Author name: war

A barrister practising mainly in Australian patents, trade marks, copyright and other IP law; lecturer and contributing author to LexisNexis' Copyright & Designs and Patents looseleaf services

Lavazza qualità Oro – Oro tarnished or sanity restored

In what is surely only the first step on the long road to the High Court, Yates J has ruled that Lavazza qualità Oro coffee does not infringe Cantarella’s ORO trade mark – because Cantarella’s trade mark was invalidly registered.

As you probably recall, Cantarella famously has registered trade marks for ORO (and also CINQUE STELLE) for, amongst other things, coffee and coffee beverages.[1]

Lavazza has been importing Lavazza qualità Oro coffee into Australia since at least 1979. In about 2017, however, it introduced new packaging in the following form:

Cantarella sued Lavazza for infringing its ORO registrations contrary to section 120(1) of the Trade Marks Act by the 2017 and later years’ forms of packaging.[2] Lavazza denied infringement and also cross-claimed for revocation on the grounds (a) that Cantarella’s trade marks were not capable of distinguishing and/or (b) Cantarella was not the owner of ORO as a trade mark for coffee in Australia.

Infringement

Citing Gallo, Self Care, Woolworths v BP, Anheuser-Busch and Johnson & Johnson, Yates J found that the 2017 (and later years) forms of packaging involved use of ORO as a trade mark and so infringed – subject to any defences.

The issue on infringement was whether ORO was being used as a trade mark – a badge of origin. That fell to be assessed objectively in the setting and context in which ORO appeared on the packaging. Would the relevant public think it was being presented as an identifier of the trade source of the product?

At [375], Yates J did not agree with Cantarella that ORO was the dominant feature of the packaging but it was one (original emphasis) of the dominant features.

At [376], his Honour accepted that LAVAZZA was being used as a trade mark but that didn’t preclude ORO as presented (my emphasis) from also (my emphasis) being used as a trade mark. Instead, his Honour found both LAVAZZA and ORO functioned independently as trade marks – badges of origin.

The flavour of his Honour’s reasoning can be seen in his Honour’s rejection at [377] of Lavazza’s argument that ORO was used only as part of a composite mark – QUALITÀ ORO:

I do not accept that, in this packaging, the word “oro” is used as part of a composite mark QUALITÀ ORO. Whilst, on the packaging, the word “oro” is used in proximity to the word “qualità”, I do not accept that there is any necessary connection between the two words for trade mark purposes. In my view, for trade mark purposes, the two words function independently of each other, particularly given the different sizes and stylistic representations of the two words, with the word “oro” functioning as a trade mark. The word “qualità” is not functioning as a trade mark. Even if traders or customers were to associate the two words because of their proximity to each other on the packaging, it does not follow that the word “oro” is not functioning, in its own right, as a trade mark. As explained above, the existence of a descriptive element or purpose does not necessarily preclude the sign being used as a trade mark: [343] – [346] above.

Similarly, Yates J held the fact that the evidence showed numerous other traders were also using ORO in relation to their products did not avoid infringement. At [379], his Honour explained:

I do not accept that mere common use of a particular word in a given trade means that the word is precluded from functioning as a trade mark in that trade. The circumstances and manner of use of the word in question are critical to determining whether trade mark use of the word is involved. In the present case, whilst background circumstances cannot be ignored, the focus must be on the way in which the word “oro” is used on the impugned packaging.

So, subject to the cross-claim, Lavazza would infringe.

The cross-claims

Lavazza cross-claimed under s 88(2)(a) for revocation on the grounds that the registration of the ORO trade marks could have been opposed (a) under s 41[3] as not capable of distinguishing and/or (b) s 58, Cantarella was not the owner.

Not capable of distinguishing

Under either form of s 41, the central question was whether or not ORO was capable of distinguishing or did in fact distinguish Cantarella’s coffee – when the trade mark in question was filed.

Citing Lord Parker’s speech in Registrar of Trade Marks v W & G Du Cros Ltd [1913] AC 624,[4] Lavazza argued that ORO did not serve as a badge of origin because:

“other persons had registered and/or used in Australia, and/or were continuing to use in Australia, and/or without any improper motive would desire to use in Australia the word ORO in respect of their coffee products”

or, alternatively, because, as a significant part of the Australian public would understand ORO was a laudatory reference to “gold”, it was descriptive.

Yates J rejected the first argument about common usage as inconsistent with the High Court’s majority ruling in the earlier ORO case – which his Honour refers to as the Modena proceeding.

In the the Modena proceeding, Yates J pointed out in a lengthy discussion concluding at [303], the majority held that inherent capacity to distinguish was not tested only by other traders’ desire to use, or use of, the sign. Rather, the ‘ordinary signification’ of the sign had to be ascertained and the legitimacy of other traders’ use tested by reference to that. French CJ, Hayne, Crennan and Kiefel JJ explained:

70 In accordance with the principles established in Mark Foy’s and restated in Clark Equipment, Faulding and Burger King, determining whether a trade mark is “inherently adapted to distinguish”, as required by s 41(3), requires consideration of the “ordinary signification” of the words proposed as trade marks to any person in Australia concerned with the goods to which the proposed trade mark is to be applied.

71 As shown by the authorities in this Court, the consideration of the “ordinary signification” of any word or words (English or foreign) which constitute a trade mark is crucial, whether (as here) a trade mark consisting of such a word or words is alleged not to be registrable because it is not an invented word and it has “direct” reference to the character and quality of goods, or because it is a laudatory epithet or a geographical name, or because it is a surname, or because it has lost its distinctiveness, or because it never had the requisite distinctiveness to start with. Once the “ordinary signification” of a word, English or foreign, is established an inquiry can then be made into whether other traders might legitimately need to use the word in respect of their goods. If a foreign word contains an allusive reference to the relevant goods it is prima facie qualified for the grant of a monopoly. However, if the foreign word is understood by the target audience as having a directly descriptive meaning in relation to the relevant goods, then prima facie the proprietor is not entitled to a monopoly of it. Speaking generally, words which are prima facie entitled to a monopoly secured by registration are inherently adapted to distinguish.

At [415], Yates J summarised the ruling in the the Modena proceeding:

…. As the majority explained, the desire of other traders to use the word in question is a function of the meaning that that word bears, according to its ordinary signification, in relation to the goods or services for which the mark is, or is sought to be, registered. ….

Accordingly, it was not for a judge sitting at first instance in the Federal Court to treat the majority in the the Modena proceeding as dealing only with a “narrow” question of distinctiveness of “descriptive” signs rather than a “broader” question of common usage. Moreover, it was not permissible for a judge sitting at first instance to disregard the majority view and adopt the dissenting view of Gageler J.[5]

Yates J then turned to consider the “ordinary signification” of ORO.

First, (albeit at [457]), Yates J rejected Cantarella’s argument that the High Court’s decision was conclusive on the question. Lavazza was not a party to that proceeding so there was no question of stare decisis.

Secondly, in this context, it was significant that the public was a broad consumer market and not a specialised trade or market. At [424], therefore, his Honour explained how the “ordinary signification” of a word fell to be determined:

Bringing these strands together, for presently relevant purposes a word will have an “ordinary signification” if it has been received into Australian English and has a commonly understood and commonly shared meaning by ordinary members throughout the Australian community at large.

(See also [463].)

This would not be satisfied if the word was shown to be used just in a particular locality or by a particular trader or even traders. Nor merely where a numerically large number of people knew the meaning. This latter point proved decisive.

Lavazza led extensive evidence of the use of “oro” by Lavazza and other traders before the relevant priority dates; the promotion of its own LAVAZZA QUALITÀ ORO in Australia in conjunction with “gold”; the permeation of the Italian language and coffee culture in the Australian coffee market; direct evidence from those in the trade (most of whom happened to be Italian speakers) that oro means gold and is used as a quality indication; and census data.

Yates J accepted that a numerically large section of the Australian public did appreciate that “ORO” meant gold in Italian but the evidence fell short of establishing ORO had been accepted into Australian English throughout the Australian community at large in contrast to, say, bravo, encore, en route and tour de force. At [460], his Honour summarised:

Whilst I accept that, speaking generally, a numerically large number of persons in Australia might understand, by their knowledge of Italian or another Romance language, that the word “oro” means “gold” in English, I am far from persuaded that the evidence before me shows that, even at the present time, “oro” has been received into Australian English such that the ordinary signification of “oro” is “gold”. I am satisfied, therefore, that the word “oro” does not have an ordinary signification. It follows that I am not satisfied that, as at 24 March 2000 or as at 30 September 2013, the Australian public, at large, would have understood that the word “oro”, when used in relation to the registered goods, meant “gold”, or was a laudatory reference to “gold”, and, therefore, “premium quality”.

Not the owner

In contrast, his Honour found the evidence established that Cantarella was not the owner of ORO as a trade mark for coffee at the priority dates for its registrations contrary to s 58.

At [490] – [491], Yates J rejected an argument that Cantarella could not own ORO as a trade mark because it was descriptive or in common use or lacked distinctiveness. That was the realm of s 41, not s 58.

As you know, the owner of a trade mark for Australian purposes is the first person to use the sign as a trade mark for the relevant goods or services or, if there has been no use, to apply to register it with the intention of using it as a trade mark – [494] – [498] and [571].

As the case was run, this required first establishing when Cantarella first used ORO as a trade mark for coffee and then examining when someone else’s use first started (and was not abandoned).

