Search Results for: aristocrat

Aristocrat 2 or 3 or 4 or

After Burley J dismissed Aristocrat’s remitted claims for innovation patents over an electronic gaming machine (EGM), Aristocrat has now sought leave to appeal.[1]

To recap

Aristocrat had three innovation patents – AU 2016101967, 2017101629 and 2017101097 – for an EGM with a new, free feature game and trigger. The Commissioner revoked the patents on the ground that they not a manner of manufacture on the basis that the substance of the invention was merely a game or the rules of a game.[2]

Burley J allowed Aristocrat’s appeal, finding that the claim 1 was a mechanism of a particular construction and so was a practical embodiment rather than a mere, abstract scheme.

Although it was accepted before their Honours that the claimed invention would be a manner of manufacture if the game had been implemented in a device made in the “traditional” way utlising cogs and spinning wheels rather than software, the Full Federal Court unanimously upheld the Commissioner’s appeal, albeit for different reasons.

As it had been sufficient for Burley J to deal with claim 1 only and Aristocrat contended there were further issues raised by the dependent claims, the Full Federal Court ordered that:

The proceedings are remitted to the primary judge for determination of any residual issues in light of the Full Court’s reasons including any issues which concern the position of [the residual claims] and the costs of the hearings before the primary judge. (emphasis supplied)

Before that could happen, however, the High Court subsequently granted leave to appeal – unusually for that time, on the papers. As I am sure you no doubt recall, three Judges (Kiefel CJ, Gageler and Keane JJ) of the High Court would have dismissed the appeal; three other Judges (Gordon, Edelman and Steward JJ) would have allowed it; Gleeson J was apparently unable to sit.

The High Court being equally divided, the decision of the Full Federal Court was affirmed.[3] Even the the three judges who would have dismissed the appeal, however, appeared to reject the principle propounded by the majority in the Full Federal Court. At [77], Kiefel CJ, Gageler and Keane JJ said:

…. the two?step analysis proposed by their Honours unnecessarily complicates the analysis of the crucial issue. As explained in Myriad, the crucial issue is as to the characterisation of the invention by reference to the terms of the specification having regard to the claim and in light of the common general knowledge. It is not apparent in the present case that asking whether the claimed invention is an advance in computer technology as opposed to gaming technology, or indeed is any advance in technology at all, is either necessary or helpful in addressing that issue. As Nicholas J explained, the issue is not one of an “advance” in the sense of inventiveness or novelty. In conformity with the decision in N V Philips, the issue is whether the implementation of what is otherwise an unpatentable idea or plan or game involves some adaptation or alteration of, or addition to, technology otherwise well?known in the common general knowledge to accommodate the exigencies of the new idea or plan or game. (citation omitted)

As the tied result in the High Court meant the Full Federal Court’s decision was affirmed, that in turn meant that the patentability of Aristocrat’s claimed invention was remitted to Burley J for determination of any residual issues.

On remitter

On remittal, Burley J rejected Aristocrat’s invitation to adopt the reasons of the three Judges in the High Court who would have allowed the appeal.

Burley J considered it was inappropriate to search for a principle, or principles, which a majority of the High Court judges had agreed on. Rather, pursuant to s 23(2)(a) of the Judiciary Act, the Full Federal Court’s decision had been affirmed and, accordingly, he was required to decide the residual issues in accordance with the order remitting those issues to him to be decided in light of the [majority’s] reasons.

His Honour concluded that the additional features specified in the dependent claims did not make any technical contribution that could be described as an advance in computer technology. Therefore, in accordance with the majority’s conclusions in the Full Federal Court, the claims with the additional features were still nonetheless not patentable subject matter.

Although patents are supposed to be available for any inventions in all fields of technology and without discrimination as to the field of technology,[4] Middleton and Perram JJ had ruled at [25] that, in a case of the kind before their Honours, it was not appropriate to inquire whether the claimed invention was a scheme as that “may reduce the richness of analysis called for.” Paradoxically given the narrowness of the approach compared to that of Nicholas J, their Honours held at [26] that the issue fell to be determined by two questions:

(a) Is the invention claimed a computer-implemented invention?

(b) If so, can the invention claimed broadly be described as an advance in computer technology?

In the case of claim 1, the Full Federal Court found that it was only the integers comprising the feature game (see features 1.10 to 1.12 below) that distinguished the EGM from the state of the art. However, the implementation of the feature game did not involve any advance in computer technology and so claim 1 was not a manner of manufacture.

Claim 5 of the 967 Patent

Burley J identified the features of claim 5 of the 967 Patent (as you will appreciate, those numbered “1.” are from claim 1):

(1.0) A gaming machine comprising:

(1.1) a display;

(1.2) a credit input mechanism operable to establish credits on the gaming machine, the credit input mechanism including at least one of a coin input chute, a bill collector, a card reader and a ticket reader;

(1.3) meters configured for monitoring credits established via the credit input mechanism and changes to the established credits due to play of the gaming machine, the meters including a credit meter to which credit input via the credit input mechanism is added and a win meter;

(1.4) a random number generator;

(1.5) a game play mechanism including a plurality of buttons configured for operation by a player to input a wager from the established credits and to initiate a play of a game; and

(1.6) a game controller comprising a processor and memory storing (i) game program code, and (ii) symbol data defining reels, and wherein the game controller is operable to assign prize values to configurable symbols as required during play of the game,

(1.7) the game controller executing the game program code stored in the memory and responsive to initiation of the play of the game with the game play mechanism to:

(1.8) select a plurality of symbols from a first set of reels defined by the symbol data using the random number generator;

(4.1) wherein each reel of the first set of reels comprises configurable symbols and non-configurable symbols and

(4.2) wherein the game controller is configured to assign prize values to each displayed configurable symbol.

(1.9) control the display to display the selected symbols in a plurality of columns of display positions during play of a base game;

(1.10) monitor play of the base game and trigger a feature game comprising free games in response to a trigger event occurring in play of the base game,

(1.11) conduct the free games on the display by, for each free game, (a) retaining configurable symbols on the display, (b) replacing non-configurable symbols by selecting, using the random number generator, symbols from a second set of reels defined by the symbol data for symbol positions not occupied by configurable symbols, and (c) controlling the display to display the symbols selected from the second set of reels, each of the second reels comprising a plurality of non-configurable symbols and a plurality of configurable symbols, and

(3.1) wherein the second set of reels comprises individual reels each corresponding to an individual display position.

(5.1) wherein the game controller is configured to increase a number of free games remaining in response to the selection of one or more additional configurable symbols in at least one of the free games.

(1.12) when the free games end, make an award of credits to the win meter or the credit meter based on a total of prize values assigned to collected configurable symbols.

Then his Honour held:

[135] Having regard to the findings of the majority decision of the Full Court, in my view, the only conclusion available is that dependent claim 5 of the 967 patent provides no additional features that would warrant a conclusion different to the conclusion reached by the majority decision in respect of claim 1 of the 967 patent. Having regard to dependent claim 5 of the 967 patent as set out above, integers 4.1 and 4.2 add features relating to the use of “configurable symbols” in the “first set of reels” for the first or base game identified in integer 1.8. Integer 3.1 adds that the second set of reels identified in integer 1.11 comprises individual reels each corresponding to an individual display position. Integer 5.1 refers to the game controller (identified in integer 1.6) being configured to increase a number of free games remaining in response to the selection of one or more additional configurable symbols in one or more of the free games.

