Posts Tagged ‘use as a trade mark’

Trade mark excellence

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

“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.  ?
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Bugatchi gets Bugatti-ed

Friday, November 8th, 2013

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

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Affinage and A.S.P. 2

Friday, May 27th, 2011

For completeness, I should note that IHC UK has appealed Logan J’s decision earlier this month finding that it infringed IHC Australia’s registered trade mark for AFFINAGE. Summary here.

Interestingly, Logan J has granted a stay of his order to remove all references to A.S.P. from IHC UK’s Web site at www.affinage.com.

You will recall that IHC UK owns AFFINAGE outside Australia and had adopted A.S.P. at least partly to deal with the fact that it could no longer use “its” trade mark in Australia.

Logan J appears to have considered a stay pending the outcome of the appeal was in order as IHC UK:

  1. Had removed all references to Australia (including the drop down country box) from its web site at www.affinage.com;
  2. IHC UK was having some sort of global re-launch of A.S. P. in the UK soon, involving 150 or so distributors from around the world;
  3. His Honour accepted that the decision that the modified Web site infringed had been a “difficult one”; and
  4. IHC Australia had not sought damages and it was difficult to identify what damages might flow from the stay.

His Honour did not think that he needed to order a stay of 7 days of his orders relating to the removal of references to Australia from www.affinage.com. That stay had been sought out of an abundance of caution and IHC UK was generally trying to comply with the orders so it appeared a breach, if any, would have been inadvertent.

International Hair Cosmetics Group Pty Ltd v International Hair Cosmetics Limited (No 2) [2011] FCA 540

For the orders under appeal, see International Hair Cosmetics Group Pty Ltd v International Hair Cosmetics Limited [2011] FCA 339

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Using a sign on the internet

Friday, April 15th, 2011

Logan J has granted injunctions against International Hair Care UK’s  use of AFFINAGE (and other trade marks) on its global website for (in effect) infringing International Hair Care Australia’s trade marks registered in Australia. The facts throw up the interesting question of what happens when 2 different people own the same trade mark in different countries and try to use it on the internet.

Facts

IHC UK is the owner of the registered trade mark AFFINAGE for hair care products in the UK and 20 other countries throughout the world, but not Australia.

In 1992, Mr Barry, the principal of IHC UK, set up IHC Australia with Mr Jolly. At that time, Mr Barry owned a majority of the shares.

IHC Australia applied for and registered AFFINAGE under the Australian trade marks act for hair care products.

In 2002, Mr Barry sold his then remaining shareholding in IHC Australia to Mr Jolly (and his wife) for $480,000. IHC Australia kept its registered trade marks and, under the terms of the sale, the parties divided up the global rights between themselves. IHC Australia got the rights to AFFINAGE in China, South-East Asia, Australia, New Zealand and the South-West and Western Pacific to the International Date Line; IHC UK had the rights to the rest of the world.

Sometime after this, Mr Barry or IHC UK incorporated a new Australian company, Affinage Salon Professional Pty Ltd, to sell hair care products under the brands A.S.P. and KITOKO.

In August 2010, the parties started legal action in Australia against each other. That litigation was compromised by a deed of settlement the terms of which, amongst other things, included Affinage Salon Professional agreeing to change its name so that it did not include AFFINAGE and IHC UK and its subsidiary undertaking:

not to use AFFINAGE … as a sign in connection with the importation, marketing, sale or manufacture in Australia of hair care products including hair colours and dyes.

In January this year, IHC Australia’s solicitor did a Google search and went to the link for IHC UK’s website at www.affinage.com. At that link, he was presented with a banner AFFINAGE and beneath it in smaller script SALON PROFESSIONAL. There was a “country box” with a drop down list of countries. When he selected “Australia”, he was taken to a page headed “ASP”. Under the “Profile tab” for Australia, there were the following passages:

In 1996 [IHC UK] conceived, created and lunched the premium hair care brand AFFINAGE. Originated as a line of hair colour, the AFFINAGE brand grew rapidly to include [reference to other types of product]… Now we are introducing our exciting new hair care brand, ASP, to the Australian and Asian markets. Having already signed distribution agreements with a number of companies we look forward to fantastic success in 2011.