Cantarella was able to establish by accessing archived back-up tape that a product code COVIBON3 with the product description “VITT BK ORO BNS” was created in its systems on 2 August 1996. The data also showed that the first sale of COVIBON3 was made on 20 August 1996 “to the firm of solicitors formerly known as Mallesons Stephen Jaques” with sales ensuing to other customers in subsequent months.

Cantarella also led evidence from an employee who during the 1990s worked as a machine operator. His evidence included that Cantarella’s products were packaged using rewind tape – pre-printed film supplied on a roll. These rolls were inserted into an automated in-line packaging machine to create the bags. Part of this process involved inserting a printing plate into the packaging machine to stamp on the film product specific information. He recalled inserting ORO brand plates in “the mid–1990s could be 1993 or 1994”. However, Yates J was not prepared to accept this dating as it was inconsistent with Canteralla’s case based on the creation of the COVIBON3 code.

Turning to the other side of the equation, Lavazza relied on its own use in relation to its LAVAZZA QUALITÀ ORO product or, alternatively, use by a third party CAFFÈ MOLINARI ORO.

As mentioned at the outset, Lavazza’s product has been imported and sold in Australia since 1979. For many years (before the packaging that sparked this litigation), the packaging was in the following form or variations:

This, however, was not use of ORO simpliciter as a trade mark (e.g. at [548]).

Lavazza did establish that Caffè Molinari SpA has been supplying its CAFFÈ MOLINARI ORO product in Australia since September 1995:

The evidence of the lengths involved in establishing this use is quite involved and discussed in detail at [117] – [193]. This included evidence of witnesses from Molinari, the supplier, and CMS / Saeco, the first importer.

A particular twist here is that Modena’s importation and sale of CAFFÈ Molinari Oro coffee was found to be infringing conduct in the earlier Modena proceeding. However, the evidence of prior use in this case was from different witnesses, more extensive than and different to the evidence from Molinari that Modena advanced in the Modena proceeding.

At [574], Yates J found that the use of ORO on the CAFFÈ Molinari Oro packaging was use as a trade mark:

I reach this conclusion having regard to the size, colour, positioning, and prominence of the word “oro” on the packaging in relation to the other packaging elements. I observe that the word “oro” on that packaging is as conspicuous as the other trade mark used—CAFFÈ MOLINARI. I do not accept Cantarella’s contention that the word “oro” is used only as an element in the composite mark MISCELA DI CAFFÈ ORO, and not as a trade mark its own right.

However, the use of ORO BAR on the 3 kg packaging was not trade mark use of ORO alone – ORO BAR was not the same as, or substantially identical with ORO.

His Honour then went on to reject Cantarella’s contention that Molinari had abandoned its use of the trade mark.

At [581] – [582], Yates J recognised that ownership of a trade mark could be lost by abandonment – which required more than “mere” non-use or slightness of use. Despite the changes in Molinari’s packaging over the years, however, Yates J found Molinari had been using the ORO mark continuously as a matter of fact.

Finally, consistently with the decision in Anchorage Capital, Yates J ruled it was inappropriate to exercise his discretion under s 88(1) against non-cancellation of Cantarella’s mark.

In Anchorage Capital, the Full Court considered it was not in the public interest to allow someone, who was not the owner of the trade mark when they applied to register it, to jump the queue. Similarly, at [599], Yates J considered that ownership cannot (my emphasis) depend on the nature and scope of Cantarella’s reputation. Nor should other traders be vexed by use of the registrations “such as happened in the present case”.

Obiter dicta

As it was not necessary for his decision, Yates J commented only briefly on Lavazza’s defences to infringement based on prior use, good faith description as per s 122(1)(b), a right of use (s 122(1)(e)) or honest concurrent user through the operation of s 122(1)(f) or (fa).

Perhaps the most interesting comment is that Yates J, who was I think a member of the Working Party to Recommend Changes to the Australian Trade Marks Legislation[6], suggested at [647] – [649] that the orthodoxy prevailing since McCormick that honest concurrent use does not defeat an opposition on grounds of s 58 or s 60 should be reconsidered. Referring to Project Blue Sky on statutory construction, his Honor noted at [647]:

However, giving s 58 an operation that is independent of s 44(3) robs the latter provision of practical effect. If the registered owner of a trade mark is truly the owner of that mark, every application under s 44(3) can be met with a s 58 objection by the registered owner. There is, therefore, an apparent conflict between the operation of s 44(3) and the operation of s 58 of the Act.

Yates J also drew attention to other drafting difficulties with s 122(1)(f) and (fa). At [642] for example, his Honour explained:

To explain, the defence under s 122(1)(f) is directed to the case where the infringer has used the very mark that is registered (in this case, the ORO word mark), and the Court is satisfied that the infringer would obtain registration of that mark in that person’s name. On the other hand, the defence under s 122(1)(fa) is directed to the case where the infringer has not used the mark that is registered, but a mark that is substantially identical with or deceptively similar to the mark that is registered, and the Court is satisfied that the infringer would obtain registration of the substantially identical or deceptively similar mark in that person’s name. (my emphasis)

Yates J thought that this wording meant that only the defence under s 122(1)(f) would be available and it would be available only to “LL SpA” – the Italian parent of the Lavazza group. However, it was the local subsidiaries, Lavazza Australia and Lavazza OCS, which were being sued for infringement. The suggestion being that, despite s 7 and s 26, the defence was unavailable to the subsidiaries.

In any event, his Honour’s findings on Molinari’s ownership would preclude the Lavazza companies achieving registration.

I have no inside information about the commercial goals or intentions of any of the parties and, with respect, I would not want to be taken as suggesting Yates J has messed up in any way but one would think that, given Cantarella pursued the Modena proceedings all the way to the High Court, an appeal is likely to be forthcoming.

Cantarella Bros Pty Ltd v Lavazza Australia Pty Ltd (No 3) [2023] FCA 1258


  1. For ORO, Trade Mark No. 829098 registered since 24 March 2000 and also Trade Mark No. 1583290 registered since 30 September 2013 (which is also the same date the Full Federal Court delivered judgment upholding Modena’s appeal in the case the High Court subsequently overruled.  ?
  2. In 2022, Lavazza also started importing into Australia capsules for Nespresso machines. The capsules were gold and had ORO emblazoned in black on them and these were added to the complaint.  ?
  3. Given the different dates of the two registered trade marks, the two different version of s 41 were in play. For the “old” version, see [393].  ?
  4. Quoted in Lavazza at [292].  ?
  5. Should special leave to appeal this proceeding eventually be granted, someone will no doubt notice that only Gageler J, now Gageler CJ, remains of the Court that decided the the Modena proceeding.  ?
  6. Despite its centrality to understanding what was intended to be achieved, I don’t think the Report itself is actually available online – which (if I am right) is something IP Australia should surely rectify.  ?

Lavazza qualità Oro – Oro tarnished or sanity restored Read More »

Copyright & Designs Update 2023

Copyright & Designs Update 2023 Read More »

To be estopped or not …

O’Bryan J has ruled that Vehicle Management Systems (VMS) is not estopped from seeking revocation of Orikan’s patent despite earlier opposition proceedings in which VMS could have raised the allegations, but did not.

Under the pre Raising the Bar versions of the Patents Act, it was clearly established that an unsuccessful opponent was not estopped from subsequently seeking revocation on the same grounds. This was at least because of the different onus: an opponent had to show that it was “practically certain” the patent application was invalid to succeed whereas a party seeking revocation only had to satisfy the balance of probabilities standard.[1] The Raising the Bar amendments, however, sought to change the burden at the examination and opposition stages to the balance of probabilities standard. The debate since then has been whether this meant an unsuccessful opponent was estopped from seeking revocation on the same grounds.

Overview

Orikan is the registered owner of Australian Patent No. 2013213708 titled “Vehicle Detection”, having been assigned the patent by SARB Management Group. It has sued VMS for infringement. In addition to denying infringement, VMS has cross-claimed seeking revocation of the Patent. So, this is another campaign between VMS and SARB-related entities over competing systems and apparatus to detect cars which have overstayed parking.

In this particular application, Orikan was seeking to have VMS’ cross-claim stayed on grounds of Anshun estoppel or, alternatively, as an abuse of process.

Some background

Back in happier days, VMS and SARB had explored jointly developing systems for detecting vehicles which were parked without paying the fee or after the alotted time had expired.

Things didn’t work out and, by a decision handed down in 2013, VMS successfully sued SARB for infringement of one of VMS’ patents for vehicle detection systems.

In 2008, however, SARB had applied for its own patent. That application led to two divisional patents: Australian Patent No. 2011101179 (Innovation Patent), which was filed in 2011, and secondly the Patent the subject of these proceedings, which was filed in 2013. As you might suspect, there was considerable overlap between the claims of the Innovation Patent and the Patent.

In 2012, SARB sued VMS for infringement of the Innovation Patent. VMS defended, including a cross-claim for invalidity on grounds including lack of novelty, secret use and lack of sufficiency and best method. This proceeding settled before trial in 2014.

In 2016, VMS opposed the grant of the Patent. That opposition failed in both the Office and the Court.[2] The Opposition Proceeding in the Court involved extensive evidence and 5 days’ trial. According to O’Bryan J, however, it did not involve the grounds of invalidity or particulars that VMS sought to argue in this proceeding.