[136] Taken collectively, the additional integers of dependent claim 5 of the 967 patent impose additional features or limitations on the conduct of the game referred to in claim 1. None, to adopt the language of the majority decision at [63], may be said to pertain to the development of computer technology. Each leaves it to the person designing the EGM to do the programming which gives effect to the family of games (or rules) which those integers define.

Similar reasoning applied for the other patents.

Aristocrat Technologies Australia Pty Limited v Commissioner of Patents (No 3) [2024] FCA 212


  1. Aristocrat Technologies Australia Pty Ltd v Commissioner of Patents, NSD506 / 2024, filed on 26 April 2024. As Burley J’s decision is on appeal from the Commissioner, an appeal is not as of right but requires leave: Patents Act 1990 (Cth) s 158(2).  ?
  2. Patents Act s 18(1A)(a) and, for standard patents, 18(1)(a).  ?
  3. Judiciary Act 1903 (Cth) s 23(2)(a).  ?
  4. TRIPS art. 27.1  ?

Aristocrat 2 or 3 or 4 or Read More »

Aristocrat gets special leave

The High Court has granted Aristocrat special leave to appeal the Full Federal Court’s ruling that Aristocrat’s application for an electronic gaming machine (EGM or “pokie”) was not patentable subject matter.[1]

The patent application

Aristocrat’s application is entitled ‘A system and method for providing a feature game’ – App. No. 2016101967; yet another problematic “innovation” patent.

The Commissioner and Aristocrat were in agreement that the case rose or fell on the patentability of claim 1:

(1) A gaming machine comprising:

(1.1) a display;

(1.2) a credit input mechanism operable to establish credits on the gaming machine, the credit input mechanism including at least one of a coin input chute, a bill collector, a card reader and a ticket reader;

(1.3) meters configured for monitoring credits established via the credit input mechanism and changes to the established credits due to play of the gaming machine, the meters including a credit meter to which credit input via the credit input mechanism is added and a win meter;

(1.4) a random number generator;

(1.5) a game play mechanism including a plurality of buttons configured for operation by a player to input a wager from the established credits and to initiate a play of a game; and

(1.6) a game controller comprising a processor and memory storing (i) game program code, and (ii) symbol data defining reels, and wherein the game controller is operable to assign prize values to configurable symbols as required during play of the game,

(1.7) the game controller executing the game program code stored in the memory and responsive to initiation of the play of the game with the game play mechanism to:

(1.8) select a plurality of symbols from a first set of reels defined by the symbol data using the random number generator;

(1.9) control the display to display the selected symbols in a plurality of columns of display positions during play of a base game;

(1.10) monitor play of the base game and trigger a feature game comprising free games in response to a trigger event occurring in play of the base game,

(1.11) conduct the free games on the display by, for each free game, (a) retaining configurable symbols on the display, (b) replacing non-configurable symbols by selecting, using the random number generator, symbols from a second set of reels defined by the symbol data for symbol positions not occupied by configurable symbols, and (c) controlling the display to display the symbols selected from the second set of reels, each of the second reels comprising a plurality of non-configurable symbols and a plurality of configurable symbols, and

(1.12) when the free games end, make an award of credits to the win meter or the credit meter based on a total of prize values assigned to collected configurable symbols.

(emphasis supplied by Middleton and Perram JJ).

The new or innovative feature lay in the feature comprising the free game integer – integers 1.10 to 1.12. It was apparently common ground that the other features were part of the common general knowledge for electronic gaming machines.

In the Full Court, Middleton and Perram JJ at [3] and [4] explained:

3 It is not suggested that there is anything inventive about Claim 1’s EGM except for its feature game and it is in all other respects an unremarkable EGM. (Because the 967 Patent is an innovation patent strictly the question is whether there is anything innovative about it, but nothing turns on the distinction between inventive and innovative for present purposes). A feature game is a secondary game awarded to a player on the occurrence of a defined event in the ordinary or ‘base’ game of spinning reels, termed a ‘trigger event’. Once the feature game is enlivened by the trigger event the feature game appears and the player is able to play it and potentially to win further prizes. When the feature game is completed the EGM reverts to the base game.

4 The point of feature games is to encourage players to keep wagering on the EGM by making it more interesting to do so. Since the revenue generated by an EGM is a function of the amount wagered upon it – in New South Wales up to 15% in the long run – the more successful a feature game is in keeping the player wagering, the more lucrative the EGM is for its operator. A successful feature game is therefore commercially valuable both from the perspective of the class of persons who operate EGMs and from the perspective of those who manufacture and distribute them to that class. The Respondent (‘Aristocrat’) is part of a world-wide group of companies engaged in the manufacture and distribution of EGMs and is the particular member of the group which owns the 967 Patent.

Their Honours then explained how the free game feature worked at [11] – [12]:

11 The game defined by integers 1.10–1.12 is in fact not a single game at all but rather a family of games with particular common attributes. On the occurrence of a trigger event (integer 1.10) the player is awarded one or more free games of the feature game (integer 1.11). The feature game (integer 1.11) consists of a second set of reels. Amongst the symbols on these reels are ‘configurable’ symbols. The patent does not define a configurable symbol but it does provide for them to be assigned prize values by the computer on which the game is played, which is known as the game controller (integer 1.6). A preferred embodiment of the invention suggests that the configurable symbol may be overlaid with the amount of the prize which has been assigned to it (although this is not a necessary feature of integer 1.11 and any symbol will do). In that preferred embodiment, the configurable symbol is an image of a pearl and it is configured by the overlaying on that image of different prize amounts, e.g., some pearls appear with ‘250’ and others with ‘1000’, where those figures represent credits.

12 Returning to the feature game, each time a configurable symbol appears in the display grid at the end of the free game that particular symbol position on the relevant reel stops spinning for any remaining free games and the configurable symbol remains locked in place in any subsequent play of the feature game (i.e. if the player still has any free games left). When the player eventually runs out of free games in the feature game a prize is awarded related to the number of configurable symbols which have been locked in place (integer 1.12). In the preferred embodiment the prize is the sum of the assigned values on the pearls which have been frozen on the display grid but integer 1.12 is consistent with the prize being calculated in some other way.

Burley J

At first instance (on appeal from the Commissioner), Burley J considered that the case law required a two stage assessment of patentable subject matter:

  1. The initial inquiry was whether or not the claim was for a mere scheme or business method of the type that was not the proper subject matter for a grant of a patent.
  2. If so, a second inquiry arose: whether or not the claim involved the creation of an artificial state of affairs where the computer was integral to the invention, rather than a mere tool in which it was performed. That is, was there invention in the computerisation of the claimed method?

Each step was to be undertaken as a matter of substance rather than mere form.

Applying that methodology, Burley J avoided the whole mere scheme or business method controversy by holding that the claim was for a mechanism of a particular construction where the integers interacted to produce a particular product – an EGM.

While this blogger welcomed the result, it did raise a rather awkward question: why did putting the integers in a box create patentable subject matter when essentially the same functionality could also be supplied over a network including, dare one say it, the Internet.

The Commissioner appealed.

The Full Court

All three judges (Middleton, Perram and Nicholas JJ) unanimously allowed the appeal. Middleton and Perram JJ delivered the main opinion and Nicholas J delivered a separate concurring opinion.

All three judges accepted unreservedly that a mere scheme or abstract idea was not patentable subject matter.

All three judges also accepted that whether something is patentable subject matter was to be determined as a matter of substance rather than mere form.

