A real estate franchise agreement

2The Court of Appeal has ruled that Century 21 Australia’s arrangements permitting Victorian Realty Group to trade as “Century 21 Complete Properties” was a franchise agreement for the purposes of the Estate Agents Act 1980 (Vic.).

Section 43(5) of the Victorian Estate Agents Act has its own definition of a “franchising agreement”:

franchising agreement means an agreement whereby an estate agent is authorized to carry on business under any name in consideration of any other person entitled to carry on business under that name receiving any consideration whether by way of a share in the profits of the estate agent’s business or otherwise (emphasis supplied)

One of the reasons this is significant is that each party to the franchising agreement is jointly and severally liable for any defalcations, or negligence, by the estate agent : s 43.

Victorian Realty Group (VRG), while trading as “Century 21 Complete Properties” in Craigieburn, had committed a number of defalcations which resulted in 13 of its clients losing money. Those clients were compensated out of the Victorian Property Fund. The Secretary brought proceedings against Century 21 Australia, the franchisor1 under s 43 to recover those payouts.

Under the terms of the franchise agreement, and the incorporated Policy and Procedures Manual, Century 21 Australia granted VRG the right and obligation to trade exclusively under the name Century 21 Complete Properties. There were other rights and obligations to use “Century 21” in the various ‘trademarked’ forms, and to use various systems and participate in the Century 21 marketing plan. In other words, you and I would consider it a pretty typical example of a franchise arrangement.

The trial judge, however, found that the arrangement was not a “franchise agreement” as defined in s 43 because of the words in the definition “under that name”. VRG was authorised only to carry on business under the name “Century 21 Complete Properties”, not just “Century 21”; and “Century 21 Australia”, the franchisor, did not carry on business under that name.

The Court of Appeal unanimously allowed the Secretary’s appeal. As a matter of practicality and commercial reality both VRG and Century 21 Australia were carrying on business under “Century 21”, not just their respective formal names:

50 In its written case, the respondent seemed to accept that the Franchise Agreement was an agreement that would ordinarily be described as, and understood to be, a franchise agreement. The respondent’s written case described the Franchise Agreement as ‘the unambiguous franchise agreement in this case’. That description was, with respect, apposite. While that description does not relieve the Court of its obligation to properly construe and apply the definition of ‘franchising agreement’, it brings into focus the question of what legislative purpose might possibly exist in differentiating between franchise agreements that have different provisions as to trade names and the terms upon which their use is or is not permitted. That said, it is of course the text of the statutory definition that is paramount in the resolution of this proceeding.

51 ‘Century 21’ is a name. Equally, one might describe the relevant circumstances in this case as involving the use of a name being ‘the Century 21 name’. When one examines the Franchise Agreement (including the P&P Manual) it seems to us that that agreement authorised VRG to carry on business under the name ‘Century 21’ or the Century 21 name. Like any franchise agreement, it did so on particular terms. We have already set out the relevant terms in the present case. The existence of those terms does not gainsay the fact that the Franchise Agreement was one which authorised VRG to carry on business under the Century 21 name.

52 Similarly, in our view, the International Agreement entitled the respondent to carry on business under the name ‘Century 21’ or the Century 21 name within the meaning of the statutory definition. In our view, this conclusion accords with the text of the definition construed, as it must be, in its context and by reference to the legislative purpose of the provisions of the Act.

The focus on commercial reality is no doubt to be welcomed. The decision, however, has little direct relevance to the broader definition of “franchise agreement” for the purposes of the Franchising Code of Conduct as that is not tied just to a name. Instead, clause 5 of schedule 1 to the Competition and Consumer (Industry Codes – Franchising) Regulation 2014 applies to agreements which satisfy 3 requirements including (by way of contrast to the Estate Agents Act) the rather more broadly expressed operation of a business substantially or materially associated with a trade mark, advertising or commercial symbol. More fully, a franchise agreement is an agreement:

(b) in which a person (the franchisor ) grants to another person (the franchisee ) the right to carry on the business of offering, supplying or distributing goods or services in Australia under a system or marketing plan substantially determined, controlled or suggested by the franchisor or an associate of the franchisor; and

(c) under which the operation of the business will be substantially or materially associated with a trade mark, advertising or a commercial symbol:

(i) owned, used or licensed by the franchisor or an associate of the franchisor; or

(ii) specified by the franchisor or an associate of the franchisor; and

(d) under which, before starting or continuing the business, the franchisee must pay or agree to pay to the franchisor or an associate of the franchisor an amount including, for example

Secretary to the Department of Justice and Regulation v Century 21 Australia Pty Ltd [2017] VSCA 205

  1. Century 21 Australia had been appointed the master franchisee for Australia by Century 21 International with powers to appoint and manage “Century 21” franchisees here. ??

