CLIPSO CLIPSAL-ed

You may not be surprised to read that Perram J has found that CLIPSO is deceptively similar to CLIPSAL for electrical goods in class 9. This had the consequence that Clipso’s registration for “CLIPSO” was expunged from the Register and CLIPSO itself was found to infringe prospectively. Clipsal’s trade mark registration for the shape of its ‘dolly switch’, however, was not infringed by Clipso’s products.

A significant issue in the case was whether Clipso’s principal, a Mr Kader, was to be believed about how he came up with the mark. Perram J found he was not. Perhaps the most interesting feature of the case, however, is the market by which the issues fell to be assessed.

Some background facts

Clipsal has registered CLIPSAL as a trade mark in respect of all goods in class 9. While it and its predecessors claim to have been using the mark since the 1920s, the registration it relied on in this proceeding dates from 1989. It currently markets some 14,668 electrical products under the trade mark and, in 2011, its annual sales exceeded $500 million. Clipsal had some 77% of the market; its nearest competitors having only 11% each. Clipsal also has a shape mark registered for the shape of its dolly switch:

Clipsal’s Dolly Switch trade mark

in respect of ‘electrical wiring accessories which incorporate a rocker switch … including dimmer switches….’

Mr Kader had been importing electrical accessories since about 2005. The CLIPSO mark came into use, however, in 2008 and Clipso achieved its registration in respect of a range of class 9 goods, principally electrical switches and the like, from October 2008.

The market by which deceptive similarity assessed

Many of Clipsal’s products, and most if not all Clipso’s, are what is known in the trade as ‘Bakelite’. These are (generally) plastic products such as switches, power points and other electrical products. A significant feature of these products is that by law they can be installed only by licensed electricians. Thus, a key plank of Clipso’s defence was the nature of its goods which, it said, were essentially bought by electrical wholesalers and electrical tradies, who were not confused by the two trade marks. CLIPSAL, it was argued, was so famous that no reasonable tradie would mistake CLIPSO for it.

Perram J began by noting trade mark authority had held that an infringer’s conduct fell to be assessed in light of its effect on ordinary purchasers of the products in suit. His Honour noted that misleading or deceptive conduct under the ACL fell to be assessed by reference to the ordinary and reasonable consumer.[1] Acknowledging that other cases may lead to different conclusions, however, in the context of this case Perram J considered that Clipso’s conduct fell to be assessed under all heads according to its impact on the ordinary and reasonable consumer.

Perram J accepted that a large part of the market for Clipsal’s products were electrical wholesalers and electrical installers. For many people having a home or office built, the issue was whether there were light switches, their positioning and number. The actual purchasing decision was left to the builder or contractor. However, Perram J found that there was a (relatively small) but not insignificant section of the general public who were interested in such matters and did take into account the trade source of the products that were being installed in their building and so specified the products they wanted their contractors to install, non-purchasing end-consumers.[2]

A key factor in his Honour’s conclusion on this point was the extent and length of Clipsal’s marketing efforts directed to the general public, not just the trade. In addition to the usual forms of advertising, this included a software program, Cipspec, which Clipsal installed in showrooms and its consultants used to work through with customers the placement and appearance of various CLIPSAL products. At [122] and [123] of his Honour’s reasons, Perram J accepted:

However, the evidence of these witnesses (the marketing director, Mr Quinn, a store manager of an electrical wholesaler, Mr Kalimnios and the electrical wholesaler, Mr Micholos) nevertheless persuades me that the applicants’ efforts in bringing end-consumers into the process as part of its supply chain strategy are likely to have had some success. The evidence of Mr Kalimnios and Mr Micholos (referred to later in these reasons) was attacked on the basis that the firm for which they worked, P&R Electrical, was not independent of the applicants. It is not surprising that an electrical wholesaler might have a substantive commercial relationship with the market leader in electrical accessories, but I would not describe such a relationship as lacking independence. In any event, I do not think that the evidence of either man was adversely affected by this matter.

One is left in the situation then that the only evidence of the success of the strategy of seeking to increase demand at the consumer end of the market is the existence of the strategy itself. Although I am prepared to accept that some end-consumers do indeed purchase switches and sockets themselves, I do not accept that generally these are the same people who are involved in, or the targets of, Mr Quinn’s supply chain strategy. As best I can surmise, they are instead a small group of people who decide to buy Bakelite products to have an electrician install them, or possibly even a smaller group of unlawful renegades who buy Bakelite products to install themselves.

His Honour was unable to quantify how significant the involvement of such end-users in the market was, but at [129] considered it was not de minimis:

… one is still left with little compelling evidence that any of the end-consumers targeted by the strategy exist beyond the strategy itself and the amount spent on it. I have no particular difficulty describing the strategy as plausible. One can well see that there are likely to be some people who care very much about what the light switches and sockets installed in their homes are to be, whilst there will be others who are benignly indifferent. Amongst the first class, it requires no great mental athleticism to see that their fascinations are likely to be with the Bakelite products at the premium end of the market. Can I infer from these observations that such a class exists and in numbers which are significant? I believe that I can and I do. The widespread fascination with home renovations in some quarters is reflected in the programming that appears on popular television every week. I do not believe that Mr Quinn’s strategy of creating demand and driving it back up the supply chain is some quixotic venture which is pointless. To the contrary, I am prepared to infer that a significant portion of persons building a new house or renovating an existing dwelling do care about which Bakelite products are used.

It was not necessary that these end-users be the people who actually bought the goods in question; it was sufficient that they gave instructions for them to be purchased such as through their contractors. The size of this segment of the market was sufficient to qualify as ‘substantial’. The relevant market, therefore, was a segmented one consisting of electrical contractors, electrical wholesalers and ‘non-purchasing’ end-consumers.

One consequence of this conclusion was that Perram J considered the parts of the market consisting of electrical contractors and wholesalers was a specialised market which would require expert evidence about the conduct and purchasing habits of people in those trade channels. That was not be the case for that part of the market comprised of end-users.

For that part of the market, Perram J went on to hold that CLIPSO was deceptively similar to CLIPSAL. Perram J considered that the two words shared the same root and had very similar pronunciation – the primary stress would fall on the first syllable and the final syllable of both words would be unstressed. There was also expert evidence that some people might perceive CLIPSO as an hypocristic” for CLIPSAL.[3]

As noted above, Clipso argued that CLIPSAL was so well-known in the trade that there would be no confusion. Perram J rejected this on several grounds. First, in the context of s 44 resort could not be had to reputation except where the mark was so well-known as to be ubiquitous and, notwithstanding its market penetration, Perram J was not prepared to find CLIPSAL fell into that exceptional category.[4] Secondly, as his Honour had already held, the market was not limited to those in the trade but also included ordinary (non-purchasing) consumers. Thirdly, there was in any event evidence from people in the trade (well, at least one) that, while they were not necessarily confused, they were caused to wonder whether there was some connection between the two trade marks.[5] Consequently, CLIPSO was deceptively similar to CLIPSAL even for the segments of the market comprised of those in the trade.

