March 2023

Self Care v Allergan – Part 2

Previously on IPwars.com we looked at why the High Court held PROTOX did not infringe BOTOX. The High Court also ruled that “instant BOTOX® alternative” did not infringe and overturned the Full Court’s ruling that the phrase was misleading or deceptive contrary to the ACL.

A recap

You will recall that Allergan has registered BOTOX as a trade mark for “[p]harmaceutical preparations for the treatment of … wrinkles” in class 5. The product Allergan makes and sells under the BOTOX trade mark is an injectable pharmaceutical which must be administered by a health professional. One treatment of BOTOX preparation can last for up to several months.

Because of its “overwhelming” and “ubiquitous” reputation in BOTOX, however, Allergan has also achieved registration of BOTOX in class 3 for anti-ageing and anti-wrinkle creams.

The second FREEZEFRAME product Self Care sells is INHIBOX. The INHIBOX product is a cream which the user can apply themselves at home and which lasts for up to a few hours to reduce the visible signs of ageing.

The INHIBOX product was sold in two forms of packaging:

Old packaging – Packaging A

Image of INHIBOX packaging showing FREEZEFRAME and INHIBOX trade marks, instant Botox® alternative and explanatory text on back

New packaging – Packaging B:

Image of INHIBOX packaging showing FREEZEFRAME and INHIBOX trade marks, instant Botox® alternative and explanatory text on back

Both forms of packaging included the phrase “instant BOTOX® alternative”. You will also notice that the back of both forms of packaging includes a longer declaration: “The original instant and long term Botox® alternative”.

Why “instant Botox® alternative” did not infringe

Self Care’s INHIBOX product being an anti-wrinkle cream falling squarely within the scope of Allergan’s BOTOX registration in class 3, the High Court had identified at [22] that the trade mark owner had to prove two things to establish trade mark infringement under s 120(1):

  1. that the impugned sign was being used as a trade mark; and
  2. that the impugned sign was substantially identical or deceptively similar to the registered trade mark.

At [23], a sign is being used as a trade mark when it is being used as “a badge of origin” to indicate a connection between the goods and the user of the mark.[1]

And whether that is the case is to be determined objectively in the context of the use without regard to the subjective intentions of the user. To repeat the High Court’s explanation at [24]:

Whether a sign has been “use[d] as a trade mark” is assessed objectively without reference to the subjective trading intentions of the user[50]. As the meaning of a sign, such as a word, varies with the context in which the sign is used, the objective purpose and nature of use are assessed by reference to context. That context includes the relevant trade[51], the way in which the words have been displayed, and how the words would present themselves to persons who read them and form a view about what they connote[52]. A well known example where the use was not “as a trade mark” was in Irving’s Yeast-Vite Ltd v Horsenail[53], where the phrase “Yeast tablets a substitute for ‘Yeast-Vite’” was held to be merely descriptive and not a use of “Yeast-Vite” as a trade mark. Therefore, it did not contravene the YEAST-VITE mark. (citation omitted)

Applying that test, the High Court held that Self Care was not using “instant Botox® alternative” as a trade mark. There were a number of reasons contributing to this conclusion.

First, Self Care did not present the phrase in a consistent style.

Secondly, the phrase was presented alongside two obvious trade marks – FREEZEFRAME and INHIBOX – so that the phrase was less likely to be taken as a trade mark.

And thirdly, while FREEZEFRAME and INHIBOX were presented as trade marks, the phrase “instant Botox® alternative” was a descriptive phrase which in context was used only with that descriptive purpose and nature.

As to the first consideration, the High Court explained at [55]:

The presentation of “instant Botox® alternative” was inconsistent in size, font and presentation on each of Packaging A, Packaging B and the website, indicating “instant Botox® alternative” was not being used as a badge of origin to distinguish Self Care’s goods from those dealt with by another trader[126]. On Packaging A the phrase was presented vertically, marked out by four vertical lines separating each of the words. On Packaging B and on the website the phrase was presented horizontally without any lines separating the words. The arrangement of the words differed. On the packaging, each word in the phrase occupied its own line. On two website pages the phrase occupied a single line. On two other website pages the words “Instant” and “Botox®” shared a line and the word “ALTERNATIVE” appeared on the next line. The font was inconsistent. The packaging used a different font to the website pages, and one website page used a different font to the other website pages. The capitalisation was inconsistent. Three different forms were adopted: “instant Botox® alternative” on the packaging, “INSTANT BOTOX® ALTERNATIVE” on one website page and “Instant Botox® ALTERNATIVE” on three other website pages.