Shape not misleading

Last week, we looked at Mortimer J’s reasons for dismissing Shape Shopfitters’ allegations of trade mark infringement against Shape Australia. Presumably, given the colour and stylistic constraints of the registered trade mark, Shape Shopfitters’ main attack was based on the prohibition against misleading or deceptive conduct under the Australian Consumer Law. It too was unsuccessful.

Shape Shopfitters’ contention was that, by changing its name from ISIS to Shape Australia, Shape Australia was misrepresenting to the public that the two businesses were affiliated in some way with Shape Shopfitters being the specialist shopfitting arm of the Shape Australia. The descriptive nature of the common term, Shape Shopfitters’ fairly confined reputation and the fact that most of its dealings were with well-established contacts combined to mean that there was no such misrepresentation.

In about October 2016 when Shape Australia changed its name, Shape Shopfitters had annual turnover of between $10 million to $13 million a year. Almost all of its business was in fitting out, or the maintenance of, retail food outlets; especially quick service restaurants. Two thirds of its jobs were for contracts under $5,000; over 90% was for jobs under $200,000. Most of its business was in Victoria. 88% of its business outside Victoria was for the same seven clients: Grill’d, Nando’s, Sumo Salad, San Churro, Mad Mex, Schnitz or Coco Cubano. All of whom were well-established customers. Most of its work came from invitations to participate in closed tenders requested by established clients or directly negotiated contracts, once again with established customers.

In contrast, Shape Australia had annual revenues of around $400 million and the average size of its contracts was $1.55 million. Its role was usually as head contractor and construction manager, contracting out the work to specialist sub-contractors. It did do, however, some shopfitting work.

Mortimer J rejected Shape Australia’s argument that the relevant public was restricted just to the purchasers of construction services. Section 18 is not limited just to consumers; it provides protection to all people dealing with the respondent. In this case, including suppliers such as architects and subbies.

Mortimer J also rejected Shape Australia’s argument that none of its customers would mistakenly think that there was a connection with Shape Shopfitters. That was irrelevant. The question was whether people aware of Shape Shopfitters’ reputation would be misled or deceived.

However, there was no real, practical risk that the public would be misled or deceived. The businesses were simply too different and those dealing with Shape Shopfitters were well aware of its identity: At [216] – [217]:

I am not satisfied that participants in the industry would be led into such an error [i.e. thinking that Shape Shopfitters was an arm of Shape Australia]. The parties’ business activities are too different, they operate in different areas, with the applicant being far more specialised and more geographically contained. The link the applicant posits is possible and not fanciful in a theoretical sense, but it is without any foundation in the reality of the way the parties’ business activities are conducted, and in the way the “participants in the commercial construction industry” encounter the two businesses. That is especially so when one considers evidence such as that from Mr Billings that the applicant secures a lot of its business through word-of-mouth referrals.

The most that can be said is that there is a likelihood that participants in the industry, on isolated occasions, may be led to confuse the two entities because they both have the word “Shape” in their name, and occasionally communications may be directed to one when meant for the other. That is what the evidence discloses has in fact occurred, from time to time, in relatively few instances.

While there was some evidence of confusion, confusion itself is not enough and they were isolated instances only. Quickly dispelled.

You might recall that her Honour excluded evidence of print outs of websites of various businesses as hearsay and prejudicial. Evidence of the registration of such businesses as companies or business names was admitted, however, because the evidence was official ASIC records. There were 12 such businesses.[1] While Mortimer J accepted that this evidence did not take the matter very far, nonetheless it showed that the public could well come across other “Shape” entities in circumstances which undermined the potential for Shape Shopfitters to be seen as an “arm” of Shape Australia:

I accept that evidence of the bare existence of these entities cannot take the matter very far. However, the number of such entities using the word “shape” in their corporate names, and (I am prepared to infer) trading activities, is not without significance. Even without more information about those entities, the relative prevalence of the word “shape” in corporate and trading names, frequently in conjunction with construction-related words such as “joinery” and “projects” suggests that “participants in the industry” (including potential clients, purchasers and subcontractors) might well come across other entities using the word “shape” in the provision, sale and promotion of their particular services. That possibility cannot be discounted, and it tends against the linear proposition on which the applicant’s case relies: namely, the likelihood that the applicant (and it would appear, only the applicant) will be perceived to be part of the respondent’s larger group, and perhaps as its specialist shopfitting arm. That linear proposition must depend, it seems to me, on the applicant occupying something of a unique place in the market so that such a representation by the respondent’s use of the word “SHAPE” could only be made in respect of the applicant, and not other entities. This evidence tends against such a conclusion.

