No damages for unjustified threats

Following on from the Full Court’s warnings in Australian Mud Company v Coretell, Dowsett J has now dismissed Morellini’s claim for damages for unjustified threats. This is a short point, but it bears notice as people often come to me thinking it is enough to show there has been an unjustified threat – it isn’t, if you want monetary compensation.

Mizzi and Morellini are both in North Queensland and came up with machines for planting sugar cane. Mizzi patented his. Dowsett J found that Morellini’s machine did not infringe Mizzi’s patent and Mizzi had made unjustified threats of patent infringement. On appeal, the Full Court also ruled that Mizzi’s patent was invalid for false suggestion.

There was no dispute that Mizzi had made unjustified threats. On 5 April 2010, it had caused to be published in the Canegrower trade magazine a notice about its pending patent and an article by “Invention Pathways” about the consequences “[i]f the patent owner decides to pursue his rights ….” Then in June 2011, Mr Mizzi made oral threats to a Mr Girgenti about the use of a Morellini machine.

The problems for Morellini were essentially two fold. First, much of the evidence about people’s reluctance to deal with Morellini related to things which happened before the threats were made or in circumstances where Dowsett J could not attribute them to the actual threats as opposed to just rumours circulating in the industry:

There is no direct evidence that anybody declined to deal with Mr Morellini as a result of the threats. It seems that even before the newspaper article on 5 April 2010, there was a degree of reluctance concerning any such dealings. That reluctance cannot have been attributable to the threats. Mr Morellini has not demonstrated that any adverse effect resulted from either of the threats.

Secondly, Dowsett J accepted that damages could be available for lost sales opportunities and delayed sales, if they could be linked to the threats. However, Morellini did not provide detailed evidence about how he would have exploited his machine commercially and why he had not been exploiting it “in more recent times”. That is, Dowsett J wanted to know what was Morellini’s plan (if he had one) for exploiting his machine commercially and why he had not been doing so.

Mizzi Family Holdings Pty Ltd v Morellini (No 3) [2017] FCA 870

IP Australia consults on red tape streamlining and costing

IP Australia has issued to discussion papers:

  • Proposals to streamline IP processes and support small business; and
  • Proposals to streamline IP processes and support small business – Regulatory costs,

apparently following Parliamentary Secretary Karen Andrews’ announcement.

According to IP Australia’s website, the “streamlining” paper:

The … Consultation Paper outlines 22 proposals to align and simplify our IP processes, support small business and make some technical fixes relating to the regulation of IP attorneys.

The first 10 proposals apply across the board (as it were) to patents, trade marks, designs and PBR and relate to matters such as aligning renewals re-examination/revocation, extensions of time, writing and filing requirements.

There are 3 further proposals affecting patents: third party requests for examination, colour drawings and extensions of term – notices to the department of health.

The 14th proposal relates to the acceptance timeframe for trade mark applications.

15 and 16 affect the registration of designs and multiple copies of representations.

There are 6 proposals “supporting small business” including unjustified threats of infringement and trade marks and shelf companies.

And 2 “technical fixes” relating to publishing the personal information of “IP attorneys” and prosecuting “IP attorney” offences.

There are some 84 pages in the paper. So this post is not going to do the paper anything approximating “justice”.

One proposal is to reduce the acceptance period for trade marks from 15 months to 6 months. There are also substantial changes proposed for the regimes relating to extensions of time:

 – Align PBR extensions with those for patents and for a wider range of actions

 – Specify the grounds for the ‘special circumstances’ extension in the trade marks legislation and align circumstances beyond control across the rights

 – Allow extensions of time for renewal grace periods but not renewal dates, for all IP rights

– Make the ‘despite due care’ extension available for all IP rights and have no limit on the period of the extension

– For all rights, limit the ‘error or omission by applicant/owner’ extension to 12 months

 – Streamlined process for short extensions of time

– Simplify and align fees

– Make all extensions of time non-discretionary.

Certificates: you know, things like Certificates of Registration:

The IP legislation would be amended so that certificates would not be required to be issued for examination, registration and grant. Also, the patents and trade marks Acts would be amended to no longer provide that a certificate signed by the Commissioner or Registrar is prima facie evidence of a matter. Instead, the Acts would provide that any document approved by the Commissioner or Registrar (or similar wording) would constitute prima facie evidence of a matter. This would enable IP Australia to continue to provide documents for such purposes, without requiring them to be signed certificates. Signed copies or extracts of the Registers would continue to be admissible in proceedings as if they were the original Register, and therefore prima facie evidence of the particulars on them.

Unjustified threats: this would see removal of the defence under s 129(5) of the Trade Marks Act of bringing infringement proceedings reasonably timely (which is not currently a defence for patent or designs threats), providing the remedy for PBR and introducing a power to award additional damages in respect of blatant and unjustified threats against another party.

Trade marks and shelf companies: this proposal would see amendment of s 27 so that it would not be necessary to incorporate the company that is intended to use the trade mark, but purchase of a shelf company would suffice.

The renewals proposal would see a grace period of 6 months introduced for renewing PBR and provision that all IPR could be infringed during the grace period if subsequently renewed.

In coming up with those proposals, IP Australia has used a costing framework and developed detailed costings which are set out in the “costings” paper. We are being invited to comment on those too.

If you are feeling excited, you should get your submissions in to IP Australia by 7 April 2015.

Proposals to streamline IP processes and support small business (pdf)

Proposals to streamline IP processes and support small business – Regulatory costs (pdf)