December 2023

UKSC rejects Thaler and DABUS

The United Kingdom Supreme Court has ruled that DABUS is not an inventor for the purposes of UK patent law and so Dr Thaler’s applications for a patent claimed to be invented by DABUS have failed.

You will recall that Dr Thaler has applied in the UK (and many other parts of the world) for the grant of patents in his name for inventions said to have been generated by a machine acting autonomously and powered by the artificial intelligence, DABUS.

Section 7 of the UK Patents Act 1977 provides in part:

7 Right to apply for and obtain a patent.

(1) Any person may make an application for a patent either alone or jointly with another.

(2) A patent for an invention may be granted—

(a) primarily to the inventor or joint inventors;

(b) in preference to the foregoing, to any person or persons who, by virtue of any enactment or rule of law, or any foreign law or treaty or international convention, or by virtue of an enforceable term of any agreement entered into with the inventor before the making of the invention, was or were at the time of the making of the invention entitled to the whole of the property in it (other than equitable interests) in the United Kingdom;

(c) in any event, to the successor or successors in title of any person or persons mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b) above or any person so mentioned and the successor or successors in title of another person so mentioned;

and to no other person.

(3) In this Act ‘inventor’ in relation to an invention means the actual deviser of the invention and ‘joint inventor’ shall be construed accordingly.

(4) Except so far as the contrary is established, a person who makes an application for a patent shall be taken to be the person who is entitled under subsection (2) above to be granted a patent and two or more persons who make such an application jointly shall be taken to be the persons so entitled.

Further, section 13 reinforced the centrality of the position of “the inventor” in the scheme of the Act.

Lord Kitchin pointed out that s 7(2) read with s 7(3) provides an exhaustive code for determining who is entitled to a patent. And, just like s 15(1) of the Patents Act, that is the inventor or someone claiming through the inventor.

Unlike the Australian Act, section 7 of the UK Act also includes s 7(4) which defines the inventor as “the actual deviser of the invention”.

Unlike the approach taken by the Australian High Court, Lord Kitchin (with whom Lords Hodge, Hamblen, Leggatt and Richards agreed) considered it was entirely proper for the Comptroller-General to take Dr Thaler’s statements at face value.

Accordingly, at [56], Lord Kitchin ruled that an inventor for the purposes of the Patents Act 1977 must be a natural person and, as DABUS was not a person, it was not the inventor.

In my judgment, the position taken by the Comptroller on this issue is entirely correct. The structure and content of sections 7 and 13 of the Act, on their own and in the context of the Act as a whole, permit only one interpretation: an inventor within the meaning of the 1977 Act must be a natural person, and DABUS is not a person at all, let alone a natural person: it is a machine and on the factual assumption underpinning these proceedings, created or generated the technical advances disclosed in the applications on its own. Here I use the term “technical advance” rather than “invention”, and the terms “create” or “generate” rather than “devise” or “invent” deliberately to avoid prejudging the first issue we have to decide. But it is indisputable that DABUS is a machine, not a person (whether natural or legal), and I do not understand Dr Thaler to suggest otherwise.

As in the Australian cases, Dr Thaler advanced an alternative claim based on the “doctrine of accession”. Thus, Dr Thaler claimed he was entitled to the patent as the owner of DABUS and so entitled to any fruits of its production.

At [83], Lord Kitchin explained Dr Thaler’s contention based “purely” on ownership of the machine:

The DABUS inventions are, he says, the fruits of (in the sense they were produced by) the DABUS machine that he owns and further, that DABUS was designed to make inventions and so these fruits were by no means unexpected. He also contends that he was and remains the first person to possess the inventions and this provides a proper basis for their ownership. In short, he contends that he derived title by operation of a rule of law (the doctrine of accession) that satisfied the terms of section 7(2)(b) of the Act and conferred on him the right to apply for and secure the grant of patent protection for any inventions made by DABUS.

This contention failed. First, as DABUS was not an inventor, at [84] it gave rise to no rights which could be claimed. That was sufficient for the application to fail.

Secondly, in any event, Dr Thaler’s invocation of the doctrine of accession was entirely misplaced. The doctrine of accession applied to new tangible property (e.g. a calf) produced by an existing tangible property (e.g. a cow), not intangible property such as inventions. At [88] – [89], Lord Kitchin explained:

We are not concerned here with a new item of tangible property produced by an existing item of tangible property, however. We are concerned with what appear (and which for present purposes we must assume) to be concepts for new and non-obvious devices and methods, and descriptions of ways to put them to into practice, all of which, so Dr Thaler maintains, have been generated autonomously by DABUS. There is no principled basis for applying the doctrine of accession in these circumstances.