….

Today our products are sold in over 50 countries – across Europe, Africa, the United States, South America and the Asia Pacific. Our brands are marketed globally by [IHC UK] and through it’s associated companies in the USA and Australia. Global distribution is achieved through a worldwide network of wholesalers and specialist distributors

A map of the world showed markers ASP Australia, ASP USA and identified the UK as Worldwide HQ. If the UK or the USA were chosen, the same information was displayed, but the landing pages were headed AFFINAGE and AFFINAGE, not ASP, was used to mark the countries.

IHC Australia re-commenced proceedings for breach of the undertakings.

Following service of the court documents (no other notice of complaint having been given), IHC UK amended its website.

The landing or home page now looked like:

IHC UK's modified home page

and Australia no longer appeared in the drop down box for countries under AFFINAGE, only under A.S.P.

Findings

Logan J found that the website in both its unmodified and modified form breached the undertaking in the deed of settlement and granted injunctions, amongst other things, requiring the A.S.P. component of IHC UK’s website to be removed from www.affinage.com. In contrast, the Facebook and Twitter links on the home page did not breach the undertakings.

On its true construction, the undertaking required IHC UK not to use AFFINAGE in Australia as a trade mark (at [61]). This required that IHC UK not use AFFINAGE as a trade mark in a way which targeted Australia.

IHC UK’s use targeted Australia

His Honour recognised that IHC UK was perfectly entitled to use its trade mark in, for example, the UK where it was the registered owner. The problem was to reconcile that entitlement and the global nature of the internet with IHC Australia’s territorial rights in Australia.

At [59]:

… the reconciliation to which I have just referred is achieved, in terms of the undertaking given in this case, by an approach that finds a use of the nominated words in connection with “marketing” in Australia if the words as so used are downloaded in Australia and there is evidence that the use was specifically intended to be made in, or directed or targeted at Australia.

Unlike the Ward & Brodie case, that targeting was effected by the country selection box: that was its whole purpose. In the case of the unmodified website (at [60]):

that global web site is, inter alia, directed to or targeted at Australia. That is the whole purpose of the “Australia” option in the drop down box selection offered on the global landing page.

This was also true of the modified website. At [62]:

…. That Australian targeted use on the global landing page controls all that follows when one selects, as did Mr Bennett, the “Australia” option in the drop down box.

It was use as a trade mark

While IHC UK could legitimately say it introduced the brand AFFINAGE into Australia as a matter of historical fact. Its usage of the term went much beyond that.

On the first or unmodified form of the website, the purpose of the profile page or tab in the Australia” section was to persuade people to buy IHC UK’s, “and materially” its Australian distributor’s, products by reference to the AFFINAGE trade mark. At [67], his Honour explained:

When one reads the language of the “Profile” page in context, the repetition of AFFINAGE and the repeated use of “our brands” in conjunction with “worldwide” and “are marketed globally by IHC UK and through its associated companies in the USA and Australia”, the reference to Affinage is not just to a matter of foreign history but part of a current promotion that our goods worldwide, including those offered in Australia, include goods with the AFFINAGE brand. ….

No doubt, part of that context included the fact that one landed on a home page emblazoned with the AFFINAGE banner. But, his Honour, as in the Mantra case, was troubled by the repetitive use of the trade mark and, particularly, the representation that “Our goods “are marketed globally … in the USA and Australia”. His Honour also made the point that nothing on the profile page made it clear that IHC UK no longer held the rights to AFFINAGE in Australia.

The modified version of the website, featuring both the AFFINAGE and A.S.P. trade marks, was much closer to the line. Despite the separation between the 2 marks and the removal of Australia from the drop down box for AFFINAGE, however, Logan J considered it was still using AFFINAGE to target Australia in a trade mark sense. At [70]:

The “setting” for the viewer of this global landing page has undoubtedly changed and changed in a way that seeks to create a discrete Australian “target”. What remains though is a determined endeavour to place AFFINAGE in the mind of the viewer who has an interest in reading further in relation to Australia. The Australian “target” remains on the global landing page as a fixed feature. A connection between the AFFINAGE brand product and the ASP brand, each formulated by IHC UK is promoted and promoted to an Australian viewer. What the global landing page does not say is that IHC UK has no connection with the AFFINAGE brand in Australia. Instead, the overall “setting” is that there is an Affinage world brand in which the Australian province is known as “A.S.P.”. This, in my opinion, remains a use of that sign in Australia in connection with marketing contrary to the terms of the undertaking.