Then, the High Court explained at [56] that the likelihood “instant Botox® alternative” would be taken as a trade mark was diminished because its use was not as dominant as the use of FREEZEFRAME and INHIBOX:

…. This diminishes the likelihood that the phrase “instant Botox® alternative” could be objectively understood to indicate origin in itself[127]. This is because its use was not as dominant as the use of the other signs, FREEZEFRAME and INHIBOX. This is most evident on the packaging. On both Packaging A and Packaging B, “instant Botox® alternative” appeared only once, on the front of the box, in much smaller font than FREEZEFRAME and INHIBOX. FREEZEFRAME and INHIBOX were also featured prominently on the left and right sides of each box. Further …. (citations omitted)

At [57], the High Court recognised that a sign can be both descriptive and used as a trade mark (see also [25]) but the phrase “instant Botox® alternative” was not in this case:

The FREEZEFRAME and INHIBOX script style and presentation is also significant. FREEZEFRAME and INHIBOX were both distinctive and stylised signs that were apt to be perceived as brands. In contrast, “instant Botox® alternative” was a descriptive phrase that had an ordinary meaning and included within it the trade mark BOTOX (identified as such with a ® symbol). It was descriptive of the product to which it was attached as an alternative product. While a sign can both be descriptive and serve as a badge of origin, the better view is that the use of the phrase, consistent with its ordinary meaning, had only a descriptive purpose and nature[128]. As the primary judge found, the phrase amounted to “ad?speak”. (citation omitted)

As the phrase was not used as a trade mark, there was no need to consider whether it was deceptively similar to Allergan’s trade mark.

Some aspects of the High Court’s reasons

In reaching its conclusions, the High Court drew on three different uses – the two forms of packaging and the website collectively. At [54], the High Court said it was permissible “to address them together, identifying relevant similarities and differences in use.”

In this case at least, there appears to have been some overlap between Self Care’s use of Packaging A and Packaging B – the latter being introduced on the market in September 2016, the former still being on the market until February 2017. The website of course was contemporaneous with both.

Nonetheless, it might be thought a bit odd that generally the old form of packaging informed the understanding of the new form of packaging. And, if the question is whether or not the particular use on the packaging is use as a trade mark, one might wonder about the relevance of use elsewhere. It must also be acknowledged that the form of use was one only of the factors contributing to the conclusion.

The High Court’s approach therefore reinforces INTA’s longstanding message that the trade mark owner should ensure it presents its trade mark consistently. Giving this consideration too much weight in isolation, however, risks creating some sort of pirate’s charter.

Ultimately, it might be thought the result is not too surprising. Afterall, phrases like this have not been considered to be trade mark use since the House of Lords’ decision in 1934 that “Yeast tablets a substitute for Yeast-Vite” did not infringe the registered trade mark YEAST-VITE.

In explaining why the Full Court wrongly found use as a trade mark, however, the High Court advanced a very different explanation why “instant Botox® alternative” was not use as a trade mark. The Full Court had impermissibly conflated the tests of use as a trade mark and deceptive similarity. At [60], the High Court then said:

Conflation of those elements is not uncommon. As Shanahan’s Australian Law of Trade Marks & Passing Off observes, “[t]here is a common misconception that an infringer uses a sign as a trade mark if the use indicates or is likely to indicate a connection between the infringer’s goods and the owner of the registered mark”[129]. However, “factors relevant to whether there is a misrepresentation or likelihood of deception have no role to play in deciding the question of what constitutes ‘use as a trade mark’”[130]. As was stated in Coca-Cola Company v All-Fect Distributors Ltd, the inquiry is not “whether the sign indicates a connection between the alleged infringer’s goods and those of the registered owner”[131]. The correct approach is to ask whether the sign used indicates origin of goods in the user of the sign[132]. (emphasis supplied) (citations omitted)

This may be contrasted with the reason why the House of Lords held that there had been no use as a trade mark. Lord Tomlin explained:[2]

This is clearly a use of the word “Yeast-Vite” on the respondent’s preparation to indicate the appellant’s preparation and to distinguish the respondent’s preparation from it. It is not a use of the word as a trade mark, that is, to indicate the origin of the goods in the respondent by virtue of manufacture, selection, certification, dealing with or offering for sale.

The High Court’s endorsement of Coca-Cola v Allfect on this point cannot be the result of some change in the meaning or concept of “use as a trade mark”. In the Yeast-Vite case, Lord Tomlin said:[3]

The phrase “the exclusive right to the use of such trade mark” carries in my opinion the implication of use of the mark for the purpose of indicating in relation to the goods upon or in connection with which the use takes place, the origin of such goods in the user of the mark by virtue of the matters indicated in the definition of “trade mark” contained in s 3.

That is the same explanation of the concept as adopted by the High Court in Gallo at [42] and in Self Care at [23] and [53].

It also cannot really be explained by the introduction into the Trade Marks Act of s 122A and s 123. Lord Tomlin roundly rejected a similar argument by the trade mark owner in Yeast-Vite:

nor do I think it is legitimate to treat special defences available under other sections of the latter Act as constituting a measure of the right conferred by s 39.

It appears therefore that the High Court has resolved the point left open in the Gallo case at [53] – whether a retailer uses the trade mark as a trade mark when using it in relation to the genuine goods of the trade mark owner.[4]

Whether that means our law now needs amendment to provide a defence for parody and satire, or other types of nominative fair use, remains to be seen.

The ACL case

The Full Court had found that the phrase “instant Botox® alternative” conveyed the representations that use of INHIBOX would result in a similar reduction in the appearance of wrinkles to using Botox and, secondly, that the effects would last for a period equivalent to that resulting from use of Botox.

The Full Court found that Self Care had reasonable grounds for the former representation, but not the latter – the long term efficacy representation. Therefore, Self Care’s use of the phrase was misleading or deceptive in contravention of the ACL.

