Shades of green

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

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

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

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

What’s the trade mark

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

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

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

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

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

“V” green had not acquired distinctiveness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the market survey didn’t prove

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

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

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

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

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

Market survey blues

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

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

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

It does not appear that Frucor has appealed.

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


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

Bohemia Crystal shattered

Like MICHIGAN for farm equipment and OXFORD for books, Burley J has ordered that Bohemia Crystal’s trade marks, BOHEMIA and BOHEMIA CRYSTAL be revoked because they are not distinctive of “glassware”.

Bohemia Crystal (BCP) had been formed in 1975 to distribute in Australia Skloexport’s products. Skloexport was the State-owned entity responsible for the export of all crystal and glassware products made in Czechoslovakia. In 1999, Skloexport went into liquidation and BCP took an assignment of its Australian trade marks. The main trade mark BCP used in this period, which had been registered since 1962 was the stylised BOHEMIA Glass mark, TM No. 319701:

Versions of this mark were used with or without the words “Made in Czech Republic” or substituting the word “Glass” for “Crystal”.

On 5 October 2001, BCP applied for and successfully registered BOHEMIA CRYSTAL for glassware and on 2 May 2003 BCP applied for and successfully registered BOHEMIA for glassware.

Host is an importer and supplier of catering goods and equipment in Australia. The business was started in 1999. One range within its 2,500 product lines is its range of glassware sourced from another Czech supplier, Forincorp, marketed under BANQUET BY BOHEMIA [1] or:

Host started importing this line in 2015. BCP made the fateful decision to start proceedings for infringement of its registered trade marks and contravention of the Australian Consumer Law for false and misleading conduct.

Burley J held that BCP’s trade marks lacked any capacity to distinguish and had not been used in such a way as to have acquired secondary meaning for the purposes of s 41(6).[2] Burley J also dismissed BCP’s allegations of misleading or deceptive conduct.

It is not going to be possible in a blog post to do justice to Burley J’s 376 paragraphs. Instead five points particularly caught my eye.

First, Burley J (who was a very experienced intellectual property barrister before his appointment) pointed out that the High Court in Cantarella referenced both ordinary consumers and traders as the criterion for whether or not a sign was inherently adapted to distinguish.

BCP argued that the test focused on what ordinary consumers would think the sign meant. It had found an expert who opined that ordinary members of the public would think “bohemia” was a reference to persons with an artistic or unconventional lifestyle.

After analysing Cantarella from [86] on, his Honour concluded at [93]:[3]

in a case such as the present, it is necessary to consider the ordinary signification of the words “Bohemia” and “Bohemia Crystal” in the context of the “target audience”, being traders and consumers of the relevant goods, to determine whether at the relevant dates other traders might legitimately desire to use these words or something similar in connection with their goods, for the ordinary signification which they possess. …. (emphasis supplied)

Here, despite the evidence of BCP’s principle witness, the evidence was largely one way. It was beyond dispute that for many centuries the geographic region known as “Bohemia” which is now in the Czech Republic had a strong reputation for producing high quality crystal and glassware. There was evidence that between at least four and ten different manufacturers used the term “Bohemia” at an important annual glassware trade show to signify the geographic origins of their products. There was also evidence from a number of dealers that the term signified to the public glassware originating from the Bohemia region. BCP’s own registered user agreements for the use of Skloexport’s trade marks had also required it to promote its products as from the geographic region, Bohemia.

Burley J concluded that other traders who had glassware manufactured in the region formerly known as Bohemia legitimately and honestly wanted to use that word to describe the geographic origins of their products. The fact that Bohemia was no longer a separate country (and had not been since the World War I) and not even the contemporary name of the region was not significant.[4]

Second, Burley J found that the evidence of use of the BOHEMIA and BOHEMIA CRYSTAL did not establish that those terms had been used by BCP as trade marks or in such a way as to have acquired secondary meaning. There were three aspects to this conclusion.