In addition to challenging the priority date, clarity and sufficiency grounds, VMS sought to revoke the Patent in this proceeding on grounds of lack of novelty, secret use and failure to disclose the best method.

Given this prior history, Orikan contended VMS’ cross-claim should be stayed on grounds of either Anshun estoppel or abuse of process.

Legal tests

The parties were not really in dispute about the principles.

Anshun estoppel

At [26], O’Bryan J explained:

Anshun estoppel operates to preclude the making of a claim, or the raising of an issue of fact or law, in a subsequent proceeding if the claim or issue was so connected with the subject of an earlier proceeding that it would have been unreasonable, in the context of the earlier proceeding, for the claim not to have been made or the issue not to have been raised in that proceeding …. [3]

Thus, at [28] his Honour considered three conditions needed to be satisfied:

(1) the relevant cause of action, defence or issue must be one that could have been raised in the earlier proceeding;

(2) the same or substantially the same facts must arise for consideration in the second as in the first proceeding; and

(3) it must have been unreasonable in all the circumstances for the party not to have raised the issue in the first proceeding – i.e. it is not enough that the issue could have been raised; in all the circumstances it should have been raised.

The third requirement means the test has an element of discretion and evaluation.

The requirement of “unreasonableness” is a “severe test” and not to be made lightly. O’Bryan J noted one situation where unreasonableness was likely to be established is where a judgment or order made in the second proceeding was likely to conflict with a judgment or order in the earlier proceeding. But, the doctrine is not limited only to such situations.

Abuse of process

Abuse of process is not capable of explanation in terms of closed categories. At [38], O’Bryan J noted the principles governing its application are broader and more flexible than those governing estoppels.

In general terms what needs to be shown is that the use of the Court’s procedures would be unjustifiably oppressive to the party or would bring the administration of justice into dispute. At [39], O’Bryan J noted that this brought into play considerations of the overarching purpose of civil litigation as set out in s 37M.

Why O’Bryan J dismissed Orikan’s application

At [71], O’Bryan J accepted that Orikan, as the assignee of the rights in the Innovation Patent and the Patent, could take the benefit of an Anshan estoppel arising from the earlier proceedings. It had not been a party to the earlier proceedings but, as the assignee, was a “privy” of the SARB entity which had been.

It was not in dispute between the parties that VMS could have raised the invalidity issues it now wished to argue in the earlier Opposition Proceeding. The matters VMS now sought to rely on were either known to it or it ought to have been aware of them. In fact, the grounds and particulars had been asserted by VMS in the Innovation Patent Proceeding and, while they were different patents, they were both derived from the same parent and the claims were substantially similar.

Nonetheless, O’Bryan J considered that it was not unreasonable for VMS not to have raised the issues it now sought to agitate in the Opposition Proceeding.[4]

First, at [75] his Honour considered there was not a relevant risk of inconsistent judgments. His Honour accepted that a finding that the Patent was invalid in this proceeding would be inconsistent with the result in the Opposition Proceeding. As the grounds and particulars relied on in this proceeding were different, however, the basis of an invalidity finding in this proceeding would be different to the basis of the findings in the Opposition Proceeding.

Secondly, O’Bryan J considered at [76] there was a fundamental difference between the nature and consequences of an opposition proceeding and a revocation proceeding. The Opposition Proceeding involved an election by VMS to challenge the Patent on limited grounds. In contrast, in this proceeding, VMS was being sued for infringement and so compelled to come to court. Later, at [80] O’Bryan J noted that his conclusion might have been different if VMS had initiated the proceedings rather than being the respondent.

O’Bryan J also noted that the Innovation Patent Proceeding had not proceeded to trial and so the invalidity claims had not been tested in court.

Thirdly, O’Bryan J considered that allowing the invalidity claims to go forward in this proceeding would not result in more costs and delay than would have been the case if the claims had been brought in the Opposition Proceeding.

There was one overlap with the Opposition Proceeding in that one of Orikan’s witnesses, a Mr Del Papa, had been cross-examined about a particular document and both Mr Del Papa and the document were involved in this proceeding. However, the relevance and cross-examination in the Opposition Proceeding was limited to an issue of entitlement, not in issue in this proceeding.

Finally, O’Bryan J did not place “significant weight” on the public interest in the integrity of the Register or the fact the Act specifically provided for pre-grant oppositions.

O’Bryan J dismissed the abuse of process attack for essentially the same reasons.

An observation

Interestingly, while O’Bryan J did have regard to the in rem nature of patents, the public interest in the integrity of the Register and the specific provision in the Act for pre-grant opposition (and the change in onus), his Honour did not give those considerations much weight. His Honour eschewed adopting a general principle and instead applied an approach very heavily based on the particular facts of the case.

For example, it is often said (as is the case) that defeating an opposition is not a guarantee that the patent is valid. That is also true of an unsuccessful revocation proceeding. The fact one person’s revocation proceeding failed does not preclude anyone else seeking to revoke the patent. And there are cases where the second challenger succeeded despite the failure of the first.

In considering the fundamental difference between the nature and consequences of opposition proceedings and infringement/revocation proceedings, O’Bryan J emphasised VMS’s choice to fight the Opposition Proceeding on limited grounds in light of the nature and purpose of opposition proceedings. At [76], his Honour explained:

But the Opposition Proceeding involved an election by VMS to challenge the validity of the Patent. It did so on limited grounds, and did not raise the grounds and particulars of invalidity that had been raised in the earlier Innovation Patent Proceeding. There is no proper basis to criticise that election. …. The election made by VMS confined the scope of the issues in dispute in the Opposition Proceeding and therefore the costs and time required for its determination. That course was consistent with the overarching purpose of civil litigation expressed in s 37M of the Federal Court of Australia Act 1976 (Cth). It was also consistent with the character and purpose of pre-grant opposition proceedings, which are intended to provide a swift, economical means of settling disputes: Genetics Institute at [19]. Although it is desirable to avoid a multiplicity of proceedings and to ensure that parties address, as far as possible, the issues arising between them in a single proceeding, parties ought not to be encouraged to raise each and every possible claim or issue irrespective of the time and cost associated with doing so. Anshun estoppel must operate conformably with the demands of s 37M, as well as the substantive statutory context in which it is said to arise. (Emphasis supplied)

This suggests his Honour’s conclusion might reflect a reaction to Beach J’s heartfelt paragraph 1784. It is also consistent with a number of extra-judicial comments encouraging some effort on the part of parties to simplify proceedings. It does seem a little odd, however, that an opposition proceeding taking up 5 days’ of the Court’s time and a carefully reasoned 274 paragraph judgment might qualify as a swift economical means of resolving the dispute between the parties especially when the consequences lead to a further infringement proceeding with what promises to be an even more involved revocation component.

Orikan Group Pty Ltd v Vehicle Monitoring Systems Pty Limited [2023] FCA 1031


  1. In at least one case (which I haven’t been able to find again in the time available), the judge did warn the opponent / revoker that it was at risk of indemnity costs if its revocation action also failed.  ?
  2. There was also an appeal to the Full Court which, by the time of the hearing, was limited to the issue of entitlement.  ?
  3. Citing Anshun at 598, 602–3 (Gibbs CJ, Mason and Aickin JJ); Tomlinson v Ramsey Food Processing Pty Limited (2015) 256 CLR 507 at [22] (French CJ, Bell, Gageler and Keane JJ).  ?
  4. Yes I realise that double negatives are “awkward” (to say the least) but that the point!  ?

To be estopped or not … Read More »

A cautionary trade mark tale

In a rare case of a successful opposition under s 59, Energy Beverages has successfully opposed in the Court KMA’s attempt to register KANGAROO MOTHER.

Overview

As you might recall, Energy Beverages is the owner of registered trade marks in Australia for MOTHER in respect of amongst other things, non-acoholic beverages in class 5 and pharmaceutical and veterinary preparations, dietetic substances and food and beverages for babies in class 32.[1]

A New Zealand company, Erbaviva, applied to register KANGAROO MOTHER for a range of goods in classes 5, 29, 30, 31 and 32. Subsequently, the application was assigned to KMA. A Mr Zheng was the sole director and shareholder of both companies.

Energy Beverages’ opposition to the application on the basis of ss 42(b), 44 and 60 of the Trade Marks Act was unsuccessful. Energy Beverages “appealed” the Delegate’s decision to the Federal Court on the basis of s 59, s 44 and s 60.[2]

Secion 59

Section 59 provides:

The registration of a trade mark may be opposed on the ground that the applicant does not intend:

(a) to use, or authorise the use of, the trade mark in Australia; or

(b) to assign the trade mark to a body corporate for use by the body corporate in Australia;

in relation to the goods and/or services specified in the application.

which mirrors s 27.

Unlike s 92(4)(a), however, the person opposing registration under s 59 bears the onus of proving the lack of the requisite intention.

In very broad terms, this requires demonstration that the applicant does not have “a resolve or settled purpose at the time the application was filed to use the trade mark as a trade mark in relation to the relevant goods or services. A mere ”speculative possibility“ or ”a general intention to use the mark as some future but unascertained time” is not enough.

What happened

Before he incorporated Erbaviva and later KMA, Mr Zheng worked as the “Assistant to the Group Chairman” of NZ Skin Care Company. NZ Skin Care Company, as its name suggests, sold a range of skin care products and also home cleaning products.

The Group Chairman Mr Zheng assisted was a Mr Liu. Mr Liu was also the Chairman of a Chinese company, Shanghai Urganic. Mr Liu, however, was not a director of NZ Skin Care Company and Shanghai Urganic was not a shareholder in NZ Skin Care Company (although later it did become the ultimate shareholder of that company).