Cancellation

These findings together with Perram J’s rejection of Mr Kader’s claims about how he chose the name CLIPSO meant that the CLIPSO registration was cancelled pursuant to s 44, s 60 and s62A.

Mr Kader had claimed that he chose the name while leafing through the list of goods in class 9 in the International Classification and noticing some references to “clips”. He also claimed that he knew very little if anything about CLIPSAL when he applied to register CLIPSO. Perram J found Mr Kader was lying about this based on a number of factors including the strength of Clipsal’s position in the market, Mr Kader’s involvement in the market for at least 3 years and, amongst other things, the fact that each day his trip to work involved passing a very large CLIPSAL hoarding.

Infringement

As s 122(1)(e) provides a defence to trade mark infringement when the sign used is itself a registered trade mark and is being used in respect of the goods for which it is registered, Clipso could not in fact infringe until Perram J’s orders cancelling the registration of CLIPSO were effected on the Register. Therefore, injunctions only would be available.

However, Perram J did go on to find that Clipso’s use of CLIPSO also contravened the prohibitions on misleading or deceptive conduct under the ACL and passing off, but only insofar as the public consisted of (non-purchasing) end-consumers. As Perram J considered those actually engaged in the trade would not be misled or deceived, but only caused to wonder if there was a connection, there was no contravention in respect of those segments of the market.

Use of a shape trade mark

Perram J found that Clipso’s dolly switch very closely resembled Clipsal’s dolly switch which was depicted in its registered trade mark. Nonetheless, his Honour considered Clipso did not use its dolly switch as a trade mark. Perram J accepted that there were many shapes a dolly switch could take so that Clipso’s dolly switch was not dictated by function. Nonetheless, it was not used as a trade mark. At [154], his Honour explained:

Be that as it may, I still do not think that the first respondent was using the switch as a trade mark. Generally speaking, Clipso products were packaged in plastic sleeves emblazoned with the Clipso logo, and then placed in a cardboard box also emblazoned with the Clipso logo. There is no doubt that the word CLIPSO was being used as a badge of origin, which rather detracts from the idea that the switch located within the packaging could also have been operating as a badge of origin.

Perram J was not prepared to find that the shape of the dolly switch itself conveyed an association with Clipsal based on the sheer volume of sales of the product. This was so even though Clipsal’s packaging often included a statement that “The shape of this dolly switch is a trade mark of [Clipsal]”.

Clipsal Australia Pty Ltd v Clipso Electrical Pty Ltd (No 3) [2017] FCA 60


  1. Perram J noted that there could be subtle differences also between passing off and the ACL, but it was sufficient to proceed in this case on the basis that the same test applied for both actions notwithstanding their different bases.  ?
  2. There were also end-consumers who actually bought the products themselves, but they were considered too small a segment to qualify as ‘substantial’.  ?
  3. Apparently, this refers to the practice, particularly prevalent amongst Australians, of modifying words colloquially to suggest familiarity such as “kiddo” for “kid”.  ?
  4. Bridling at [179] – [180] against even that scope for reputation permitted by Henscke.  ?
  5. Relying on the Full Court in Vivo v Tivo.  ?

Selected links from last (couple of) weeks

Here is a selection of links to IP-related matters I found interesting this past week (or two):

Patents

Trade marks

Copyright

Not categorised

I hope you find some interesting. If you did or have a question, leave a comment or send me an email

A trade mark licence requires actual control

The Full Federal Court has held that the licensor must actually exercise control over the licensee for a trade mark licence to be a valid licence.

The decision is part of a long running global battle between WILD TURKEY and WILD GEESE. The WILD TURKEY interests own and use WILD TURKEY around the world for bourbon whiskey; the WILD GEESE interests use, or want to use, WILD GEESE around the world for Irish whiskey. Instead of the usual battle about who was first to file and whether or not WILD TURKEY was confusingly similar to WILD GEESE or vice versa, there was an unusual twist in this fight: WILD TURKEY tried an end run, tacking on to a registration for WILD GEESE WINES.

Some background

A Mr O’Sullivan QC (and his partners) had established a winery in South Australia under the name WILD GEESE WINES (WGW) in 2000. In due course, WGW set out to register their trade mark. However, the WILD GEESE interests had already registered their trade mark in Australia for whiskey. It was cited against the WGW application and in 2005, WGW brought an application against the WILD GEESE interests’ registration to remove it for non-use. The WILD TURKEY interests had also brought a non-use action against the WILD GEESE interests’ registration.

Mr O’Sullivan (and partners) quickly came to the realisation that they did not to become embroiled in the intergalactic war being waged between WILD TURKEY and WILD GEESE whiskey. Instead, in 2007 WGW assigned its trade mark application and the benefit of its non-use application to the WILD TURKEY interests in return for an exclusive licence to use the trade mark in Australia for wine.

The non-use applications against the WILD GEESE interests’ trade mark was successful and the (now) WILD TURKEY interests registered the WILD GEESE WINES trade mark for wine and spirits that WGW had assigned to them.

In a case of sauce for the goose potentially being sauce also for the turkey, the WILD GEESE interests then brought an application to remove the WGW trade mark for non-use. The WILD TURKEY interests sought to defend that claim on the basis that the use of the trade mark by WGW was authorised use under the Act and so constituted use in the relevant period by the WILD TURKEY interests[1] as registered owner sufficient to defeat the non-use application.

As the removal application by the WILD GEESE interests was filed on 27 September 2010, the three year period in which the WILD TURKEY interests had to show use as a trade mark in good faith ran from 27 August 2007 to 27 August 2010.

Unfortunately for the WILD TURKEY interests, there were a few wrinkles.

WGW produced a merlot under its trade mark in 2004. Due to adverse climate conditions, it did not produce another vintage until 2011. However, wine from the 2004 vintage was for sale (and was sold) in relatively small batches during the non-use period.

Mr O’Sullivan (and his partners) realised that a valid trade mark licence required that the licensee’s use be under the licensor’s control. To that end, Mr O’Sullivan proposed quality control ‘conditions’ for inclusion in the licence:

  • WGW’s wines had to be of sufficient quality to qualify for an export licence from the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation;
  • WGW had to supply samples of their wine to the WILD TURKEY interests if requested to do so.

Notwithstanding this, the licence arrangements did not have any practical effect on WGW’s operations and the WILD TURKEY interests never requested samples until after the WILD GEESE interests brought their non-use application.