Following BP v Woolworths, promotion and use is not enough. It had to be shown that the signs as registered had been used in some way to identify the signs as being trade marks.

Next, for the most part the relevant evidence showed that what BCP had been using as a trade mark was Skloexport’s composite mark, not the terms as registered. This was not use of either trade mark as registered. Moreover it was the combination of the elements in the signs as a whole which comprised the distinctiveness. These signs should not be dissected into their component parts:

228 I have some difficulty with the proposition that the words “Bohemia” or “Bohemia Crystal” should in this context be regarded as having separate trade mark signification beyond the combination in which they appear in the composite marks described above. In my view, it is the combination of elements that is distinctive. The trade mark should be viewed as a whole and not dissected into parts. Although this is likely to be a matter of fact for each case, it is notable that several cases have cautioned against the proposition that separate elements should be so distilled; see Diamond T Motor Car Company [1921] 2 Ch 583 at 588, Fry Consulting Pty Ltd v Sports Warehouse Inc (No 2) [2012] FCA 81; (2012) 201 FCR 565 at [61], [63].

229 To my eye, the whole of the 701 mark is to be regarded as creating a complicated image that taken collectively represents a sign, or badge of origin. I do not think that the elements within it may be dissected or that they would be dissected by an ordinary consumer of goods within the relevant classes. In any event, I consider that the words “Bohemia Crystal” and “Made in Czech Republic” within the 701 mark tend to reinforce the descriptive, geographical signification of those words. ….

The third factor is the way that evidence was advanced did not help BCP’s case. A lot of the evidence was vague, or general, rather than specific to what needed to be proved here: use of the signs as trade marks before the filing date. In this respect, his Honour’s discussion will repay careful study as it is not uncommon to see evidence prepared for the Office suffering from similar problems.

Third, BCP did not demonstrate any sufficient reason why its trade marks should not be removed from the Register. Burley J accepted that, Host having established the marks were invalidly registered, BCP bore the onus of satisfying the Court that there was sufficient reason not to order cancellation.

Here, the evidence did not establish that BCP had acquired distinctiveness in its signs. Importantly, allowing BCP to keep its registrations would give it an unfair advantage. At [248], his Honour explained:

…. The presence of the existing ground of revocation via the operation of subsection 88(2)(a) and s 41 indicates an intention on the part of the legislature to ensure that historical registrations should not remain on the Register where they should not have been granted in the first place. In the present case, to permit such a course would advantage the unmeritorious registrant who has incorrectly had the benefit of the monopoly since the relevant dates. BCP is able to apply to register the Bohemia marks now, should it choose to do so.

Of course, if it were to do so, it would run the risk of other traders wishing to use the terms opposing (if the Registrar got suckered into accepting the applications in the first place).

Fourth, if his Honour had not found BCPs trade marks invalidly registered, Host would have infringed. Its attempt to rely on s 122(1)(b) would have failed. This part of the case essentially turned on Host’s use being BANQUET by Bohemia (emphasis supplied) rather than BANQUET from Bohemia.

Burley J accepted that s 122 could be invoked to protect trade mark use, not just descriptive use. However, Host’s form of use showed that Host was trying to assert origin in some particular trade source rather than some geographical origin. At [301]:

…. Ms Flint and Mr Sullivan adopted this language, notwithstanding the obvious difficulty with the perception of “by” and with no knowledge of either BCP or the Bohemia marks. However, I find that they did not do so for the purpose of using “Bohemia” to designate the geographical origin of the goods, but to designate the trade origin of the goods lying in a particular entity (which was ultimately Forincorp). Accordingly, the use does not fall within the defence ….

