Aristocrat’s electronic gaming machine is patentable

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

[2]

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

A gaming machine comprising:

(1.1) a display;

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

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

(1.4) a random number generator;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consideration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Rokt take 2

As noted last week, the Full Court has allowed the Commissioner’s appeal and ruled that Rokt’s patent application for a digital advertising method is in fact an unpatentable scheme. Disagreeing with the trial Judge, the Full Court considered the case was no different to Encompass and just involved a scheme using the well-known and understood functions of computer technology.

Perhaps, the point of general application arising from this decision (barring a successful application to the High Court for special leave) is the very limited role for evidence in assessing whether a claim is a claim to a manner of manufacture for the purposes of s 18(1)(a).

The claim

Claim 1 is involved and was characterised by the Court as involving 12 integers:

(1) A computer implemented method for linking a computer user to an advertising message by way of an intermediate engagement offer which is operable to drive a higher level of engagement with the advertising message than if the advertising message was presented without the offer, the method comprising:

(2) providing computer program code to be delivered with publisher content to a computing device operated by the computer user and which computing device comprises an interface arranged to display the publisher content, the computer program code operable to be implemented by a processor of the computing device to perform the additional steps of:

(3) gathering engagement data associated with the user, the engagement data derived from interactions made by the user with the interface and related to at least one of the following:

an attribute of the publisher content;

an interaction with the publisher content by the computer user; and

an attribute of the user;

(4) communicating the engagement data as it is gathered to a remote advertising system implementing an engagement engine, the engagement engine operable to:

(5) continuously evaluate the engagement data to determine whether a predefined engagement trigger has occurred, the predefined engagement trigger being representative of a user response or action that is contextually relevant for presentation of the engagement offer;

(6) responsive to determining that the predefined engagement trigger has occurred, selecting an engagement offer from a pool of different engagement offers stored by the remote advertising system that is relevant to the evaluated engagement data and wherein,

(7) where multiple engagement offers are deemed to be relevant, the engagement engine implements a ranking algorithm operable to dynamically rank the relevant engagement offers based on at least one of: > >(a) an engagement score determined from one or [more] performance metrics recorded from past user interactions with the corresponding engagement offers; > >(b) a revenue score determined from one or more revenue metrics recorded from past user interactions with the corresponding engagement offers, and

wherein the engagement engine selects which engagement offer to present based [on] the rankings;

(8) causing the interface to insert the selected engagement offer into the publisher content for displaying to the computer user;

(9) implementing the computer program code to determine an acceptance of the engagement offer by the computer user based on a user interaction with the engagement offer; and

(10) following the determined acceptance, presenting an advertising message comprising one or more advertisements selected from a pool of different advertisements on the interface and

(11) wherein user interactions with each of the presented advertisements are gathered by the widget script and communicated to the remote advertising system for use in selecting subsequent advertisements, and

(12) whereby the selection of [sic] engagement offer is additionally made such that there is no direct advertising benefit to the subsequent advertisers of the selected advertisements through presentation of the selected engagement offer to the computer user other than encouraging positive engagement by the user with the advertising system prior to presentation of the advertising message.

According to Rokt, one of the particularly clever, if not the clever, insight in this combination was the “engagement offer”. As the specification explained:

Through extensive testing, it has been found that initiating engagement with the advertisement system 10 by way of an engagement offer results in a more positive and deeper engagement with advertisements subsequently presented to the consumer (i.e. during the engagement journey) than if those advertisements were presented in the traditional search or display based manner, as described in the preamble. In turn, the consumer is more likely to continue to engage with the advertisement system 10, thus creating a sustainable advertising revenue module which is of benefit to each of the advertisement system 10, publishers 12 and advertisers 14.[1]

The Full Court explained that engagement offers could take any of numerous forms “including coupons, discounts, vouchers, scratch and win prizes, surveys and polls, competitions, video images, free games and the like.” Or, as their Honours summed up, “click bait”.

The trial judge

Based on the expert of evidence of Professor Verspoor, the trial judge had allowed Rokt’s appeal from the Commissioner’s rejection of the application on the basis that the claims were not directed to a “manner of manufacture”.

Given the Full Court’s ruling it is worth noting what Professor Verspoor had been asked to do. Professor Verspoor had given evidence directed to four questions:

(1) What is the “substance” of the invention? In other words, what specifically lies at the heart of the invention?