On appeal, Self Care did not contend INHIBOX had a similar long term efficacy to Botox. Rather, it denied that the phrase “instant Botox® alternative” conveyed the long term efficacy representation at all.

Recap of the ACL principles

At [81], the High Court confirmed that determining whether there had been a breach of s 18 required a four step analysis:

  1. Identifying the conduct said to contravene with precision;
  2. Confirming that the conduct was “in trade or commerce”;
  3. Considering what meaning the conduct conveyed; and
  4. Determining whether the conduct in light of that meaning was misleading or deceptive or likely to mislead or deceive.

At [82], the High Court also confirmed that the third and fourth steps required characterisation as an objective matter. This required viewing the conduct as a whole and its notional effects, judged by the conduct in context, on the state of mind of the relevant person or class of persons.

The context includes the immediate context – all the words in the communication and the way they are conveyed, not just the word or phrase in isolation. The context also includes the broader context – all the relevant surrounding facts and circumstances.

Next, in cases of this kind the High Court re-affirmed at [83] that it is necessary to identify an ordinary and reasonable representative member of the relevant class “to objectively attribute characteristics and knowledge to that hypothetical person (or persons), and to consider the effect or likely effect of the conduct on their state of mind.” This required allowing for a range of reasonable reactions to the conduct by excluding from consideration reactions of the ignorant or very knowledgeable, those resulting from habitual caution or exceptional carelessness and the extreme or fanciful.

The misrepresentation was not made

The High Court analysed each of the three types use – Packaging A, Packaging B and the website – separately. But the reasons why “instant Botox® alternative” was not misleading or deceptive are essentially the same.

In the case of Packaging A, the High Court noted the use of the trade marks FREEZEFRAME and INHIBOX and “instant Botox® alternative” on the front of the packaging. On the side of the packaging were printed the words “Clinically proven to erase wrinkle appearance in 5 minutes”. And on the back, there was the vertical script “The world’s first Instant and Long Term Botox® Alternative” in larger, blue lettering than the panel of explanatory text. Under the heading “Freeze wrinkles instantly”, the first paragraph of that explanatory text read:

Why wait for weeks to look dramatically younger when you can wipe away the years this very minute! freezeframe’s exclusive INHIBOX complex is clinically proven to wipe away visible expression wrinkles around the eyes and on the forehead within 5 minutes, so you get an immediate wrinkle freeze and eye lift that lasts for hours. (emphasis supplied)

The remainder of the text included three more references to the effects of INHIBOX being “long term”. This included a heading “And long term!” under which the packaging stated “”freezeframe technology is scientifically proven to reduce the appearance of wrinkles by up to 63.23% in just 28 days“ and ”freezeframe’s Dual Effect technology gives you proven instant wrinkle reduction, plus the world’s best long term wrinkle relaxing”.

Under the heading “Two of the world’s most potent wrinkle erasers* in one formula”– the packaging stated “[i]magine… the power of an instant wrinkle freeze, combined with the long term benefits of the most potent, cumulative facial relaxing technology on the planet. All in one simple formula.”

Despite all these references to “long term”, the High Court held at [102] that both the immediate and broader contexts meant the phrase “instant Botox® alternative” would not convey to the reasonable consumer in the target market that either a single treatment or long term use of INHIBIX would last for an equivalent period to a BOTOX injection.

In the immediate context – the packaging, the words “long term” must be understood in the context of “lasts for hours” and that the treatment was “instant” and working “within 5 minutes”. As a result, “long term” was mere puffery. At [99], the High Court explained:

…. The fact that the effect of Inhibox was said to be instant makes it less likely that the reasonable consumer would believe that those effects would last for as long as those of Botox. Put differently, the reasonable consumer would likely believe it too good to be true that the effects of Inhibox are both instant and as long lasting as those of Botox.

The broader context included that INHIBOX was a cream applied by the user while BOTOX is a pharmaceutical injection requiring a visit to a healthcare professional. INHIBOX was much cheaper. The two products were not sold in the same locations. In these circumstances, the High Court concluded at [101]:

Taking into account that broader context, it is difficult to conceive why the reasonable consumer in the target market would think that a topically self-applied cream obtained from the pharmacy at a relatively low cost and worn in the course of the usual activities of life (including bathing and exercise) would have the same period of efficacy after treatment as an injectable anti-wrinkle treatment that is only available to be administered by healthcare professionals at a higher cost. ….

Moreover, the reasonable consumer would not assume that the use of BOTOX in the phrase indicated a common trade connection between INHIBOX and BOTOX.

Similar reasoning led to the same conclusion in respect of Packaging A and the website even though the latter, in particular, seems to have used “long term” rather more prominently.

The errors made by the Full Court

The High Court’s reasons why the phrase “instant Botox® alternative” was not misleading or deceptive suggest a rather robust approach to assessing the impact of the conduct on the target market. In addition, its reasons provide further guidance about how the conduct should be analysed.

First, at [88] – [89], the High Court agreed the trial judge had made an appealable error by considering only the phrase and the broader context, not taking into account the immediate context as well. So, it is necessary to consider all three aspects.

Secondly, the Full Court had also erred. There are a number of strands to this. One key error was misidentification of the ordinary and reasonable consumer. A second was the false premise that consumers would think the phrase “instant Botox® alternative” conveyed an association between INHIBOX and the trade source of BOTOX.