Fifth, BCP’s allegations of misleading or deceptive conduct also failed. A number of factors contributed to this including the particular trade marks BCP had actually used and the good old-fashioned Hornsby Building Information Centre proposition.[5] In contrast to the trade mark case, in addition, it was highly significant that Host’s market and BCP’s market were quite different. BCP’s market was member of the general public looking for premium quality products. Host’s customers, however, were cafes, restaurants, pubs, clubs, community groups and the like who were cost conscious but attended to their purchases with considerable care. So, for example, at [370]:

the typical reasonable consumer is most likely to perceive the October 2015 catalogue use to represent that the manufacturer or producer of the glassware is an entity known as “Banquet by Bohemia” or “Bohemia”, there is no more than a remote prospect that reasonable customers are likely to consider that the goods offered in the catalogue are offered with the sponsorship or approval of BCP or are offered by Host with the approval of BCP or that the Banquet products emanate from BCP. First, I do not consider that the typical Host customer who encounters this publication would be likely to be aware of BCP. Secondly, I consider that any Host customers who are aware of BCP would understand it to be a retailer of a range of glassware products sold under a range of different brands. Thirdly, to the extent that such customers perceive that BCP has a trade connection with products that it sells, those customers are likely to do so by reference to the common use of the 701 mark or the modified 701 mark. Without the presence of that mark, in my view they are unlikely to consider that the word “Bohemia” as it appears in the impugned uses connotes a connection or association with BCP. Needless to say, no such mark appears in the October 2015 catalogue. Fourthly, such customers would also be influenced by the geographical nature of the term and the material differences between the Host and BCP products such as price, quantity and quality. ….

Bohemia Crystal Pty Ltd v Host Corporation Pty Ltd [2018] FCA 235


  1. It also used BANQUET CRYSTAL BY BOHEMIA, CZECH CRYSTAL BY BOHEMIA and expressions like BANQUET FLUTE.  ?
  2. Given the filing dates of BCP’s trade marks, the original form of s 41 applied.  ?
  3. See also [153] – [155].  ?
  4. At [161], Burley J pointed out that PERSIA in the Persian Fetta case and Peking and Ceylon still retained their signification as place names.  ?
  5. If you are going to use a descriptive expression, you have to accept a certain degree of confusion is inevitable.  ?

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)

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.  ?

Now for the PLAYGO word mark

Moshinsky J has now extended the declarations and injunctions in the Playgro v Playgo proceedings to include the PLAYGO word mark, but refused orders to recall infringing products and for delivery up.

The previous decision concerned the use of the PLAYGO device. This device appeared prominently on the top and the four sides of the product packaging. In small print (6 point or 8 point) on the bottom of the packaging, the following legend was printed:

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 12.28.21 PM

Moshinsky J has now ruled that PLAYGO in the first line of that “notice” also infringed, but not the other occurrences of PLAYGO in the company names.

The respondents argued that the PLAYGO device placed prominently on the top and sides of the packaging was clearly the trade mark and would be understood by the consumers to be the trade mark. This “notice” was just a legend referring to that device. Consumers would never even see it, unless they picked the package up and looked at its underside. His Honour said at [17]:

In the present case, the word, ‘PLAYGO’ was immediately followed by the letters, ‘TM’ in superscript and the words “is a trademark of”. These are strong indicators that the word, ‘PLAYGO’ is being used as a trade mark, that is, as a ‘badge of origin’ to distinguish the respondents’ playthings from playthings made by others. While the nature and purpose of the use of the word must be considered in the context of the packaging as a whole, which includes the Playgo Device Mark on the front and sides of the box, the fact that the Playgo Device Mark is used as a trade mark does not diminish the fact, in this case, that the word, ‘PLAYGO’ in the small print is also being used as a trade mark. This case may be contrasted with cases where a word which is arguably descriptive is used in small print on the packaging and it is concluded that, in the context of the packaging as a whole, including the use of a prominent brand elsewhere on the packet, the word is not being used as a trade mark: compare, for example, Nature’s Blend Pty Ltd v Nestle Australia Ltd (2010) 86 IPR 1 at [22], [37]-[40] per Sundberg J; Nature’s Blend Pty Ltd v Nestlé Australia Ltd (2010) 87 IPR 464 at [42], [48] per Stone, Gordon and McKerracher JJ. In the present case, the word, ‘PLAYGO’ is not descriptive and the presence of the superscript letters, ‘TM’ and the words “is a trademark of” indicate use as a trade mark.