For these reasons and those given by the Court of Appeal, I am satisfied that the doctrine upon which Dr Thaler relies here, that of accession, does not, as a matter of law, operate to confer on him the property in or the right to apply for and obtain a patent for any technical development made by DABUS.

As the Comptroller-General was entitled to take Dr Thaler’s claims at face value, the Comptroller-General was entitled to reject the applications as they were obviously defective: they did not identify anyone who could be the inventor or any basis on which Dr Thaler could claim to derive title from an inventor.

It should be noted that Lord Kitchin was at pains to point out that the Court was concerned with a narrow question: the meaning of section 7 and associated provisions in the UK Act. It was not concerned, he considered with broader, policy questions. His Lordship explained at [48] – [50]:

The Comptroller has emphasised, correctly in my view, that this appeal is not concerned with the broader question whether technical advances generated by machines acting autonomously and powered by AI should be patentable. Nor is it concerned with the question whether the meaning of the term “inventor” ought to be expanded, so far as necessary, to include machines powered by AI which generate new and non-obvious products and processes which may be thought to offer benefits over products and processes which are already known.


These questions raise policy issues about the purpose of a patent system, the need to incentivise technical innovation and the provision of an appropriate monopoly in return for the making available to the public of new and non-obvious technical advances, and an explanation of how to put them into practice across the range of the monopoly sought. It may be thought that the rapid advances in AI technology in recent times render these questions even more important than they were when these applications were made.


This appeal is concerned instead with the much more focused question of the correct interpretation and application of the relevant provisions of the 1977 Act to the applications made by Dr Thaler. This was the approach taken by the Comptroller, the High Court and the Court of Appeal, and rightly so.

Dr Thaler having failed to identify an inventor through whom he could claim entitlement, the Comptroller-General had been right to deem the applications withdrawn.

Thaler v Comptroller-General of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks [2023] UKSC 49 (20 December 2023)

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CampaignTrack, Biggin & Scott and (not) authorisation

The High Court has unanimously allowed Real Estate Tool Box (RETB) and other parties’ appeals against findings that they had authorised infringements of copyright in Campaigntrack’s “DreamDesk” software.

The High Court made a point of emphasising that whether a person can be found liable for authorising copyright infringement depends on “the proper inference to be drawn from all of the facts of the case.”

I am afraid that, as their Honours said, “It is therefore necessary to set out those facts in some detail.”

Some facts

Real estate agents use web to print software to quickly and efficiently generate promotional materials advertising the properties on their websites, in brochures and other advertisements.

Biggin & Scott is one such real estate agent.

Back in the mists of time, Biggn & Scott licensed software from Campaigntrack for this purpose. However, Biggn & Scott became disenchanted with Campaigntrack for some reason and in 2015 had switched over to software licensed from DreamDesk Pty Ltd (DDPL) imaginatively named “DreamDesk”.

DDPL’s DreamDesk software had been written for it by an one of its “officers”, Mr Semmens.

Before he wrote the DreamDesk software, Mr Semmens had written the Process 55 software that another competitor, Digital Group,[1] was licensing to real estate agents.

Mr Semmens’ fellow directors in Digital Group formed the view that he had stolen Digital Group’s intellectual property in Process 55 in writing DreamDesk. They confronted him about this and on 26 May 2016 he signed documents admitting the infringements.

Shortly after these documents were signed, Digital Group informed Mr Meissner, the princiapl of DDPL who, the trial judge found, was “shocked” by this revelation. Mr Meissner accepted DDPL could not continue with DreamDesk and set about trying to buy the rights to Process 55 or sell DreamDesk.

Meanwhile, Campaigntrack was unhappy about the loss of customers and set about a campaign to buy out its competitors and so corner the market.

In July 2016, CampaignTrack agreed to buy DreamDesk from DDPL, granting DDPL a licence to keep using DreamDesk until 3 October 2016. Shortly after, CampaignTrack also acquired the rights to Process 55.

Not wanting to fall back into the clutches of CampaignTrack, Mr Stoner from Biggn & Scott met with Mr Semmens on 3 August 2016. At Mr Semmens’s suggestion, Mr Stoner commissioned Mr Semmens to start work on the new software which became known as Toolbox. The letter of instruction stated in part:[2]

You are instructed to build a web to print delivery system that does not breach any other companies IP or ownership, in particular Dream Desk or Campaign Track. …. In simple terms we do not want any thing used that can be claimed as owned by the 2 companies above.