(2) Does the invention solve a technical problem?

(3) Is the use of a computer (or computers) integral to carrying out the invention, or could the invention be carried out in the absence of a computer (or computers)?

(4) Does the invention involves [sic] steps that are foreign to the normal use of computers (as at December 2012)?[2]

Based on Professor Verspoor’s evidence in answer to these questions, the trial judge had found that the introduction of the intermediate “engagement offer” to provide an alternative advertising technique was the key feature of the claimed invention.

The Commissioner argued that the method was merely an unpatentable scheme to solve a business problem. The trial judge held, however, that the claim solved both a business problem and a technical problem. At [205], his Honour said:

The invention solved not only a business problem but also a technical problem. As to the latter, it provided a single platform in which user engagement data could be coupled with transactional data and user context data to provide a personalised ranking of engagement offers to the user. This technical problem of providing this single platform was solved by introducing the tracking database and the objects database and designing the ranking engine and the engagement engine which accessed and manipulated the data in the two databases to rank and select engagement offers. The ranking engine optimised the personalised output for the consumer. Critically, the ranking engine implemented a ranking algorithm which ranked the retrieved object by a combination of an engagement score and revenue score. I also accept the evidence Professor Verspoor gave, which is summarised at [46]-[54], [104]-[107], [134]-[135] and [145] above.

and at [207]:

I find that there was a business problem of attracting the attention of the user and having the user choose to interact with the advertiser, but this problem was translated into the technical problem of how to utilise computer technology to address the business problem. The invention aimed to solve this technical problem through the introduction of the engagement offer and identifying what steps the software needed to execute in order to modify dynamically the website that the user was browsing while they were browsing it to, first, implement in the web browser or device the concept of the engagement offer, second, to implement in the computer system the necessary software for selecting engagement offers and advertisements for the given user based on the previous interactions with the system and the interactions of other similar users and, third, to have that system interact with the widget in the web browser in real time.

Accordingly, his Honour found at [208] that the use of the computers was integral, rather than incidental, to the invention and so qualified as patentable subject matter.

The Full Court

As already noted, the Full Court allowed the Commissioner’s appeal from the trial judge’s decision. Rokt’s invention is not a manner of manufacture and so not a patentable invention.

Before the trial judge, the parties had advanced a substantial body of expert evidence, leading the trial judge to characterise the problem before him “as one that lay in the realm of fact”.

According to the Full Court at [72], that was wrong.

Whether a claim is directed to a manner of manufacture is a question of construction. Construction of a claim is a matter of law, to be determined by the Judge. The role of evidence is limited.

At [71], the Court stated:

it is fundamentally a matter for the Court to determine and characterise the invention having regard to the principles of construction that are now well settled.[3]

At [73], the Court explained:

The role of expert evidence in construing the patent specification and the claims is limited. It is to place the Court in the position of the person acquainted with the surrounding circumstances as to the state of the art and manufacture as at the priority date: Kimberly-Clark Australia Pty Ltd v Arico Trading International Pty Ltd (2001) 207 CLR 1 at [24]; Myriad Genetics at [12]. Typically, the Court will read the specification with the benefit of expert evidence as to the meaning of words that are terms of art, or with an explanation of technical concepts relevant to the understanding of the invention as described and claimed. The question of construction remains with the Court. However, in his reasons, the primary judge adopted the approach of preferring the expert opinion evidence of Professor Verspoor over that of Mr Ries, and then adopting Professor Verspoor’s view as to the identification of the invention as claimed and characterised in the specification. It is not apparent that his Honour separately gave consideration to these matters. In our respectful view, that is an error in approach.

There is, however, at least this anomaly. If one is engaging in an exercise in legal construction, how does one decide whether the claim is nothing more than the implementation of a scheme by the use of a computer for its “well-known and understood functions”?[4] This is, apparently, not a function of evidence or even common general knowledge. At [91], the Full Court explained:

It is apparent that where the cases refer to “generic software” or to the use of computers for their “well-known” purpose, it is not a finding as to common general knowledge. Rather, it is a reference to computer technology that is utilised for its basic, typical or well-known functions. The means of determining that this is so is primarily by a careful review of the specification in order to ascertain, by construing that document, whether the invention described and claimed is in substance any more than a scheme that utilises computers in such a way. This is a question of characterising the invention as set out in the specification.