Even if the word PLAYGO in the first line of the “notice” could be seen as a legend, it would be sufficient that one of the impressions a consumer could take away from the use was that it was used as a trade mark and that was the case here.

Bearing in mind that Playgo was outside Australia (in China) and supplied its products there to retailers who imported them into Australia for sale, the injunctions Moshinsky J ordered were against supplying for sale in Australia playthings under or by reference to the PLAYGO device or in packaging bearing both the PLAYGO device and the word PLAYGO in small print on the packaging (other than as part of a company name).

The words “under or by reference to” were preferred to “use as a trade mark” as, while the latter expression is the term used in the Act, it was liable to debate and uncertainty about its scope. The use of PLAYGO in the company names was not enjoined as it was not trade mark use. In addition, his Honour was not prepared to enjoin wider uses of PLAYGO where the trial had concerned only the limited use in small print on the bottom of the packaging.

Moshinsky J refused to order Playgo to recall all unsold goods. Playgo had stopped supplying goods with the trade mark in November 2014. His Honour considered it unlikely that stocks would still be held by retailers. Even if there were, there was no evidence that Playgo had any right to require the retailers to return the products. (That of course does not mean that retailers who sell would not infringe.)

The order for delivery up was also refused. This was because any goods in Playgo’s possession or control were in China – where it was located and operated – and could be sold to places other than Australia where there might not be an infringement.

Playgro Pty Ltd v Playgo Art & Craft Manufactory Limited (No 2) [2016] FCA 478

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].  ?

Playgro v Playgo

PLAYGRO v PLAYGO

Well, you’ll never guess what? It turns out that:

playgo

is deceptively similar to:

playgro

No April Fool’s. Now, maybe some of you (like me) are thinking, “Wait a minute, there must be ‘gazillions’ of trade marks for toys with PLAY in them. That’s true, but the second syllables of the verbal elements are just too close, both visually and aurally. As Moshinsky J explained:

In my view, the fact that there are other trade marks for goods in class 28 containing ‘PLAY’ as part of the word, does not assist in resolving the matter. Accepting that it is a crowded market for toys, games and playthings where the word ‘PLAY’ is used as an element of the trade mark, and therefore more attention than usual may be paid to the second syllable, there is nevertheless a closer degree of similarity between the trade marks in issue here and the marks referred to in paragraph [94] above. In the present case, the second syllable of each mark (‘GRO’ and ‘GO’ respectively) is visually and phonetically very similar, while in the other cases (for example, PLAYSKOOL and PLAYBOY) the second syllable is quite different.

The different shaped backgrounds and colours and arrangement of the verbal element(s) were not signficant matters.

A couple of other points.

Playgo is based in Hong Kong. It sold and supplied its products to Myer, Woolworths and Big W there (presumably FOB or some similar arrangement). It argued therefore that it did not use its trade mark in the course of trade in Australia as property in the goods passed on delivery in Hong Kong.

Moshinsky J rejected this argument. When Playgo sold its product to Myer and the others, it knew they were intending to import them into Australia for sale at retail. Moshinsky J considered this was just a straightforward application of Gallo and Estex. Until the goods passed into the hands of the ultimate consumers, they were still in the course of trade and the PLAYGO trade mark operated to denote Playgo as the trade source.