Mr Semmens provided assurances that he could do the job in time and would do so without infringing anyone’s copyright.

To undertake the project, Biggn & Scott and Mr Semmens incorporated RETB. Mr Stoner was the sole director and Mr Semmens was doing the design and coding, with some assistance from some of DDPL’s employees and in a workspace borrowed from DDPL.

On 29 September 2016, CampaignTrack’s solicitor, Ms McLean, emailed Mr Meissner and DDPL warning it had discovered improper access and duplication of code which CampaignTrack now owned and expressing concerns about RETB. The email stated CampaignTrack was prepared to grant a one week extension of DDPL’s licence to use DreamDesk provided it was used “in the ordinary course of business” only and demanding undertakings from all involved that there would be no use of the improperly obtained code.

By 6 October 2016, all the Biggn & Scott and DDPL parties had signed and provided the undertakings to Ms McLean – except Mr Semmens.

On 7 October 2016, Ms McLean advised Biggn & Scott and DDPL that the DreamDesk licence would not be extended beyond 10 October 2016 as Mr Semmens had failed to provide the undertakings.

On 10 October 2016, ToolBox became operational and Biggn & Scott switched its users of DreamDesk over to Toolbox.

In the pre-litigation correspondence that followed, the parties agreed to allow CampaignTrack’s expert, a Mr Geri from Ferrier Hodson, to inspect the Toolbox system and prepare a preliminary report.

On 19 January 2017, Mr Geri delivered his preliminary report. His conclusion was that it was “highly probable” there had been an infringement of CampaignTrack’s copyright in DreamDesk in the development of Toolbox. However, to confirm that opinion, he needed to undertake a forensic examination of the servers hosting Toolbox.

Through Ms McLean, CampaignTrack demanded that Biggn & Scott shut down Toolbox and provide Mr Geri with the requested access. Biggn & Scott refused, instead demanding proof of CampaignTrack’s ownership. The litigation followed.

It was not until 17 June 2018 that Biggn & Scott ultimately stopped use of Toolbox, having introduced a new system in April 2018.

At trial

The trial judge found that Mr Semmens had infringed CampaignTrack’s copyright in DreamDesk by reproducing a substantial part in Toolbox. Correspondingly, the users of Toolbox also infringed CampaignTrack’s copyright when they downloaded the software and ran it to generate their advertising collateral. Mr Semmens was also liable for authorising those infringements.

However, the trial judge rejected CampaignTrack’s cases against Biggn & Scott, Mr Stoner, Ms Bartels, DDPL and Mr Meissner alleging they had authorised Mr Semmens’ and the users’ infringements. As a result, his Honour found that CampaignTrack had not established that either the Biggn & Scott or DDPL parties had authorised either Mr Semmens’ or the users’ copyright infringements.

The Full Court

The Full Court (Greenwood and McElwaine JJ, Cheeseman J dissenting) allowed CampaignTrack’s appeal and found the Biggn & Scott and DDPL parties all liable for authorising infringement.

In the Full Court, the majority accepted that, before 29 September 2016, the Biggn & Scott and DDPL parties did not know about Mr Semmens’ infringing conduct and, until that date, were not obliged to take reasonble steps to avoid the infringements by Mr Semmens.

However, Ms McLean’s letter on 29 September 2016 put the Biggn & Scott and DDPL parties on notice of CampaignTrack’s claims. Accordingly, McElwaine and Greenwood JJ found that the Biggn & Scott and DDPL parties knew or had reason to suspect that Mr Semmens had infringed copyright and failed to sufficient steps to prevent infringements after that date.

The law

Section 36 of the Copyright Act 1968 provides:

(1) Subject to this Act, the copyright in a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work is infringed by a person who, not being the owner of the copyright, and without the licence of the owner of the copyright, does in Australia, or authorizes the doing in Australia of, any act comprised in the copyright.

So, there is direct infringement by doing one or more of the acts comprised in the copyright (such as reproducing, or communicating to the public, the whole or a substantial part of the work). There is also infringement by someone who “authorises” someone else to do the infringing act(s). In deciding whether there has been authorisation s 36(1A) further provides three considerations that a court must take into account:[3]

In determining, for the purposes of subsection (1), whether or not a person has authorised the doing in Australia of any act comprised in the copyright in a work, without the licence of the owner of the copyright, the matters that must be taken into account include the following:

(a) the extent (if any) of the person’s power to prevent the doing of the act concerned;

(b) the nature of any relationship existing between the person and the person who did the act concerned;

(c) whether the person took any reasonable steps to prevent or avoid the doing of the act, including whether the person complied with any relevant industry codes of practice.