There was also some evidence from a search engine optimisation expert. It showed that neither business had very active websites. Those people who searched for Shape Shopfitters, however, typically did so by reference to the term “shopfitters”. This reinforced her Honour’s impression that it was its shopfitting specialty that identified Shape Shopfitters. On the other hand, Shape Australia did not typically generate hits in searches on terms related to “shopfitting”. If it did come up, it was invariably placed below the result for Shape Shopfitters:

Because of this, people searching for the Shape Shopfitters Website through searches for these terms are very unlikely to be misdirected to the SHAPE Australia website.

The passing off allegations failed similarly for want of the necessary misreprensation.

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


  1. Shape Building Pty Ltd; Shape Design; Shape Property Developments; Shape Consulting; Shape Constructions Pty Ltd; Shape Project Management Pty Ltd; Shape Builders Pty Ltd; Shape Joinery & Design Pty Ltd; Shape Fitouts Pty Ltd; Shape Projects Pty Ltd; Shape Construction; the 12th, Shape Developments Pty Ltd changed its name in the course of the litigation although the reasons for that were not known.  ?

Shape shopped

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

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

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

TM No. 1731525

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Should Michelin’s X block Continental’s Xking?

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

Michelin X v Continental Xking

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

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

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

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

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

[socialpoll id=”2454828″]

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


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

Pham Global 2: the new law of substantial identity

Having ruled that Pham Global’s trade mark was invalidly registered because Mr Pham was not the owner of the trade mark when he filed the application, the Full Court also indicated a substantially expanded role for the test of substantial identity in stating that Pham Global’s trade mark was substantially identical with Insight Clinical’s.

To recap, Insight Clinical’s trade mark is on the left below while Pham Global’s is on the right:

The trial Judge had applied the well-known ‘side by side’ test explained by Windeyer J:[1]

In considering whether marks are substantially identical they should, I think, be compared side by side, their similarities and differences noted and the importance of these assessed having regard to the essential features of the registered mark and the total impression of resemblance or dissimilarity that emerges from the comparison. “The identification of an essential feature depends”, it has been said, “partly on the Court’s own judgment and partly on the burden of the evidence that is placed before it”: de Cordova v. Vick Chemical Co. (1951) 68 R.P.C. 103, at p 106. Whether there is substantial identity is a question of fact ….[2]

capped with Gummow J’s summation in Carnival Cruise:

Thus, if a total impression of similarity emerges from a comparison between the two marks, the marks are “substantially identical”: Carnival Cruise Lines Inc v Sitmar Cruises Limited [1994] FCA 936; (1994) 120 ALR 495 at [62].

Generally, courts have found that the two trade marks must be virtually identical before a finding of substantial identity will be made.

The trial Judge had applied what many would consider to be a conventional analysis in rejecting substantial identity. At [18], her Honour held:

…. Whilst both composite marks use the word “insight”, there are clear visual differences in presentation. The appearance of the words “insight” and “radiology” in the IR composite mark run into each other, are equally prominent (the same font and size) and appear all in lower case. This is quite distinct from the words in the ICI composite mark where the letter “S” is capitalised in “inSight” and the words “Clinical Imaging” are secondary and beneath “inSight” in smaller and unbolded font. The capitalisation of the word “Sight” in “inSight” has the effect of emphasising the word “Sight”. There are also distinct visual differences in the appearance and positioning of the device. The ICI composite mark has a complete inner circle and is all in green with clear lines whereas the IR composite mark does not have a complete inner circle, the outside circle is in black and the lines are different. There is not a “total impression of resemblance”. The visual differences combined with the different wording, albeit that “imaging” and “radiology” may be interchangeable in relation to the services to which the marks relate, make the marks sufficiently different on a side by side comparison.

The Full Court held that the trial Judge had erred by failing to identify the essential features in the trade marks and make the comparison based on them. At [52], the Full Court stated:

…. The required exercise of side-by-side comparison is not carried out in a factual and legislative vacuum. The purpose of the exercise is to decide if two trade marks are substantially identical, where a trade mark is “a sign used, or intended to be used, to distinguish goods or services dealt with or provided in the course of trade by a person from goods or services so dealt with or provided by any other person” (s 17). Given this context, it is unlikely that the essential elements of a mark or its dominant cognitive clues are to be found in mere descriptive elements, which are not apt to perform this distinguishing role in respect of the relevant goods or services. While this does not mean that differences, including descriptive differences, may be ignored, it does mean that the side-by-side comparison is to be carried out cognisant of the essential elements of the mark. (emphasis supplied)