On the second point at [89], the High Court pointed out that the trial judge had found “instant Botox® alternative” would not convey an association between INHIBOX and BOTOX and there had been no appeal from that finding.

On the first point, the Full Court had found that some members of the relevant class would know that the effects of BOTOX lasted four months. The High Court criticised the factual basis for the conclusions about how long BOTOX lasted and whether consumers knew that.

More generally, however, the High Court said the Full Court had been wrong to assess the effects of the phrase on the target market on the basis that some reasonable consumers would have been misled. At [90], the High Court explained:

…. Further, the Full Court’s statement that the target market “would have included” reasonable consumers who had that knowledge demonstrated a misunderstanding of the relevant test. The ordinary and reasonable consumer is a hypothetical construct to whom the court attributes characteristics and knowledge in order to characterise the impugned conduct. The class in fact will always have reasonable consumers with varying levels of knowledge; the question was whether the knowledge should be attributed to the hypothetical reasonable consumer in this case.

Then, as already discussed above, the High Court proceeded to analyse how the phrase “instant Botox® alternative” would be perceived and understood by the ordinary reasonable consumer in all the circumstances.

Self Care IP Holdings Pty Ltd v Allergan Australia Pty Ltd [2023] HCA 8


  1. Picking up the definition of What is a trade mark in s 17 as explained in Campomar and E & J Gallo at [42]: “the requirement that a trade mark ”distinguish“ goods encompasses the orthodox understanding that one function of a trade mark is to indicate the origin of ”goods to which the mark is applied“[16]. Distinguishing goods of a registered owner from the goods of others and indicating a connection in the course of trade between the goods and the registered owner are essential characteristics of a trade mark[17]. There is nothing in the relevant Explanatory Memorandum[18] to suggest that s 17 was to effect any change in the orthodox understanding of the function or essential characteristics of a trade mark.” (citations omitted)  ?
  2. Irving’s Yeast-Vite Ltd v F A Horsenail (trading as The Herbal Dispensary) (1934) 51 RPC 110 at 115.36; 1B IPR 427 at 431.37.  ?
  3. 51 RPC 115.36; 1B IPR 432.  ?
  4. See also Scandinavian Tobacco Group Eersel BV v Trojan Trading Company Pty Ltd [2016] FCAFC 91 at [49]ff and Warwick A Rothnie, ‘Unparalleled importing and trademarks in Australia,’ (2020) 21(3) Business Law International 229.  ?

Self Care v Allergan – Part 2 Read More »

Did the High Court change the law of trade mark infringement to a kind of registered passing off?

A unanimous High Court has upheld Self Care’s appeal and ruled that PROTOX and “instant Botox® alternative” do not infringe Allergan’s BOTOX registered trade mark. Nor was “instant Botox® alternative” false, misleading or deceptive conduct contrary to the ACL.

The High Court’s ruling that the reputation of the registered trade mark has no part to play in infringement under section 120(1) has finally settled that issue. More interestingly, in explaining why PROTOX did not infringe BOTOX their Honours also may also have changed how infringement is assessed. Thirdly, the High Court’s explanation why “instant BOTOX® alternative” did not infringe confirms that the plain English 1995 Act fundamentally changed the nature of trade mark use.

Some facts

Allergan owns various registered trade marks in Australia for BOTOX including in class 5 for “pharmaceutical preparations for the treatment of … wrinkles” and in class 3 for “anti?ageing creams” and “anti?wrinkle cream”.[1]

Allergan’s BOTOX product is an injectable pharmaceutical product containing botulinum toxin, type A which is administered by healthcare professionals and which can last for several months. That is, a class 5 product type. It does not sell an anti-ageing or anti-wrinkle cream. Its class 3 registration, however, is a defensive registration under section 185. As the High Court pointed out at [17], it was the reputation Allergan had derived from its extensive use of BOTOX for the goods in class 5 that was the basis for the defensive registration in class 3.[2]

Self Care markets anti-wrinkle creams under the trade mark FREEZEFRAME. Its FREEZEFRAME products come in at least 2 lines – PROTOX and INHIBOX. These creams could be self-administered and could reduce the appearance of ageing for up to a few hours. The image below shows the PROTOX packaging the subject of the litigation:

The INHIBOX labels are similar, but bearing INHIBOX AND the slogan “instant BOTOX® alternative”.

Some differences between trade mark infringement and passing off / ACL

To consider what the High Court did when finding PROTOX did not infringe BOTOX, I want to recall four or five main differences between actions for “traditional” trade mark infringement and passing off or misleading or deceptive conduct contrary to the ACL.

  1. For “traditional” trade mark infringement (that is, infringement under section 120(1)), the trade mark owner just has to prove that the trade mark was registered – there is no need to prove reputation; just the fact of registration;
  2. For “traditional” trade mark infringement at least, it was necessary to show that the accused conduct was conduct in relation to the goods or services for which the trade mark was registered whereas passing off and the ACL were not so limited;[3]
  3. Trade mark infringement can occur where a reasonable member of the public is caused to wonder whether or not there is some connection between the accused conduct while passing off and the ACL require a likelihood of deception or being misled;[4]
  4. At least for trade mark infringement, the accused use must be use as a trade mark; that is, as a “badge of origin” to identify trade source; and
  5. “Traditional” trade mark infringement required a comparison of the mark as registered to the particular sign alleged to infringe alone. The Court has ignored the use of other marks or indicia that may distinguish the relevant goods. In contrast, the comparison for false or misleading conduct or in passing off involves the accused use in context of all the circumstances.