Perhaps surprisingly given this conclusion, however, his Honour considered that Playgo was not liable as a joint tortfeasor with Myer, Woolworths or Big W for the infringements committed by their use. Selling the goods to them, with knowledge of what they intended to do with them (i.e., import them into Australia for retail sale) did not have sufficient commonality of purpose to amount to a common design, to “acting in concert together”; it was merely facilitation:

Nevertheless, in my view, the facts do not establish that Playgo Enterprises and Myer engaged in a ‘common design’ to offer for sale and sell toys bearing the Playgo Device Mark. The relationship between Playgo Enterprises and Myer was merely that of vendor and purchaser. The Supply Agreement appears to be a standard agreement for the sale and purchase of goods; there are no special features which involve Playgo Enterprises in the process of offering for sale and sale of the goods to customers. The facts do not indicate that Playgo Enterprises played any role in the offering for sale or sale of the goods to customers. It is true that Playgo Enterprises sold goods bearing the Playgo Device Mark to Myer, and knew that they were to be offered for sale and sold to customers in Australia. Nevertheless, in my view, that is insufficient to amount to a ‘common design’ because Playgo Enterprises did not engage in any acts in furtherance of the alleged common design. At most, Playgo Enterprises facilitated the infringement by selling the goods to Myer; but mere facilitation is not enough to establish joint tortfeasorship.

Although it is not referred to in the judgment, presumably the other limb of joint tortfeasorship – directing, procuring or inducing the infringement – would also fail in the absence of some positive act (other than selling to the importer for importation in Australia and sale)?[1] If so, that illustrates that the common law principles are much less help to the right holder than the statutory prohibitions in copyright law and patent law against authorising infringement[2] and, even more so, s 117 of the Patents Act 1990.

Playgro Pty Ltd v Playgo Art & Craft Manufactory Limited [2016] FCA 280


  1. See e.g. Ramset Fasteners (Aust) Pty Ltd v Advanced Building Systems Pty Ltd [1999] FCA 898; 44 IPR 481 at [41], [52].  ?
  2. In Cooper v Universal Music, for example, the provision of links on a website which browsers could use to download infringing content did constitute infringement where the website was designed to enable anyone, including the primary infringers, to place the links on the website.  ?

Coke v Pepsi – “second” look

Last week, Besanko J dismissed Coca-Cola Co’s claims that PepsiCo’s “Carolina” bottle shape infringed Coke’s trade marks, and was passing off and misleading or deceptive conduct.

Contour v Carolina

Some background

Coca-Cola Co relied on four trade marks: TM Nos 63697, 767355, 1160893 and 1160894 registered in class 32 for non-alcoholic beverages. The first two might be thought of as 2D representations of the shape of Coca-Cola Co’s “Contour” bottle, which has been in use in Australia since 1938.

1287.2

The second two were essentially the silhouette of the bottle; one image in white, the other in black.

1287.3

PepsiCo had introduced its Carolina bottle shape into Australia in August 2007 on a very small scale. It seems not to have been on the market at all between May 2008 and February 2009, when it was reintroduced on a larger, but still small scale. The Carolina bottle shape had apparently not been the subject of any advertising or promotion. At the time when PepsiCo introduced the Carolina bottle, there were 4, perhaps 6, other bottles used for soft drinks in the market with “waists of varying degrees” so the Contour bottle was not unique in that respect.

The trade mark infringement claims

Besanko J found that PepsiCo was using the Carolina bottle shape as a trade mark, but did not infringe because it was not deceptively similar to Coca-Cola Co’s trade marks.

In deciding that PepsiCo was using the overall shape of the Carolina bottle as a trade mark, Besanko J noted that the relevant goods were the beveage, a formless substance, and the bottle was just a container. So, the cases like Philips v Remington where the shape was the shape of the goods themselves did not apply. At [213], his Honour found that the shape was distinctive and intended to be so.