The Full Court held that the essential features of the two trade marks were the words “insight” and, to a lesser extent, the circular “eye” image. The words “radiology” and “clinical imaging” were merely descriptive and the differences in the circular devices were relatively minor. At [56]:

The essential elements are the words “Insight” and the device. The word is the same in both marks. The device appears to the left of the word in both marks. While the differences which her Honour noted do exist, the dominant cognitive clues in both marks is a device which is circular in shape evoking an eye to the left of the word “Insight”, in circumstances where the other words “clinical imaging” and “radiology” are descriptive of the services offered. The importance of the visual differences which her Honour noted, and which we accept exist, must be assessed having regard to these essential elements of the marks. Once this necessary exercise is undertaken, we consider that not only is there a total impression of resemblance between the marks, but also that the differences between the marks are slight having regard to their essential elements or the dominant cognitive clues which they present.

Accordingly, the Full Court considered that Insight Clinical’s opposition to registration of the trade mark should also have succeed on the grounds that Pham Global was not the owner of the trade mark based on Insight Clinical’s prior use of its trade mark.

The Full Court’s analysis, with respect, has all the hallmarks of a deceptive similarity analysis. Given their earlier ruling that the trade mark was invalid because Mr Pham as not the owner when he applied to register it, this part of the Full Court’s decision is obiter.

For most purposes, it does not make much difference as most cases involving a comparison of marks ultimately turn on deceptive similarity.

It is (if followed), however, particularly significant in the context of ownership disputes. As Janice Luck (here and here) has noted, the Full Court’s approach gives much wider scope for the operation of s 58. It blurs the operation of the test for substantial identity with the test for deceptive similarity in ways arguably previously thought outside the scope of an ‘ownershp’ objection. In Carnival Cruise under the 1955 Act, for example, Gummow J had continued after the summation of principle quoted above:

…. The phrase “substantially identical” as it appears in s. 62 (which is concerned with infringement) was discussed by Windeyer J in The Shell Company of Australia Limited v Esso Standard Oil (Australia) Limited (1963) 109 CLR 407 at 414. It requires a total impression of similarity to emerge from a comparison between the two marks. In a real sense a claim to proprietorship of the one extends to the other. But to go beyond this is, in my view, not possible. There is, as Mr Shanahan points out in his work, p. 158, real difficulty in assessing the broader notion of deceptive similarity in the absence of some notional user in Australia of the prior mark (something postulated by s. 33) or prior public recognition built up by user (para. 28 (a)). [3] (emphasis supplied)

It means that we won’t be able to concede, or skip over, the “substantially identical with” limb of trade mark comparisons in future.

The Full Court’s explanation of the operation of s 60 will have to await a future post.

Pham Global Pty Ltd v Insight Clinical Imaging Pty Ltd [2017] FCAFC 83 (Greenwood, Jagot and Beach JJ)


  1. The Shell Co. of Australia Ltd v Esso Standard Oil (Australia) Ltd (1963) 109 CLR 407 at 414; [1963] HCA 66.  ?
  2. Notwithstanding the high authority of Windeyer J’s statement, it is worth noting that Lord Radcliffe appears to have been referring to identification of essential features in the context of assessing whether or not a trade mark was likely to cause confusion or deception – the test for deceptive similarity. Thus, Lord Radcliffe rejected the appeal against the finding of infringement because “The likelihood of confusion or deception in such cases is not disproved by placing the two marks side by side and demonstrating how small is the chance of error in any customer who places his order for goods with both the marks clearly before him, for orders are not placed, or are often not placed, under such conditions. It is more useful to observe that in most persons the eye is not an accurate recorder of visual detail, and that marks are remembered rather by general impressions or by some significant detail than by any photographic recollection of the whole.” Compare de Cordova to s 10.  ?
  3. Note also the questions his Honour posed at 58.  ?

Don’t file in the wrong applicant’s name

Because, if you do, the Full Court has definitively ruled that the error cannot be rectified and any resulting registration will be irredeemably invalid.

This is the first of at least two rulings departing from the trial judge’s reasons which the Full Court made in the course of dismissing Pham Global’s appeal from the decision to revoke its trade mark registrations and find it infringed Insight Clinical Imaging’s trade marks. So Pham Global still lost, but with ramifications for us all.

Some background

Since 2008, Insight Clinical Imaging has been using the name INSIGHT and its composite mark for its radiology services largely in Perth, WA.[1]

Mr Pham is a radiologist and the sole director of the company through which a radiology business is conducted in NSW. Originally, the company was called AKP Radiology Consultants Pty Ltd. In December 2011, however, Mr Pham applied to register the Insight Radiology mark as a trade mark for radiology services.