The High Court

At [63] – [65], the High Court referred to the examination of the concept of ‘authorisation’ by Gummow and Hayne JJ in the Roadshow case and confirmed that ‘authorisation’ for the purposes of copyright law had long extended beyond traditional concepts of agency and could be found where there was ‘indifference’.

The High Court also endorsed Gummow and Hayne JJ’s warning that ‘authorisation’ for copyright infringement purposes “is not to be identified by deconstructing the dictionary definitions of notions such as ‘sanction’, ‘approve’ and ‘countenance’.”

Having reviewed four prior High Court judgments, at [77], their Honours explained:

The foregoing survey of authorities demonstrates that what constitutes indifference amounting to authorisation depends upon a close analysis of the facts of each case. Mere neutrality or inattention will not suffice. The quality of the indifference, and the nature of the relationship between the infringer and the alleged authoriser, must be such as to justify a conclusion that there was sufficient involvement in the infringement as to amount to authorisation of the acts constituting the breach of copyright for the purposes of s 36(1) of the Copyright Act. The central factors to consider will be those matters in s 36(1A):[39] the person’s power to prevent the act of infringement; the relationship between that person and the infringer; and whether the person took any reasonable steps to prevent or avoid the doing of the act, including compliance with any relevant industry codes of practice. That necessarily requires consideration of whether a person knows or has reason to anticipate or suspect an infringing act is occurring or is likely to occur.[40] (citations omitted)

and at [88] their Honours posed the issue as what the particular person in the particular circumstances at the particular time (or times) ought to have done:

Proof of an allegation of authorisation by indifference requires findings, supported by evidence, that the person was in a position and had knowledge of facts, matters and circumstances sufficient to give rise to a duty to take reasonable steps to avoid or prevent the doing of an act by another person, or else be liable for the act of that person. That is not a general inquiry. It is directed to a particular state of affairs at a particular time or times. That inquiry requires an assessment of the reasonableness, again supported by evidence, of what the person did, and what the person, in that position with that knowledge, at that particular time or times, ought to have done.

The High Court than concluded that, in the circumstances of this case, the Biggin & Scott parties could not be said to have omitted to take reasonable steps they ought to have taken to prevent infringement. At [45], the High Court identified the primary judge’s unchallenged findings in relation to the Biggn & Scott parties:

(a) Mr Stoner and Ms Bartels trusted Mr Semmens not to infringe the intellectual property rights of DDPL or Campaigntrack P/L in developing Toolbox and they did not want Mr Semmens to misuse intellectual property belonging to others in developing it.

(b) Mr Stoner and Ms Bartels considered Mr Semmens to be a person who had the relevant expertise in building a software system and he could build the system in sufficient time given his expertise. They left the development of Toolbox to Mr Semmens and that was not unusual or surprising.

(c) Biggin & Scott was in a contractual relationship with, and could instruct, Mr Semmens. Its instruction to him was relevantly to build Toolbox without infringing any person’s intellectual property rights.

(d) Given the instructions to Mr Semmens, and that Mr Stoner and Ms Bartels trusted him, there was no independent audit of Toolbox or verification that Mr Semmens had not infringed another person’s intellectual property rights. In all likelihood, neither Mr Stoner nor Ms Bartels turned their mind to consider this.

(e) Mr Stoner did not instruct Mr Semmens to “tamper” with the commit log file.

(f) Mr Stoner, Ms Bartels and Mr Semmens were friends. The payment of Mr Semmens’ legal bills in this matter did not indicate any authorisation of the infringement of copyright.

(g) It had not been established that any of the Biggin & Scott parties knew, or should reasonably have known, that Campaigntrack P/L’s intellectual property had been used to develop Toolbox.

Accordingly, up to the sending of Ms McLean’s letter of 29 September, both the trial judge and all members of the Full Court accepted the Biggin & Scott parties did not know or have reason to suspect Semmens had infringed copyright in making ToolBox. Ms McLean’s letter of 29 September, or subsequent developments, did not change the result.

89 It was not established that the Biggin & Scott parties knew of or suspected Mr Semmens’ infringing acts at any relevant time. Although, following the letter of 29 September 2016, the Biggin & Scott parties had some reason to suspect that the infringing acts might be occurring, and although they had the necessary means to prevent these infringing acts, this Court cannot conclude that they defaulted in some duty of control by failing to take any further action. Given the manner in which the case was conducted at first instance, the Court cannot conclude that the Biggin & Scott parties omitted to take reasonable steps after 29 September 2016, being steps that they ought to have taken to prevent or avoid the infringing acts.