Accordingly, IHC UK was ordered to remove :

  1. Australia from the drop down country box;
  2. the A.S.P. pages from its website
  3. any references to Australia from its website; and
  4. any links between any new A.S.P. website and the AFFINAGE website.

FCR O35 r11(2)

For those interested in procedural matters, Logan J refused to follow the Ucorp ruling and concluded that FCR O35 r11(2) conferred a power only; there was a discretion whether or not to award an injunction once it was shown the terms of the undertaking had been breached.

International Hair Cosmetics Group Pty Ltd v International Hair Cosmetics Limited [2011] FCA 339

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A case of (un) parallel imports

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

BTB holds a licence to make and sell “Greg Norman” branded clothing in India from Greg Norman Collection Inc (GNC). GNC is the “head licensor” of the “Greg Norman” trade marks registered in, amongst other places, India and Australia.

By clause 2.4 of the licence agreement, BTB agreed not to sell the branded clothing it made outside India without GNC’s consent:

LICENSEE acknowledges that this License is limited to the TERRITORY defined herein, and agrees not to sell LICENSED PRODUCTS to anyone other than its regular retail customers in the TERRITORY in the normal course of trading, and further agrees that it will not sell LICENSED PRODUCTS destined directly or indirectly for sale outside the TERRITORY without the prior written approval of GNC.

Sunsport operates mainly in Pakistan, but also has a representative in Singapore, Mr Wadhwani. Mr Wadhwani also operates a business, PT International which, amongst other things, supplies product to the second respondent in Australia.

Sunsport told Mr Wadhwani that it could source genuine Greg Norman branded merchandise from BTB. Mr Wadhwani told the principal of the second respondent, Mr Dwyer, this. Mr Dwyer checked out GNC’s website and established that BTB was an authorised licensee of GNC and placed an order with Mr Wadhwani from BTB’s catalogue.

Sunsport placed an order with BTB for a shipment of clothing, apparently to be delivered to Pakistan via Singapore. When the shipment reached Singapore, however, PT International on sold the goods to Mr Dwyer’s company, which imported them into Australia.

Nicholas J has found that in doing so Mr Dwyer’s company infringed the “Greg Norman” trade marks.

One particularly interesting issue is why Mr Dwyer’s company was unable to rely on s 123 of the Trade Marks Act 1995: while BTB was in fact a licensee of the relevant trade marks, Nicholas J still found that the trade marks had not been applied to the particular goods with the trade mark owner’s consent. The main reason for this conclusion was that BTB’s licence was limited to India. Although BTB made and marked the goods in India where it did have a licence, it had no licence to sell “Greg Norman” merchandise outside India. At [78] his Honour said:

Where a registered owner consents to another person applying the registered mark to goods on condition that the goods must not to be supplied outside a designated territory, the registered owner would not usually be regarded as having consented to the application of the mark to goods which the other person knows at the time he or she applies the mark are to be supplied by him or her outside the territory.

However, there may be more to it than that. It would appear that BTB made a special batch of the merchandise to fill the order from Sunsport. Also, the evidence showed that BTB did not include the sale in its royalty reports to GNC. While strictly obiter, his Honour went on to note at [89]:

I would not be prepared to infer that products manufactured by BTB in respect of which GNC had received royalty payments were products to which the second applicant’s marks had been applied without the second applicant’s consent in the absence of convincing evidence to that effect. Of course, as I have previously found, royalties were not paid on the products shipped to Sunsports. ….

and went on to reject an argument that the goods imported were of an inferior quality.