Insight Clinical’s trade mark is below on the left. On the right below is the trade mark applied for by Mr Pham.

In March 2012, AKP Radiology Services first started using the Insight Radiology mark for its business.[2]

On 6 June 2013, Insight Clinical lodged its opposition to Mr Pham’s application.

On 17 June 2013, Mr Pham’s company changed its name from AKP Radiology Services to Insight Radiology Pty Ltd.[3] Then, on 1 July 2013, Mr Pham sought to assign the trade mark application to his company.

Insight Clinical Imaging’s opposition was successful before the Office and Mr Pham’s company appealed unsuccessfully. In accordance with the trial judge’s orders, Mr Pham’s company then changed its name to Pham Global Pty Ltd and sought leave to appeal.

While leave was granted, the appeal was dismissed.

Who is the applicant

The trial judge found that the Insight Radiology mark was designed for, and used by, Mr Pham’s company. It even paid the designer.

Mr Pham, however, maintained that it had not been a mistake that the application was made in his name rather than the company’s. There was no evidence that Mr Pham ever actually licensed his company to use the trade mark. Moreover, Mr Pham’s explanation for why he decided to assign the application to his company – “I just did it” – was not accepted. He explicitly rejected the proposition that he made the assignment in response to Insight Clinical’s opposition to registration of the trade mark or that it was a result of a mistake.

Accordingly, her Honour held that Mr Pham was not the owner of the application when it was made, his company was. In line with the decisions in Mobileworld and Crazy Ron’s, however, her Honour found that the assignment of the application to the company before the trade mark was actually registered rectified the error.

On appeal, the Full Court noted that Mobileworld and Crazy Ron’s were both obiter on this point.

The Full Court then noted that longstanding precedent required that grounds of opposition were assessed at the date the application was filed. That meant that, where the ground of opposition was under s 58 that the applicant was not the owner of the trade mark,[4] the applicant when the application was filed had to be the owner of the trade mark. At [32], the Full Court said:

Once it is understood that the legislative scheme operates in the context of established principle that the alternative sources of ownership of a trade mark are authorship and use before filing an application for registration or the combination of authorship, filing of an application for registration and an intention to use or authorise use, the relationship between s 27 and ss 58 and 59 of the 1995 Act becomes apparent. The grounds of opposition in ss 58 and 59 reflect the requirements of s 27. Only a person claiming to be an owner may apply for registration. That claim may be justified at the time the application is made based on either alternative source of ownership. But if the claim is not justified at that time, ss 58 and/or 59 are available grounds of opposition. Moreover, if the applicant is not the owner of the mark at the time of the filing of the application, the assignment provisions in ss 106 – 111 do not assist because they authorise the assignment of the mark and thus pre-suppose, consistent with established principle, that the applicant owns the mark.

Well, it’s a nice simple rule; should be pretty straightforward to apply in practice shouldn’t it? Of course, it does mean that the law for trade marks is way out of step with the law for patents and registered designs, sections 22A and 138(3)(4).[5]

When time permits, I shall try to do a post on the new law of substantial identity.

Pham Global Pty Ltd v Insight Clinical Imaging Pty Ltd [2017] FCAFC 83 (Greenwood, Jagot and Beach JJ)


  1. It did not apply to register its trade mark until October 2012.  ?
  2. On 17 June 2013, Mr Pham caused AKP Radiology Consultants to change its name to Insight Radiology Pty Ltd. As a consequence of the first instance decision, however, the name of the company was changed again – to Pham Global Pty Ltd.  ?
  3. Mr Pham’s company also made a further application to register the words INSIGHT RADIOLOGY alone. Insight Clinical has also opposed it, but it appears to be stayed pending the outcome of the court case. (There was also an earlier application in 2008, TM Application No 1236945 for INSIGHT IMAGING / INSIGHT RADIOLOGY. This application was made by a Daniel Moses and a Jason Wenderoth, but lapsed after acceptance without ever becoming registered.)  ?
  4. The same principle applies under s 59, which was also in play.  ?
  5. Foster’s Australia Limited v Cash’s (Australia) Pty Ltd [2013] FCA 527.  ?

Print outs of third party websites ruled inadmissible

Mortimer J has ruled that print outs of third party websites are inadmissible as hearsay and, if not, excluded under s 135 of the Evidence Act as unduly prejudicial.

Shape Shopfitters is suing Shape Australia for infringement of several registered trade marks which, it says, include SHAPE as the essential feature and the usual passing off-type actions.[1] Both are in the commercial construction business. Shape Australia used to be called ISIS Group Australia, but changed its name in October 2015, as her Honour said “for reasons that are immediately obvious.”