What appears to have been decisive in this case, as in Encompass, was that the hardware and the software to be used in implementing the method was “uncharacterised”. All that was identified in the claim was a series of high level instructions, leaving it to the user to write their own program.

Rokt argued that the High Court’s decision in Data Access[5] had differentiated between the realms of copyright and patent by identifying that patents are concerned with function, while copyright is concerned with forms of expression. Rokt submitted therefore, that there was no requirement for a claim to incorporate specific programming code.

At [114], however, the Full Court explained at [114] that Encompass was unpatentable because it was “just” an instruction to use computer technology for its well-known and understood functions”:

In Encompass the Full Court found that where the claims in suit do not secure, as an essential feature of the invention, any particular software or programming that would carry out the method and the method is entirely left to those wishing to use the method to devise and implement a suitable program for that purpose and all the specification teaches is that the processing system may be “suitably programmed” then the method is really an idea for a computer program, it being left to the user to carry out the idea in a computer system …. By the claim and the specification leaving entirely to those wishing to use the method to devise and implement a suitable computer program for purpose, it was apparent that the invention did not rise above the level of being an instruction to use computer technology for its well-known and understood functions to implement the scheme.

So, in Rokt, at [115]:

In the present case, the claim amounts to an instruction to carry out the marketing scheme. The level of abstraction at which it is expressed demonstrates that it does no more than provide a list of steps to be implemented using computer technology for its well-known and understood functions. Nothing in the specification suggests otherwise. This may be seen from the instructions explained as steps S1a to S10a in the specification (see [26] above). They comprise a list of general instructions to write software. Even if the scheme is new and ingenious, it is not made patentable merely because it can or must be implemented using computer technology. Rather, the language of the specification and the broad statements of steps required to be taken in claim 1 do no more than locate the scheme in computer technology, using its well-known and understood functions. The position is not distinguishable from that in Encompass. In our respectful view, the learned primary judge erred in finding otherwise. (emphasis supplied)

Another point to worry at

In addition to rejecting the relevance of the kind of expert evidence led (on both sides) before the trial judge, the Full Court was also critical of what Professor Verspoor’s evidence did address.

For example, having set out [205] of the trial judge’s analysis, the Full Court considered that Professor Verspoor had not even addressed the relevant question of what was actually claimed in claim 1, but had instead based her opinions on what was disclosed in the body of the specification. Their Honours said at [95]:

It is apparent that his Honour was not at this point adverting to the method of the claim, which refers to an engagement engine but contains no integer requiring a ranking engine (only a ranking algorithm). Nor does the claim require that there be a tracking database or an objects database. Those features are present in the system architecture identified in figure 3 in the specification, but not in claim 1. Section 18(1)(a) of the Patents Act draws attention to whether the invention so far as claimed in any claim is a manner of manufacture. That is, while the claims must be read with reference to the body of the specification, the invention is defined by the claims. Professor Verspoor, and the primary judge, relied upon the technical problem and solution identified in the specification, and the primary judge did not address the important question of whether the technical solution was claimed.

This with respect appears potentially difficult. Claim 1 with its concatenation of integers is not exactly straightforward. On what basis, for example, do lawyers or other patent advisers conclude that the reference in the claim to a “ranking algorithm” means *and* is something different to a “ranking engine”. Integer 7 for example refers to the “engagement engine” implementing a ranking algorithm “*operable to dynamically rank the relevant offers based on*” various criteria. [Edit]

These may not be the same things. The point is, understanding the claim may well not be simply an exercise in grammar and syntax which a person skilled in the tools of the lawyer’s trade can carry out.

More generally, one might wonder if the stipulation of those features in the claim, or a dependent claim, would have introduced sufficient detail into the claim to elevate the claim from unpatentable scheme to patentable manner of manufacture.