Besanko J was not prepared to find, however, that PepsiCo used the silhouette of the Carolina bottle as a trade mark. A number of factors played into this conclusion. His Honour accepted that the outline or shape of the bottle may be one of the first things seen by a consumer from a distance. However, that was not enough in itself. Among the factors that led to the finding, his Honour noted at [215]:

…. All bottles have an outline or silhouette and the fact that a bottle has a waist is not so extraordinary as to lead to the conclusion that that feature alone is being used as a trade mark.

and at [216]:

…. the outline or silhouette of the Carolina Bottle is likely to become less important in the consumer’s mind as he or she approaches the refrigerator or cooler and focuses on word marks, logos, and brands. As I have said, the fact that an aspect of a product may be seen at one point does not lead to the conclusion that consumers would see it as a badge of origin.

deceptive similarity

Besanko J agreed with the Full Court’s analysis of the shape depicted in TM Nos 63697 and 767355:

  • the sides of the bottle are curved rather than flat;
  • there is fluting on the top and lower portions of the bottle and no fluting in a central section;
  • the top and lower portions of the bottle have the same number of flutes; and
  • the bottle has a flat base and banded neck.

In contrast, PepsiCo’s Carolina bottle did not have flutes or the clear band; it had a horizontal “wave” feature and its waist was both more gradual and extended higher up the bottle. These differences at [235] were “significant”.

At [240], his Honour rejected Coca-Cola Co’s argument that the overall impression consumers would take away from the Carolina bottle was of “a bottle having a low waisted contoured shape”. Instead:

I do not accept that that is the view which would be held by the ordinary consumer. In my opinion, the waist, the horizontal wave feature, and, to a lesser extent, the frustoconical neck are the significant features of the Carolina Bottle.

Besanko J was not prepared to find that outline or silhouette of the bottle was the essential feature of thes trade marks. Rather, the vertical flutes and the clear belt band were as prominent. At [238]:

…. It cannot be said, for example, that a bottle with a waist is so extraordinary, or a bottle with vertical flutes and a clear belt band so common, that the outline or silhouette should be considered the essential feature.

However, Besanko J also found that the Carolina bottle was not deceptively similar to the silhouette marks represented in TM Nos 1160893 and 1160894. His Honour found that the Carolina bottle was distinctive in itself and, therefore, not deceptively similar. So, at [247], his Honour said:

Even if the outline or silhouette is the only feature of the marks, or is the essential idea of the marks, the comparison is with the sign the alleged infringer has used as a trade mark. In this case, I have found that is the whole shape of the Carolina Bottle. The following are the distinctive features of the Carolina Bottle which I think are distinctive but are not part of the registered marks:

(1) the Carolina Bottle has a gently curving waist at a higher point than that in the marks and does not have an abrupt pinch near the base;

(2) the Carolina Bottle has a cylindrical shoulder, not a curved shoulder;

(3) the Carolina Bottle has a frustoconical neck, not a curved neck;

(4) the Carolina Bottle has a twist top enclosure, not a cap lid seal; and

(5) the Carolina Bottle has a distinctive horizontal embossed wave pattern across the bottom half of the bottle.

Then, at [248], his Honour pointed out that the first 4 factors related to the silhouette and “it seems to me … the outline or silhouette of the Carolina Bottle would not be deceptively similar to either [trade mark].”

I am not at all sure, with respect, that the question is whether the accused sign is distinctive in its own right. Perhaps this means that, in a market where there are other low waisted bottles, the differences were sufficiently important that consumers would not be caused to wonder whether there was a connection with the trade mark owner.

Passing off / misleading or deceptive conduct

On this part of the case, Besanko J thought it was difficult to see why the ordinary consumer would not make his or her purchase on the basis of the [famous] brand names, device marks or logos. However, “not without some hesitation”, his Honour was prepared to find at [270] that a sufficient number of consumers who select a bottle from the store’s refrigerated drinks cabinet themselves “may well make their selection based on overall bottle shape” as a result of their minimal involvement in the purchase.