While he was still working for NZ Skin Care Company, Mr Zheng incorporated Erbaviva to sell “Erbaviva” brand skin care products and, after the trade mark application in issue had been filed, KMA. Neither company, however, has ever traded.

In the course of 2018, Erbaviva applied for and became registered as the owner of trade marks for a “Kangaroo Mother” logo and Kangaroo Mother in respect of a range of goods in classes 3, 5 and 21.[3]

In February 2019, Mr Zheng received an email from a Shanghai Urganic employee, Ms Lim,[4] informing him that Director Liu had “mentioned” we should apply for a food trade mark for “Kangaroo Mother”. Ms Lim supplied a catalogue for another company’s products to illustrate the goods under consideration. This exchange led to the application the subject of the appeal.

After some back and forth, Mr Zheng contacted Erbaviva’s then trade mark attorneys with instructions to file a trade mark application in Australia for a range of goods in classes 5, 29, 30, 31 and 32. (With the exception of “chocolate flavoured cola drinks”, Mr Zheng had simply cut and pasted the specification for another, unrelated company’s trade mark he had found on the IPONZ site.)

The attorney indicated he could file for this range of goods but proposed he amend it to ensure that Erbaviva had “the widest scope of protection in those classes.” So, after Mr Zheng approved that proposal, the application wound up in the form under opposition.[5]

What O’Callaghan J found

As the application was filed in Erbaviva’s name, the relevant intention was Erbaviva’s at the time the application was filed. That is, the question was whether or not Erbaviva had an intention to use the trade mark in any of the ways specified in s 59 when it filed the application.

O’Callaghan J held it did not.

First, the goods specified in the application as filed were much broader than those suggested by Ms Lim or proposed to the attorney by Mr Zheng.

Secondly, in cross-examination Mr Zheng’s evidence was that he did not regard Ms Lim’s report about what Director Liu “mentioned” as an instruction.

Thirdly, there were no documents produced through discovery or evidence of any plan or proposal beyond use for “gel candies, pressed candies, drops, powdered dairy products, solid beverages or capsules”.

Fourthly, Mr Zheng had simply cut and paste the specification he proposed to the attorney in a matter of minutes.

Fifthly, although the application had been made over four years ago, there was no evidence of any use or preparations to use.

Sixthly, there was no evidence to support the contention that Shanghai Urganic, NZ Skin Care Company and Erbaviva were part of a “conglomerate” (see “secondly” above).

Mr Zheng’s evidence unfortunately only went as far as claiming Erbaviva intended to use or authorise another company to use. So submissions that it intended to assign to KMA on its incorporation did not fly.

The evidence also included a non-disclosure agreement with an Australian manufacturer of various goods, but the counterparty was NZ Skin Care, not Erbaviva.

So O’Calaghan J found the s 59 ground proven and allowed the appeal to refuse registration. By way of obiter, O’Callaghan J would also have upheld the opposition grounds under s 44 and s 60.

Some observations

As noted above, successful oppositions under s 59 are not very common in view of the onus – unlike removal actions under s 92 in which s 100 places the onus on the trade mark owner to prove use.[6] And this case seems to have been particularly assisted by Mr Zheng’s problematic evidence and the amorphous nature of the relationship(s) with Director Liu.

That said, the first thing to note is that Energy Beverages did not pursue the ground before the Registrar but only on “appeal” where the Court procedures of discovery and cross-examination were deployed.

Next, it is significant that this was an opposition rather than an application under s 92. This is because O’Callaghan J followed Yates J’s decision in Apple (at [232]) and accepted that the whole application should be rejected if it failed in respect of any specified goods. At [28]:

There is but one application covering registration of the mark for all the services that have been specified. If the application fails in one respect, it fails as a whole….

In contrast, an application under s 92 may often result in removal of some, but not all, goods or services.

Thirdly, recognising this problem, KMA made an application on the penultimate day of the trial under s 197 to amend the specification of goods for a much more limited scope.

At [35], O’Callaghan J accepted that he should exercise this power in similar manner to that exercised by the Court when considering amendments to patents under s 105 of the Patents Act. That is, the power to amend was discretionary and required consideration of all the circumstances including when the owner became aware of the need to amend and any explanation for delay.

At [36] – [38], O’Callaghan J refused the request. KMA had been aware that Energy Beverages relied on the Apple approach from at least the opening. KMA failed to provide any explanation for its delay or the basis on which it proposed to exclude some goods but not others. Also, Erbaviva had deliberately sought the widest scope of protection possible, much broader than its own instructions.

In that connection, it is unusual to get the communications between the client and the attorney. While it is part of our jobs to ensure the client is getting appropriate protection, this case should serve as a warning against being too enthusiastic.

The question of discovery is also instructive. In October 2022, KMA had made discovery of 5 documents and a number of other documents over which privilege was claimed.

Two days before trial, however, KMA announced it proposed to rely on documents over which it had previously claimed privilege and, in the course of the trial just before Mr Zheng’s cross-examination, KMA sought to rely on a “further, extensive, tranche of documents which ought to have been produced in answer to the order for discovery”. At [62], O’Callaghan J invoked Aon Risk and refused that attempt on the grounds of prejudice and KMA’s failure to adequately explain the delay.

Energy Beverages LLC v Kangaroo Mother Australia Pty Ltd [2023] FCA 999 (O’Callaghan J)


  1. The class 32 goods were specified in TM No 1320799 for the “Mother” mark in gothic script.  ?
  2. Because the “appeal” is a hearing de novo, it is possible to raise grounds not raised before the Registrar.  ?
  3. After the trade marks were assigned to KMA, the logo mark has subsequently been removed for non-use under s 92 on application by Energy Beverages. KMA did not seek to defend the non-use application.  ?
  4. Although not an employee of NZ Skin Care Company, she did have the use of a NZ Skin Care Company email account.  ?
  5. Reasons for decision at [93] – [94].  ?
  6. S 92(4)(a) can be rebutted by showing use in good faith after the application was filed. And s 92(4)(b) proceedings can be brought only after the expiry of the period specified in s 93 (which is different depending on whether the application was filed before or after the Productivity Commission Implementation Act amendments).  ?

A cautionary trade mark tale Read More »

Copyright and another AI

Judge Howell in the District Court for the District of Columbia (USA) has rejected Dr Thaler’s attempt to register copyright in “A Recent Entrance to Paradise”.

Dr Thaler – well-known for his attempt to obtain patent protection for some kind of “fractal” bottle “invented” by DABUS – attempted to register[1] a copyright in the United States for “A Recent Entrance to Paradise”:

In his application to the Register of Copyrights, Dr Thaler stated the work had been “autonomously created by a computer algorithm running on a machine” – an AI which Dr Thaler named “Creativity Machine” – and nominated himself as the owner of the copyright in the computer-generated work “as a work-for-hire the owner of the Creativity Machine.”

The Register of Copyrights rejected the application on the basis that copyright law requires a human author and the “Creativity Machine” was not human.

Dr Thaler applied for administrative law review. Judge Howell affirmed the Register’s ruling.

Judge Howell followed a number of earlier decisions which required a human author. Her Honour noted (e.g. slip op. 10):

The act of human creation—and how to best encourage human individuals to engage in that creation, and thereby promote science and the useful arts—was thus central to American copyright from its very inception. Non-human actors need no incentivization with the promise of exclusive rights under United States law, and copyright was therefore not designed to reach them.[2](emphasis supplied)

Judge Howell’s ruling, however, is very narrow.

The fact that the case was an administrative law review is significant. As the case was an administrative law review, the only question was whether the Register acted arbitrarily, capriciously or otherwise in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act on the basis of the administrative record before the Register.

On that basis, the case failed.

In the course of the proceeding before Judge Howell, Dr Thaler attempted to introduce new facts (which may seem familiar to those of you following the patent debate). Dr Thaler devoted a “substantial portion” of his submissions to various theories about how ownership of any copyright transferred to him by operation of the “work made for hire” or common law property principles. (Slip op. footnote 1):

[Dr Thaler] elaborates on his development, use, ownership, and prompting of the AI generating software in the so-called “Creativity Machine,” implying a level of human involvement in this case entirely absent in the administrative record. ….

These additional facts were irrelevant on the administrative law review presented (Slip op. 14):

Plaintiff’s effort to update and modify the facts for judicial review on an APA claim is too late. On the record designed by plaintiff from the outset of his application for copyright registration, this case presents only the question of whether a work generated autonomously by a computer system is eligible for copyright. In the absence of any human involvement in the creation of the work, the clear and straightforward answer is the one given by the Register: No.

If Dr Thaler’s submissions about his development, use, ownership and prompting of “Creativity Machine” had been relevant, it might possibly lead to a different conclusion.

