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].  ?
Scroll to Top