This last point is well illustrated by the June Perfect case.[5] There, Saville Perfumery had “June” registered in fancy script for toiletry articles including shampoo and lipsticks. June Perfect brought out its own range of lipsticks and shampoo under the name “June”. The packaging made it clear that the goods were the products of June Perfect.

The House of Lords held there was a clear case of trade mark infringement as the comparison was between the mark as registered and the sign used by June Perfect. On the question of passing off, however, the House of Lords accepted that June Perfect might be able to use its name in such a way that the trade source of the goods was clearly distinguished from Saville Perfumery. While there was an injunction to restrain June Perfect from infringing the trade mark, the passing off injunction restrained only the use of “June” without clearly distinguishing the trade source of the articles from Saville Perfumery.[6]

There has been some relaxation over time to propositions 1 and 2.

First, section 120(2) extends the trade mark owner’s rights to cover not just the goods or services specified in the registration but also to things of the same description or closely related. Unlike the case with infringement under s 120(1), however, it is a defence to this extended form of infringement if the alleged infringer can show that the way they use their sign is not likely to deceive or cause confusion. Thus, the proviso to s 120(2) states:

However, the person is not taken to have infringed the trade mark if the person establishes that using the sign as the person did is not likely to deceive or cause confusion.

Thus, Burley J quoted with approval Yates J’s dictum:[7]

So too it is recognised that, for the purposes of considering infringement under s 120(1), it is beside the point that the alleged infringer has added other material to the impugned trade mark, even if those steps were taken to avoid the likelihood of deception: Saville Perfumery Ltd v June Perfect Ltd (1941) 58 RPC 147 at 161 (Sir Greene MR) and at 174 (Viscount Maugham); Lever Brothers, Port Sunlight Limited v Sunniwite Products Ltd (1949) 66 RPC 84 at 89; Mark Foy’s Ltd v Davies Coop and Co Ltd (1956) 95 CLR 190 at 205; Polaroid Corporation v Sole N Pty Ltd [1981] 1 NSWLR 491 at 495; New South Wales Dairy Corporation v Murray Goulburn Co-Operative Company Limited (1989) 86 ALR 549 at 589; Polo Textile Industries Pty Ltd v Domestic Textile Corporation Pty Ltd (1993) 42 FCR 227 at 231–232. Considerations of this kind, if raised by an alleged infringer, are relevant when considering infringement under s 120(2) and may be relevant when considering infringement under s 120(3). However, the general position under s 120(1) is that infringement cannot be avoided by, for example, the use of additional matter if the mark itself is taken and used. Once again, if the test is not applied in this fashion a trade mark owner may be deprived of the monopoly conferred by registration. (emphasis supplied by Burley J)

As the High Court recognised in the Self Care case, the 1995 Act introduced a further broadening of what could be infringement in s 120(3). If a trade mark owner could show that its trade mark was well-known in Australia, it could claim infringement by use of a sign on wholly unrelated goods or services where the use would be likely to indicate a connection to the trade mark owner and the trade mark owner’s interests were likely to be prejudicially affected.[8]

With that background, we can turn to the High Court’s reasons.

Self Care and some principles

The appeal is concerned only with infringement under s 120(1). The extended versions of infringement for similar or closely related products (s 120(2)) and “famous” or “well-known” trade marks (s 120(3)) were not in issue in this case.

The High Court at [22] pointed out that infringement under s 120(1) requires 2 distinct questions to be addressed:

  1. Did the alleged infringer use the sign “as a trade mark” – that is, as a “badge of origin” to indicate trade source?
  2. If so, was the sign deceptively similar to the registered trade mark?[9]

These are, as the High Court emphasised, two different issues and the High Court approached them separately.

Use as a trade mark

The High Court confirmed that whether a sign is being used as a trade mark is to be determined objectively, without reference to the subjective intentions of the user. At [24], their Honours explained:

Whether a sign has been “use[d] as a trade mark” is assessed objectively without reference to the subjective trading intentions of the user[50]. As the meaning of a sign, such as a word, varies with the context in which the sign is used, the objective purpose and nature of use are assessed by reference to context. That context includes the relevant trade[51], the way in which the words have been displayed, and how the words would present themselves to persons who read them and form a view about what they connote[52]. A well known example where the use was not “as a trade mark” was in Irving’s Yeast-Vite Ltd v Horsenail[53], where the phrase “Yeast tablets a substitute for ‘Yeast-Vite’” was held to be merely descriptive and not a use of “Yeast-Vite” as a trade mark. Therefore, it did not contravene the YEAST-VITE mark. [citations omitted]

At [25], their Honours affirmed the longstanding principle that the existence of a descriptive element or purpose was not determinative if there were several purposes for the use of the sign. So long as one purpose is to distinguish the trade source, that will be sufficient.