Middleton and Perram JJ

At [14] – [15], Middleton and Perram JJ considered that the feature game itself defined by integers 1.10 to 1.12 was a mere abstract idea for purposes of patent law. This was because either it was the definition of a family of games with common attributes and so akin to the rules of a game. Or it was because it was a method of increasing player interest in the EGM and so increasing the operator’s gaming revenue. On that view, it was just a business scheme or scheme.

At [16], their Honours accepted that an invention which physically embodied an abstract idea and gave it some practical application could be patentable subject matter. Thus, a mechanical poker machine which allowed a game (the abstract idea) to be played could be patentable. In such a case, however, the patent would protect the physical embodiment and not the abstract idea:

But the patent protects the invention which is the poker machine and not the abstract idea consisting of the game which it plays. This is consistent with decisions on board or card games to the effect that the game itself, no matter its ingenuity, does not comprise patentable subject matter but the physical apparatus used for playing the game (such as cards or the board) may do so ….

Crucially, their Honours then held that the implementation of the game by means of an unspecified computer program could not be a manner of manufacture unless the implementation resulted in some development of computer technology rather than its utilisation. At [18], their Honours said:

The implementation of an abstraction such as that disclosed by integers 1.10–1.12 by means of an unspecified computer program to be executed on the computer which is the game controller will not give rise to a patentable invention unless the implementation itself can be seen as pertaining to the development of computer technology rather than to its utilisation …. [2]

Middleton and Perram JJ next accepted that Burley J’s approach could be workable where the subject matter of the claimed patent was obviously implemented in a computer. In other cases, however, it had the potential to lead to a wrong result especially where “for example, whether a claimed physical apparatus such as an EGM is, in truth, no more than a particular kind of computer.”

Instead, Middleton and Perram JJ proposed at [26] a different two-step analysis:

(a) Is the invention claimed a computer-implemented invention?

(b) If so, can the invention claimed broadly be described as an advance in computer technology?

In the present case, the claimed invention was a computer-implemented invention.

First, although the apparatus claimed was an EGM (or poker machine), it was in substance a computer. At [32] – [34], their Honours found that the EGM was a game control computer (integer 1.6) attached to a random number generator (integer 1.4, another computer) with some input and output devices (respectively, integers 1.2, 1.3 and 1.5 (input) and 1.1 (output)) with associated software instructions (integers 1.7, 1.8 and 1.9 and the feature game 1.10 – 1.12).

Secondly, to avoid the (erroneous) conclusion that the claimed invention was for the practical implementation of an abstract idea in a device, at [50] their Honours considered it was necessary to distinguish between a claim for an invention which was a computer and a claim for an invention implemented in a computer.

As a claim for either type of invention could appear to be a claim for a computer, it was necessary to identify what was in fact the substance of the claimed invention.

Here, the correct characterisation of the claim had to take into account the two elements of the claim: one element being the EGM (in effect, the computer) and the other element being the feature game and, importantly, the feature game was the only innovative feature of the claim.

As the feature game was to be executed in the computer, at [56] Middleton and Perram JJ considered the relationship of the feature game elements to the computer elements was one of implementation. Accordingly, the claim was to a computer-implemented invention.

Turning to the second question (b), Middleton and Perram JJ held that the claimed invention was not directed to an advance in computer technology. At [63], their Honours said:

Because the invention is the implementation of a feature game on the computer which is an EGM, the next question is whether what is put forward as inventive (or innovative) about Claim 1 pertains to the development of computer technology or merely its use. The fact that integers 1.10–1.12 leave it entirely up to the person designing the EGM to do the programming which gives effect to the family of games which those integers define inevitably necessitates the conclusion that Claim 1 pertains only to the use of a computer. Indeed, it purports to do nothing else. Claim 1 is silent on the topic of computer technology beyond that the person implementing the invention should use some.

It did not matter that the claim improved player engagement or improved subjective satisfaction. That had nothing to do with developing or advancing computer technology. Similarly, the use of configurable symbols for prizes was of no assistance. That might advance gaming technology but was not an advance in computer technology.

Nicholas J

Nicholas J reached the same conclusion but by a somewhat different route.

Like Middleton and Perram JJ, his Honour started from the proposition that mere schemes and abstract ideas are not patentable. At [115] Nicholas J considered that to be patentable the case law required a claimed invention to relate to some technological innovation:[3]

The Full Court noted at [100] the distinction drawn in Research Affiliates at [94] between a technological innovation which is patentable and a business innovation which is not. The use of the expression “technological innovation” emphasises the need to identify a technological contribution in a field of technology. The desirability of providing patent protection to technological innovations is reflected in Art 27(1) of the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights which relevantly provides that “… patents shall be available for any inventions, whether products or processes, in all fields of technology, provided that they are new, involve an inventive step and are capable of industrial application …”. The language of “technological innovation” has now been adopted in s 2A of the Act which refers to the promotion of economic wellbeing through technological innovation as an object of the Act.

An interesting invocation of the new Objects clause in the Act.

At [116], Nicholas J considered it was important to avoid an excessively rigid or formulaic approach to this issue. This was because the technological advance may lie in the field of computer technology. However, the required technological advance could also lie in a field of technology outside the computer:

… it is not appropriate to adopt an excessively rigid or formulaic approach to the question whether a computer implemented scheme is a manner of manufacture. This is especially true in situations where there may be no clear distinction between the field to which the invention belongs, and the field of computer technology. There may well be a technological innovation in the field of technology to which the invention belongs even though it cannot be said that there has been some technological innovation in the field of computers. The field of the invention may encompass different fields of technology that have their own technical problems that lie “outside the computer”. Moreover, the solutions to these problems may necessarily rely upon generic computing technology for their implementation. That does not necessarily render such solutions unpatentable.

His Honour gave as an example at [120] a computer-implemented invention for running a refrigerator in a more energy-efficient way. This might not involve an advance in computer technology but could well be patentable where the invention lay in the field of refrigeration technology. So, there could also be patentable subject matter in the way a gaming system or machine functioned even if there had not been an advance in computer technology.

Turning to Aristocrat’s patent application, Nicholas J considered at [135] that Burley J’s two-step test did not adequately address the Commissioner’s submission that the claim was for nothing more than the (unpatentable) rules of a game implemented in generic computer technology for its well-known and well-understood functions.

Citing RPL at [96], the fact that the feature game instructions were embodied in a computer was not sufficient to qualify as patentable subject matter. While the purpose of the invention was to provide a different and more enjoyable playing experience, the claim was not directed to overcoming any technological problem. At [141], his Honour explained:

The specification does not identify any technological problem to which the patent purports to provide a solution. Nor did the expert evidence (insofar as it was made available to us) suggest that the invention described and claimed in the specification was directed to any technical problem in the field of gaming machines or gaming systems. Rather, as the specification makes clear, the purpose of the invention is to create a new game that includes a feature game giving players the opportunity to win prizes that could not be won in the base game. Ultimately, the purpose of the invention is to provide players with a different and more enjoyable playing experience. The invention is not directed to a technological problem residing either inside or outside the computer.

Generic computer technology / software

While acknowledging that the phraseology had been used in earlier Full Court decisions, Middleton and Perram JJ considered at [35] to [42] that testing whether the claimed invention merely involved a generic computer or generic software was not “especially helpful”. It was preferable to focus on whether the claimed invention related to an advance in computer technology.

In contrast, Nicholas J (who had participated in the earlier cases) was not so troubled. At [112], his Honour considered it could be a useful signpost to patentability (or not) to ascertain whether the computer or software was just conventional computer technology being used for its well-known and well-understood effects.