If nothing else, this decision shows just how high the hurdle may be for someone who want to engage in parallel importing. On the other hand, if the receipt of royalties has the significance identified at [89], trade mark owners will need to scrutinise statements from their licensees very carefully to ensure that they are not “implicitly” licensing a parallel importer. The implicit licence, or licence by acquiescence, however,  might seem very hard in cases where royalty reports don’t come in for several months (or longer) unless, perhaps, there be a pattern of acquiescing.

A second interesting point lies in his Honour’s comments on the Champagne Hiedsieck case. In that case, Clauson J had held that there is no use of a trade mark as a trade mark by someone when the goods in question are goods to which the trade mark owner had actually applied the mark. That ruling has been upheld and applied many times.

I had thought the High Court’s references to Champagne Hiedsieck in its Gallo ruling showed its continuing relevance.

Nicholas J points out, however, that the High Court stated that s 123 embodies the principle in Champagne Hiedsieck. As a consequence, applying conventional principles of statutory interpretation, his Honour concluded that the enactment of s 123 has operated as a kind of statutory repeal or displacement of Champagne Hiedsieck. His Honour explained:

[98] The question whether a person who sells goods to which a trade mark has been applied with the consent of the owner of the mark uses the mark as a trade mark was recently left open by the High Court: E & J Gallo Winery v Lion Nathan Australia Pty Ltd [2010] HCA 15; (2010) 265 ALR 645 at [53].

[99] The respondents’ argument before me was that, independently of the question of trade mark use by them (which was, as I have said, conceded by them to have occurred), the applicants were also required to establish that the respondents had engaged in “infringing use” and, for that purpose, had to establish that the marks on the relevant goods had not been applied by or with the licence of their owner. I do not think this is correct. There is no justification for implying any such additional requirement. If the circumstances referred to in s 123 are shown to exist then the respondents will not have infringed the registered trade marks, not because of any additional requirement of the kind now postulated but by operation of s 123 itself. The High Court observed in E & J Gallo Winery at [34] that s 123 reflects the principle established by Champagne Heidsieck.
[100] As a matter of statutory construction, s 123 of the Act, in form and substance, creates an exception to infringement which, in accordance with the relevant principles of statutory construction, leads to the conclusion that it is the person who invokes the section who carries the onus of proof: Avel Pty Ltd v Multicoin Amusements Pty Ltd [1990] HCA 58; (1990) 171 CLR 88 at 119; Vines v Djordjevitch [1955] HCA 19; (1955) 91 CLR 512 at 519.

(Nicholas J did go on to note how lightly the burden on a respondent might shift.)

Arguably, the point was not strictly before his Honour as Mr Dwyer’s company conceded it was using the Greg Norman trade marks “as trade marks”. If right, however, there would appear to have been a significant narrowing of defendants’ “wriggle room”.

Sporte Leisure Pty Ltd v Paul’s International Pty Ltd (No 3) [2010] FCA 1162

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Appeal sinks luscious LIPS

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

One month after the appeal was heard, the Full Court has rejected Nature’s Blend’s appeal that Nestlé used Luscious Lips as a trade mark.

Nature’s Blend argued first that the trial judge had wrongly focused on the character of Nestlé’s use instead of the proper meaning of the Nature’s Blend mark. As the mark was registered for all confectionery, not just “lips”, it was said to be inherently distinctive. The Full Court, however, rejected this requirement and re-affirmed that the test was to examine whether or not the way Nestlé used the mark (the “impugned use”) would be understood by ordinary consumers as functioning as a badge of origin.

Nestlé’s Luscious Lips are part of its ‘Retro Party Mix’ pack. The expression ‘luscious Lips’ appeared only on the back of the packaging in the expression:

That’s right! All your old favourites are back, so put on those flares & get ready to party! Up to 7 lolly varieties including … cool COLA Bottles, those radical Racing Cars, yummy Honey flavoured Bears, totally freeeekie Teeth, luscious Lips, partying Pineapples and outrageous Raspberries.

You can see the front of the packaging at the product’s very own facebook page.

Nature’s Blend contended that the trial judge had improperly diluted the significance of the ‘luscious Lips’ expression on the Nestlé packaging by reference to the presence of other, more prominent brands.