A similar conclusion was reached in relation to Mr Meissner and DDPL even though they made personnel available to Mr Semmens to write the infringing code and provided infrastracture necessary for him to undertake the work.

Some comments

From the outside, it is difficult to assess some aspects of the High Court’s reasoning.

For example, in both [77] and [88], their Honours referred to liability arising where the alleged authoriser knew or had reason to suspect there was an infringer. And, in [89], their Honours accepted that the Biggin & Scott parties had some reason to suspect infringements on receipt of Ms McLean’s 29 September letter. But, the High Court rejected reliance on the letter in this case.

In practice, such letters are typically relied on to fix the alleged infringer with knowledge. In this case, however, the letter immediately led to all the parties, except Mr Semmens, unreservedly giving the undertakings demanded by CampaignTrack. In addition, Mr Stoner and Ms Bartel were friends with Mr Semmens, he had the expertise which they did not, they had repeatedly sought assurances from him that he had complied with his instructions and they were entitled to trust him to carry out their genuine concern not to infringe.

Even so, in many situations, you might very well expect the alleged infringer to be put on inquiry when they learned, as the Biggin & Scott parties did within a few days, that Mr Semmens refused to give the underakings – according to his evidence, because he was concerned it would restrict him from working in his industry.

Likewise, one would often expect a preliminary report from a forensic IT expert would provide a sufficient basis to infer authorisation. The High Court held that it did not in this case:

84 As to the Geri investigation, it is notable that the Biggin & Scott parties permitted it to take place and co-operated with Mr Geri. That is entirely consistent with the Biggin & Scott parties continuing to trust Mr Semmens. Moreover, Cheeseman J was correct to characterise the Geri report as “inconclusive”.[44] Indeed, the “preliminary” conclusion that there was a “high probability” that Campaigntrack P/L’s intellectual property had been used to develop Toolbox was confined to matters already known to the Biggin & Scott parties: namely, that both DreamDesk and Toolbox had been developed by the same person, who had access to both systems during the production of Toolbox. Because Mr Geri could also not confirm his conclusion, there is no sensible basis for concluding that the ongoing faith in Mr Semmens’ compliance with his express instructions had now become unreasonable. …

The forensic IT expert’s opinion, however, was qualified. It acknowledged that many similarities were the sorts of things one would expect anyone in the industry to require and requested further access. Indeed, in the Full Court at [157], Cheeseman J had described the conclusion of a high probability of infringement as “no more than a speculative assumption” – in effect based on the fact that the same person wrote both programs.

As to the Biggin & Scott parties’ refusal to allow the further inspection of Biggin & Scott’s servers, the High Court continued at [84]:

…. it will be recalled that the relationship between the Biggin & Scott parties and Campaigntrack P/L had soured considerably since the refusal to extend the licence for DreamDesk. The Campaigntrack system was a competitor product with Toolbox. No doubt the Biggin & Scott parties saw the attack on them in that light. As such, in defence of Toolbox, they were entitled to insist upon proper proof of Campaigntrack P/L’s claims and to reject what appeared to them to be a fishing exercise. Such conduct is unremarkable in the tousled field of commercial disputation.

This might suggest that an alleged infringer may be entitled to take a robust position in the face of allegations, especially from a competitor with whom there is bad blood. However, in addition to the matters already canvassed, it is important to remember that the High Court’s conclusions are also predicated on references to how the case was run at first instance. On the High Court’s analysis, this meant the conclusions reached by the majority in the Full Court were not open on the evidence.

Finally, it is interesting to note that, in four of the five cases the High Court has considered liability for copyright infringement by authorisation, the High Court has ruled there was no authorisation.[4]

Real Estate Tool Box Pty Ltd v Campaigntrack Pty Ltd [2023] HCA 38 Gageler CJ, Gordon, Edelman, Steward and Jagot JJ)


  1. Mr Semmens was, with his brother-in-law Mr Farrugia, a founder Digital Group. By the time of the events relevant to this proceeding, Mr Semmens, Mr Farrugia and a third person, Mr Stewart, were the three directors of Digital Group.  ?
  2. The letter is set out in full in paragraph 17 of the judgment.  ?
  3. As the High Court noted in footnote 39, these matters have been derived from Gibbs J’s judgment in University of New South Wales v Moorhouse (1975) 133 CLR 1.  ?
  4. In this case, the High Court considered Adelaide Corporation v Australasian Performing Right Association Ltd (1928) 40 CLR 481; University of New South Wales v Moorhouse (1975) 133 CLR 1 and Roadshow Films Pty Ltd v iiNet Ltd (No 2) (2012) 248 CLR 42. The fifth case, Australian Tape Manufacturers Association Ltd v The Commonwealth [1993] HCA 10; 176 CLR 480, was directly concerned with the constitutional validity of the blank tapes levy which turned on whether or not the suppliers of blank cassette tapes on whom the levy was imposed ‘authorised’ the unlicensed copying of recorded music on to those tapes by purchasers.  ?