Further, their Honours acknowledged that the presence of ‘a clear dominant “brand”’ can be relevant to assessing the balance of the label or packaging, but that did not mean that another sign on the labelling was not also functioning as a trade mark.

For the last proposition, the High Court cited Allsop J’s decision in the Budweiser case at [191]. In that case, Anheuser-Busch, the owner of trade mark registrations for BUDWEISER successfully sued the Czech company for infringement by the latter’s use of BUDWEISER on labels such as:

At [191], Allsop J explained:

It is not to the point, with respect, to say that because another part of the label (the white section with ‘Bud?jovický Budvar’) is the obvious and important ‘brand’, that another part of the label cannot act to distinguish the goods. The ‘branding function’, if that expression is merely used as a synonym for the contents of ss 7 and 17 of the TM Act, can be carried out in different places on packaging, with different degrees of strength and subtlety. Of course, the existence on a label of a clear dominant ‘brand’ is of relevance to the assessment of what would be taken to be the effect of the balance of the label.

Turning to the PROTOX label, there cannot really be any dispute that PROTOX is used as a trade mark. The question then is whether it is deceptively similar to BOTOX.

The test for deceptive similarity

The High Court discussed the principles for determining whether a trade mark is deceptively similar to another at [26] – [51].

Noting that section 10 defines a deceptively similar mark to be one that so nearly resembles the registered trade mark that it is likely to deceive or cause confusion, at [26] the High Court stated the resemblance of the two marks must be the cause of the likely deception or confusion. And this involved an assessment of the two marks as a whole taking into account both their look and sound.

At [27], their Honours endorsed the much quoted explanation of the principles given by Dixon and McTiernan JJ in Australian Woollen Mills at 58 CLR 658:

“But, in the end, it becomes a question of fact for the court to decide whether in fact there is such a reasonable probability of deception or confusion that the use of the new mark and title should be restrained.

In deciding this question, the marks ought not, of course, to be compared side by side. An attempt should be made to estimate the effect or impression produced on the mind of potential customers by the mark or device for which the protection of an injunction is sought. The impression or recollection which is carried away and retained is necessarily the basis of any mistaken belief that the challenged mark or device is the same. The effect of spoken description must be considered. If a mark is in fact or from its nature likely to be the source of some name or verbal description by which buyers will express their desire to have the goods, then similarities both of sound and of meaning may play an important part.

At [28], their Honours emphasised the artificial nature of the inquiry. Stating at [29]:

…. The notional buyer is assumed to have seen the registered mark used in relation to the full range of goods to which the registration extends. The correct approach is to compare the impression (allowing for imperfect recollection) that the notional buyer would have of the registered mark (as notionally used on all of the goods covered by the registration), with the impression that the notional buyer would have of the alleged infringer’s mark (as actually used). …. (original emphasis) (citations omitted)[10]

Returning to this issue, at [33] their Honours emphasised that “the court is not looking to the totality of the conduct of the defendant in the same way as in a passing off suit”.[11] The High Court continued:

…. In addition to the degree of similarity between the marks, the assessment takes account of the effect of that similarity considered in relation to the alleged infringer’s actual use of the mark, as well as the circumstances of the goods, the character of the likely customers, and the market covered by the monopoly attached to the registered trade mark. (citations omitted)

Cases approved by the High Court in Self Care have acknowledged that questions of some subtlety can arise assessing the context of a use to determine if the sign is being used as a trade mark and assessing whether the infringing sign is deceptively similar.[12]

All of the cases endorsed by the High Court in these propositions, however, make the same point: the comparison is between the registered trade mark and the mark being used by the alleged infringer without regard to the totality of the conduct by the infringer such as the presence of other trade marks or disclaimers.

One example of the role of impression in this mark to mark comparison, expressly cited by the High Court at [29], is the Chifley Tower case.[13] There, MID Sydney’s registration of CHIFLEY TOWER for building management services was not infringed by Touraust’s proposed use of CHIFLEY for the names of the hotels it managed – such as “Chifley on the Wharf” or “The Chifley”.

One reason was that the services were not the same or of the same description.

Importantly for present purposes, the Full Court also found the marks were not deceptively similar because the public was familiar with many different uses of “Chifley” – apart from MID Sydney’s. This included the name of the Prime Minister, a restaurant and numerous geographical places. With that general background knowledge, therefore, the distinctive power of MID Sydney’s trade mark lay in the combined term, not in the common element CHIFLEY alone.

While this should not be surprising to trade mark lawyers, therefore, where it becomes interesting lies in what the High Court did when finding PROTOX did not infringe BOTOX.

Before turning to that issue, however, the High Court squarely addressed the role of reputation in infringement proceedings under section 120(1).

The role of reputation

Noting that the role of reputation has been contentious for a number of years, the High Court ruled at [50] that reputation is not relevant to infringement under section 120(1).

A number of considerations led the High Court to this conclusion. The first point at [37] was that it is registration which confers the rights in the trade mark on the owner and defines the scope of the registration. If considerations other than the registration could be taken into account “the level of protection afforded to that right would vary and be inherently uncertain.”