The Registrar upheld the removal application. On appeal, Perram J considered that the Full Court’s decision in Yau Entertainment bound him to find that the possibility of control being exercised was sufficient for a valid licence and so, very reluctantly, allowed WILD TURKEY’s appeal.

The Full Court’s decision

All five judges considered that Yau Entertainment did not rule that the potential for the exercise of control by the licensor was sufficient for authorised use under the Act.

Control

Besanko J gave the leading judgment with which Allsop CJ and Nicholas J agreed.

After a detailed review of the legislative history and the case law, Besanko J concluded at [95] – [98] that “control” for the purposes of s 8 meant actual control. At [95]:

The meaning of “under the control of” in s 8 is informed by the principle stated by Aickin J in Pioneer, that is to say, that the trade mark must indicate a connection in the course of trade with the registered owner. The connection may be slight, such as selection or quality control or control of the user in the sense in which a parent company controls a subsidiary. It is the connection which may be slight. Aickin J was not saying the selection or quality control or financial control which may be slight. I think the principle stated by Aickin J informs the meaning of “under the control of” ….

His Honour acknowledged at [98] that whether there was actual control was a question of fact and degree, but “there must be control as a matter of substance.”

His Honour recognised that this conclusion was different to the conclusion reached under the Trade Marks Act 1994 by the House of Lords in Scandecor. That however was because UK law had taken a different course under the influence of EU law. Similarly, the CJEU’s decision in Ideal-Standard [2] was directed to a very different issue: exhaustion of rights.

WILD TURKEY did not actually exercise control

Besanko J went on to find that the WILD TURKEY interests did not actually exercise control over WGW’s use of the trade mark. Bearing in mind that it was a question of fact and degree, his Honour considered the most significant factor was that the licence arrangement had no practical effect on how WGW conducted itself.

At [107]:

The quality control provision in the Licence Agreement is that the wine be of a sufficient standard to obtain the approval for export of the AWBC. There was no evidence of the precise content of that standard. It was not an exacting standard as the approval rate shows (at [51] above).[3] The primary judge considered that the standard involved no more than a rejection of what he called truly undrinkable wine (at [55]). It is plain that the standard had no effect on Mr O’Sullivan’s wine making practices. He was interested in making good to high quality wine. At no time during the relevant period did [WILD TURKEY] contact Mr O’Sullivan about the wine he was making or selling or both. There was never any request by [WILD TURKEY] for samples under cl 3.1 or for the product to be supplied to the Australian Wine Research Institute under cl 3.2. [WILD TURKEY] never asked Mr O’Sullivan for any information about the use of the trade marks or Mr O’Sullivan’s wine making operations generally. There was no monitoring by [WILD TURKEY] and nothing to suggest that [WILD TURKEY] took steps to ascertain whether the terms in cl 3 were being complied with. I do not think s 8(3) was satisfied by the existence of cl 3 in the Licence Agreement.

The conditions in the licence that WGW could use the trade mark only for wine it manufactured and only on wines sold in Australia were restrictions, but they were not restrictions that went to the quality of what was produced necessary to maintain the connection in the course of trade with the (putative) licensor. At [108], his Honour explained:

…. These are restrictions but not ones like controls on quality or manufacturing process which might suggest a connection between the registered owner and the use of the trade marks in connection with the provision or dealing with goods in the course of trade. There is no evidence that [WILD TURKEY] monitored or informed itself as to whether WGW was only selling Australian wine in Australia. These requirements do not give rise to control. WGW was not permitted to amend or abbreviate the trade marks or use them in a scandalous fashion. These provisions seem to me to be standard provisions to be expected in a licence agreement for trade marks. There is no evidence of monitoring by [WILD TURKEY] of these provisions and they do not amount to control within s 8. Finally, the provision about standard liability insurance and [WILD TURKEY]’ ability to terminate the Licence Agreement for a material breach is not sufficient to constitute control under s 8 of the Act.

Thus, the use by WGW was not authorised use and the registrations for WILD GEESE for wines should be removed for non-use.

Some other points

Nicholas J agreed with Besanko J’s reasons. Nicholas J also pointed out that the use which would defeat a non-use application under s 92 had to be use as a trade mark in good faith. His Honour considered that the failure by the WILD TURKEY interests to exercise actual control over WGW would be a factor disqualifying that use from being use in good faith. As this line of attack was not actually argued by the WILD GEESE interests, his Honour did not decide the case on this basis. nonetheless at [132], his Honour said:

However, in considering whether or not the registered owner has exercised sufficient control over another person’s use of a mark so as to defeat an attack on the grounds of non-use, it is important to recognise that the boundary between “use” and “use in good faith” by the registered owner cannot be defined by a bright line. This is because the question whether there has been any use by the registered owner may itself depend on whether the control it is said to have exercised was real or genuine control as opposed to something that was merely token or colourable.

Allsop CJ agreed with both Besanko J and Nicholas J.

Katzmann J also found that authorised use required the licensor actually to exercise control over the licensee. That had plainly not happened in this case. Her Honour did accept that the WILD TURKEY interests’ request for samples in 2011 (after the non-use period and after the WILD GEESE interests had filed their non-use application) could lead to ‘a “‘retrospectant’ circumstantial inference”’[4] that control was actually exercised. But the inference that control had not been exercised was also open and, as the WILD TURKEY interests had not shown the inference they contended for was more probable than not, they would still lose. Her Honour pointed out that the wine show medals that the WILD TURKEY interests relied on to support the good quality of the wines did not survive scrutiny. The judges’ comments at the wine shows included:

Very disappointing class with no highlights. From this class it would appear to be unsuited to the region. No wines showed any varietal character or even just brightness of fruit and character.

Perhaps more importantly, there was no evidence that the WILD TURKEY interests had any idea that WGW’s wines had won any medals or whether the wine was of good, bad or indifferent quality.

Greenwood J also concurred in the result, but was not prepared to condemn the licensing arrangements between the WILD TURKEY interests and WGW in the strong terms used by the trial judge.

Wrap up

So, if you are acting for a trade mark licensor, make sure that it actually exercises control over its licensee(s). And, at least when the control relied on is quality control, make sure the control goes to the quality of the goods or services provided under the licence. The use won’t be authorised use otherwise. In that case, the licensor won’t be able to rely on it to defeat a non-use application as in this case. Even if that is not a risk, there will also be the danger that use which is not authorised use may render the trade mark deceptive and liable to cancellation.

If you have a comment or a question, please feel free to post it in the comments section. Or, if you would prefer, email me.