Some concluding comments

The clarification of the correct approach to determining whether a claim is to a manner of invention should be welcome. On the approach to this issue taken since at least Grant, however, it does mean that there is great scope for the Tribunal’s discretion to decide whether something should be patentable or not. That is of course inherent in the ‘proper question’.[6] For that reason, it could be argued that the NRDC Court sought to confine the inquiry – somewhat ironically undermined by Myriad – to a very limited examination of whether the claim was directed to “a mode or manner of achieving an end result which is an artificially created state of affairs of utility in the field of economic endeavour.”[7]

It is difficult with respect to see why, if a claim consisting entirely of a combination of known integers in some new and inventive way can be valid subject matter,[8] the same should not apply equally to a new and ingenious combination of computer technologies. It has long been recognised that there can be invention in the idea or concept or principle even where the means of carrying it into effect are themselves not new or inventive. [9]

The difficult path we are travelling down is evident in the previously unheard of volume of cases we now have about manner of manufacture issues, no doubt exacerbated by the innovation patent. The problems are not confined to Australia. Indeed, matters have reached the state in the United States where a claim to a garage-door-opener, devices which have been patentable subject matter for 150 years (to quote Patently-O) has been held unpatentable as an abstract idea.

The issue becomes even more difficult of resolution where, accepting that Australia is a net importer of intellectual property generally and patent claiming technology, it becomes undesirable to grant patents in Australia for “things” which do not qualify for patent protection overseas, particularly in the patent applicant’s “home” jurisdiction. Given the lack of harmonisation internationally, however, there is no certainty that all, or even many, jurisdictions will reach the same result.

Commissioner of Patents v Rokt Pte Ltd [2020] FCAFC 86 (Rares, Nicholas and Burley JJ)


  1. The numerals are references to elements illustrated in Figure 1 (shown at paragraph 13 of the Reasons).  ?
  2. The Full Court extracted key parts of the evidence of Professor Verspoor’s and the Commissioner’s expert, Mr Ries, at [36] – [44].  ?
  3. See also [93]. At [71], the Court cited [Jupiters Ltd v Neurizon Pty Ltd][jup] (2005) 222 ALR 155 at [67] as summarising “many” of the principles.  ?
  4. Rokt Full Court at [84] citing Commissioner of Patents v RPL Central Pty Ltd (2015) 238 FCR 27 at [96] and Encompass at [95].  ?
  5. Data Access v Powerflex Services (1999) 202 CLR 1 at [20].  ?
  6. ‘whether the subject matter in issue is “a proper subject of letters patent according to the principles which have been developed for the application of s 6 of the Statute of Monopolies”’. Perhaps borne down under the weight of so-called “innovation patents”, however, one might feel some skepticismto the notion that it is to be answered “consistently with a “widening conception of the notion [which] has been a characteristic of the growth of patent law”.  ?
  7. NRDC]nrdc 102 CLR at 275–277; CCOM Pty Ltd v Jiejing Pty Ltd (1994) 51 FCR 260 at 295 and Welcome-Real Time v Catuity. Ironically, since undone by the High Court in Myriad.  ?
  8. For example, AB Hässle v Alphapharm Pty Ltd at [6].  ?
  9. For example, Lockwood Security Products Pty Ltd v Doric Products Pty Ltd (No 2) (2007) 235 CLR 173 at [59] – [60].  ?

Rokt loses the Commissioner’s appeal

The Full Court (Rares, Nicholas and Burley JJ) has upheld the Commissioner’s appeal against the ruling that Rokt’s digital advertising system was patentable subject matter as a manner of manufacture. So, barring special leave), another computer implemented “invention” isn’t patentable.

More analysis later.

Commissioner of Patents v Rokt Pte Ltd [2020] FCAFC 86

The Commonwealth gets nothing on Sanofi’s undertaking as to damages

Nicholas J has dismissed the Commonwealth’s application for Sanofi to pay it compensation under the undertaking as to damages when Sanofi obtained an interlocutory injunction against Apotex’ plans to launch clopidogrel in Australia, but the patent was ultimately ruled invalid.

The decision is some 698 paragraphs long, so this going to be the briefest overview of some highlights only.

Some litigious background

Clopidogrel is a medication which can be used to inhibit blood clotting. Sanofi (then called Sanofi-Aventis) had patents protecting it around the world and had generated over US$1 billion in revenues. Sales in Australia being under Sanofi’s Plavix trade mark and BMS’ Iscover trade mark.

In August 2007, Apotex commenced proceedings for the revocation of Sanofi’s Australian patent.[1] Shortly after, Apotex also obtained registration of its generic version of clopidogrel on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods. In September 2007, it then applied for listing of its generic clopidogrel in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), through which the Commonwealth government subsidises the price of drugs in Australia.