Shape Shopfitters is contending that the use of “Shape” in Shape Australia’s name is likely to lead people to think that Shape Shopfitters is the “shopfitting” arm of Shape Australia, which it is not.

As part of its defence Shape Australia sought to lead evidence of ASIC and Australian Business Register records of other companies and businesses with the word SHAPE in their name. Shape Australia also sought to introduce print outs of the websites of various businesses resulting from Google searches such as “shape building”.[2] Some, but not all, of the print outs were from the Wayback Machine. The print outs purported to be of businesses called Shape Consulting, Shape Builders Pty Ltd, Shape Joinery & Design Pty Ltd, Shape Fitouts Pty Ltd and Shape Finance (Aust) Pty Ltd. You will immediately appreciate that Shape Australia was hoping to show that “shape” itself was not distinctive or to rely on the well-known proposition from the Hornsby Building Information case.[3]

Mortimer J noted that no objection was taken to the ASIC or Australian Business Register print out – presumably, because they were official records.[4]

However, the print outs of the websites of the businesses themselves were hearsay. They were being advanced to show that there were other businesses out there claiming to have and use the names appearing in the print outs. At [24], her Honour ruled:[5]

the evidence sought to be adduced by the respondent is clearly hearsay within the meaning of s 59 of the Evidence Act. The statements made on various internet sites of other corporations or business entities (including the archived material to which Mr Henry deposes in [24] of his affidavit)[6] constitute a previous representation made by the person or persons who constructed the website, wrote the text and inserted the graphics. The purpose of adducing evidence of those statements of text and graphics is to prove the existence of a fact it can reasonably be supposed was intended by the drafter of the text and the person who constructed the graphics. The fact is that there were business entities trading on the dates specified (between August and October 2016) in the industries and markets set out on the pages exhibited by Mr Henry, in the locations those webpages identified using the names those webpages identified. It is the actual existence of those business entities, the names they were using, the industries and markets in which they were trading, the services they were offering and the locations in which they were offering those services which the respondent in my opinion seeks to use as part of its case to prove that there was no confusion in the marketplace generated by its use of the word “shape” in SHAPE Australia.

Even if the print outs were not hearsay, Mortimer J would have excluded them under s 135 if the Evidence Act on the basis that their probative value was substantially outweighed by the danger of prejudice to Shape Shopfitting.

the evidence … constitutes no more than a snapshot of what was available through a series of internet searches on a particular date, without any context being available to be tested about the nature of the businesses these searches have turned up. The probative value of such searches is limited on any view. The applicant’s case is a very specific one about what participants in the commercial construction industry may or may not be led to believe concerning the relationship between the applicant and the respondent, and whether the applicant might be seen as no more than a “specialist shop fitting arm” of the respondent. To have evidence in the nature of single date extracts of internet searches showing businesses using the word “shape”, without calling evidence from witnesses who operate or control those businesses, and allowing the applicant to test the similarities or differences between those businesses and its own, between the customer base(s) of those business and its own, and in turn between those businesses and the respondents, is in my opinion to create a danger of unfair prejudice to the applicant. Snapshots of internet searches on particular dates, all of which are between just under and just over a year after the respondent adopted the name “SHAPE Australia” contribute little by way of proof as to what participants in the commercial construction industry were likely to believe about the commercial relationship between the applicant and the respondent since 26 October 2015, but it is not the kind of evidence the applicant can test as it should be able to.

What Shape Australia should have done was get affidavits, or subpoena, from (1) witnesses from the companies it wished to prove existed and (2) consumers who might be searching for the relevant services.

Now, depending on which side of the case you find yourself, you will be cheering or in tears. But, at the very least one might wonder if that correct approach is really conducting litigation “as quickly, inexpensively and efficiently as possible”? It will be very interesting to see how her Honour deals with Shape Australia’s substantive arguments whether it’s name is too similar to Shape Shopfittings’? Meanwhile, the Registrar can treat the Wayback Machine as valid evidence.

Shape Shopfitters Pty Ltd v Shape Australia Pty Ltd (No 2) [2017] FCA 474


  1. In which I include the usual misleading or deceptive conduct actions under the Australian Consumer Law too.  ?
  2. It is not clear whether the search was just of the two words or the two words in quotation marks.  ?
  3. At [25].  ?
  4. At [13].  ?
  5. Noting that at least 2 prior decisions had ruled internet archive materials inadmissible: Athens v Randwick City Council [2005] NSWCA 317 and E & J Gallo Winery v Lion Nathan Australia Pty Limited [2008] FCA 93.  ?
  6. I.e., the Wayback Machine print outs.  ?