There was no likelihood of deception or confusion, however, as the shape of the bottles was too different. At [271]:

The difficulty for [Coca-Cola Co] is that, even accepting that and accepting that both bottles will contain dark brown cola and be sold within a similar, if not the same, context, I do not think that such a consumer would be misled or deceived, or would be likely to be misled or deceived, in the case of overall bottle shape because I think he or she would detect quite clearly the difference between the Contour Bottle and the Carolina Bottle. The most noticeable difference between the two bottles is that the Contour Bottle has the very distinctive fluting and the Carolina Bottle has the distinctive horizontal waves. Other noticeable features are the different shaped neck and shoulders and the fact that the waist on the Contour Bottle is lower and more pinched. In other words, if overall bottle shape is the cue, I do not think that there is any real likelihood of deception.

The role of intention

On all 3 aspects of the case, Coca-Cola Co contended that PepsiCo had intentionally designed the Carolina bottle to take advantage of the reputation in the Contour bottle. While Besanko J noted there were features of the relevant PepsiCo executive’s evidence “which caused me to scrutinise it carefully”, his Honour was not prepared to find an intention to deceive or cause confusion.

In any event, Besanko J did not think the resemblance of the Carolina bottle to the Contour shape was sufficiently close for PepsiCo’s intentions to lead to findings of infringement, passing off or misleading or deceptive conduct.

Coca Cola Company v PepsiCo Inc (No 2) [2014] FCA 1287

Trade mark excellence

“Dental Excellence” vs “south perth dental excellence”

A rare case of IP in a court other than the federal courts. Guess who didn’t win?

Dr Agapitos has operated a dental surgery under the name Dental Excellence from Mt Hawthorn in Perth since 2002. In (or from) 2010, he secured registration, TM No. 1388792, for Dental Excellence in respect of “dentistry” in class 44. The provisions of s 41(5) were applied.

Dr Habibi had 3 dental practices in various parts of Perth. Then in 2007, she bought from Dr McNeil his dental practice in South Perth, McNeil’s Dental Care, which promoted its services with the slogan (or tag or strap line) ‘Excellence in Dental Care’. In 2010, when Dr Habibi was updating the signage at the South Perth practice, she changed the name to South Perth Dental Excellence. It was accepted on both sides that Dr Habibi did not know of Dr Agapitos’ practice when she settled on her name. (According to Google Maps, they are about 12.5km apart or somewhere between 13 and 20 minutes drive.)

Dr Agapitos took umbrage and sued for infringement of his trade mark. Dr Habibi counter-claimed for revocation on the basis that “Dental Excellence” wasn’t capable of distinguishing “dentristy”.

Le Miere J applied the standard test from Clark Equipment Co v Registrar of Trade Marks:

The applicant’s chance of success in this respect (i.e. in distinguishing his goods by means of the mark, apart from the effects of registration) must, I think, largely depend upon whether other traders are likely, in the ordinary course of their businesses and without any improper motive, to desire to use the same mark, or some mark nearly resembling it, upon or in connexion with their own goods.

to find that Dental Excellence lacked any capacity to distinguish. So at [39] his Honour said:

other service providers are likely, without any improper motive, to desire to use the words ‘dental excellence’ in connection with their own services. An honest dentist may want to use the word ‘excellence’ on or in connection with ‘dental’ to indicate, or at least claim, that they provide dental services of a superior quality. ‘Dental Excellence’ may not be words which are commonly used by somebody outside the calling of dentistry but that is not the point. The point is that a dentist may well want to use the words ‘dental excellence’ to identify the services they provide and the quality of those services. The name ‘dental excellence’ at the date of filing had a sensible meaning that was descriptive of the plaintiff’s designated services. The name was apt to describe the provision of dental services of superior quality.

What is more, there was evidence that other dentists did in fact use the phrase in relation to their businesses.