As it missed the cut off date for the next round of listings in the PBS, it withdrew that application with the intention of making a further application before the next round closed on 1 December 2007. An application made in the December round would be for listing on the PBS from 1 April 2008.

In September 2007, however, Sanofi obtained an interlocutory injunction restraining Apotex from importing or selling in Australia pharmaceuticals which included clopidogrel as their active ingredient. Sanofi gave the usual undertaking as to damages as the price for that interlocutory injunction.

At the hearing for the interlocutory injunction, Apotex also gave an undertaking not to make an application for listing in the PBS pending the outcome of the trial. Apotex did not obtain from Sanofi an undertaking as to damages for that undertaking.

At the substantive trial, Gyles J dismissed Apotex’ application for revocation and instead found that it had infringed Sanofi’s patent. In September 2009, however, the Full Court upheld Apotex’ appeal and ordered the patent be revoked.[2] Sanofi’s application for special leave was dismissed by the High Court on 12 March 2010.[3]

Sandoz obtained PBS listing for its generic clopidogrel on 1 April 2010. Apotex did not obtain listing of its product until 1 May 2010. So, in addition to whatever sales it lost between 1 April 2008 and the lifting of the injunction in 2010, Apotex also lost whatever advantages may have flowed from being the first generic mover.

Sanofi and Apotex settled Apotex’ claims for compensation on the undertaking as to damages out of court.

The Commonwealth’s claims

The Commonwealth also claimed compensation under the undertaking as to damages.

Its case was that Apotex would have been listed on the PBS from 1 April 2008 if Sanofi had not been granted the interlocutory injunctions and so, as a result of the interlocutory injunction, the price payable for clopidogrel:

(a) was not reduced by the statutory reduction to the Approved Price to Pharmacists of 12.5%[4] (i.e. in very loose terms, the Commonwealth paid a price 12.5% higher than it should have been on all sales of clopidogrel between 1 April 2008 and 1 May 2010);

(b) further statutory reductions of 2% each were not triggered on, respectively, 1 August 2009 and 1 August 2010; and

(c) additional price reductions consequent upon the triggering of a statutory price disclosure regime which should have occurred on 1 April 2008.

(From [653] in his Reasons, Nicholas J discusses various scenarios for the calculation of how much the grant of the interlocutory injunction cost the Commonwealth. The lowest amount his Honour would have found in terms of compensation was in the order of $15 million.)

To succeed in its claim, Nicholas J held (at [196]) that the Commonwealth had to show:

· Would the relevant loss have been sustained but for the grant of interlocutory injunction?

· Did such loss flow directly from the interlocutory injunction?

· Could loss of the kind sustained have been foreseen at the time the interlocutory injunction was granted?

Why the Commonwealth lost

The Commonwealth was able to secure a number of witnesses from Apotex. These included the managing director of Apotex Australia, a Mr Millichamp, whose affidavit evidence was to the effect that Apotex was committed to launch its generic clopidogrel in Australia if, having been notified of Apotex’ plans to launch, Sanofi did not obtain an interlocutory injunction.[5]

The problem for the Commonwealth was that Apotex Australia is part of a corporate group controlled by Apotex Canada and the decision on whether or not to launch the product in Australia was to be made by Apotex Canada – specifically its founder and managing director, Dr Barry Sherman.

The evidence did show that in February 2007, Dr Sherman did plan for Apotex to launch its generic clopidogrel in Australia if Sanofi did not get an interlocutory injunction against it. Over time, however, the situation developed further. For example, the evidence included an email Mr Millichamp sent to one of his offsiders on 27 June 2007 when it appeared that the TGA listing was imminent (emphasis supplied) which stated:

[redacted]

[redacted] If we are successful in avoiding an injunction we will plan to launch subject to Barry’s further advice / approval.

If anything changes I’ll let you know.

“Barry” being Dr Sherman. At [251], Nicholas J considered this email indicated that Apotex had not yet decided whether it would launch its clopidogrel product in Australia if Sanofi did not succeed in getting an interlocutory injunction to restrain it.

Secondly, Apotex appears to have been planning to supply Australia from US stocks, but the shelf life of those products would not extend beyond August 2008 which was not very practical – especially when the earliest launch date would be April 2008.