Where to now

The law relating to “manner of manufacture” is a mess.

Following NRDC and before about the mid–2000s, the issue hardly, if ever, came up. Since the mid–2000s, there have been numerous cases; it is perhaps no exaggeration to say there are more, indeed way more, cases each year than in the previous 50 years.

And, unless one is prepared to say that it’s a computer-related invention and so it is not patentable subject matter (which the Courts repeatedly do not say), it is very hard to say what will pass the threshold and what will not.

One issue is that the cases are replete with comments like there is nothing new or inventive about that. That suggests that what is really the issue is lack of novelty or inventive step.

That though gives rise to a whole set of sub-issues. First, the whole situation is exacerbated by the abominations called “innovation patents”, which don’t actually require any invention, just that what is claimed (in effect) be new.

Secondly, proving lack of inventive step is a complicated, expensive and risky gamble – especially under our law before the Raising the Bar amendments.

Thirdly, while cases like CCOM, IBM and Welcome-Catuity could provide a principled approach to this issue, that could well end up with Australian law granting patents in circumstances where the USA and the EU would not. Not a situation the Productivity Commission would favour. And, it is far from clear that any clear or consistent approach has emerged in either jurisdiction, especially the USA.

The reason, or at least one of the reasons, why NRDC was a “watershed” in patent law was that it got rid of the artificial pigeon-holes or categories of “vendible product” which, as the NRDC judgment so tellingly demonstrated, had resulted in such inconsistent and unpredictable results to the test of manner of manufacture. Instead, it adopted an open-ended, flexible approach directed to achieving the objects of patent law.

Against that background, one might argue that Nicholas J’s approach, with respect, allows a degree of flexibility and forward-thinking which may not follow from the approach taken by Middleton and Perram JJ. Whether his Honour’s approach provides any more certainty may be debated but at least it would avoid a narrow categorisation. Whether that is an approach that finds favour with the High Court, or what direction it might take, remains to be seen.

[Some typos were corrected on 24 June 2022]


  1. That is, not a ‘manner of manufacture’ for the purposes of Patents Act 1990 s 18(1)(a) and 18(1A)(a). Exceptionally, special leave was granted on the papers.  ?
  2. Citing Commissioner of Patents v RPL Central Pty Ltd [2015] FCAFC 177; 238 FCR 27 at [96] and [102] (Kenny, Bennett and Nicholas JJ).  ?
  3. Nicholas J considered that Research Affiliates at [115] – [119] (and RPL Central applying it) broadly equated the requirement for a technical contribution or technological innovation to the “artificially created state of affairs” required under the NRDC test.  ?

Aristocrat gets special leave Read More »

Aristocrat’s electronic gaming machine is patentable

Burley J – one of the judges in the Full Court’s Rokt ruling – has upheld Aristocrat’s appeal and ruled that four of its innovation patents[1] for electronic gaming machines (EGMs) were manners of manufacture and not mere schemes or rules for a game.

[2]

The parties charaterised claim 1 of the 2016101967 patent as having 12 integers:

A gaming machine comprising:

(1.1) a display;

(1.2) a credit input mechanism operable to establish credits on the gaming machine, the credit input mechanism including at least one of a coin input chute, a bill collector, a card reader and a ticket reader;

(1.3) meters configured for monitoring credits established via the credit input mechanism and changes to the established credits due to play of the gaming machine, the meters including a credit meter to which credit input via the credit input mechanism is added and a win meter;

(1.4) a random number generator;

(1.5) a game play mechanism including a plurality of buttons configured for operation by a player to input a wager from the established credits and to initiate a play of a game; and

(1.6) a game controller comprising a processor and memory storing (i) game program code, and (ii) symbol data defining reels, and wherein the game controller is operable to assign prize values to configurable symbols as required during play of the game,

(1.7) the game controller executing the game program code stored in the memory and responsive to initiation of the play of the game with the game play mechanism to:

(1.8) select a plurality of symbols from a first set of reels defined by the symbol data using the random number generator;

(1.9) control the display to display the selected symbols in a plurality of columns of display positions during play of a base game;

(1.10) monitor play of the base game and trigger a feature game comprising free games in response to a trigger event occurring in play of the base game,

(1.11) conduct the free games on the display by, for each free game, (a) retaining configurable symbols on the display, (b) replacing non-configurable symbols by selecting, using the random number generator, symbols from a second set of reels defined by the symbol data for symbol positions not occupied by configurable symbols, and (c) controlling the display to display the symbols selected from the second set of reels, each of the second reels comprising a plurality of non-configurable symbols and a plurality of configurable symbols, and

(1.12) when the free games end, make an award of credits to the win meter or the credit meter based on a total of prize values assigned to collected configurable symbols.

No doubt oversimplifying, it seems the “clever” aspect of the patent was the use of a combination of configurable symbols and non-configurable symbols in which the display of a pre-determined number of configurable symbols on a base reel triggered free or bonus games. The configurable symbols were retained in the “free” game, while the non-configurable symbols were replaced with symbols from a second set of “reels”.

On the appeal, the Commissioner’s primary argument was that the claims were just claims to “a generic computer implementation”, leaving the hardware and software uncharacterised where the only features that distinguished the claimed invention from previous EGMs were the scheme or rules of the game. Thus, at [80] Burley J summarised the Commissioner’s submission:

integers 1.1 to 1.6 reflect the components of an EGM, including hardware (for example a display) and software (for example a random number generator) and some that are a combination of both (for example a game controller comprising a processor and memory). These were all standard components of EGMs.

Integers 1.7 to 1.12 deal with the conduct of the game and amount to a scheme or set of rules for doing so.

Amongst other things, the claim does not define any hardware features of the “game controller comprising a process or a memory” or any technical means by which the necessary processing functions are performed to implement the game. No software application or program code for carrying out the steps is defined by the claims. There is no suggestion of ingenuity in their implementation, which is left entirely to the skilled person reading the claim.

Consideration

In a point which bears emphasising (as it appears so often overlooked or misunderstood), Burley J began by reiterating that the ground of manner of manufacture is a separate and discrete requirement of validity, independent of other grounds like novelty, innovative step, utility and secret use. So, as his Honour pointed out at [84]:

whilst a claim for a ball point pen would fail for anticipation and inventive step, it would still be a claim for a manner of manufacture.

After referencing the “scheme” line of cases,[3] Burley J considered at [91] they mandated a two stage inquiry:

  1. The initial inquiry was whether or not the claim was for a mere scheme or business method of the type that was not the proper subject matter for a grant of a patent.
  2. If so, a second inquiry arose: whether or not the claim involved the creation of an artificial state of affairs where the computer was integral to the invention, rather than a mere tool in which it was performed. That is, was there invention in the computerisation of the claimed method?

Each step was to be undertaken as a matter of substance rather than mere form.

According to his Honour, it was at the second stage that it became necessary to identify whether or not the “contribution” was “technical in nature” or solved a “technical” problem or merely required a “generic” computer implementation.

The present case was different to the “mere scheme” line of cases because what was claimed was a mechanism of a particular construction where the integers interacted to produce a particular product. At [95], his Honour summarised:

the invention described and claimed, when understood as a matter of substance, is to a mere scheme or plan. It is to a mechanism of a particular construction, the operation of which involves a combination of physical parts and software to produce a particular outcome in the form of an EGM that functions in a particular way.[4]

Accordingly, it was unnecessary to embark on the second inquiry required for “mere scheme” cases.