This issue can be tricky because the Courts have long held that one does not take into account extraneous matters such as disclaimers or the presence of other trade marks when considering the question of deceptive similarity. On the question of use as a trade mark, it is permissible.

While the Full Court acknowledged that the fact that other trade marks were used more prominently on the packaging did not preclude ‘luscious Lips’ from being used as a trade mark, the characterisation of the impugned use depended on the particular usage in question in its own particular setting. In this case, the presence of ALLEN’s and Retro Party Mix did in fact undercut the likelihood that consumers would read ‘luscious Lips’ as a trade mark.

The Full Court also agreed that Nestlé had used the trade mark in good faith as a description.

Nature’s Blend Pty Ltd v Nestlé Australia Ltd [2010] FCAFC 117 (Stone, Gordon and Mckerracher JJ)

Comment on decision at first instance.

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Kit Kat shape trade mark

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Nestlé has successfully appealed Aldi’s opposition to registration of a 4 bar Kit Kat as a trade mark:

Societe Des Produits Nestle S.A. v Aldi Stores (A Limited Partnership) [2010] FCA 218

The trade mark is TM No. 822780 for this:

The endorsement reads:

The trade mark consists of the shape of the goods, being four bars attached to one another by a thin base as depicted in the representations attached to the application form.* * Accepted under the provisions of subsection 41(6).*

Now, the appeal was resolved by consent. There is an interesting practice point there Nicholas J, an experienced IP practitioner before going to the Bench, explains the rationale for allowing appeals on this basis.

The larger questions are of course how did Nestlé get it accepted and what can they do with it?

The endorsement indicates that the sign was accepted on the basis of acquired distinctiveness under s 41(6). It would appear from the Opposition decision, there was (as you would expect) enormous sales and advertising and a survey indicating 77% of the public would identify the shape as Kit Kat.

Consistently with the approach taken by the Full Court in BP Green (cf [118] and [121-122]), the Hearing Officer upheld the opposition on the ground that the shape was not used as a trade mark. Decision here (pdf –  I couldn’t find it on Austlii).

Of course, we don’t know what evidence, if any, Nestlé filed in support of its appeal, which might have persuaded Aldi to withdraw.

Next, what happens if Aldi or Coles or Woolworths start selling a chocolate with 4 bars like the shape above wrapped in their own packaging? At the Opposition hearing, Nestlé argued that post sale use, such as unwrapping the chocolate after sale, could constitute use as a trade mark citing Kabushiki Kaisha Sony Computer Entertainment v Nuplayer Ltd [2005] EWCH 1522 (Ch D) in support. Given his conclusions on other points, it was sufficient for the Hearing Officer to assume this was the case. How it sits with Re Yanx’ TM might be another matter.

What happens to those people who are selling 1 finger or 2 bar variations on a theme? Shades of Adidas’ 3 stripe wars.

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Luscious Lips confectionary

Friday, March 12th, 2010

Sundberg J has dismissed Nature’s Blend’s action against Nestlé for infringement of its LUSCIOUS LIPS trade mark, passing off and misleading or deceptive conduct by selling Allens RETRO PARTY MIX.

Nature’s Blend, which was principally a supplier of veterinary products registered LUSCIOUS LIPS in respect of confectionery. Initially, at least, it gave chocolates away branded with the trade mark and a device to promote its business.

Around the same time as Nature’s Blend began marketing products with its trade mark, Nestlé introduced a new product under its ALLENS brand called ‘RETRO PARTY MIX’. This was a box or packet of mixed lollies. The back of the packaging included the following:

That’s right! All your favourites are back, so put on those flares and get ready to party! Up to 7 lolly varieties including…cool Cola Bottles, those radical Racing Cars, yummy Honey flavoured Bears, totally freeeekie Teeth, luscious Lips, partying Pineapples and outrageous Raspberries. [emphasis added]

The “luscious” Lips were a jelly product in the shape of lips.

Sundberg J found that the words used in this setting were not used as a trade mark. First, because the word “luscious” was descriptive and in context consumers would be likely to regard the expression as laudatory and possibly even humorous. Secondly, the effect of the combined expression in context was diluted by the prominence of the Allens, RETRO PARTY MIX and Nestlé trade marks.