Dr Agapitos could not save his registration on the basis of acquired distinctiveness under s 41(6). He put on the usual types of evidence of advertising and promotion. There was also evidence from 3 customers and a dental nurse who had gone to Dr Habibi’s practice by mistake. There was also some evidence of “licensing” of practices in other states, albeit the licences were created some two years after the trade mark was applied for. Jacobs J’s warning from British Sugar about use not equalling reputation was applied: in this case, the evidence of use, by what appears to have been a suburban dental practice, was too slight to overcome the evidence of other users.

Le Miere J finished off by (perhaps surprisingly[1]) finding that Dr Habibi did not use “dental excellence” as a trade mark and so s 120 was not infringed. In any event, she had adopted her sign in good faith and so qualified for the defence under s 122(1)(b).

The CJEU on the revocation of a trade mark on the basis that it no longer distinguishes the relevant goods or services (genericide) – Kornspitz. Of course, they do things differently in America: Living Proof is apparently distinctive, but Perfect Hair Day is not.[2]

Agapitos v Habibi [2014] WASC 47 (Le Miere J)


  1. Compare cheezy twists in Aldi v Frito-Lay.  ?
  2. Well, we do have Sheer Relief and, of course, Tub Happy.  ?

Bugatchi gets Bugatti-ed

While I thought that Bugatti was a car brand, it turns out it is (also) since 1989 a registered trade mark in Australia for,amongst other things, men’s clothing. Originating in Canada, there is also a line of men’s clothing under the label BUGATCHI UOMO. Products bearing this brand have been coming into Australia since 1991. Shine Forever, however, has been importing the line since 2010. Tracey J has ruled that Shine Forever has been infringing the BUGATTI trade mark.

Unsurprisingly, Tracey J rejected Shine Forever’s argument that it was not using BUGATCHI UOMO as a trade mark. According to Shine Forever, the Estex case meant that the Canadian supplier, as the manufacturer of the products, was using the BUGATCHI UOMO trade mark in Australia and not Shine Forever. Nice try, but no cigar.

Shine Forever also tried to rely on the s 122(1)(f) and (fa) defences. There is no infringement if:

(f) the court is of the opinion that the person would obtain registration of the trade mark in his or her name if the person were to apply for it; or

(fa) both:

(i) the person uses a trade mark that is substantially identical with, or deceptively similar to, the first-mentioned trade mark; and

(ii) the court is of the opinion that the person would obtain registration of the substantially identical or deceptively similar trade mark in his or her name if the person were to apply for it; or

For most of the preparatory steps and the trial, Shine Forever maintained it was the person entitled to rely on the defence. However, in the course of submissions the director (self-)representing Shine Forever sought to argue that the Canadian supplier was the person entitled to the defence. Tracey J would not let Shine Forever change its case at that stage. The interesting thing here is that Tracey J said:

54 Like s 123, s 122 operates as a qualification or exception to s 120(1). It provides a defence to “a person” who may otherwise contravene s 120(1) by infringing a registered trade mark. The “person” which is alleged, in the present proceeding, to have contravened s 120(1) is Shine Forever. It is, therefore, the “person” referred to in the prefatory words of s 122(1). The various references, in paragraphs (f) and (fa), to “the person” plainly refer to the person against whom infringement of s 120(1) is alleged and who seeks to invoke one or more of the defences available under s 122(1). In this case that person is Shine Forever, not BUA.

55 As Shine Forever did not seek to contend that it had defences under paragraphs (f) and (fa), these provisions do not assist it.

This probably means that, because Shine Forever was arguing the Canadian supplier was using the trade mark, it couldn’t then argue it was the person referred to in s 122.

Wonder why it couldn’t do that in the alternative?

Now, usually where a local importer or retailer is selling goods bearing a foreign manufacturer’s trade mark, the foreign manufacturer is the owner of the trade mark. Does Tracey J’s approach therefore also mean that, on the strict terms of the provision, the importer or retailer who gets sued for infringement could never rely on the defence when the person who would be entitled to get registered is the foreign supplier?

Bugatti GmbH v Shine Forever [2013] FCA 1116