As there was a physical product, therefore, it appears that the instant claims were conceptually different to those in Emcompass and Rokt. Burley J considered the instant claims were conceptually more like those upheld by Nicholas J in Konami and Dowsett J in LTH Consulting where, for example, Nicholas J had explained:

the inventions in suit claimed are not “mere ideas” but “new and useful gaming machines and new and useful methods of operation producing new and improved results”.

In opposing this claim, the Commissioner was labouring under the difficulty of the many, many patents already granted for EGMs and gaming machines generally. Moreover, the Commissioner necessarily conceded (consistently with his Honour’s ball point pen example) that the claim would have been a manner of manufacture if it had been implemented “the old-fashioned way, without using software but instead using cogs, physical reels and motors to create the gameplay”.

Thank goodness for that blow in favour of modernity and technological developement! One might question whether, when putting the elements into a box qualifies as a manner of manufacture, offering exactly the same functionality online accessible through a browser would also qualify as a manner of manufacture. Indeed, the specification refers to the invention being implemented alternatively by a “thick client” architecture or a “thin client” architecture.[5] And, if it did, how would one reconcile that with Rokt?

Aristocrat Technologies Australia Pty Limited v Commissioner of Patents [2020] FCA 778


  1. All four were divisionals from the same parent: AU 2015210489.  ?
  2. In this image from the decision, the vertical, numbered lines represent a portion of 5 “reels” (showing 3 symbols per reel) and the horizontal, lettered lines are rows.  ?
  3. Grant v Commissioner of Patents [2006] FCAFC 120; 154 FCR 62; Research Affiliates LLC v Commissioner of Patents [2014] FCAFC 150; 227 FCR 378; Commissioner of Patents v RPL Central Pty Ltd [2015] FCAFC 177; 238 FCR 27; Encompass Corporation Pty Ltd v InfoTrack Pty Ltd [2019] FCAFC 161; 372 ALR 646; Watson v The Commissioner of Patents [2020] FCAFC 56 and Commissioner of Patents v Rokt [2020] FCAFC 86.  ?
  4. At [96], Burley J expanded on the physical components claimed and how they interacted through the software to produce an outcome and, at [97], his Honour referred to the tight regulatory supervision imposed on EGMs.  ?
  5. P. 4: “For example, a ”thick client“ architecture may be used wherein part of the game is executed on a player operable gaming machine and part of the game is executed remotely, such as by a gaming server; or a ”thin client“ architecture may be used wherein most of the game is executed remotely such as by a gaming server and a player operable gaming machine is used only to display audible and/or visible gaming information to the player and receive gaming inputs from the player.”  ?

Aristocrat’s electronic gaming machine is patentable Read More »

Winnebago the damages or a reasonable royalty Down Under

You will remember that Winnebago (USA) successfully sued the Knotts for passing off in Australia but (in large part because of Winnebago (USA)’s delay in asserting its rights) the Knotts had developed their own reputation in Australia and so could continue using WINNEBAGO here provided it was used with an appropriate disclaimer (here and here). The damages were to be assessed.

Now we know what the damages will be:

Knott Investments, the company that built and supplied the “Australian” Winnebagoes will have to pay a royalty calculated at 1% of its sales on all sales made from 6 years before the proceedings were started until the disclaimer was put in place.

The dealers who sold the vehicles will also have to pay a royalty of 1% on their sales in addition, but only from the date proceedings were actually commenced.

Winnebago (USA) claimed damages on the basis of a reasonable royalty. The respondents resisted. It was clear that Winnebago (USA) would never have granted them a licence and, equally, they would never have taken a licence from Winnebago (USA). In those circumstances, the respondents said, the court could not impose a royalty on the basis of an assumed agreement that would never have happened:

the applicant suffered no damage by way of a lost royalty (in effect, no lost “sale”) because the applicant would not have licensed the respondents to use the Winnebago marks in the first place.

Yates J rejected that defence and held that compensation was required to be paid on what has been called “the user principle”:

Under this principle, a plaintiff is entitled to recover, by way of damages, a reasonable sum from a defendant who has wrongfully used the plaintiff’s property. The plaintiff may not have suffered actual loss from the use, and the wrongdoer may not have derived actual benefit. Nevertheless, under the principle, the defendant is obliged to pay a reasonable sum for the wrongful use. The reasonable sum is sometimes described as a reasonable rent, hiring fee, endorsement fee, licence fee or royalty (amongst other expressions), depending on the property involved and the nature of the wrongful use.

Black CJ and Jacobson J in a copyright case in the Full Court had appeared to reject the application of that principle.[1] Yates J, however, considered the principle could and should be adopted in the context of passing off (and trade mark infringement) on the basis of a long line of English and Australian cases applying the principle in the context of trespass to real property, conversion, detinue and intellectual property infringements.[2] Otherwise, the respondents would escape liability for damages as a result of the very thing that made their conduct unlawful: the lack of consent by Winnebago (USA).

The respondents also argued that no damages should be payable because, as the Full Court found, they had a concurrent reputation in WINNEBAGO in Australia. Yates J rejected this too. His Honour considered that the existence of concurrent reputations – one which did not require a disclaimer and one which did – meant there was value in being able to use the reputation without any disclaimer. Yates J arrived at the royalty of 1% on the basis that Winnebago (USA) had granted a licence to an Australian licensee at that rate and, while various other considerations were entered into, that was an appropriate round number.

Three points in relation to the dealers.

Yates J rejected their first argument: that they should not be liable for anything as the supplier, Knott Investments would already have paid a royalty. However, the dealers’ sales of vehicles in passing off were separate wrongs to those of the manufacturer and so required separate compensation.

Secondly, while Winnebago (USA) did not submit evidence about what damages the dealers’ actions caused, it claimed a royalty of 4 or 5%. Yates J considered, in the absence of evidence, that a royalty of 1% would be consistent with that imposed on the supplier.

Thirdly, the dealers (and for that matter, the Knotts) would be liable for damages for passing off only where they acted with fraud: that is, with knowledge of Winnebago (USA)’s reputation in Australia and its desire to assert those rights here. In the absence of evidence avout what the dealers knew, Yates J considered that they could only be held to have acted with fraud once proceedings were initiated:

The difficulty for the applicant is that the evidence does not address the question of what the dealers knew or thought. Even if they might have been aware of the applicant’s activities in the United States or in other overseas markets, it does not follow that they also understood that the applicant had a reputation of any significance in Australia, let alone one that was capable of legal protection, or, more importantly, that, prior to the commencement of this proceeding, the applicant was claiming that it had rights in Australia in respect of the Winnebago marks and that the commercial activities of the first respondent and its dealers constituted an infringement of those rights. However, from the time of commencement of this proceeding, when the applicant’s claims were exposed, the position of the second to twelfth respondents was different. From that time, they were on notice of the applicant’s claimed rights. Their persistence in using the Winnebago marks after this notice constitutes fraud in the relevant sense.

The need to show “fraud” is another difference between the tort of passing off and the action for misleading or deceptive conduct under the Australian Consumer Law.

Winnebago Industries Inc v Knott Investments Pty Ltd (No 4) [2015] FCA 1327


  1. Aristocrat Technologies Australia Pty Ltd v DAP Services (Kempsey) Pty Ltd (2007) 157 FCR 564; [2007] FCAFC 40 (Aristocrat) at [27]-[28].  ?
  2. One of those cases was Bunnings Group Ltd v CHEP Australia Ltd (2011) 82 NSWLR 420; [2011] NSWCA 342, in which the leading judgment was given by Allsop P, now the present Chief Judge.  ?