Accor gets its trade marks back

Accor has trade mark registrations for “Cairns Harbour Lights” and “Harbour Lights”, which it used to promote accommodation at the Harbour Lights complex in, you guessed it, Cairns. It sued Liv Pty Ltd which was renting out apartments owned in the complex by others.

Amongst other things, the trial judge had held that “Cairns Harbour Lights” should be expunged from the Register and the registrations for “Harbour Lights” should be amended to remove some of the services including “accommodation rental services” and “rental of accommodation”. Liv, however was found to infringe through the use of:

(a) “Harbour Lights Cairns”; and

(b) “cairnsharbourlights.com.au”; and

(c) “harbourlightscairns.com.au”; and

(d) “harbourlightscairns.com”.

The Full Court has now allowed Accor’s appeal, revoking the trial judge’s orders to expunge “Cairns Harbour Lights” and remove some of the services for which “Harbour Lights” is registered.

At 360+ paragraphs, more detailed consideration will have to wait.

One interesting aspect is that the Full Court confirmed that Liv’s use of “keywords” (really metatags) in the source code of its website was trade mark use and so infringing:

323 The title used in the source data is “Cairns Luxury Accommodation – Waterfront Apartments – Harbour Lights – Cairns Queensland”. The primary judge finds that the use of the words “Harbour Lights” in that title appears to be merely a description of the waterfront apartments referred to in the title: PJ at [434]. As to the use of the keyword “Harbour Lights” (as described by the primary judge at [430] and quoted above), the primary judge regarded that use as also a reference to the apartments as those words appeared in the context of surrounding words such as “Cairns apartments”, “waterfront, luxury apartment” and “harbourside”. Thus, the words were not used as a badge of origin: PJ at [434].

324 The other words used in the source data as recited at [430] by the primary judge are these:

  “content: = Harbour Lights Apartments in Cairns offer luxury private waterfront apartment accommodation for holiday letting and short-term rental”.

325 As to those words, the primary judge finds that the use of the words “Harbour Lights Apartments” in that phrase was, effectively, use as a business name for a business which offers “accommodation for letting and short?term rental” thus operating as a badge of origin to distinguish Liv’s services from others: PJ at [435]. Such use is use of a mark substantially identical with and deceptively similar to each of the registered trade marks in suit. It is use in relation to each of the Class 36 and Class 43 services other than “commercial real estate agency services”, “agency services for the leasing of real estate properties” and “hotel services”: PJ at [436]. (emphasis supplied)

Accor Australia & New Zealand Hospitality Pty Ltd v Liv Pty Ltd
[2017] FCAFC 56 )Greenwood, Besanko and Katzmann JJ)

Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill 2017 – exposure draft

IP Australia has published an exposure draft of an Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill 2017 and the proposed accompanying regulations, explanatory memorandum and statement. So that everyone at IP Australia has something to do when they come back from their summer hols, you have to get your comments in by 22 January 2017.

A large part of the changes seem to be about aligning the administrative processes under the different statutory regimes According to the EM:

The patents, trade marks, designs and plant breeder’s rights (PBR) systems have a number of different administrative processes and rules specific to each IP right. A number of these differences are unnecessary or too onerous. Some processes take too long to resolve. This needlessly increases complexity, uncertainty and cost for users of the IP system.

This Bill will align and streamline the processes for obtaining, maintaining and challenging IP rights. Using similar processes for the different IP rights will make the IP system simpler and assist businesses dealing with more than one right. A simpler IP system will decrease administration costs for the Australian Government and reduce the regulatory burden for businesses that use it. The Bill will also enable greater use of electronic systems to manage and monitor IP rights.

A laudable objective! But, there are some 23 Parts and 596 items in the exposure draft bill alone. However, lots of them are plainly necessary changes such as replacing “reject” with “refuse” in the PBR Act, but there are others which will have more impact.

Overall, the broad topics addressed are:

  • Part 1 relating to renewals and terminology
  • Part 2 relating to re-examination and re-consideration
  • Part 3 relating to extensions of time
  • Part 4 relating to written requirements
  • Part 5 relating to the filing requirements
  • Part 6 relating to Official Journals
  • Part 7 relating to amendments of applications or other documents
  • Part 8 relating to signature requirements
  • Part 9 relating to computerised decision-making
  • Part 10 relating to addresses and service of documents
  • Part 11 relating to examination of patent requests and specifications
  • Part 12 relating to requirements for patent documents
  • Part 13 relating to acceptance of trade mark applications
  • Part 14 relating to registration of designs
  • Part 15 relating to unjustified threats of infringement
  • Part 16 relating to ownership of Plant Breeder’s Rights and entries in the Register
  • Part 17 relating to trade mark oppositions
  • Part 18 relating to seizure notices
  • Part 19 relating to publishing personal information of registered patent or trade marks attorneys
  • Part 20 relating to (criminal) prosecutions
  • Part 21 relating to the Secretary’s role in the Plant Breeder’s Rights Act
  • Part 22 relating to updating references to Designs Act
  • Part 23 abolishing the Plant Breeder’s Rights Advisory Committee.