As noted above, Judge Howell did opine that non-human actors do not need the incentivization of exclusive rights to generate materials. But Judge Howell also noted that the law had developed to recognise copyright in the “mechanical reproduction” of a scene by a camera because that reproduction resulted from “human involvement in, and ultimate creative control over, the work ….”[3]

Judge Howell noted that a case raising issues such as those Dr Thaler belatedly attempted raise would give rise to complex issues:

Undoubtedly, we are approaching new frontiers in copyright as artists put AI in their toolbox to be used in the generation of new visual and other artistic works. The increased attenuation of human creativity from the actual generation of the final work will prompt challenging questions regarding how much human input is necessary to qualify the user of an AI system as an “author” of a generated work, the scope of the protection obtained over the resultant image, how to assess the originality of AI-generated works where the systems may have been trained on unknown pre-existing works, how copyright might best be used to incentivize creative works involving AI, and more.[4]

All of these considerations seem likely to be relevant under Australian law for the subsistence of copyright in original works.[5]

In her letter rejecting the “Zarya of the Dawn” application, the Register did reject the claim to copyright made on the basis of the sort of facts Dr Thaler wished to raise.

I guess we can expect Dr Thaler to seek to register some new production by the “Creativity Machine” with a more extensive record.

Stephen Thaler v Shira Perlmutter (DCDC 23 Aug 2023 Case 22–1564)


  1. The USA is one of the very few countries which operate a system to register copyright. Even in the USA, registration is not madatory but, in the case of “US Works”, registration is a requirement before an infringement action can be brought in the USA and also to qualify for statutory damages: 17 USC §411 and §412. 17 USC [§101][101] defines “United States work” to mean: (a) a published work that is first published in the United States; first published simultaneously in the United States and another treaty party or parties, whose law grants a term of copyright protection that is the same as or longer than the term provided in the United States; first published simultaneously in the United States and a foreign nation that is not a treaty party; or first published in a foreign nation that is not a treaty party, and all of the authors of the work are nationals, domiciliaries, or habitual residents of, or in the case of an audiovisual work legal entities with headquarters in, the United States; (b) an unpublished work where all the authors of the work are nationals, domiciliaries, or habitual residents of the United States, or in the case of an unpublished audiovisual work, all the authors are legal entities with headquarters in the United States; or (c) a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work incorporated in a building or structure that is located in the United States. So, if you publish your work first overseas and not simultaneously in the United States and the authors are not US citizens or residents, the obligation to register will not usually apply. See generally Circular 1. ?
  2. Footnote 2 in the Opinion also includes a fun quote from Justin Hughes, Restating Copyright Law’s Originality Requirement, 44 COLUMBIA J. L. & ARTS 383, 408 “this debate is an unnecessary detour since “[t]he day sentient refugees from some intergalactic war arrive on Earth and are granted asylum in Iceland, copyright law will be the least of our problems.”  ?
  3. “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.” citing Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co. v. Sarony 111 U.S. 53, 59 – 60 (1884).  ?
  4. (Slip op. 13) citing a letter from Senators Tilllis and Coons to the Director of the USPTO and the Register of Copyrights calling for the establishment of a national commission on AI.  ?
  5. See e.g Telstra v PDC at [118] – [119] and [169].  ?

Copyright and another AI Read More »

Motherland, Mothersky and Mother

The Full Court has allowed Energy Beverages’ (EB) appeal opposing Canteralla’s registration of MOTHER as a trade mark for coffee and related products. However, the Full Court rejected EB’s appeal against the removal of its MOTHERLAND trade mark for non-use. In the process, the Full Court provided helpful clarification of the role of Trade Marks Act s44(3)(b) “other circumstances”.

Some background

Cantarella applied to register MOTHERSKY in class 30 in respect of coffee, coffee beans and chocolate, coffee beverages and chocolate beverages and in class 41 in respect of coffee roasting and coffee grinding (TMA 1819816).

EB – the producer and distributor of the MOTHER energy drink – opposed, relying on its prior registered trade marks for MOTHERLAND (TM 1345404), MOTHER LOADED ICED COFFEE (TM 1408011) and MOTHER (TM 1230388) all registered, amongst other things, for non-alcoholic beverages.

Cantarella countered by seeking the removal of the MOTHERLAND and MOTHER LOADED ICED COFFEE marks for non-use under s 92 and deleting coffee beverages and chocolate beverages from its specification of goods.

The delegate ordered removal of MOTHERLAND (here) and MOTHER LOADED ICED COFFEE (here) from the Register for non-use. The delegate also dismissed EB’s opposition to the registration of MOTHERSKY. On appeal, the primary Judge upheld the delegates’ decisions.

EB sought leave to appeal the decisions in respect of MOTHERLAND and allowing the registration of MOTHERSKY. The Full Court refused leave to appeal the MOTHERLAND decision but allowed leave and upheld the appeal against registration of MOTHERSKY.[1]

MOTHERLAND

At [61], the Full Court quoted the well settled principles for trade mark use from Nature’s Blend:

(1) Use as a trade mark is use of the mark as a “badge of origin”, a sign used to distinguish goods dealt with in the course of trade by a person from goods so dealt with by someone else: Coca-Cola Co v All-Fect Distributors Ltd (1999) 96 FCR 107 at 19; E & J Gallo Winery v Lion Nathan Australia Pty Ltd (2010) 265 ALR 645 at [43] (Lion Nathan).

(2) A mark may contain descriptive elements but still be a “badge of origin”: Johnson & Johnson Aust Pty Ltd v Sterling Pharmaceuticals Pty Ltd (1991) 30 FCR 326 at 347–8; 101 ALR 700 at 723; 21 IPR 1 at 24 (Johnson & Johnson); Pepsico Australia Pty Ltd v Kettle Chip Co Pty Ltd (1996) 135 ALR 192; 33 IPR 161; Aldi Stores Ltd Partnership v Frito-Lay Trading GmbH (2001) 190 ALR 185; 54 IPR 344; [2001] FCA 1874 at [60] (Aldi Stores).

(3) The appropriate question to ask is whether the impugned words would appear to consumers as possessing the character of the brand: Shell Company of Australia Ltd v Esso Standard Oil (Australia) Ltd (1963) 109 CLR 407 at 422; [1963] ALR 634 at 636; 1B IPR 523 at 532 (Shell Co).

(4) The purpose and nature of the impugned use is the relevant inquiry in answering the question whether the use complained of is use “as a trade mark”: Johnson & Johnson at FCR 347; ALR 723; IPR 24 per Gummow J; Shell Co at CLR 422; ALR 636; IPR 532.

(5) Consideration of the totality of the packaging, including the way in which the words are displayed in relation to the goods and the existence of a label of a clear and dominant brand, are relevant in determining the purpose and nature (or “context”) of the impugned words: Johnson & Johnson at FCR 347; ALR 723; IPR 24; Anheuser-Busch Inc v Budejovicky Budvar (2002) 56 IPR 182; [2002] FCA 390 (Anheuser-Busch).

(6) In determining the nature and purpose of the impugned words, the court must ask what a person looking at the label would see and take from it: Anheuser-Busch at [186] and the authorities there cited.

The problem for EB was that its product is the energy drink MOTHER and its uses of MOTHERLAND focused on it being a fictional fantasyland tailored to “MOTHER-drinking” consumers.

An example of its use, taken from one of two commercials using MOTHERLAND, is:

Another example of use – the description in the “About Us” page of EB’s YouTube channel was “Welcome to MOTHERland”.

The Full Court considered that EB used only MOTHER as a trade mark in respect of energy drinks; MOTHERLAND was just used as the name of the fictional theme park and no more. Accepting that there could be more than one trade mark used in relation to a product, in context MOTHERLAND was not being used as a trade mark to indicate the trade source of the drink. At [67] – [68]:

The depiction of MOTHERLAND in the commercial with the prominent MOTHER in the well-known gothic script representation in contradistinction to LAND, appended in plain red font, emphasises the use of the distinctive gothic script MOTHER mark as the only mark possessing the character of a brand. MOTHERLAND was the name of the fictional theme park, and no more.

The presence of the dominant gothic script MOTHER mark each time MOTHERLAND appears in the commercial, including as the central part of the mark itself, is part of the context relevant to the assessment of the role of MOTHERLAND: Anheuser at [191]. The focus on the well-known gothic script MOTHER, including as part of MOTHERLAND, supports the conclusion that the gothic script MOTHER is the only mark being used to distinguish the MOTHER energy drinks in the commercial from the energy drinks of others.

There was a further problem with reliance on the commercials. The commercials had been run on television well before the non-use period. The commercials had also remained publicly available during the non-use period as they had been uploaded to EB’s YouTube and Facebook pages. There was no evidence, however, that anyone in Australia had accessed the commercials on either site. At [76], the Full Court explained:

Under existing authority, which has not been challenged in the present application, the mere uploading of trade mark content on a website outside Australia is not sufficient to constitute use of the trade mark in Australia …

citing Ward Group Pty Ltd v Brodie & Stone plc [2005] FCA 471; 143 FCR 479; Sports Warehouse Inc v Fry Consulting Pty Ltd [2010] FCA 664; 186 FCR 519; Christian v Societe Des Produits Nestle SA (No 2) [2015] FCAFC 153; 327 ALR 630.

Consequently, EB failed to demonstrate that the primary judge’s order to remove MOTHERLAND for non-use in respect of non-alcoholic beverages etc. was attended by sufficient doubt to warrant leave being granted to appeal.

MOTHERSKY

Despite the deletion of coffee beverages from Cantarella’s specification of goods, both parties conducted the proceedings on the basis that “coffee” included coffee beverages, not just the product of the coffee plant or coffee beans.

In contrast to the MOTHERLAND proceeding, the Full Court found that the primary judge made two material errors. First, his Honour had examined whether coffee beverages were similar goods to energy drinks and the powders and syrups for bottling energy drinks and concluded that the respective products had fundamentally different taste and flavour and were presented for sale and consumed in different circumstances.