Winnebago the damages or a reasonable royalty Down Under Read More »

Winnebago 2: the disclaimer

Back in June, the Full Court, upheld the trial Judge’s conclusion that Knott was engaging in misleading or deceptive conduct, and passing off, by using the Winnebago “logos” to promote RVs of its (Knott’s) manufacture that had nothing to do with Winnebago USA. Because the breach was in the nature of “passing off” rather than trade mark infringement and because Winnebago USA had sat on its hands for 25 years allowing Knott to build up some goodwill of its own, however, the Full Court was prepared to grant an injunction only to restrain use of WINNEBAGO and the Winnebago logos by Knott which did not adequately disclaim association with the USA.
The Full Court has now handed down its decision about the form of that disclaimer:

without:

(f) where the name, mark or logo is used on one or more vehicles or in a document (including any print advertisement or webpage), stating in any relevant document (including any print advertisement or web page) or on any vehicle, clearly and prominently, and reasonably proximate to any name, mark or logo:

(i) (where the name, or mark or logo is used on or in relation to a single vehicle) “This vehicle was not manufactured by, or by anyone having any association with, Winnebago of the United States”; or …

In addition, radio and television commercials must have a prominent voiceover of no less than 10 seconds’ duration stating:

These vehicles were not manufactured by, or by anyone having any association with, Winnebago of the United States.

Also, Knott will be required to obtain a signed acknowledgement from each purchaser, hirer etc. that he or she has been informed the vehicles was “not manufactured by, or by anyone having any association with, Winnebago of the United States.”

Given the 25 year delay, the Full Court was not prepared to countenance allowing Winnebago USA to take an account of Knott’s profits.

The Full Court did, however, remit the matter back to the trial judge on the question of damages (limited to the six years before the proceeding was brought), but with an important rider.

Winnebago USA wants to argue that its damages should be a reasonable royalty on the use of its rights. The Full Court noted that other Full Court authority [1] appeared to stand in the way of that approach, but there might be scope for that to be revisited in light of the New South Wales Court of Appeal’s consideration of remedies for the unauthorised use of property in the context of conversion.[2]

The rider: before Winnebago USA gets to try this argument, it has to satisfy the trial Judge that there is “some prospect of a substantial (that is, real) award.”

Knott Investments Pty Ltd v Winnebago Industries, Inc (No 2) [2013] FCAFC 117


  1. Aristocrat Technologies Australia Pty Ltd v DAP Services (Kempsey) Pty Ltd (in liq) [2007] FCAFC 40; 157 FCR 564 at 569 [27]-[28].  ?
  2. Bunnings Group Ltd v CHEP Australia Ltd [2011] NSWCA 342; 82 NSWLR 420 at 464–470 [166]-[186].  ?

Winnebago 2: the disclaimer Read More »

Turns out, damages were payable after all

The Full Court has upheld Insight SRC’s appeal that it was entitled to compensatory damages under s 115(2) of the Copyright Act.

When ACER committed the infringements by reproducing the SOHQ, Dr Hart, the owner of the copyright, exploited it through his Insight company as an informal licensee or licensee at will.[1] As is probably not uncommon with “family” companies, the terms of the licence were so unclear Besanko J could not ascertain them. In these circumstances, Besanko J had ruled at [118]:

it is necessary to consider what action Dr Hart could have taken immediately prior to the execution of the Deed on 12 May 2011 by way of a damages claim for infringement of the copyright in the SOHQ. The possibilities are general damages under subs 115(2) and additional damages pursuant to subs 115(4) of the Act. As to the former, the difficulty for the applicants is that Dr Hart was not personally conducting a business involving the use of the SOHQ between the beginning of 2006 and 1 October 2009 and it has been no part of their case before me that Dr Hart personally would have exploited any commercial opportunities with ISV. Furthermore, Dr Hart did not claim that he could recover any such loss as the major shareholder of Insight SRC and that the Court could lift the corporate veil. On the other hand, what Dr Hart did have as the copyright owner was a right to nominal damages for infringement of copyright and a right to claim additional damages under subs 115(4). ….

ACER had used the copyright infringements to obtain contracts with ISV. It appears to have been accepted by both sides on the appeal that ISV would have had to award the contracts to Insight to be permitted to use the copyright. Bearing in mind that damages under s 115(2) are compensatory, the Full Court considered Dr Hart had suffered loss in the form of being prevented from procuring for his company the contracts ACER obtained by its copyright infringements. At [23]:

it is safe to infer that Dr Hart’s damage was the value of the loss of his ability to cause Insight to enter into a contract with ISV that would have generated the profit of $130,000 for Insight as found by the primary judge. Neither party at the trial asked his Honour to assess, as an alternative, the value of the loss of a chance to make such a contract.

From here, things get tricky. The Full Court went on to say at [24] that Dr Hart’s loss was not the royalty he would have received through the licence arrangement or the dividend he might have been paid from Insight’s profits:

An important component of this identification of what Insight’s damage would have been, is that Dr Hart wanted Insight to benefit by receipt of the profit. That is different to the characterisation urged by ACER that his damage was what might be received by him after Insight, Insight Holdings and the interposed trusts had received and made sequential distributions. Dr Hart used his efforts in exploiting the copyright to benefit Insight.

The reasoning seems to have been influenced by the proposition that a donor of a gift is entitled to recover the replacement value of the gift if it is wrongfully destroyed by another before receipt by the intended donee. (Perhaps, the real problem was that the licence arrangement was so amorphous[2] that it was not really possible to identify what fee was payable for the use of the copyright.)

In an attempt to kill off the case once and for all, the Full Court then went on to say that Dr Hart was entitled to at least $130,000 and, if the parties didn’t accept that, maybe more.

The $130,000 figure is interesting. It is the amount of profit Besanko J found ACER made on the ISV contracts it obtained by infringing the copyright. Presumably, that is the damages that Besanko J would have awarded on the basis that Insight would also have made that much profit.[3] I’m not sure why that follows but, perhaps, the Full Court had in mind that, possibly, Insight’s profit may have been higher than ACER’s as it may have had lower overheads?

Wouldn’t things have been easier if the majority in Aristocrataristocrat had agreed with Rares J’s view (and that of the English courts) that a reasonable royalty could be awarded as compensatory damages?

Insight SRC IP Holdings Pty Ltd v Australian Council for Educational Research Ltd [2013] FCAFC 62


  1. Insight did not become a formal, exclusive licensee until ACER’s infringements ceased. Bit more on the ownership, assignment and additional damages questions here.  ?
  2. The Full Court described it as “the informal, oral or bare licence that he granted it, or treated it as having had before the formal, exclusive licence [was] granted”. (emphasis supplied)  ?
  3. Damages under s 115(2) being an alternative to an account of profits must be the loss the copyright owner suffered, not the profits the infringer made which is the remedy obtained through an account. See e.g. Aristocrat and Rifai.  ?

Turns out, damages were payable after all Read More »

No damage for infringing copyright in questionnaire

Besanko J has awarded Insight SRC $32,510.00 for the infringements of its copyright in the School Organisational Health Questionnaire by the Australian Council for Educational Reseaarch (ACER). The award consisted of $10 nominal damages and $32,500 by way of additional damages. There are some interesting points about ownership, assignment and damages.

The questionnaire consisted of 57 questions arranged under 12 headings or modules. ACER reproduced some 25 of these questions from 5 modules between 2006 and October 2009 as part of a project with Independent Schools Victoria.