I have no hope of trying to cover all that. Some of the things that caught my eye:

Part 15 introduces substantive changes to “unjustified threats”. The provisions in the Trade Marks Act will be amended to remove the defence of bringing infringement proceedings with due diligence. This will bring the trade marks regime in line with that for patents, designs and copyright. A corresponding regime is to be introduced for PBR.

Part 15 will also introduce a right for a victim of an unjustified threat to seek additional damages. What will be a flagrantly unjustified threat should be fun to explore.[1] Curiously, this remedy is not proposed for copyright.[2]

Part 13 proposes to reduce the period for acceptance of a trade mark, but expand the grounds for deferment. Items 421, 423 and 425 of the exposure draft regulations propose to reduce the period under reg. 4.12 from 15 months to 9 months after an adverse first report. However, item 427 inserts a new ground for deferring acceptance on the basis that:

(1A) The Registrar may, at the request of the applicant in writing, defer acceptance of an application for registration of a trade mark if:

(a) the request is made within the period applicable under regulation 4.12 or that period as extended under section 224, 224B or 224C of the Act; and

(b) the Registrar reasonably believes that there are grounds for refusing the application under section 41 or 177 of the Act; and

(c) the applicant is seeking to gather documents or evidence as to why the applicant considers there are no grounds for so refusing the application.

For renewal and re-examination (Part 2), apparently, it is possible to request examination of a registered design even after it has already been examined and certified. A formal re-examination process will be introduced. A re-examination regime is also proposed for PBR. The regimes for re-examination of patents and trade marks will also be clarified.

For re-examination (Part 3)

The EM says there are three broad issues with the current regimes:

> There are three broad issues with the extension of time system. The first issue is the differences in the number and types of extensions available between the IP rights. This increases complexity and confusion as to which extension is applicable and what evidence is required for supporting the request in a given situation. The second issue is the administrative burden placed on customers and IP Australia. Short extensions rarely have a significant impact on third parties, yet require the same declarations from applicants and assessment by IP Australia as long extensions. The third issue is that the protection for third parties that used an invention or trade mark while the IP application or right was lapsed or ceased can be inadequate or burdensome to obtain.  

The EM then says the main changes are:

  • repeal the ‘despite due care’ extension for patents;
  • remove the Commissioner’s and Registrar’s discretion for all general extensions, for all rights. This will
  • simplify the process and ensure compliance with the Patent Law Treaty and Patent Cooperation Treaty;
  • require all requests for extensions to be filed within two months of the removal of the cause of the failure to comply, to ensure there are no unreasonable delays;
  • improve the compensation for third parties that use inventions when a patent lapsed or ceased to reduce the burden on third parties;
  • expand the protection against infringement for third parties that use a trade mark while it was ceased to include while a trade mark application was lapsed;
  • introduce a streamlined process for short extensions, but ensure IP Australia can review and remake a decision on an extension of time;
  • prevent applicants from obtaining consecutive ‘short’ extensions for the same action;
  • provide general extensions and corresponding third party protection for PBRs.

Part 6 plans repeal of the requirements to publish information in the Official Journals, replacing them instead with an obligation to publish some information on the website or other electronic means.

Part 7 plans changes to the processes for amendments of information entered on the Registers and in documents. Perhaps alarmingly, these include plans to allow rights owners to make some changes to the Registers themselves!

Part 9 proposes introducing the potential for computerised decision making. An example of what is intended is the situation where an application has been accepted and the opposition period has expired without an opposition being filed. In such a situation “the computer” will “decide” to grant the right (presumably after,checking the fee has been paid). This seems intriguing, but you will have to go to a proposed legislative instrument to find out what decisions can be (have been) automated.

No doubt there will be something else to meet your curiosity lurking in the details!

You can find links to the exposure draft documents here. Remember though, get your submissions by 22 January 2017.


  1. Of course, in line with the existing provisions for additional damages for infringements, it may be possible to “score” even if the threat itself is not flagrant.  ?
  2. It can’t be because copyright falls under a different department because the exposure draft amends the Copyright Act to allow for electronic notifications (“notice” is also deprecated in this new simplified regime) relating to customs seizures – see Part 18.  ?

Selected links from the last week (or so)

Here is a selection of links to IP-related matters I found interesting this week:

Patents

Trade marks

Copyright

Designs

Not categorised

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