This was in error. Section 44(1) calls for comparison of Cantarella’s “coffee” across the full scope of its normal and fair meaning to the full scope of EB’s specification. The correct comparison therefore was between “coffee” and “non-alcoholic beverages”.

Given the way the case had been conducted, the Full Court had little difficulty concluding that coffee beverages were “non-alcoholic beverages” within the scope of EB’s registration.

The fact that coffee as a beverage was classified in class 30 and not class 32 was a matter of administrative convenience and, at [132], irrelevant given Cantarella contended “coffee” covered “coffee beverages”.

Further, contrary to the primary judge’s approach, Cantarella’s claim for “coffee beverages” was not limited to “pure” coffee but extended across a range of beverages. Cantarella argued that coffee beverage did not include coffee flavoured milk. The Full Court accepted at [129] that there may be “a penumbra of uncertainty” about when a coffee flavoured beverage is not “coffee”. Treating “coffee” as meaning “coffee beverage”, however, at [128]:

there is nothing in the specification, so construed, which would limit the meaning of “coffee” to any particular coffee beverage or to any particular kind or type of coffee beverage. For example, there is nothing to limit “coffee” to black coffee as opposed to white coffee or coffee made with milk. There is nothing to limit “coffee” to coffee that does not include some additive such as, for example, a flavoured syrup. Further, there is nothing to limit “coffee” to a hot beverage or a freshly-brewed beverage as opposed to a cold or iced beverage. Further still, there is nothing to limit “coffee” to coffee produced by a particular process or prepared in a particular way, or to coffee packaged and promoted in a particular way. There are many permutations of what constitutes “coffee” as a beverage. Thus, coffee beverages cover a range of goods.

Further still, there was a sufficient body of evidence demonstrating that, at the priority date of the MOTHERSKY application, drinks such as pre-packaged iced coffee were regarded in the trade as non-alcoholic beverages and, further, of overlap between the trade channels through which coffee beverages and energy drinks were marketed and sold.

Secondly, the Full Court considered the primary judge materially erred when undertaking the deceptive similarity comparison.

The Full Court recognised that the comparison the test of deceptive similarity called for involved matters of judgment and degree about which opinions could reasonably differ. In the absence of legal error, mere difference of opinion was not enough. In undertaking the comparison, however, the primary judge’s assessment was heavily coloured by his Honour’s conclusion that “coffee beverages” and the goods covered by EB’s MOTHER registration were not the same or even of the same description.

Further, the primary judge erred by comparing only the specific way Cantarella actually used its trade mark with the specific way EB used its mark rather than comparing how notionally the competing marks could fairly be used across their full scope.

Undertaking the comparison themselves, the Full Court concluded that MOTHERSKY was deceptively similar to MOTHER.

First, at [167], while “mother” is a commonly used English word, it is not in any way descriptive of “non-alcoholic beverages” and was inherently distinctive of such goods. This was of considerable importance in the assessment. (emphasis supplied)

Secondly, at [168], “mother” was wholly incorporated in MOTHERSKY and did not lose its identify merely by the addition of “sky”.

Thirdly, at [169] to [170], “sky” did not have a well-understood meaning when added to “mother”. It might for example be understood according to its ordinary signification. Or it might be treated as some sort of playful variant or as creating a diminutive of “mother”. The Full Court considered that “mother” remained the dominanting element and, consequently, the likelihood of confusion arose.

As a result, s 44(1) operated to preclude registration of MOTHERSKY in the face of EB’s MOTHER registration for non-alcoholic beverages.

Other circumstances

It is well established that the registrability of a trade mark application falls to be determined at the date of the application.

Cantarella’s tactic of applying to clear the way for its MOTHERSKY application by removing EB’s blocking registrations for non-use is also long-standing although, of course, as at the date of the MOTHERSKY application, EB’s registrations were still in the way – removal for non-use being prospective, not retrospective.

At [176] – [178], however, the Full Court endorsed the Registrar’s practice (albeit by way of obiter dicta) of allowing an application to proceed to registration if the blocking citation was removed for non-use as “other circumstances” for the purposes of s44(3)(b). There would be “something perverse” in testing the registrability of the application against a mark which will be removed from the Register.

It is understood that an application for special leave to appeal to the High Court has been filed.

Energy Beverages LLC v Cantarella Bros Pty Ltd [2023] FCAFC 44 (Yates, Stewart and Rofe JJ)


  1. Leave to appeal being required under s 195(2) and so EB needed to persuade the Full Court that “(a) whether, in all the circumstances, the decision below is attended with sufficient doubt to warrant it being considered by a Full Court; and (b) whether substantial injustice would result if leave were refused, supposing the decision to be wrong.” citing Decor Corp Pty Ltd v Dart Industries Inc (1991) 33 FCR 397 at 398 – 399 and Primary Health Care Ltd v Commonwealth [2017] FCAFC 174; 260 FCR 359 at [206].  ?

Motherland, Mothersky and Mother Read More »

Is there a copyright work and who owns it?

Rees J, sitting in the NSW Supreme Court, had to grapple with some unusual, but basic, issues in finding that Metstech owned copyright in a range of works made by a Mr Chou. However, it did not own copyright in software made by Mr Martin; instead having an exclusive licence over that copyright including the right to access and modify the source code.

Some background[1]

Metstech designs and distributes telecommunications systems for underground mines. (The specific technology was a ‘leaky feeder system’ which allowed two way radios and mobile phones to communicate over long distances underground where ordinarily such radio communications were not possible.[2])

Image of an axial cable layout with a headend controller at one end, bidirectional amplifiers at various intervals and and a splitter adding a branch line
Leaky Feeder System

Metstech was formed by four individuals including Jefferson, Park and Chou. They or their family companies were the shareholders. Jefferson was the CEO and Park the General Manager. Park and Chou had experience in electrical engineering and had ideas about how a new and improved system to replace the poorly functioning existing systems. Jefferson provided the funding, to the tune of $700,000 over time.

In addition to being a founding director, Chou became an employee and was paid a salary after a short initial period when Metstech did not have funds. Part of Chou’s job included placing orders for the manufacture of Metstech’s products which he arranged through a family company and his company was permitted to charge a marked-up price to Metstech over the price charged by the manufacturer.

Although Martin was offered initial shares in Metstech and an employment contract, he did not take up either offer due to legal issues he was experiencing at the time. Nonetheless. in 2018, Martin designed the Raspberry Pi Software controlling the Metstech system. He was not paid for this work. He provided it to Jefferson including access to the source code for use by Metstech including permission to modify it.

Later, in 2019, Martin did become an employee of Metstech and made some further modifications of the Raspberry Pi Software at that time.

In addition to the funding provided by Jefferson, another company, Challenger, eventually contributed a further $750,000 towards funding the product development in return for the promise of a 20% shareholding and a nominee on the board of directors.

The development of Metstech’s products proceeded well and substantial orders were coming in. Jefferson came into dispute with the other directors over repayment of his funding and their demands for increased salaries. Challenger also became frustrated with the delays in issuing its shares.

Park, Chou and some associates “staged a coup” and replaced Jefferson as CEO excluding him from access to the company’s bank accounts. To fend off Jefferson and Challenger, they also engaged in a number of schemes to transfer Metstech’s assets and related IP to a “phoenix” company. In addition, in the process of decamping they deleted from the Metstech Google Drive accounts all the data and documents relating to PCB assemblies, source code, concept designs, PCB schematics and PCB layouts, firmware source code, manufacturing files, bills of materials and test results.

After Jefferson and Challenger got wind of some of the conduct, they initiated a deed of company arrangement and, after regaining control of Metstech, brought these proceedings seeking orders relating to its ownership of the copyright, remedies for breaches of obligations of confidence and tortious conspiracy to injure the plaintiffs by unlawful means.

The plaintiffs largely succeeded on their copyright claims and breach of confidence. The claims for tortious conspiracy to injure by unlawful means failed however.

Copyright in the Metstech “products”

The plaintiffs claimed copyright in various designs for printed circuit board (PCB) assemblies as artistic works[3] and, as either original literary or artistic works, PCB schematics, manufacturing documentation – source code, concept designs, PCB schematics and PCB layouts, firmware source code, manufacturing files, bills of materials and test results – and Metstech “firmware” which was installed in micro-processor units in various components.

A graphical representation of a circuit board layout on the left and on the right a photograph of printed circuit board showing various electrical components interconnected by metal strips

(A graphical representation of a PCB layout (on the left) and the corresponding PCB (on the right))

The plaintiffs also claimed ownership of the copyright in the Raspberry Pi software and later revisions.

Were there copyright works

It will be recalled that the defendants had deleted all the data and documents from their Google Drive accounts when decamping and, it appears, none of them produced anything by way of discovery or otherwise in evidence. According to the defendants, or at least Park and Chou, they did not have any documents because the products had been designed by the third party manufacturer.

The first problem confronting the plaintiffs, therefore, was that they did not have copies of the works over which they claimed ownership. Who was the designer, and hence the author of the works, was the second problem.