There was no dispute that copyright subsisted in the questionnaire or that ACER had reproduced a substantial part. Rather, ACER disputed Insight SRC’s title to the copyright and whether Insight SRC had suffered any damage.

Ownership

ACER’s basic point was that, as Dr Hart made the questionnaire in the course of his employment by the Victorian Department of Education, the Department (or the Crown) and not Dr Hart was the owner of the copyright pursuant to s 35 or the Crown Copyright provisions (here and here) of the Copyright Act 1968. If Dr Hart was not the original owner of the copyright, Insight SRC had no title since its rights depended on a chain of assignments starting with Dr Hart and not involving the Department (or the Crown).

Besanko J agreed with ACER that Dr Hart had created the questionnaire while employed by the Victorian Department of Education. However, his Honour found that Dr Hart and the Department (through Dr Hart’s superior) had agreed Dr Hart would retain ownership of the copyright and so s 35(6) and s 176 were excluded by the operation of s 35(3) and s 179.

The interesting point here is that the agreement between Dr Hart and his superior was purely oral but, as Besanko J pointed out, unlike the case with assignments pursuant to s 196 or s 197, there was no requirement for an agreement which excluded the operation of s 35(6) and s 176 to be in writing.

Besanko J did also find that s 176 would not have applied as Dr Hart, although an employee of the Department, was not acting under the control or direction of anyone in the Department in creating the questionnaire.

Assignment

Insight SRC claimed to be the owner of the copyright in the questionnaire by assignment. The assignment of copyright to it was made on 1 October 2009; that is, after ACER had ceased its infringing conduct.[1]

The main point of interest is that prior to 12 May 2011, none of the assignments – to Hart Cultural Lodges or Insight SRC – included the right to sue for past infringements. Deeds assigning the right to sue for past infringements from Dr Hart to Hart Cultural Lodges and then from Hart Cultural Lodges to Insight SRC were executed only on 12 May 2011.

After a review of the case law, including Trendtex and the High Court’s ruling in Equuscorp v Haxton, Besanko J accepted that Australian law now permitted the assignment of “bare” rights to litigation provided the assignee had a pre-existing genuine commercial interest in enforcing the claims of the assignor:

…. It must now be taken to be established in Australia that the circumstances in which a bare or mere right of action may be assigned include a case where the assignee has a pre-existing genuine commercial interest in enforcing the claims of the assignor.

While Besanko J was somewhat bemused why there was an assignment to Hart Cultural Lodges, his Honour considered that the ownership of the copyright in the questionnaire was a sufficient pre-existing genuine commercial interest to validate the late assignment of the right to sue for past infringements.

Damages

ACER generated some $213,000 in revenue from its infringing use of the questionnaire. Independent Schools Victoria in turn earned some $807,000 from supplying the questionnaire to its associated schools in infringement of the copyright.

Besanko J refused to award Insight SRC general damages; his Honour awarded nominal damages of $10 only.

The basis for this refusal to award general damages was that all Insight SRC obtained through the assignment of the right to sue for past infringements was whatever rights Dr Hart had to assign. Dr Hart himself had no right to general damages because:

118 …. Dr Hart was not personally conducting a business involving the use of the [questionnaire] between the beginning of 2006 and 1 October 2009 and it has been no part of their case before me that Dr Hart personally would have exploited any commercial opportunities with ISV. Furthermore, Dr Hart did not claim that he could recover any such loss as the major shareholder of Insight SRC and that the Court could lift the corporate veil. On the other hand, what Dr Hart did have as the copyright owner was a right to nominal damages for infringement of copyright and a right to claim additional damages under subs 115(4). An award of nominal damages is appropriate to vindicate the invasion of a copyright owner’s proprietary right….

That is, as Dr Hart was not himself in the business of selling the questionnaire, he could not claim the profits lost on the sales made by an infringing “competitor” – he was not in competition with ACER.

If general damages had been available, Besanko J would have assessed them at $130,000. Rather questionably (with respect),[2] his Honour started with the revenue earned by ACER and reduced that amount by its costs to reflect the profits it made.

Besanko J would not have made any allowance for the revenues made by Independent Schools Victoria as that was not how Insight SRC put its case. The judgment does not explain why Insight SRC did not pursue such a claim. Presumably, it would not have claimed a share of Independent Schools Victoria’s revenues if it [or its exclusive licensee, rather] had secured the contract instead of ACER.

Additional damages

Besanko J found that ACER’s infringement was flagrant and awarded $32,500 by way of additional damages pursuant to s 115(4). ACER had a permissions unit to secure copyright licences where necessary and well knew of its obligations not to use copyright for commercial purposes without an appropriate licence. The fact that the officer in charge of ACER’s program did acknowledge Dr Hart’s authorship in footnotes did not save ACER either.

The amount of any additional damages is highly discretionary and notoriously difficult to predict. Given his Honour’s finding that ACER made $130,000 profit[3] and the permissibility of taking into account that profit in assessessing the amount of additional damages,[4] the award may seem surprisingly low given his Honour’s characterisation of the infringement as flagrant.

Insight SRC IP Holdings Pty Ltd v The Australian Council for Educational Research Limited [2012] FCA 779


  1. The situation was rather more complicated: Dr Hart had assigned, or purported to assign, his copyright in the questionnaire to Hart Cultural Lodges (Dr Hart’s family trust) by two deeds, both dated 30 June 2009 and Hart Cultural Lodges in turn assigned its interests to Insight SRC by deed dated 1 October 2009. Dr Hart was the director and major shareholder of Insight SRC. To complicate matters further, Insight SRC granted an exclusive licence to another “Insight” company of which Dr Hart was also the director and major shareholder. That other Insight company having been the operating entity between 2006 and 2009, but not having a written agreement in place to qualify it as an exclusive licensee in terms of the Act.  ?
  2. See Aristocrat Technologies v DAP Services (Kempsey) [2007] FCAFC 40 at [3], [18]-[20].  ?
  3. At [190] in the face of ACER’s claim at [151] that it made no profits at all.  ?
  4. See Aristocrat Technologies v DAP Services (Kempsey) [2007] FCAFC 40 at [48]-[54] and Facton Ltd v Rifai [2012] FCAFC9 at [40]–42] and [48].  ?

No damage for infringing copyright in questionnaire Read More »

How much to pay for an infringement

Over at the Fortnightly Review, Ass. Pro. David Brennan takes issue with the economists who argued that Larrikin should not have been paid any damages for the Kookaburra infringements.

The economists’ argument seems to have been that Larrikin didn’t lose any sales as a result of Men at Works’ infringements and so suffered no loss.

Damages under s 115(2) of the Copyright Act are compensatory: that is, they are calculated to compensate the copyright owner for the loss suffered as a result of the infringement. One way to measure that may be the profit the copyright owner lost on sales which typically applies where the copyright owner and the infringer are competing in the same market. One problem with this is that the figure for lost sales must be discounted to reflect infringements by the infringer which would never have been sales made by the copyright owner. So for example in Autodesk v Cheung, the infringer gave the pirate copies away for free while the copyright owner’s genuine software programs sold for hundreds of dollars.

Another measure often used is the licence fee approach, particularly applicable where the owner exploits the copyright by licensing. So, Autodesk wanted the licence fees it would have been paid as if Cheung had taken out a distribution agreement like its other distributors. Wilcox J was not prepared to order damages at a reasonable royalty level because, as is typically the case, there was no way Autodesk would have licensed Cheung or, for that matter, that Cheung would have paid for a licence from Autodesk. In that situation, Wilcox J felt that the basis for a reasonable royalty — the price a hypothetical willing (but not overly anxious) licensor and a hypothetical willing (but not overly anxious) licensee would have struck — could not apply.