Another point was that the legislation specified various matters to be entered on the Register and available for public inspection. Reputation was not one of those matters and at [40] taking into account the reputation which had accrued to a trade mark would be contrary to the objective of the registered trade mark system:

which is to provide “a bright line that delineates the property rights” of a registered owner, for the benefit of the owner and the public, and runs the risk of collapsing the long standing distinction between infringement and passing off. (citations omitted)

Further, the Trade Marks Act expressly identified a role for reputation in four places:

  1. section 60 providing a ground of opposition on the basis of the reputation in the opponent’s trade mark;
  2. the provision for registration as a ‘defensive’ trade mark provided by section 185;
  3. the extended form of infringement provided by section 120(3); and
  4. the provision by section 24 for “genericide” when a trade mark has become known as the generic description of the goods or services.

Why PROTOX did not infringe BOTOX

At [63], the High Court summarised the trial judge’s finding that PROTOX was not deceptively similar to BOTOX. His Honour accepted that the two marks looked and sounded very similar but less so in idea or meaning. Further, the trial judge had held that the reputation of BOTOX was so strong that it was not likely to be recalled imperfectly. Even if there was imperfect recollection, no-one was likely to be deceived. His Honour was reinforced in this conclusion by the close proximity of PROTOX to FREEZEFRAME and the lack of evidence of actual confusion.

At [64], the High Court noted the Full Court held the trial judge had erred by failing to consider whether the use of PROTOX might cause people to wonder if there was some connection to the owner of the BOTOX mark. In finding deceptive similarity, however, the Full Court had made two errors.

First, it had relied on Allergan’s reputation in BOTOX for pharmaceutical preparations to conclude that the public might wonder whether PROTOX was some form of brand extension. Secondly, in doing so, their Honour’s had relied on the way Allergan actually used BOTOX rather than taking into account its notional use for anti-wrinkle creams in class 3.

Considering the effect of the use of PROTOX on potential customers of anti-wrinkle creams in class 3, the High Court accepted at [69] that “pro” and “bo” looked and sounded similar and the common element “otox” was both distinctive and identical. But consumers would not have confused PROTOX or BOTOX:

…. The words are sufficiently different that the notional buyer, allowing for an imperfect recollection of BOTOX, would not confuse the marks or the products they denote. The visual and aural similarities were just one part of the inquiry. (emphasis supplied)

Despite the surprise many trade mark practitioners have felt about the trial judge’s similar conclusion, up to this point the High Court’s reasoning can be seen as consistent with the extensive array of case law endorsed by the High Court which distinguishes trade mark infringement from passing off. After all, as the High Court emphasised from Australian Woollen Mills, the ultimate conclusion on about deceptive similarity is a question of fact.

However, the last sentence from [69] quoted above picks up what their Honours had said in [68]. In considering the visual and aural impact of PROTOX, it was permissible to have regard to both the packaging and the website from which PROTOX was promoted:

it was necessary to consider the marks visually and aurally and in the context of the relevant surrounding circumstances. Considering both the packaging and the website for Protox accords with assessing the “actual use” of the PROTOX mark as required by the test for deceptive similarity. ….

The High Court then explained at [70] that the packaging and the website together dispelled the risk of implied confusion:

…. The notional buyer sees the PROTOX mark used on a similar product – a serum which is advertised on its packaging and website to “prolong the look of Botox®”. While the reputation of BOTOX cannot be considered, the relevant context includes the circumstances of the actual use of PROTOX by Self Care. “[P]rolong the look of Botox®” may suggest that Protox is a complementary product. However, as was observed by the primary judge, “it will be the common experience of consumers that one trader’s product can be used to enhance another trader’s product without there being any suggestion of affiliation”[136]. In this case, the back of the packaging stated in small font that “Botox is a registered trademark of Allergan Inc” and, although the assumption is that Botox is an anti?wrinkle cream, the website stated that “PROTOX has no association with any anti-wrinkle injection brand”. (emphasis supplied)

It is very difficult, with respect, to see how these conclusions sit with the High Court’s earlier endorsement of the authorities that additional matter such as the presence of disclaimers does not avoid infringement.

Perhaps, given the copious citation of case law endorsing the “traditional” position that it is a mark to mark comparison only, the role of the packaging and the website will ultimately be characterised as reinforcing the finding of deceptive similarity rather than determining it. Indeed, at [71], their Honours concluded there was no real, tangible danger of deception or confusion:

…. As explained, the marks are sufficiently distinctive such that there is no real danger that the notional buyer would confuse the marks or products. The similarities between the marks, considered in the circumstances, are not such that the notional buyer nevertheless is likely to wonder whether the products come from the same trade source. That conclusion is reinforced by the fact that the PROTOX mark was “almost always used in proximity to the FREEZEFRAME mark” and that there was “no evidence of actual confusion”.

instant Botox® alternative

As noted at the outset, the High Court also found that Self Care’s use of “instant Botox® alternative” did not infringe Allegan’s trade mark. Nor was it misleading or deceptive conduct in contravention of the ACL. Given the length of this post, however, consideration of those issues will have to await another day.

Self Care IP Holdings Pty Ltd v Allergan Australia Pty Ltd [2023] HCA 8 (Kiefel CJ, Gageler, Gordon, Edelman and Gleeson JJ)

Edit: on 3 April to clarify that it is the ultimate conclusion about deceptive similarity that is the question of fact. Thanks, Craig Smith SC.