Sundberg J would also have found, if necessary, that Nestlé was using the term as a good faith description: Nestlé’s product manager explained the development of the name in terms which made it clear she had been unaware of Nature’s Blend’s trade mark or product.

Interestingly, at [13] Sundberg J also considered it clear that the relevant time for determining liability under s 52 of the Trade Practices Act 1974 (Cth) is the date when the respondent’s conduct started; the same as for trade mark infringement and passing off. Middleton J did not consider it necessary to decide the point in Playcorp v Bodum [2010] FCA 23 at [58]-[59].

Nature’s Blend Pty Ltd  v Nestle Australia Ltd [2010] FCA 198

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Maltesers v Delfi malt balls

Monday, December 14th, 2009

Mars’ appeal against the rejection of its claims of trade mark infringement and misleading or deceptive conduct have been tersely rejected.

Images of the product Mars complained about here.

The Full Court noted:

9     It is not in dispute that the evidence established that:
•    confectionary is commonly packaged in primary colours and that red, in various shades, is a predominant and common, indeed ubiquitous, colour;
•    confectionary packaging commonly displays a picture or representation of the product, frequently showing a cross-section or “cut through” of the product;
•    it is not unusual for the name of the product to be written on a diagonal, from bottom left to top right;
•    it is common for packaging of confectionary to include all of the above features.

In this context, the Full Court found that the words malt balls were descriptive and the colour red used by the respondent was not distinctive.

Mars Australia Pty Ltd v Sweet Rewards Pty Ltd [2009] FCAFC 174

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What’s use of a trade mark in Australia

Friday, December 11th, 2009

Bausch & Lomb were distributing an ophthalmic irrigating solution in Australia in bottles like this:

2009_129900.png

The bottles themselves were packaged in cardboard boxes which did not have “BSS” on them and the products were distributed to hospitals and the like.

Alcon, however, has BSS registered as a trade mark in class 5 for such products.

One point of interest is that Bausch & Lomb sought to show that BSS had become descriptive in the trade by relying on a range of publications which included expressions such as “balanced salt solution (BSS Alcon)”, with subsequent references being just to BSS.

Most of the publications were dismissed as inadmissible, being foreign publications not shown to be directed at Australia or referred to by Australians. On the other hand, those in Australia that were admitted:

98 A fair reading of those journal articles suggests that, when used in those articles, the letters “BSS” were almost always being used by the authors as an editorial abbreviation for “balanced salt solution”. This does not prove lack of distinctiveness. The letters “BSS” never appear on their own in those journal articles without a prior reference to “balanced salt solution”. The contents of the journal articles are, at best, neutral on the question of whether the letters “BSS” were used descriptively by December 2006. If anything, they tend to suggest that those letters were not used in that way at that time. This is because, in every case, it was necessary to refer to the product by its full name (“balanced salt solution”) before the acronym “bss” could sensibly be deployed. The one example of use of the letters “BSS” in government Request for Tender documents is in the same category.

The evidence further showed that until Bausch & Lomb came along, all Alcon’s other competitors used “balanced salt solution” but not BSS. Bausch & Lomb’s conduct, the subject of the proceeding, was the sole exception.

A second, more general, issue is whether or not Bausch & Lomb is using BSS as a trade mark. Foster J found it was. Over at the Australian Trade Marks blog, Professor Davison accepts that there was considerable grounds to find that it was use as a trade mark. However, he contends that one of the factors, (h), relied on by the judge goes to far:

(h) The letters “BSS” have brand significance in the relevant trade in Australia. They are known to be the applicant’s trade mark. The applicant has a reputation in the product identified by reference to the mark (Alcon BSS).

I am not sure that the criticism is well made.