CampaignTrack, Biggin & Scott and (not) authorisation Read More »

New Copyright and AI reference group

The Commonwealth Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, yesterday announced that the Government will form a Copyright and Artificial Intelligence reference group “to better prepare for future copyright challenges emerging from AI.”

The Attorney-General and his department have held a number of roundtables during the course of the year to consult about a range of issues. One of the issues discussed included the issues arising from the use of AI tools.

According to the Media Release:

AI gives rise to a number of important copyright issues, including the material used to train AI models, transparency of inputs and outputs, the use of AI to create imitative works, and whether and when AI-generated works should receive copyright protection.

The reference group will be a standing mechanism for ongoing engagement with stakeholders across a wide range of sectors, including the creative, media and technology sectors, to consider issues in a careful and consultative way.

Engagement with a broad range of stakeholders and sectors will help Australia harness AI opportunities, while continuing to support the vitality of our creative sector.

The Media Release notes that the reference group will complement “other AI-related Government initiatives, including the work being led by the Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic on the safe and responsible use of AI.”

The Media Release notes that further details, in addition to outcomes from the Roundtables, will be made available through the Attorney-General’s Department’s website in due course.

Some very quick thoughts

One would hope the complementing of other agencies’ work may involve some fairly close co-operation on some issues at least since the question of authorship for copyright seems to raise similar issues to who is the designer for the purposes of registered design or the inventor for patents – all three being predicated on the assumption of human agency.

It seems pretty clear under our law following Telstra v PDC ([118] – [119] and [169]) that works generated by one or two simple “prompts” will not qualify for copyright protection as original works in Australia. The situation where the material results from much more detailed instructions is much more up in the air – both here and overseas.

In the USA, the Register of Copyright’s Review Board has rejected the claim to copyright in a work resulting from 624 prompts and further ‘adjustments’ by the human ‘operator’ / claimant, Mr Allen:

There is increasing commentary likening the generation of materials through detailed prompts to the basis on which copyright is recognised as subsisting in photographs. According to the Review Board, however, Mr Allen’s arguments based on the inputting of detailed prompts did not establish authorship:

As the Office has explained, “Midjourney does not interpret prompts as specific instructions to create a particular expressive result,” because “Midjourney does not understand grammar, sentence structure, or words like humans.” It is the Office’s understanding that, because Midjourney does not treat text prompts as direct instructions, users may need to attempt hundreds of iterations before landing upon an image they find satisfactory. This appears to be the case for Mr. Allen, who experimented with over 600 prompts before he “select[ed] and crop[ped] out one ‘acceptable’ panel out of four potential images … (after hundreds were previously generated).” As the Office described in its March guidance, “when an AI technology receives solely a prompt from a human and produces complex written, visual, or musical works in response, the ‘traditional elements of authorship’ are determined and executed by the technology—not the human user.” And because the authorship in the Midjourney Image is more than de minimis, Mr. Allen must exclude it from his claim. Because Mr. Allen has refused to limit his claim to exclude its non-human authorship elements, the Office cannot register the Work as submitted. (Footnotes and citations omitted)

Whether the US courts or, for that matter, an Australian court will follow that approach remains to be seen. Judge Howell, in rejecting Dr Thaler’s attempt to register copyright in “A Recent Entrance to Paradise” on purely administrative review grounds, outlined the argument in obiter:

A camera may generate only a “mechanical reproduction” of a scene, but does so only after the photographer develops a “mental conception” of the photograph, which is given its final form by that photographer’s decisions like “posing the [subject] in front of the camera, selecting and arranging the costume, draperies, and other various accessories in said photograph, arranging the subject so as to present graceful outlines, arranging and disposing the light and shade, suggesting and evoking the desired expression, and from such disposition, arrangement, or representation” crafting the overall image. Human involvement in, and ultimate creative control over, the work at issue was key to the conclusion that the new type of work fell within the bounds of copyright.