  1. That is, Allergan has used BOTOX so extensively, its use by someone else in relation to class 3 goods such as anti-ageing creams will falsely indicate a connection with Allergan. Where the reputation in the trade mark is so extensive to achieve a defensive registration, it does not matter whether the trade mark owner actually uses the trade mark for the goods or services covered by the defensive registration.  ?
  2. At [19], the “overwhelming” and “ubiquitous reputation of BOTOX”.  ?
  3. For an extreme case where the services were so far removed from the goods associated with the reputation – Tabasco sauce – that deception or misrepresentation were so unlikely that there was no contravention of the ACL or passing off, see McIlhenny Co v Blue Yonder Holdings Pty Ltd formerly trading as Tabasco Design [1997] FCA 962; 39 IPR 187.  ?
  4. Compare Trade Marks Act 1995 (Cth) s 10 to the High Court’s approval in Campomar Sociedad, Limitada v Nike International Limited
    [2000] HCA 12 at [106] quoting Taco Co of Australia Inc v Taco Bell Pty Ltd (1982) 42 ALR 177 at 201 (Deane and Fitzgerald JJ).  ?
  5. Saville Perfumery Ld. v. June Perfect Ld. (1941) 58 RPC 147.  ?
  6. As Lord Tomlin explained at 176, “It seems to me, and the form of the second injunction supports the view, that these Appellants may be able by proper precautions to sell the three articles in connection with their name of June Perfect Ld., while clearly distinguishing those goods from the Respondents’ goods. If that can be done there is no probability that the ultimate purchaser will be deceived.”. See also e.g. Puma Se v Caterpillar Inc [2022] FCAFC 153; 168 IPR 404 (Nicholas, Rofe and McElwaine JJ) at [43] (Nicholas, Rofe and McElwaine JJ); In-N-Out Burgers, Inc v Hashtag Burgers Pty Ltd [2020] FCA 193; 377 ALR 116; 150 IPR 73 at [80] and [160] (Katzmann J) (affirmed on appeal) and many others.  ?
  7. Goodman Fielder Pte Ltd v Conga Foods Pty Ltd [2020] FCA 1808; 158 IPR 9 at [364] citing Optical 88 Limited v Optical 88 Pty Limited (No 2) [2010] FCA 1380 at [99].  ?
  8. If you know of a court case where s 120(3) has been successfully asserted, please let me know.  ?
  9. Curiously, s 120 does not in terms require the trade mark owner to prove that alleged infringer did not have the owner’s consent to use the trade mark. An alleged infringer who claims to be licensed or set up consent must do so by way of [section 123][s123] in the case of services or, in the case of goods, the wonders of [section 122A][s122a]. (I tried to untangle the latter provision in Warwick A Rothnie, ‘Unparalleled importing and trademarks in Australia,’ (2020) 21(3) Business Law International 229.)  ?
  10. The High Court cited Shell (1961) 109 CLR 407 at 415; Wingate Marketing Pty Ltd v Levi Strauss & Co (1994) 49 FCR 89 at 128; MID Sydney v Australian Tourism Co (1998) 90 FCR 236 at 245 and Swancom (2022) 168 IPR 42 at [70].  ?
  11. Citing numerous authorities: New South Wales Dairy Corporation v Murray-Goulburn Co?operative Co Ltd (1989) 86 ALR 549 at 589 (emphasis added), approved in Henschke (2000) 52 IPR 42 at 62 [44], Hashtag Burgers (2020) 385 ALR 514 at 532 [64], Combe International Ltd v Dr August Wolff GmbH & Co KG Arzneimittel (2021) 157 IPR 230 at 238 [27], PDP Capital Pty Ltd v Grasshopper Ventures Pty Ltd (2021) 285 FCR 598 at 622 [97] (see also 626 [111]) and Swancom (2022) 168 IPR 42 at 56 [73]. See also Self Care at [40] where the High Court acknowledged “the risk of collapsing the long standing distinction between infringement and passing off[101].”  ?
  12. See e.g. Optical 88 at [95] and Budweiser at [226]. Generally, one might have thought the emphasis in actual use in an infringement context lay in contrast to the situation at the examination and opposition stages where it is necessary to consider all fair and reasonable notional use that may be made by the applicant within the scope of the applied for registration.  ?
  13. MID Sydney v Australian Tourism Co (1998) 90 FCR 236.  ?

Did the High Court change the law of trade mark infringement to a kind of registered passing off? Read More »

Protecting your trade mark overseas

WIPO and IP Australia are holding 2 online seminars:

  • Introduction to Filing Trademarks Overseas – on Thursday 30 March at 6pm
  • How to File an International Trademark from Australia – on Thursday 20 April at 6 pm

According to the Event Invitation, topics covered will include:

  • What a trademark is, why would you register it, and why would you register overseas
  • How to choose between the different options for trademark protection overseas
  • Options for trademark protection in China.
  • What an “International Registration” is and how to file it overseas using the Madrid System
  • Some tips and tricks for filing trademarks overseas
  • How to manage your International Registration

The seminars will be in English and are free.

You may register:

  • for the 1st seminar here; and
  • for the 2nd seminar here.

Protecting your trade mark overseas Read More »