While some courts at first instance have been willing to use a ‘reasonable royalty’ as a basis, Wilcox J’s concerns have been endorsed by Black CJ and Jacobson J in Aristocrat.

It is interesting to contrast this approach with the way the courts in the UK have dealt with it. Relying on some “old” patent cases (including a House of Lords decision), the Court of Appeal in Blayney (trading as Aardvark Jewellery) v Clogau St David’s Gold Mines was willing to use a “notional royalty” as the measure of the damages. The foundation of this approach was a rejection of the idea that the only loss suffered by the copyright owner was lost profits. Thus, in Watson, Laidlaw & Co Ltd v Pott, Cassels and Williamson (1914) 31 RPC 104, Lord Shaw expressed the principle:

wherever an abstraction or invasion of property has occurred, then, unless such abstraction or invasion were to be sanctioned by law, the law ought to yield a recompense under the category or principle, as I say, of price or hire. If A, being a liveryman, keeps his horse standing idle in the stable, and B, against his wish or without his knowledge, rides or drives it out, it is no answer to A for B to say: “Against what loss do you want to be restored? I restore the horse. There is no loss. The horse is none the worse; it is the better for the exercise.

and applied it in the context of patent infringement:

If with regard to the general trade which was done, or would have been done by the Respondents within their ordinary range of trade, damages be assessed, these ought, of course, to enter the account and to stand. But in addition there remains that class of business which the Respondents would not have done; and in such cases it appears to me that the correct and full measure is only reached by adding that a patentee is also entitled, on the principle of price or hire, to a royalty for the unauthorised sale or use of every one of the infringing machines in a market which the infringer, if left to himself, might not have reached. Otherwise, that property which consists in the monopoly of the patented articles granted to the patentee has been invaded, and indeed abstracted, and the law, when appealed to, would be standing by and allowing the invader or abstractor to go free. In such cases a royalty is an excellent key to unlock the difficulty, and I am in entire accord with the principle laid down by Lord Moulton in Meters Ld. v Metropolitan Gas Meters Ld. (28 R.P.C. 163). Each of the infringements was an actionable wrong, and although it may have been committed in a range of business or of territory which the patentee might not have reached, he is entitled to hire or royalty in respect of each unauthorised use of his property. Otherwise, the remedy might fall unjustly short of the wrong.

The Meters case was referred to by Wilcox J, but it does not seem that Watson, Laidlaw was cited to his Honour.

Now, of course, the 19th century considerations of a horse owner and “borrower” seem “quaint” in the age of Gogle and P2P torrents. But is the principle really so different?

It appears that the third member of the Court in Aristocrat, Rares J, may well have been willing to adopt the Watson, Laidlaw approach, but the evidence failed to provide a basis for any “judicial” estimate.

How much to pay for an infringement Read More »

Peer to patent Down Under

Ben McEniery from QUT writes advises that QUT is running a “peer to patent” pilot project modelled on those running through New York Law School and the JPO.

According to Ben:

Following on from the Peer-to-Patent projects run recently out of the New York Law School (NYLS) and the JPO comes Peer-to-Patent Australia (www.peertopatent.org.au). Peer-to-Patent Australia is a joint initiative of the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and IP Australia that is designed to improve the patent examination process and the quality of issued patents. Peer-to-Patent Australia uses Web 2.0 technology to allow experts within the community to review participating patent applications and bring relevant prior art to the attention of IP Australia’s patent examiners.
The project is based on the successful Peer-to-Patent projects run out of the New York Law School (NYLS) in the United States and is the result of the collaborative efforts between QUT and NYLS. The project will initially run as a six-month pilot that will focus on the rapidly advancing technology areas of business methods and computer software. Up to 40 business method, computer software and related patent applications that have been filed in Australia and which are open for public inspection will each be posted on the Peer-to-Patent Australia website for a 90-day period. During that time, members of community can review those applications, submit prior art references and comment on the relevance of any prior art that has been put forward.
At the end of the review period, Peer-to-Patent Australia will forward the top 10 prior art submissions for each application, as selected by the community of reviewers, to IP Australia for consideration in the examination process. The review process in no way abrogates the responsibility of the patent examiner to assess a patent application. Prior art submitted by Peer-to-Patent Australia is solely designed to assist a patent examiner, who remains the arbiter of whether a patent is to be granted.
There are currently 15 patent applications from seven companies open for review. The participating companies include IBM, Aristocrat Technologies Australia Pty Limited, General Electric Company, Hewlett-Packard, Residex Pty Ltd, Yahoo and CSIRO.
Since the focus of the pilot is on business methods and related applications, there is an interesting array of new ideas and technologies in the applications that are open for review. Those applications include methods, systems and apparatus for:
– converting a decimal number to a binary representation based on processor size;
– detecting behavioural patterns related to the financial health of a business entity;
– an arrangement where a customer enters into an agreement with a lender to share equity in real estate property;
– efficient cooling of server farms;
– refining mobile device search results using location modifiers;
– integrating browsing histories with media playlists on a media playback device;
– interactive specification of context-sensitive service level agreements;
– controlling a network of trains; and
– gaming machine systems and methods.
Those wishing to review participating patent applications can register at: www.peertopatent.org.au.

Following on from the Peer-to-Patent projects run recently out of the New York Law School (NYLS) and the JPO comes Peer-to-Patent Australia. Peer-to-Patent Australia is a joint initiative of the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and IP Australia that is designed to improve the patent examination process and the quality of issued patents. Peer-to-Patent Australia uses Web 2.0 technology to allow experts within the community to review participating patent applications and bring relevant prior art to the attention of IP Australia’s patent examiners.

The project is based on the successful Peer-to-Patent projects run out of the New York Law School (NYLS) in the United States and is the result of the collaborative efforts between QUT and NYLS. The project will initially run as a six-month pilot that will focus on the rapidly advancing technology areas of business methods and computer software. Up to 40 business method, computer software and related patent applications that have been filed in Australia and which are open for public inspection will each be posted on the Peer-to-Patent Australia website for a 90-day period. During that time, members of community can review those applications, submit prior art references and comment on the relevance of any prior art that has been put forward.

At the end of the review period, Peer-to-Patent Australia will forward the top 10 prior art submissions for each application, as selected by the community of reviewers, to IP Australia for consideration in the examination process. The review process in no way abrogates the responsibility of the patent examiner to assess a patent application. Prior art submitted by Peer-to-Patent Australia is solely designed to assist a patent examiner, who remains the arbiter of whether a patent is to be granted.

There are currently 15 patent applications from seven companies open for review. The participating companies include IBM, Aristocrat Technologies Australia Pty Limited, General Electric Company, Hewlett-Packard, Residex Pty Ltd, Yahoo and CSIRO.

Since the focus of the pilot is on business methods and related applications, there is an interesting array of new ideas and technologies in the applications that are open for review. Those applications include methods, systems and apparatus for:

  • converting a decimal number to a binary representation based on processor size;
  • detecting behavioural patterns related to the financial health of a business entity;
  • an arrangement where a customer enters into an agreement with a lender to share equity in real estate property;
  • efficient cooling of server farms;
  • refining mobile device search results using location modifiers;
  • integrating browsing histories with media playlists on a media playback device;
  • interactive specification of context-sensitive service level agreements;
  • controlling a network of trains; and
  • gaming machine systems and methods.

Those wishing to review participating patent applications can read more and register here.

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