Lodestar Anstalt v Campari America LLC [2016] FCAFC 92 reversing Skyy Spirits LLC v Lodestar Anstalt [2015] FCA 509


  1. Section 7(3).  ?
  2. IHT Internationale Heitztechnik GmbH & Anor v Ideal-Standard GmbH & Anor [1994] 1 ECR 2789.  ?
  3. In the year ending 30 June 2010, only 40 wines out of 18,019 wines tested ultimately failed to receive export approval, and the figure in the following year was 43 wines out of 14,569 wines tested.  ?
  4. Referring to Heydon J at [76] in Gallo.  ?

Selected links from the last week

I am going to try an experiment. With the rise of “week in review” style blogposts and your day job probably means you don’t have all day to watch Twitter streaming by, here is a selection of links to IP-related matters I found interesting this week:

Patents

Trade marks

  • MACCOFFEE? We’re not lovin’ it, says General Court here

    The “Mac” family of trade marks are too well known for someone esle to register MACCOFFEE in the EU

  • “Own Name” defence in Singapore–when “honest practices” does the heavy lifting here
  • CJEU says operators of physical marketplaces may be forced to stop trade mark infringements of market-traders

    although you could contrast that to Dowsett J’s decision

  • Book Review: The law and practice of trademark transactions – A global and local outlook

Not categorised

  • Employees Bound By Clickthrough Agreements–ADP v. Lynch (USA)

Bit of a slow week in the northern hemisphere, but I hope you find some interesting. If you did or have a question, leave a comment or send me an email

Court of Appeal orders ISPs to block access to trade mark infringing websites

The Court of Appeal[1] has confirmed that the court’s general power to grant injunctions can be invoked by trade mark owners to get orders against ISPs to block internet access to website that have infringing content.

The interesting point (for Australians) is that, like Australia, UK law has a specific statutory power authorising injunctions against ISPs to block access only to websites that infringe copyright. There is no corresponding provision in the Trade Marks Act 1994 (UK). Instead, section 37(1) of the Senior Courts Act 1981 (previously the Supreme Court Act 1981) provides:

The High Court may by order (whether interlocutory or final) grant an injunction … in all cases in which it appears to be just and convenient to do so.

The IPKat has a preliminary summary here.

The main question the Court of Appeal’s decision raises for us is whether an Australian court might be persuaded to make similar orders against ISPs to block access to website which infringe trade marks (or other IP). Australian courts have powers to grant injunctions corresponding to s 37 of the Superior Courts Act.[2]

On the other hand, Parliament has also only recently introduced the specific statutory provision in the context of copyright infringement and that provision is tightly focused for policy reasons against overseas websites which have infringement as their primary focus.

And, it appears that the Court of Appeal was heavily influenced by the obligations imposed on national law by art. 11 of the EU’s Enforcement Directive to require ISPs to take steps to stop infringing activity. That specific legislated obligation does not apply here. That there may be different philosophies at play may also be seen in what appears to be the different approach in the EU to the liability of market operators for infringing conduct by stall holders.[3]

A second point emerging from a very quick skim of the 214 paragraphs is that Kitchin and Jackson LJJ held that the ISPs should be liable for the costs of implementing and maintaining the blocks. Briggs LJ dissented on this point insofar as it required the ISPs to bear the costs of complying (apart from designing and installing the software). As Jackson LJ pithily put it in agreeing with Kitchin LJ, that is “part of the price which the ISPs must pay for the immunities which they enjoy”. This may point up another difference in the legal environment: ISPs in the EU have assumed obligations to block access to websites such as those dealing in paedophilia. In addition, the safe harbours regime for ISPs applies generally, not just for copyright infringement as in Australia.

Finally, so far, there haven’t been any orders in the site blocking cases brought under s 115A yet.

If you have a comment or a question, please feel free to post it in the comments section. Or, if you would prefer, email me.

Cartier International AG v British Sky Broadcasting Limited [2016] EWCA Civ 658


  1. For England and Wales, not New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland or ….  ?
  2. Australian courts have corresponding powers: for example, s 23 of the Federal Court of Australia Act 1977 provides “The Court has power, in relation to matters in which it has jurisdiction, to make orders of such kinds, including interlocutory orders, and to issue, or direct the issue of, writs of such kinds, as the Court thinks appropriate.” There are, of course, counterpart provisions in the Federal Circuit Court Act and the State Supreme Court Acts: see Victoria and NSW.  ?
  3. Compare this CJEU decision to Dowsett J’s decision at first instance.  ?

Productivity Commission reports on IP (in draft)

The Productivity Commission has released its draft report into Intellectual Property Arrangements.

You will be startled to learn that the Productivity Commission has discovered Australia is a net importer of intellectual property. We buy more IP from the rest of the world than we sell to it. Fig. 2 in the Report indicates Australian IP earned AUD1 villion from overseas, but we paid out about AUS4.5 billion for the use of their IP. The Productivity Commission then notes that we provide surprisingly strong IP protection for a country in our position.[1] This finding guides the Productivity Commission’s recommendations which might broadly be characterised as: take the least restrictive option in terms of IP protection (where our international obligations permit).

The Productivity Commission explained its position this way:

Intellectual property (IP) arrangements need to balance the interests of rights holders with users. IP arrangements should:[2]

• encourage investment in IP that would not otherwise occur;

• provide the minimum incentives necessary to encourage that investment;

• resist impeding follow-on innovation, competition and access to goods and services. (emphasis supplied)

So, for example, after much gnashing of economists’ teeth about the (let’s face it, indefensible) term of copyright protection, the Productivity Commission considers that the appropriate term of protection is somewhere between 15 and 25 years.[3] However, what it actually recommends is rather more limited:

4.1: remove the current unlimited term of protection for published works.[4]

5.1: implement Parliament’s At What Cost? IT pricing and the Australia Tax recommendation to make it clear that it is not an infringement of copyright to circumvent geoblocking.

5.2 repeal the remaining parallel import restrictions for books.

5.3 amend the Copyright Act 1968 to replace the current fair dealing exceptions with a broad exception for fair use.

The latter two, so far, have elicited the loudest complaints here and here.[13] Meanwhile, the US’ Register of Copyrights is celebrating the first anniversary of her Fair Use Index.

18.1 expand the safe harbours to online service providers.[5]

Patents

The Productivity Commission reports that there are 120,000 active patents registered in Australia. 93% of these have been granted to non-residents. There are also 25,000 – 30,000 applications each year; of which about 60% ultimately proceed to grant.

According to the Productivity Commission, however, there are too many granted patents which do not contribute social value and are not “additional” – in the sense that they would not have been made if there was no patent protection.[6]

This needs to be remedied. However, the Productivity Commission acknowledges that international agreements put constraints on our freedom of action. There are 10 recommendations for patents.

The key recommendation for standard patents is yet another go at raising the threshold of inventive step.

an invention is taken to involve an inventive step if, having regard to the prior art base, it is not obvious to a person skilled in the relevant art.