For example, in the Caplets case, Gummow J explained the test for determining use of a trade mark as follows:

When the issue is one of infringement, a pivotal question is whether the use complained of is use by the alleged infringer as a trade mark. The answer to that question requires an understanding of the “purpose and nature” of the impugned use: Shell Co of Australia Ltd v Esso Standard Oil (Australia) Ltd (1963) 109 CLR 407 at 426(the Shell case) per Kitto J. As his Honour there points out, with reference to Edward Young & Co Ltd v Grierson Oldham & Co Ltd (1924) 41 RPC 548, and as s 66 of the present Act also indicates, the nature of the allegedly infringing use may be considered in the light of a usage common in the relevant trade. The relevant context, where the mark is a word mark, includes a consideration of the way in which the word has been displayed in relation to the goods and advertisements of which complaint is made: Mars GB Ltd v Cadbury Ltd [1987] RPC 387 at 402, per Whitford J.
Where the trade mark allegedly used by the defendant comprises ordinary English words (such as “Page Three”, considered by Slade J in News Group Newspapers Ltd v Rocket Record Co Ltd [1981] FSR 89 at 102) then, as this decision illustrates, that circumstance may be taken into account by the court in the process of reasoning by which it accepts or rejects a submission that the use in question is not a trade mark use but a description of the goods in question. To say that is not to gainsay the point made by Dixon CJ in Mark Foy’s Ltd v Davies Coop and Co Ltd (1956) 95 CLR 190 at 194–5 (the Tub Happy case), that language is not always used to convey a single, clear idea; a mark may have a descriptive element but still serve as a badge of trade origin. However, where the issue is one of infringing use by use of a word mark (as in the present case), the fundamental question remains, to paraphrase what was said by Williams J in the same case (at 205), whether those to whom the user is directed are being invited to purchase the goods (or services) of the defendants which are to be distinguished from the goods of other traders “ partly because “ (emphasis supplied) they are described by the words in question.

When the issue is one of infringement, a pivotal question is whether the use complained of is use by the alleged infringer as a trade mark. The answer to that question requires an understanding of the “purpose and nature” of the impugned use: Shell Co of Australia Ltd v Esso Standard Oil (Australia) Ltd (1963) 109 CLR 407 at 426(the Shell case) per Kitto J. As his Honour there points out, with reference to Edward Young & Co Ltd v Grierson Oldham & Co Ltd (1924) 41 RPC 548, and as s 66 of the present Act also indicates, the nature of the allegedly infringing use may be considered in the light of a usage common in the relevant trade. The relevant context, where the mark is a word mark, includes a consideration of the way in which the word has been displayed in relation to the goods and advertisements of which complaint is made: Mars GB Ltd v Cadbury Ltd [1987] RPC 387 at 402, per Whitford J.

Where the trade mark allegedly used by the defendant comprises ordinary English words (such as “Page Three”, considered by Slade J in News Group Newspapers Ltd v Rocket Record Co Ltd [1981] FSR 89 at 102) then, as this decision illustrates, that circumstance may be taken into account by the court in the process of reasoning by which it accepts or rejects a submission that the use in question is not a trade mark use but a description of the goods in question. To say that is not to gainsay the point made by Dixon CJ in Mark Foy’s Ltd v Davies Coop and Co Ltd (1956) 95 CLR 190 at 194–5 (the Tub Happy case), that language is not always used to convey a single, clear idea; a mark may have a descriptive element but still serve as a badge of trade origin. However, where the issue is one of infringing use by use of a word mark (as in the present case), the fundamental question remains, to paraphrase what was said by Williams J in the same case (at 205), whether those to whom the user is directed are being invited to purchase the goods (or services) of the defendants which are to be distinguished from the goods of other traders “ partly because “ (emphasis supplied) they are described by the words in question. (my emphasis)

Now, that doesn’t say that you can take into account consumers’ knowledge that the term is a trade mark. However, if you can take into account their knowledge that something, such as the ox cart in Edward Young v Grierson Oldham, is commonly used descriptively, wouldn’t their knowledge that something was a trade mark be relevant also? The fact that ‘Alligator’ was a fancy word used only by the plaintiff was a vital consideration in JB Stone & Co Ltd v Steelace Manufacturing Co Ltd (1929) 46 RPC 406, a case which Kitto J did read narrowly.

Alcon Inc v Bausch & Lomb (Australia) Pty Ltd [2009] FCA 1299

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