The position on the treatment of inputs is also up in the air. The Authors’ Guild of America and others have brought a number of cases against various AI operators including Open AI and LLaMA on the basis that the training of these LLMs involved the wholesale copying of the authors’ works into the LLM’s databases.

A number of commentators argue these cases are likely to fail, however, in light of the Second Circuit’s ruling that the Google Books Project, in which Google scanned thousands of in-copyright books to create a searchable digital database, did not infringe copyright as a “fair use”.

Arguably, however, the nature and purpose of the uses are different and it will be interesting to see if the US Supreme Court’s decision in Andy Warhol Foundation v Goldsmith with its emphasis on the balancing nature of the inquiry will lead to a different outcome.

On the other hand, if the conduct is found to be a non-infringing use in the USA, Australian law does not have a corresponding, broadly based “fair use” defence. Can one argue that the AI is engaged in “research or study”? If not, what will the policy ramifications be for Australia? Will anyone develop AIs in Australia if training an AI in Australia does infringe copyright while it is not an infringement in, say, the United States? If it’s open slather, though, how will authors and publishers get paid?

Then, there’s the question of infringement. It seems it is possible in at least some cases to find out what an LLM has been trained on – but how long that will remain the case must be a question. Then, ordinarily, a copyright owner under our law would approach this by demonstrating a close degree of resemblance to a copyright work and the potential for access. Then, a court is likely to see if the alleged infringer can explain how it developed the material independently (or there is some other defence).

We do have judicial statements that there is no infringement in copying the style or the ideas. The successful cases of emulating the style are pretty rare but I guess the point of asking an AI to produce something in the style of … is that the AI is going to produce something new rather than merely copied. Ultimately, that is going to depend on comparing what is produced to one (or much less likely, more) copyright works.

Apart from the uncertainties about how our law will deal with these issues, it seems clear that careful consideration of how things are developing overseas is required and, in Dr Pangloss’ world, development of uniform approaches.

New Copyright and AI reference group Read More »

Attorneys can’t witness stat decs for IPONZ

In dismissing Lolicel’s opposition to the registration of SIMPLY DELISH by Stanmar, Assistant Commissioner Rendle excluded evidence witnessed by a patent attorney in Australia because a patent attorney is not authorised to witness a declaration under New Zealand’s Oaths and Declarations Act 1957. The Assistant Commissioner would have dismissed the opposition even if the evidence had been allowed.

Background

Stanmore applied to register SIMPLY DELISH, TMA No. 1163933, in respect of dessert mixes, dessert mousse, dessert puddings and the like in class 30.

Lolicel opposed, claiming use of the mark by Stanmore was likely to deceive or cause confusion and the application was filed in bad faith, respectively, Trade Marks Act 2002 (NZ) ss 17(1)(a) and (2). Lolicel in effect claimed it was the owner of the trade mark and Stanmore was merely its distributor. Stanmar claimed it was the owner and Lolicel was just its contract manufacturer.

Lolicel filed a statutory declaration by its trade mark attorney, a Ms Rimmer, in support of its opposition. Most of the contents of the declaration were based on information provided by Lolicel’s trade mark attorney in South Africa and so were hearsay. Ms Rimmer’s declaration was witnessed in Brisbane Australia by its Australian patent attorney.

Stanmare did not file any evidence in answer but requested a hearing.

(After the hearing was requested, Lolicel sought to file a declaration by one of its employees which “confirmed” the contents of Ms Rimmer’s declaration. As it was filed out of time and an extension of time had not been requested, however, this declaration was excluded from the evidence.)

The declaration was inadmissible

Section 160 of the New Zealand Trade Marks Act requires evidence before IPONZ to be in the form of an affidavit or a statutory declaration in the absence of a direction to the contrary. (There was no direction to the contrary.)

The Rimmer declaration purported to have been made and witnessed under s 11 of the Oaths and Declarations Act 1957 (NZ).

Section 11(1) of the Oaths and Declarations Act 1957 provides:

A declaration made in a Commonwealth country other than New Zealand shall be made before a Judge, a Commissioner of Oaths, a notary public, a Justice of the Peace, or any person authorised by the law of that country to administer an oath there for the purpose of a judicial proceeding, or before a Commonwealth representative, or before a solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand. (emphasis supplied)

The Assistant Commissioner contrasted the specific requirements of s 11 with the terms of s 10 and s 12, the latter of which authorised officers of the armed services of a Commonwealth country, or an ally, to witness both affidavits and statutory declarations.