This looks very similar to what we already have. As the Productivity Commission envisages matters, however, there are important differences. First, it reverses the onus currently expressed in s 7(2). According to the Productivity Commission, the current position is the opposite of where the onus lies in the USA, Japan, the EU and the UK (amongst others). Rather than a challenger having to prove the invention is obvious, therefore, the patentee will have to prove it is not.

Secondly, the Productivity Commission sees the current requirement that there be only a scintilla of invention being raised. The Productivity Commission sees this low threshold being reflected in the limitation on “obvious to try” being something which the skilled addressee would be directly led as a matter of course. Instead, the Productivity Commission considers that the test should be at least:

whether a course of action required to arrive at the invention or solution to the problem would have been obvious for a person skilled in the art to try with a reasonable expectation of success (as applied by the Boards of Appeal of the EPO).[7]

This change would be buttressed with appropriate comments in the Explanatory Memorandum and, additionally, the insertion of an objects clause into the Act. The latter would be intended to ensure that the Courts focused on the social objectives of the Patents Act including, in particular, the public interest.[8]

On the more colourful fronts, the Productivity Commission also recommended repeal of the abomination innovation patent and amendment of s 18 explicitly to exclude from patentable subject matter business methods and software.[9]

Pointing to analysis which estimates the net present value to R & D of the extension of term for a pharmaceutical patentat at year 10 at $370 million – of which only $7.5 million would accrue to Australia because our industry is so small – while the cost to the Australian government and consumers of the same extension of term is estimated at $1.4 billion, the Productivity Commission also wants a significant tightening up of the regime for extending the term of pharmaceutical patents. The Productivity Commission also opposes any extension of the period of data protection for therapeutic goods, including biologics.[10]

The Productivity Commission also recommends exploring raising the renewal fees payable, particularly in later year’s of a patent’s life.

Registered designs

The Productivity Commission considers the registered design system deficient but, as we have committed to it internationally and there is no better alternative, we are stuck with it.

However, continuing the net importer theme, Australia should not go into the Hague system “until an evidence-based case is made, informed by a cost–benefit analysis.”

Trade marks

I’m just going to cut and paste here: the Government should:

  • restore the power for the trade mark registrar to apply mandatory disclaimers to trade mark applications, consistent with the recommendation of the Advisory Council on Intellectual Property in 2004 (the only people that won’t support this are in the place that counts – IP Australia)
  • repeal part 17 of the Trade Marks Act 1995 (Cth) (Trade Marks Act)
  • amend s. 43 of the Trade Marks Act so that the presumption of registrability does not apply to the registration of marks that could be misleading or confusing
  • amend the schedule of fees for trade mark registrations so that higher fees apply for marks that register in multiple classes and/or entire classes of goods and services.
  • require the Trade Marks Office to return to its previous practice of routinely challenging trade mark applications that contain contemporary geographical references (under s. 43 of the Trade Marks Act). Challenges would not extend where endorsements require goods and services to be produced in the area nominated
  • in conjunction with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, link the Australian Trade Mark On-line Search System database with the business registration portal, including to ensure a warning if a registration may infringe an existing trade mark, and to allow for searches of disclaimers and endorsements.

Also, s 123 should be fixed up so that parallel importing does not infringe.

Like the rest of us, the Productivity Commission is bemused by the Circuits Layout Act and recommends implementing “without delay” ACIP’s 2010 recommendation to enable “essentially derived variety declarations to be made in respect of any [plant] variety.”

On competition policy, s 51(3) should be repealed and the ACCC should develop guidelines on the application of our antitrust rules to IP.

Innovatively, the Productivity Commission also recommends free access to all publications funded directly by Government (Commonwealth, State or Terriroty) or through university funding.

There are also at least 17 requests for further information.

If you are inspired to make a further submission, you should get it in before 3 June 2016.[11]


  1. Not much discussion here whether the best way to get more technological development is through a strong IP regime or to,scrap the IP system and fully commit to free riding.  ?
  2. Despite the tentative nature of this declaration, it is the first “Main key points”.  ?
  3. Draft finding 4.2.  ?
  4. The Government is trying to do this – see schedule 3 of the exposure draft of the Copyright Amendment (Disability Access and Other Measures) Bill (pdf).  ?
  5. See schedule 2 of the Disability Access and Other Measures bill.  ?
  6. You will have to read Appendix D to find out how the Productivity Commission works out which patents are socially valuable and “additional”.  ?
  7. The EPO cases the Productivity Commission referred to are T 149/93 (Retinoids/Kligman) (1995) at 5.2 and T 1877/08 (Refrigerants/EI du Pont) (2010) at 3.8.3.  ?
  8. Here, the Productivity Commission notes that the Full Federal Court rejected reference to the public interest in Grant.  ?
  9. Dr Summerfield tells you why he thinks that’s a bad idea over here and of course, the Europeans (including the UK in that) do not have all sorts of complications carrying out their nice, clean exclusion.  ?
  10. In an interesting departure from its overarching premise that patents do not really contribute much to innovation because there are other protections such as lead time and trade secrets, the Productivity Commission warns that reliance on data secrecy is sub-optimal compared to patent protection.  ?
  11. Bearing in mind they have to submit their Final Report to Government by 18 August 2016.  ?
  12. In between buying your books from Amazon and Bookdepository, some references to the larger economic issues affecting booksellers here.  ?

Primary Health Care is not registrable as a trade mark

You will probably not be surprised to discover that PRIMARY HEALTH CARE is not registrable as a trade mark. You may, however, be surprised that the successful challenger was the Commonwealth of Australia.

Primary Health Care Limited (PHC) applied to register PRIMARY HEALTH CARE and

Primary Health Care logo
Primary Health Care logo

in class 35 for:[1]

Medical centre business management; medical centre business administration; service provider to medical professionals, namely provider of: administrative support services, billing and invoicing services, reception and telephone answering services, patient booking services, patient file management services including management of access to patient files, typing services, account-keeping and book-keeping services, preparation of business reports, systemisation of information into computer databases, professional business consultancy, computerised file management, business and information management services, ordering services, processing of purchase orders.

What PHC did was it bought or built a building for use as a medical practice. It set up the rooms and facilities and provided the staff such as receptionists, book keepers etc. Then it contracted with medical practitioners (mostly GPs) to work from the medical centre, using the staff and facilities PHC made available to provide their services. PHC argued that it used its trade marks only in providing those services to the medical practitioners and the trade marks were not used by it in providing medical services to the medical practitioners’ patients. Thus, it said, it was not using the trade marks for medical services, only for business management and administration services – services for which the expression PRIMARY HEALTH CARE was not an apt description. At [53]:

The applicant’s case is that the Services are all to be provided to health care professionals and are not to include clinical or medical care by those professionals to patients.