Rees J was prepared to infer (at [591] to [603]) that there had been original works made by Chou in which copyright subsisted:

  • Metstech led expert evidence about the process and steps involved in designing and manufacturing products such as the PCB Assemblies including the need to document things such as functional specification, electrical schematic, PCB layout and manufacturing files, firmware code listing and compiled version of the firmware code (if applicable), bill of materials, assembly and testing instructions, troubleshooting guide, service manual, packaging information, data sheets and sales brochures. Much of this documentation would be required by the manufacturer to make such complex products
  • the design and specification of such PCB assemblies also required the use of specialised computer software such as Altium Designer and RhinoCAD. Metstech had bought or reimbursed Chou for purchases of this software and Chou was at all times anxious to ensure he had properly licensed copies of this software
  • Metstech bought or reimbursed Chou for the tools and equipment that would be used in developing and constructing models and prototypes.

Accordingly, at [603] Rees J held:

…. The disputed works must have been created and insofar as they are original literary or artistic works (or both) and that to the extent that they still exist, the employer owns them. ….

I am not sure about her Honour’s limitation “to the extent that they still exist”. Under the Act, the requirement is that the work be made in the sense of reduced to writing or some other material form.[4] The continued existence of the documents, however, would be relevant to orders for delivery up and provision of access.

Who was the author

As noted above, Park and Chou claimed that the PCB assemblies and other products were designed by the manufacturer and so, in the absence of any agreement to the contrary or assignment, any copyright belonged to the manufacturer.

Rees J rejected this claim. A number of factors led her Honour to this conclusion including:

  • Metstech’s products were original and not mere copies of existing products: [585]
  • Chou had the necessary skills to design the products: [583]
  • it was Chou who came up with the idea for the various products: [584]
  • there was voluminous correspondence describing Chou as the designer or in which he claimed to be the designer or attending to the design: [571] – [586]
  • Chou also spent hours explaining the intricacies of the system and the products to others: [586]
  • the purchase of the specialised software and the provision of the tools and equipment such as Altium Designer and RhinoCAD
  • Park and Chou first claimed that the manufacturer was the designer only when Metstech first went into administration. Prior to that, the voluminous contemporaneous correspondence such as emails repeatedly referred to Chou as the designer
  • not a single document was produced identifying the manufacturer as the designer.

Who was the owner

Rees J noted that it was not sufficient for Metstech to establish that Chou was the author and an employee. As the terms of s 35(6) make clear, Metstech also had to establish that Chou made the works in pursuance of his employment and not in the course of some extracurricular activities; at [564] adopting the question posed by Moore J in EdSonic v Cassidy:

did the employee make the work because the contract of employment expressly or impliedly required or least authorised the work to be made.

The volume of material referred to by her Honour in concluding that Chou was the designer left Rees J at [587] in “no doubt” that the answer to that question was “yes”.

There was one qualification to this conclusion at [588] – the work designing a splitter which Chou had done before he became a full-time employee being paid. While Chou was a director, Rees J doubted he qualified as an employee for the purposes of s 35(6) at that time.

However, Rees J held Chou was estopped from denying that Metstech was licensed to use these materials having regard to the circumstances in which he made the design and continued to develop the design for Metstech’s use after he became an employee.

A final issue insofar as the works made by Chou are concerned was whether Metstech or Metstech IP Pty Ltd (one of the defendants) owned the copyright.

In a not uncommon arrangement, the directors of Metstech, including Jefferson, Park and Chou, had set up Metstech IP to hold the intellectual property. The directors and shareholders of both companies were the same. Metstech IP had applied for R & D grants in respect of the development of the Metstech technology and, in the books of the companies, Metstech charged Metstech IP a fee for the development work. While that fee was not paid, Metstech IP had remitted tax rebates to Metstech.

While Metstech IP had been set up to hold the intellectual property, however, there was no formal assignment of intellectual property rights in writing from Metstech to Metstech IP. As Chou had made the works as an employee of Metstech (and not Metstech IP) and in the absence of a signed, written assignment in conformity with s 196(3), Rees J held at [606] that Metstech was the owner of the copyright.

Copyright in the computer software made by Martin

The Raspberry Pi Software was a different case. When Martin wrote it, he was not an employee and had chosen not to become a director or shareholder. Nor was he paid for his work although he believed (at [106]) that “one day I might be compensated by the company if and when it was successful.”

When pressed by Jefferson, Martin transferred a copy of the source code and other documentation into a Metstech account and agreed that Metstech could amend the software as required.

Although Martin had not been engaged for reward to write the software, Rees J found ([231] – [233]) the circumstances gave rise to an implied unlimited and exclusive licence in Metstech’s favour which included the right to alter the software as need. (See also [161 and [623]])

Later, in July 2019, Martin was allotted 5% of the shares in both Metstech and Metstech IP. Jefferson and Park both considered this allocation was to secure the intellectual property in the software. Martin denied this.

As there was no written agreement formally recording the assignment, Rees J considered at [320] that s 196 precluded an assignment under the Act. Rees J also rejected at [324] Metstech’s argument that Martin understood the shares were in compensation for the transfer of ownership in the software. Her Honour appears to have considered the allotment was consistent, or at least equally consistent, with a payment to secure Martin’s continued involvement in the business.

Martin did become a full-time employee of Metstech and, in the course of his employment, he later made some further modifications to the software.

Distinguishing J R Consulting, Rees J held that the computer programs in this amended form were not new copyright works in which copyright subsisted. Martin’s evidence was that the changes were only “bug-fixes and minor enhancements”. Although the change logs showed 21 changes were made to the software in the relevant period, Metstech did not satisfy her Honour that they were more than trivial. At [620], her Honour explained:

The plaintiffs submitted that the changes made by Mr Martin were more than trivial, I am in no position to say one way or the other. I note that 21 changes were made from July 2019 to July 2020. Beyond that, I do not know. I am not satisfied that the changes made to the software after Mr Martin commenced his employment with Metstech were “original” in the requisite sense such that copyright in new versions of the software are a new work in which copyright subsists and is held by his employer, Metstech.

Thus, Metstech was left with its exclusive licence. However, this was enough for her Honour to direct that Martin continue to provide Metstech with access to the source code under the exclusive licence.

Confidential information and Conspiracy to injure

Rees J found misuse of Metstech’s confidential information on conventional grounds.

The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants (other than Metstech IP) had engaged in a tortious conspiracy to injure the plaintiffs and Metstech IP by unlawful means.

Rees J dismissed this claim, however, not as a result of any exoneration of the defendants’ conduct. Rather, damages are the gist of the action. Thus it is necessary for the plaintiff to plead that it has or will suffer pecuniary loss as a result of the conspiracy.

While the alleged conspiracy was pleaded at length, damages were neither alleged nor particularised. Nor did the plaintiffs’ evidence establish any pecuniary loss. Accordingly, at [659] her Honour dismissed the claim.

Her Honour’s decision serves as a useful warning about the risks of not documenting transfers of intellectual property in writing. That is not necessary in the case of an employee if you can prove they did the work in the course of their employment. The decision also provides a range of indications to consider if it becomes necessary to try to prove the existence and authorship of copyright works in the absence of documentary evidence.

Metstech Pty Ltd v Park [2022] NSWSC 1667


  1. As her Honour’s narration of the facts is some 550 paragraphs, this is necessarily a very “potted” outline.  ?
  2. The system consisted of long lengths of coaxial cable (serving as the antenna) strung along the shafts, with a headend controller (a Raspberry Pi computer), a number of bi-directional amplifiers (BDAs) and splitters, the BDAs (at least) including printed circuit boards (PCBs) custom-designed for the system).  ?
  3. At [551], her Honour identified the claim as being to PCB assemblies as artistic works and, at [558], her Honour noted that text and numerals on the a PCB, in engineering drawings and installation instructions could be both artistic works and, “to the extent the figures are deployed”, literary works citing Lumen Australia Pty Ltd v Frontline Australasia Pty Ltd [2018] FCA 1807; (2018) 137 IPR 189 at [206]-[209] (per Moshinsky J); Anacon Corp Ltd v Environmental Research Technology Ltd [1994] FSR 659 (per Jacobs J) (circuit diagram). The parties do not appear to have raised issues about the exclusion of circuit layouts from the definition of artistic work in s 10 of the Copyright Act 1968 or of “corresponding designs” under s 74 and the copyright / design overlap provisions of the Copyright Act or of the effect, if any, of the exclusion by Designs Act 2003 s 43 (but not in reg. 4.06) from registration of integrated circuits as a design although, from the description of the PCB assemblies in the judgment, it would appear they did not constitute “integrated circuits” on the reasoning of Moshinsky J in Lumen Australia Pty Ltd v Frontline Australasia at [298] – [311] and of course, as Moshinsky J found, the copyright / design overlap provisions do not apply to literary works.  ?
  4. Copyright Act 1968 s 32 and s 22(1)  ?

Is there a copyright work and who owns it? Read More »

ToolGen’s CRISPR/Cas9 patent application rejected

Nicholas J has ruled that ToolGen’s application for a patent, AU 2013335451, for “what is now a well-known gene editing system known as the CRISPR/Cas9 system” for editing target DNZ sequences in eukaryotic cells. His Honour has allowed ToolGen until 11 August 2023 to bring any application for leave to amend pursuant to s 105(1A).

As the complete specification was filed after 15 April 2013, the Patents Act in the form amended by the Raising the Bar Act applied.

The matter came before his Honour on ToolGen’s “appeal” from an opposition in which the Commissioner’s delegate found that all but one of the claims should be refused but allowed ToolGen 2 months to amend.

At [13], Nicholas J summarised his Honour’s findings:

For the reasons that follow I have concluded:

(a)          None of the claims are entitled to priority based on P1 (s 43(2A)). 