So it was necessary to show that the patent attorney had authority under the law in Australia to administer an oath for the purposes of a judicial proceeding.

It is clear that a patent attorney can witness a statutory declaration under Australian law – at least for the purposes of matters arising under Commonwealth laws.[1]

The Assistant Commissioner agreed with Stanmore, however, that a statutory declaration was not interchangeable with an affidavit, the truth of which has been sworn on oath or affirmation.

Moreover, it may be noted, s 6(3) of the Statutory Declarations Act 1959 (Cth) provides that the section does not authorise the use of a statutory declaration in a judicial proceeding.

As the declaration was made in Brisbane, the Oaths Act 1867 (Qld) s 16A provides:

(1)A person’s affidavit may be witnessed by any of the following persons without a commission being issued for the purpose—

(a) a justice, commissioner for declarations or notary public under the law of the State, the Commonwealth or another State;

(b) a lawyer;

(c) a conveyancer, or another person authorised to administer an oath, under the law of the State, the Commonwealth or another State;

(d) if the affidavit is witnessed outside Australia—a person authorised to administer an oath under the law of the place in which the affidavit is witnessed;

(e) another person prescribed by regulation for this subsection.

and reg. 4 of the Oaths Regulations 2022 (QLD) prescribes only “a senior police officer”.

The Assistant Commissioner was also referred to s 186 of the Evidence Act 1995 (Cth) which identifies the persons authorised to witness an affidavit for the purposes of court proceedings in the federal jurisdiction as “any justice of the peace, notary public or Australian lawyer”.

As a result, the Assistant Commissioner concluded at [38] – [41] that Lolicel’s Australian patent attorney was not authorised to witness affidavits under Queensland or Australian Federal law. Accordingly, the Rimmer declaration was not admissible in the opposition proceedings before IPONZ.

Hearsay

There was a further problem with the Rimmer declaration. Ms Rimmer had made it on the basis of information supplied by Lolicel’s trade mark attorney in South Africa. In other words, it was hearsay.

The Assistant Commissioner referred to an earlier IPONZ decision, BitFlyer Inc v Coinbase Inc, in which another Assistant Commissioner, recognising that trade mark oppositions dealt with valuable property rights, explained at [36] that hearsay evidence should be given little, if any, weight:[2]

in trade mark oppositions the Assistant Commissioners take the tribunal approach but are guided by and rely on the Evidence Act when assessing the reliability and probity of evidence. A high standard of evidence is expected.

As there was no way of separating statements made by Ms Rimmer from her own knowledge and those which were hearsay, at [52] the Assistant Commissioner concluded that Ms Rimmer’s declaration was inadmissible or of no probative weight.

The Assistant Commissioner appears to have made an exception from this ruling for invoices and emails between the parties as “business records”. At [53], however, the Assistant Commissioner considered these materials, even if admitted, were not adequate to sustain Lolicel’s grounds of opposition.

The substantive grounds

Section 17(1)(a) required the opponent to show that there was an “awareness, cognisance or knowledge” of its mark in the relevant market at the application date to found a likelihood of deception or confusion.

The business records annexed to Ms Rimmer’s declaration did not provide a sufficient foundation for this as they did not address the typical indicators of the extent of use in New Zealand such as sales volumes or advertising and promotional expenditure on the brand in New Zealand.

The s 17(2) ground required Lolicel to show that Stanmore had made its application in bad faith.

At [62], the Assistant Commissioner considered this required Lolicel to prove it was the owner of the trade mark in New Zealand when Stanmore applied to register it and it was unreasonable for Stanmore to have made the application in those circumstances.

While there were email communications between the parties that showed they had dealings with one another before the priority date, these communications left ownership of the trade mark unclear. Accordingly, this ground failed too.

Short comment

As the Trans-Tasman arrangements mean that all Australian and New Zealand patent attorneys are admitted to practise in both Australia and New Zealand, regardless of whether they are based in New Zealand or Australia, precluding patent and trade mark attorneys based in Australia from witnessing statutory declarations for use in IPONZ proceedings seems anomalous as well as inconvenient for businesses.

Lolicel (Pty) Ltd v Stanmar International [USA] Inc. [2023] NZIPOTM 49


  1. Statutory Declarations Act 1959 (Cth) [s 8][s8] and, for prescribed persons, see the Statutory Declarations Regulations 1993 (Cth) reg. 4 and items 107 and 111 of Sch. 2.  ?
  2. Citing Lacoste v Crocodile International Pte Ltd [2014] NZIPOTM 26 at [18].  ?

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