This argument was predicated on PHC’s clinics/centres not being called or promoted to the public as PRIMARY HEALTH CARE centres.[2]

Jagot J rejected PHC’s contention. Her Honour accepted that PHC’s marketing was directed to health care professionals rather than the public. Her Honour also accepted that the health care professionals provided the health care services to the patient and jealously guarded their clinical independence in deciding what clinical care to provide to the patient. So PHC was not actually providing medical or health care services to the patients per se. However, it was unrealistic to treat the services PHC provided as being services provided only to the health care professionals. They were also provided to the public. Jagot J explained what her Honour had in mind by reference to the medical centre’s receiptionist – who was employed by PHC. For example at [55] – [59]:

…. the person paying for the services, the medical professional, is not the only person who receives the services or, at the least, is not the only person concerned with the services. The Services include reception and telephone answering services, patient booking services, patient file management services, information management services, billing and invoicing services, computerised file management, and ordering services, all said to be “to medical professionals”. (emphasis supplied)

Assume then a member of the public who wishes to see a GP who is contracted to and has a practice located in one of the applicant’s medical centres (leaving aside, for the moment, the issue about Idameneo and how the marks have in fact been used). The patient calls the centre and speaks to a receptionist. On the applicant’s case, in answering the call, the receptionist is providing a service only to the GP the patient might wish to see and not to the patient. This is untenable. The GP who ultimately sees the patient pays for the service but the service cannot be said to be a service to the GP only. It is also a service to the patient, the cost of which is borne by the GP, at least insofar as the GP does not seek to recoup those costs in the consultation fee. ….

As a consequence, Jagot J found:

[64] As such, the focus of the applicant’s case is off target and at odds with the evidence. The consequences of this disconnect run through every aspect of the case. First, the Services cannot be considered as if they exist in isolation because that is not how the Services are provided. Second, no matter how often the applicant repeats it, I am unable to accept that the Services are directed only to GPs and health professionals; the public and other participants in the health care sector are provided with some of the Services and are potentially concerned with all of the Services. ….

[65] … the reality is that, at least insofar as the Services are concerned, the applicant is providing services to medical professionals within its centres, to patients of those centres, and to all other participants in health care who interact with any medical professional in one of its centres. The fact that the applicant (or Idameneo) receives payment for the provision of the Services directly from the medical professional does not mean that the Services are provided only to the medical professional. Nor does the fact that medical professionals understand that they alone provide clinical or medical services to patients mean that the Services are not provided to patients. The reasoning involved seems to involve a false syllogism: (i) only medical professionals provide clinical services to patients, (ii) the Services are not clinical services, (iii) therefore, the Services are necessarily not services to patients. Propositions (i) and (ii) may be accepted, but they do not lead to proposition (iii).

Therefore, when deciding what the ordinary signification of the words PRIMARY HEALTH CARE was, the relevant public was not just the health care professionals to whom the services were promoted but all other participants in the health care system including patients and potential patients.

For the public so defined, Jagot J then went on to find that the expression PRIMARY HEALTH CARE was directly descriptive and so not inherently adapted to distinguish at all under the old form of s 41(3) or capable of distinguishing under s 41(5) or in fact distinctive under s 41(6).[3]

At first blush her Honour’s ruling that the Services were being provided to the public (other than the medical practitioners) might seem questionable because, so far as I can make out from the judgment, no member of the public (apart from the medical practitioners of course) actually sees the sign PRIMARY HEALTH CARE being used as a trade mark. For example, patients were not given bills or receipts or prescriptions with PRIMARY HEALTH CARE emblazoned on them. Nor does it seem that the receptionist (or other ancillary staff) wore uniforms with the sign on them. If keywords are not used as a trade mark because they are “invisible”, one might think that the unseen expression PRIMARY HEALTH CARE was also not being used as a trade mark for the services provided to the public. As the Commonwealth pointed out, however, PRIMARY HEALTH CARE could be used on, for example, the uniforms if the trade mark were registered. So, taking into account fair notional use renders the “invisiblity” argument untenable.[4]

Perhaps the crucial consideration is that the services being provided by the receptionist and the other “ancillary” staff are just so closely bound up with the health care services being provided by the medical practitioner to be part of those services or taking their character from the primary services being offered at the clinic. This indeed appears to be what her Honour had in mind. So for example, her Honour said at [119]:

there is an unreal distinction at the heart of the applicant’s case between the provision of the Services and the provision of clinical or medical care. The distinction is unreal because the Services are part of the overall service a patient receives when attending a medical centre and, to some extent, are also part of the medical or clinical care a patient receives. It is part of medical care that a GP be able to access clinical records for a patient. It is part of medical care to ensure new records are accessible in the future. It is part of medical care for a patient’s referral to be properly recorded, stored and managed. It is part of medical care for the centre to have available necessary medical supplies. ….

and at [121]:

in the real world context in Australia (at least) the Services are inextricably bound up with the provision of medical and clinical services by general practitioners and allied healthcare professionals, including through medical centres and medical practices – they are ‘part and parcel’ of the practice of general medicine and allied healthcare in the community, of primary health care.

That way of looking at things, with respect, seems in accord with the reasons why the Full Court in the Chifley Tower case rejected the argument that an hotel was engaged in providing property management services.

Jagot J went on to find that an additional ground for refusing registration was that the trade marks were deceptive or confusing. They were deceptive or confusing because, although they were so closely bound up with the provision of medical services, the specification of services did not include medical services. On the other hand, use of the trade marks would be congtrary to law in contravention of s 18 of the Australian Consumer Law because use of the mark misrepresented that PHC provided medical services and further that PHC was responsible for the medical services provided by the medical practitioners at the centres.

Primary Health Care Limited v Commonwealth of Australia [2016] FCA 313 (Jagot J)


  1. The “Services”. In the course of the proceeding the specification of services went through a number of revisions. This is just the starting one, but it indicates the nature of what PHC wanted registration for.  ?
  2. There was a factual dispute whether PHC used PRIMARY HEALTH CARE as the name of 3 or 7 of its medical centres, but this seems to have been regarded as essentially de minimis.  ?
  3. Putting a simple box around the words didn’t improve matters.  ?
  4. This led PHC in one of its revised specifications of services to seek to “disclaim” such use under s33(2) and s 55(1)(b).  ?

Keywords Are Not Trade Mark Use

Katzmann J “gets” the Internet and helps to bring Australian trade mark law well and truly into the 21st century: buying keywords for search engine advertising is not trade mark use. some instances of the use of the trade mark in the sponsored links, however, did infringe.

Malouf is business which helps people who get a bad credit report repair or correct that report.