(b)          All of the claims lack novelty or do not involve an inventive step (s 18(1)(b)).

(c)          The complete specification does not provide an enabling disclosure of the invention (s 40(2)(a)).

(d)          The claims are not supported by matter disclosed in the specification (s 40(3)).

(e)          Claim 19 lacks clarity (s 40(3)).

More detailed consideration will have to wait for another day.

ToolGen Incorporated v Fisher (No 2) [2023] FCA 794

ToolGen’s CRISPR/Cas9 patent application rejected Read More »

Apologies

I am afraid some “switch” or something got toggled yesterday when I uploaded my latest post. This apparently converted everything into a subscriber only view. That seems to have been corrected now so you should be able to view the latest post in full: The Agency Group v The North Agency: How to Deal with Self Care v Allergan

Please let me know if you are still having difficulties.

In the meantime, sorry!

Apologies Read More »

The Agency Group v The North Agency: How to deal with Self Care v Allergan

Jackman J has dismissed The Agency Group’s claims of trade mark infringement and misleading or deceptive conduct / passing off against The North Agency. In doing so, his Honour directly confronted the problem arising from the High Court’s reasons in Self Care v Allergan.

Some facts

The Agency Group is a real estate agency that operates nationwide including, amongst other places, on the Northern Beaches of Sydney. It services the Northern Beaches from offices in Manly and Neutral Bay.

In the 12 months or so up to 31 March 2023, between them the two offices sold more than 190 properties, with some 40 others up for sale. They had also leased over 300 properties, with another 17 still up for rent. The Agency Group had spent over $4.4 million on advertising its Northern Beaches properties on <realestate.com.au> and <domain.com.au>. In the 12 months to 31 March 2023, the properties serviced by the Neutral Bay and Manly offices had attracted 1,868,000 property views on <realestate.com.au> alone.[1]

And, from February 2017 to March 2023, the two offices had generated almost $40 million in revenue.

H.A.S. Real Estate Agency began trading in the Northern Beaches area in March 2023 from offices in Dee Why, also in the Northern Beaches region. From the start, the business operated as “The North Agency”. Its two directors had been working in real estate in the area since 2007 and 2008.

Screenshots of the businesses’ respective websites before his Honour showed:

[2]

The Agency Group also had two registered trade marks for real estate services in class 36:

A figurative trade mark consisting of the words The Agency in which the letter "A" is presented as an inverted "v" over a horizontal bar

(TM 1836914) and a second registered trade mark for the figurative letter “A”.

The respondent of course also used “The North Agency” in plain text to refer to itself and in the URL for its website and email addresses etc.

The Self Care v Allergan “problem”

There have been a number of first instance and Full Court decisions since Self Care v Allergan but Jackman J’s decision is the first to confront what the High Court said and what it actually did directly.

At [55], Jackman J distilled helpfully 12 principles from Self Care v Allergan. Then at [56] to [58] his Honour considered a further principle: noting that the High Court at [29] and [33] stated as a matter of principle that trade mark infringement is concerned with a comparison of the two trade marks and is not looking at the totality of the respondent’s conduct as would be the case in passing off or for misleading or deceptive conduct. His Honour observed that:

(1) At [29] footnotes 67 and 68, the High Court expressly endorsed the Full Federal Court’s proposition in MID Sydney Pty Ltd v Australian Tourism Co Ltd (1998) 90 FCR 236 at 245, “that it is irrelevant that the respondent may, by means other than its use of the mark, make it clear that there is no connection between its business and that of the applicant”;

(2) “On the same page, their Honours said that the comparison is between marks, not uses of marks, and hence it is no answer that the respondent’s use of the mark is in all the circumstances not deceptive, if the mark itself is deceptively similar”;

(3) Also, the High Court approved Gummow J’s statement in the Moo-Moove case that disclaimers are to be disregarded as are price differences, colour and target audiences;[3] and

(4) At [33], the High Court stated “the court is not looking to the totality of the conduct of the defendant in the same way as in a passing off suit” and cited numerous authorities in footnote 81 endorsing that proposition.

At [59], however, Jackman J recognised that, in explaining why PROTOX was not deceptively similar to BOTOX the High Court in fact took into account additional “matter” extraneous to the two trade marks such as a disclaimer on the PROTOX website that “PROTOX has no association with any anti-wrinkle injection brand”.

His Honour, with respect, rightly pointed out it is impossible to reconcile the principles declared by the High Court with what the High Court actually did. In those circumstances, Jackman J proposed to apply the principles declared by the High Court and disregard what the High Court actually did at [70] and [71] of Self Care v Allergan. Jackman J explained at [60]:

With the greatest respect, those passages are impossible to reconcile with the Court’s approval of the authorities referred to above which state that such additional material used by the respondent is irrelevant to the issue of trade mark infringement. The internal contradiction places a trial judge in an awkward dilemma, which I propose to resolve by simply disregarding the passages quoted above from [70] and [71] as unfortunate errors. On the High Court’s own reasoning, it would be a fundamental error of longstanding legal principle if I were to adopt their Honours’ mode of analysis in [70] and [71] by taking into account on the question of deceptive similarity, for example, that the use by H.A.S. Real Estate of “THE NORTH AGENCY” was typically accompanied by the distinctive N Logo, thereby implicitly disavowing any association with the applicants or their services.

It can be hoped that other judges will also follow this brave course.

It has to be acknowledged, however, that the the High Court went on in [33] after footnote 81 to say:

…. In addition to the degree of similarity between the marks, the assessment takes account of the effect of that similarity considered in relation to the alleged infringer’s actual use of the mark[82], as well as the circumstances of the goods, the character of the likely customers, and the market covered by the monopoly attached to the registered trade mark[83]. Consideration of the context of those surrounding circumstances does not “open the door” for examination of the actual use of the registered mark, or, as will be explained, any consideration of the reputation associated with the mark[84].

But, as the cases cited by the High Court show, those decisions were not engaged in the whole circumstances type of inquiry which characterises claims under the ACL and in passing off.

Why The North Agency did not infringe

The issue here is whether the respondent’s use of The North Agency was deceptively similar to The Agency Group’s registered trade mark.

Even on the “traditional” trade mark infringement analysis, Jackman J found that The North Agency was not deceptively similar to The Agency Group’s trade mark.

First, at [69] – [71], the inclusion of “North” in the respondent’s trade mark was a signficant differentiating factor. It was larger and more prominent in advertising material such as the website. But even in plain use such as the website URL and email addresses where “The North” was not given any particular prominence, it remained a striking aspect. As his Honour explained at [76] in rejecting the brand extension or franchising risk, “the Agency” and “the North Agency emphasised different businesses.

Secondly, at [62], Jackman J noted that TM No. 1836914 was not a word mark but a composite mark consisting of words and device elements. This was important as it meant that a trade mark consisting of a number of elements had to be considered as a whole. Moreover, where a trade mark consisted of words and other device elements, care needed to be taken before characterising the words as an essential feature lest what was distinctive because it was a composite mark be converted into “something quite different”.

Thirdly, that was important in this case as (at [63] and [72] – [74], [76]) the word “Agency” was commonly used by real estate agents to describe their businesses. This evidence of trade usage was admissible. It meant that the word itself had less distinctive force. Instead, it was the combination as a whole which operated as the badge of origin.

It is respectfully submitted his Honour’s approach to the significance of the commonality of the word “agency” in both the registered trade mark and the alleged infringement is the sort of contextual significance that the traditional case law has taken into account; assisting the Court to determine what the essential, memorable features of the trade mark are for the purposes of imperfect recollection.

It was the public’s familiarity with “Chifley” as a surname (including a prime minister) and as geographical places that meant The Chifley and Chifley on the Wharf were not deceptively similar to The Chifley Tower in Mid Sydney v Australian Tourism Co. For similar reasons, the High Court had ruled in the Mond Staffordshire case that Mulsol did not infringe Mondsol, way back in 1929 – “sol” and “ol” being commonly used in germicidal and medicinal preparations.

So, if this is the way the Courts will deal with the dilemma posed by Self Care v Allergan, we can probably breathe a sigh of relief (except when acting for a respondent!).

Jackman J went on to reject the claim of infringement of TM by the “N” logo. His Honour considered the slant of the “N” logo coupled with the degree symbol reinforced the idea of a compass pointing north in contrast to a stylised representation of a house.

For completeness, Jackman J did acknowledge at [60] that there would be even less prospects for deceptive similarity if one were to take into account the extraneous considerations referenced by the High Court in Self Care v Allergan and, consequently, the claims under the ACL and for passing off failed too.

The Agency Group Australia Limited v H.A.S. Real Estate Pty Ltd [2023] FCA 482


  1. The Agency Group’s figures nationally were $2, 788.5 million in sales revenue and, in the 12 months ending on 31 March 2023, there had been 8,748,102 views of its properties on <realestate.com.au> from NSW and a further 15,246,484 page views from the rest of Australia.  ?
  2. The Agency Group’s Neutral Bay office had a profile page on Domain: The Agency North but the applicant was not allowed to run a case of misleading or deceptive conduct based on that as a matter of pleadings (@ [104]) and, in any event, (@ [105]) there was not sufficient evidence to support a claim for reputation in the absence of evidence of how many page views there had been of the profile page or other use of the phrase.  ?
  3. See Self Care v Allergan at [33] footnotes 81 and 84.  ?

The Agency Group v The North Agency: How to deal with Self Care v Allergan Read More »

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