression of three parallel equidistant stripes of equal width.

A couple of other points

First, Robertson J did not buy adidas’ invitation to infer an intention to infringe, or at the very least “to sail too close to the wind”[4] from an alleged pattern of copying. Pacific Brands withdrew two shoe styles said to be the foundation of this pattern without any admission of liability. A third style, the Stringray boot was withdrawn with an admission, but his Honour regarded that matter as resolved.

Secondly, adidas made an interesting attempt to bolster its case on infringement by the use of a survey. The survey purported to show that some 14%, 34% and 19% of those shown three different styles “similar” to Pacific Brands’ styles identified adidas as the source of the product because of the presence of stripes.

The survey was conducted online. Each participant was shown one of four images of a leg with a shoe style on its foot. (Three were intended to be versions of Pacific Brand styles; one, the control, was unmarked.) The participants were then asked a series of questions including:

B1. Who do you think makes this shoe?

B2. Why do you say that? Please be specific and explain the reasons for your answer in question B1.

Robertson J, however, accorded the survey little weight in making his assessment. There were a variety of reasons for this. These included, first, at [196] that the showing of the images online did not sufficiently replicate or correspond to the experience of the consumer in the market place (apparently this is known as “ecological validity”). Secondly, at [205] question B1 was impermissibly leading. Thirdly, at [210]-[211] the “control leg” was inadequate for the purpose because the absence of decoration signalled to some consumers that it was not sourced from a major brand.

adidas AG v Pacific Brands Footwear Pty Ltd (No 3) [2013] FCA 905 (version with images here)

  1. Referred to at [54].  ?
  2. Likewise, the Stingray shoe at [293] and the Apple Pie at [296].  ?
  3. At [217], his Honour found these features constituted the dominant impression conveyed by the registered trade marks.  ?
  4. Invoking the well-known formulation from Australian Woollen Mills at 658.  ?

More ‘fun’ with initial interest confusion

Following last week’s post where Arnold J found Marks & Spencer liable for buying ads on the keyword INTERFLORA because of the initial interest confusion, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in the USA has heavily qualified when (perhaps that should be “if” or “if ever”) initial interest confusion can constitute trade mark infringement in the USA.

The case is 1-800 Contacts, Inc. v., Inc., 2013 WL 3665627 (10th Cir. July 16, 2013).

It involved buying ads on the keyword, 1800contacts, for contact lenses.

The 10th Circuit  upheld the trial judge’s exclusion of a consumer survey proferred by 1-800 Contacts to establish confusion. There were a number of reasons for its rejection including its flawed methodology. The 10th Circuit went on to conclude that the approximately 7% confusion shown by the survey would be insufficient to rise to trade mark infringement under US law. Accepting that each case depended on its own facts, the 10th Circuit endorsed the general proposition that:

The great weight of authority appears to be that “[w]hen the percentage results of a confusion survey dip below 10%, they can become evidence which will indicate that confusion is not likely.” 6 McCarthy § 32:189 at 32-440 (emphasis added by 10th Circuit).

One wonders whether an Australian court, which must ascertain whether a [substantial][OR a significant] number of the relevant audience might be caused to wonder, would be so robust as to conclude that 5% or 7% of the market was not a substantial (or significant) number?

Professors Goldman and Tushnet identify a range of reasons to regret the 10th Circuit’s decision not to drive a stake through the heart of initial interest confusion. Prof. Goldman does speculate, in particular, whether measuring “click-throughs” as a proxy for confusion could ever cross the 10% threshold.

WTR and new gTLDs survey

World Trademark Review is running an online survey to gauge understanding of ICANN’s proposed new gTLDS and get some insight into what people are doing to prepare for these.

If you are a trademark professional or in “marketing”, participate here.

IPRIA seminar on patent infringementi

IPRIA (Ass. Prof. Beth Webster and Kimberlee Weatherall) is holding a lunch time seminar reporting on the results of their survey of patent infringement in Australia:

  • in Melbourne on 9 June 2009; and
  • in Brisbane on 10 June,

at the Blake Dawson offices in those cities.

According to the blurb:

One of the great unknowns of patent policy is how much infringement actually goes on, and how much of that infringement leads to enforcement of an informal or formal kind. IPRIA recently conducted a representative survey of over 3700 Australian inventors in order to estimate the prevalence of (alleged) infringement and what formal and informal steps were taken to stop the copying activities. We present these findings along with a discussion of what can be done to improve the efficacy of patent enforcement in Australia.

The seminar is free of charge.

More information and links to the registration pages for each event here.

PCT survey

IP Australia calls on all Australian users of the PCT to complete WIPO’s online survey:

Australian users of the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) can make their views known by participating in a survey being run by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the body that administers the PCT. The comprehensive survey covers all aspects of the PCT from electronic filing to search and examination.

Follow the links from here.