Veda is a credit reporting agency. Amongst other things, it has registered VEDA in class 36 as a trade mark for:

Financial services; provision of credit risk, financial and asset information and reports; credit scoring and risk assessment services; information provision, advice, research, appraisal, analysis, credit enquiry and consultation ….[1]

Malouf bought advertisements for its business on Google search results pages using the Google AdWords program. Through that program, the advertiser selects terms – keywords – for which, when someone does a “Google” search including one of those keywords, they will pay to have their advertisement appear as an advertisement – a sponsored result – in the search results pages.[2] The keywords Malouf chose included VEDA and 85 other terms using it such as “contact veda”, “veda credit score” etc. Mr Malouf explained his strategy:

So, with Veda approximately anywhere from 20 to 40 per cent — which is published on their website — of people may have an adverse credit history with a credit reporting body. A lot of them don’t know that they’ve got bad credit. So, potentially, one in five customers that are trying to contact Veda may be our target market. … [W]e want to have our ad showing up — anyone trying to contact Veda — because, potentially, one in five of those customers may be wanting to fix their credit file.

Over time, the advertisements Malouf paid to place took 3 forms. Until October 2014, they were along the lines of these sponsored links:

Malouf Sponsored Link type 1
Malouf Sponsored Link type 1

After September/October 2014, the sponsored links did not feature “Veda” in the text.

This gave rise to two main issues: (1) did the use of “keywords” infringe and (2) did the uses in the actual advertisements (sponsored links) infringe?

Keywords

Katzmann J held that Malouf’s “purchase” of keywords using VEDA did not infringe Veda’s trade marks.[3] It was not use as a trade mark. Her Honour gave 3 reasons:

First, all Malouf did was select the keywords and provide them to Google. In doing that, objectively, it was not using the words to distinguish its services from those of other providers. “Rather, it has used them to identify internet users who may have an interest in using [Malouf’s] services.”

Second, anyone could acquire the keywords, not just Malouf. This was not determinative, but it was a consideration. What it meant was that anyone, including any of Malouf’s competitors could also “buy” the same keyword(s). Thus, the keywords were not performing the function of a trade mark: distinguishing (identifying) the trade source to the exclusion of all others.

Thirdly, and perhaps most significantly, the keywords were invisible to consumers. Katzmann J explained:

… the proposition that using words which are invisible and inaudible, indeed imperceptible, to consumers is using them as a trade mark makes no sense. How could the keywords be understood to be used to distinguish the services of one trader from those of another when the keywords are indiscernible? How could it appear to consumers that, by Malouf’s designation of the Veda keywords to Google, the words are used to denote a connection in the course of trade between Malouf’s services and the services provided by another trader, or to distinguish its services from the services of others, when the consumers have not seen or otherwise perceived the keywords?

Also, when the consumer did not search on the term VEDA alone, how would he or she know which term(s) generated the search results?

At this point, Veda relied on Accor. Katzmann J, however, pointed out, first, that Accor involved metatags, not keywords. More significantly, her Honour noted Accor was inconsistent with Kenny J’s ruling in Complete Technology where Kenny J had said:

I do not accept that the use of any of CTI’s Registered Trade Marks in Green Energy’s metatags would constitute a trade mark infringement for the purposes of s 120(1). Metatags are invisible to the ordinary internet user, although their use will direct the user to (amongst other websites) Green Energy’s website. Once at the Green Energy website, then, in the ordinary course, the internet user will be made aware that the website is concerned with Green Energy’s services. It cannot, therefore, be said that the use in a metatag of CTI’s Registered Trade Marks is a use that indicates the origin of Green Energy’s services.Thus, metatag use is not use as a trade mark …. (emphasis supplied by Katzmann J)

Katzmann J agreed with Kenny J’s analysis.

Katzmann J then rejected Veda’s reliance on 2 New Zealand cases and the CJEU’s decision in Google France. They were decisions in a different context and, in any event, the English courts since Google France had held that keywords did not infringe.

Sponsored links

Whether the sponsored links which used Veda in their text infringed turned on the nature of the actual use.

Malouf had used expressions like[4] “Clean Your Veda File”, “Fix My Veda History”, “Get Your Veda Report File”, “Veda Credit File Repairs”, but also “The Veda Report Centre” and “The Veda-Report Centre”.

Katzmann J held that the uses like “Clean Your Veda File” were descriptive and used in a descriptive rather thant trade mark sense:

In all but the advertisements featuring “The Veda Report Centre”, I am not satisfied that Malouf has used the Veda Trade Marks as trade marks. Rather, it seems to me that they have been used to describe the object to which its services are directed — fixing, cleaning or repairing Veda credit files or reports — not as a badge of the origin of its business and therefore not as a trade mark. …. the Veda Trade Marks have not been used by Malouf to distinguish its services from those provided by others but to describe the kind or character of the services it provides. ….

The Veda Report Centre, however, was a different case. That was used as a badge of origin to market the Malouf business under the Veda name.

The second conclusion seems to me, with respect, uncontroversial. I also personally agree with the first conclusion that the descriptive uses were not infringements too. In the “old days”, that would have been beyond controversy as the case law clearly established that use of the trade mark Yeastvite in an expression such as “Substitute for Yeastvite” was not use as a trade mark – use of a registered trade mark to refer to the products which the trade mark owner marked with the trade mark was not trade mark use. What the North Americans call “nominative fair use”.

The wrinkle here is that, with the introduction of s 123 into the Act, the High Court has left open the question whether that “old” law is still “good” law.[5] Following that, a number of Full Courts – in which the question did not arise because the goods in question were in fact pirate or counterfeit goods, not genuine goods – have proceeded on the basis that the “old” rule no longer applies.[6]

Even if the Full Court (assuming there is an appeal) continues down that, with respect, heretical path, all may not be lost as Malouf did invoke s 122 in its defence. In reaching her Honour’s, with respect eminently sensible conclusion, Katzmann J did note that it was unclear from the case law how s120 related to s 122. In any event, her Honour found that Malouf could rely on the s 122 defence except in relation to the usage “The Veda Report Centre”. Katzmann J rejected Veda’s arguemnt that the sheer number of keywords showed a systematic and targetted attempt to undermine the registered trade mark. Almost all of those uses were not infringements.

As with the trade mark infringement case, the allegations of misleading or deceptive conduct all failed except in respect of the “Veda Report Centre” usage in the sponsored links.

Lid dip: James McDougall

Veda Advantage Limited v Malouf Group Enterprises Pty Limited
[2016] FCA 255


  1. Veda also has registrations for VEDA ADVANTAGE, VEDACHECK and VEDASCORE.  ?
  2. Hal Varian explained how AdWords advertising works in 2009 and with more polish in 2014.  ?
  3. The claim was brought under s 120(1), the allegation under s 120(2) was abandoned during the trial.  ?
  4. The full list is at [161] of her Honour’s judgment.  ?
  5. See E. & J. Gallo Winery v Lion Nathan Australia Pty Limited (2010) 241 CLR 144; [2010] HCA 15 at [33] – [34].  ?
  6. The cases are discussed by Allsop CJ in Scandinavian Tobacco at [65] – [71].  ?

Productivity Commission to review all IP laws

The Harper Review[1] recommended that the Government should direct the Productivity Commission to undertake an overarching review Australia’s IP laws.

The Treasurer and the Minister for Small Business have now announced that review.

According to the Harper Review:

an appropriate balance must be struck between encouraging widespread adoption of new productivity-enhancing techniques, processes and systems on the one hand, and fostering ideas and innovation on the other. Excessive IP protection can not only discourage adoption of new technologies but also stifle innovation.

Given the influence of Australia’s IP rights on facilitating (or inhibiting) innovation, competition and trade, the Panel believes the IP system should be designed to operate in the best interests of Australians.

The Panel therefore considers that Australia’s IP rights regime is a priority area for review. (emphasis supplied)

In reaching that view, the Harper Review flagged concern about entering into new treaties with extended IP protections.

The terms of reference state:

In undertaking the inquiry the Commission should:

  1. examine the effect of the scope and duration of protection afforded by Australia’s intellectual property system on:

    a. research and innovation, including freedom to build on existing innovation;

    b. access to and cost of goods and services; and competition, trade and investment.

  2. recommend changes to the current system that would improve the overall wellbeing of Australian society, which take account of Australia’s international trade obligations, including changes that would:

    a. encourage creativity, investment and new innovation by individuals, businesses and through collaboration while not unduly restricting access to technologies and creative works;

    b. allow access to an increased range of quality and value goods and services;

    c. provide greater certainty to individuals and businesses as to whether they are likely to infringe the intellectual property rights of others; and

    d. reduce the compliance and administrative costs associated with intellectual property rules.

Then follows a catalogue of 9 matters for the Commission to have regard to. These include the Government’s desire to retain appropriate incentives for innovation, the economy-wide and distributional consequences of recommendation and the Harper Review’s recommendations in relation to parallel imports.[2]

The Commission must report within 12 months.


  1. The Competition Policy Review, recommendation 6.  ?
  2. Rec. 13 and section 10.6 of the Competition Policy Review: i.e., repeal any remaining restrictions unless the benefits outweigh the costs and the objectives of the restrictions can only be achieved by restricting competition. Cue diatribe about “restricting competition” especially given the oft mouthed formula that IP rights rarely (if ever) restrict competition.  ?

Sir Walter …

Raleigh or Scott or … buffalo grass.

Yates J has upheld the Registrar’s refusal to register SIR WALTER for buffalo grass in class 31 on the grounds it lacked any capacity to distinguish and was not in fact distinctive.[1]

Buchanan Turf has a PBR for a variety of soft leaf buffalo grass called Sir Walter – PBR Certificate No. 1082. The variety is actually registered as “Sir Walter”. The PBR is due to expire on 27 March 2018. After that date, of course, anyone will be free to propagate and sell the Sir Walter variety. I wonder what they will call it?

For reasons best known to themselves, Buchanan Turf sought to amend the class 31 specification during the examination process to read:

Buffalo grass of the ‘Sir Walter’ variety (as lodged with the Registrar of Plant Breeder’s Rights (ref: certificate no. 1028), being part of the genus Stenotaphrum and a member of the species Secundatum.

Are you still wondering what the putative propagaters after March 2018 will be wanting to call their variety of lawn seed?

Applying the usual tests, Yates J found that Sir Walter had no inherent capacity to distinguish:

Here, the appellant developed a new thing—a new variety of buffalo grass having particular characteristics—which it called Sir Walter. Sir Walter is the given and proper name for the new variety. It has no other name. In this way, the name Sir Walter must be taken to be part of the common stock of language that denotes this particular variety of grass.

His Honour distinguished the Zima case on the basis that “Zima” was not the name of a variety of tomato.

Buchanan Turf argued its name had acquired distinctiveness – there had been over $16 million in sales since 1996 and some 68 licensed growers. There was also evidence of extensive television, radio and other media advertising; often featuring the terms Sir Walter in combination with a knight device,[2] almost invariably presenting the expression in quotes. One example of use without the device by way of illustration:

“Sir Walter” Premium lawn turf

Sir Walter Premium Lawn Turf is a superior quality soft buffalo grass giving unmatched performance for Australian conditions. Here you can find out all there is to know about this ideal, low maintenance lawn called ‘Sir Walter’. ….

His Honour considered that these types of use, even in specially marked out form, just identified the type of grass that was being used. In doing so, Yates J pointed out that just because the public had come to associate a term with a particular trader did not mean in functioned as a trade mark, relying on Jacob LJ’s dictum in the British Sugar case[3] and BP v Woolworths.

Where the name was used with the knight device, it was not sufficient to show that the combined device as a whole was distinctive, or had acquired distinctiveness. It was necessary to show that SIR WALTER alone had done so as the knight device was not part of the trade mark applied for. As with the standalone uses, in context the name just referred to the type of grass, not its trade source.

Yates J noted that there was no direct evidence from customers about what the name signified to them. This seems to be a recurrent theme in judicial comment. I wonder, however, what that evidence would need to disclose before the conclusion that any such customers just associated the name with Buchanan Turf could be overcome especially in circumstances where (a) it was the name of the variety and (b), until March 2018, there can be only one trade source?[4]

The PBR Act provides:[5]

A name … in respect of a plant variety must not:

(e) be or include a trade mark that is registered, or whose registration is being sought, under the Trade Marks Act 1995 , in respect of live plants, plant cells and plant tissues.

Yates J thought this provision evidenced a policy that rights to use a plant variety name after the PBR had expired should not be impeded by a trade mark registration which, of course, May last a lot longer than a PBR. However, there was no express prohibition in the Trade Marks Act, as there is with the names of patented things, against registering the name of a PBR as a trade mark.

Buchanan Turf Supplies Pty Ltd v Registrar of Trade Marks [2015] FCA 756


  1. Trade Marks Act 1995 s 41(6) (i.e., the old form).  ?
  2. One representation of the combination mark is shown in the Schedule. The knight device is itself a registered trade mark, No 882781.  ?
  3. TREAT: the relevant extract is set out at paragraph 34.  ?
  4. For one case where consumer type evidence was successfully led, see Philmac v Registrar of Trade Marks.  ?
  5. Plant Breeders Act 1994 s 27(5)  ?