Thirdly, Apotex’ challenge to Sanofi’s patent in the USA had been rejected by the trial judge.

Fourthly, Apotex’ communications to pharmacies did not definitely commit to a launch of the product.

Fifthly, Apotex had not exposed its legal advice on its prospects so Mr Millichamp’s evidence that “we always believed that all of the claims of the patent were invalid”

are not persuasive in circumstances where any legal advice upon which such a belief was based is not in evidence particularly in circumstances where the validity of the US Patent had already been upheld by the US District Court in a decision that was later affirmed on appeal.

Sixthly, at the time of the hearing for the interlocutory injunction in September 2007, the judge had indicated the final trial of substantive issues would be heard in April 2008 and he would give judgment by August 2008.[6] That is, the trial would take place in the same month as the earliest date that Apotex could be in the market if it re-submitted its PBS application before 1 December 2007.

In these circumstances, Nicholas J considered at [286]:

In the absence of evidence from Dr Sherman, I am not persuaded that he would have authorised a launch at risk in circumstances where an interlocutory injunction had been refused, but a final hearing was fixed to commence on 28 April 2008. ….

Rather, Nicholas J considered there was every reason for Dr Sherman to have deferred Apotex’ decision whether to launch or not until the last possible moment.

At this point, the failure (or inability) of the Commonwealth to call Dr Sherman as a witness became decisive all the more so as the Commonwealth was able to produce for cross-examination other Apotex witnesses who did travel from Canada and India. Nicholas J concluded at [347] – [349]:

I conclude that Dr Sherman was a witness who I would have expected to have been available to the Commonwealth and who would have had a close knowledge of relevant facts. In circumstances where the Commonwealth’s decision not to call Dr Sherman was wholly unexplained, I infer that the Commonwealth chose not to call him because it considered that his evidence would not have assisted its case.

I am not prepared to infer, based on the 20 February 2007 email, or any of the subsequent correspondence in evidence which was said to justify the drawing of such an inference, that Dr Sherman was likely to have instructed Mr Millichamp to procure the listing of Apotex’s clopidogrel products with effect from 1 April 2008.

In my opinion, the Commonwealth’s case suffers from an evidentiary deficiency which cannot be made good by drawing inferences from correspondence written by Dr Sherman in the lead up to the hearing of the interlocutory application. In particular, I do not think it can be inferred that if Dr Sherman had known that the trial of the patent proceeding would commence in the same month that Apotex Australia obtained a PBS listing of its clopidogrel products (triggering a 12.5% statutory price reduction), that he would have, in those circumstances, authorised Apotex Australia to obtain such a listing before judgment was delivered or, at least, until the trial had concluded (by which time he and his colleagues and his legal advisers may have had a clearer view of the strength of Sanofi’s case).

In the result, at [351], Nicholas J held that the Commonwealth’s claim must be dismissed.

Some other matters

Having dismissed the claim, Nicholas J went on to consider a number of other matters, albeit by way of obiter dicta.

Apotex’ undertaking not to seek PBS listing was not direct loss

The fact that Sanofi did not give an undertaking as to damages in return for Apotex’ undertaking not to seek PBS listing if an interlocutory injunction restraining sale was made would have provided a second basis for dismissing the Commonwealth’s claim.

Nicholas J accepted that the losses claimed by the Commonwealth were a foreseeable consequence of the interlocutory injunction, however, they were not a sufficiently direct consequence of it.

Apotex had recognised that, if an interlocutory injunction restraining sale was granted, there was no point seeking PBS listing. It would not be able to give the guarantee of supply required to obtain PBS listing and so any listing would fail or be revoked. In addition, it might expose it to increased damages having to compensate Sanofi for the profits lost on the automatic 12.5% reduction in price.

While Nicholas J accepted the Commonwealth’s loss was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the interlocutory injunction, his Honour held it did not result directly from the injunction in the relevant sense. At [445], his Honour explained:

Even if it is accepted, as I have found, that the first Apotex undertaking would never have been given if the interlocutory injunction had not been granted, it does not follow that the Commonwealth’s loss flowed directly from the interlocutory injunction. The terms of the interlocutory injunction did not prevent Apotex Australia from applying for a PBS listing of its clopidogrel products or from taking any other steps to obtain such a listing. Doing so would not have involved a breach of the interlocutory injunction. The Commonwealth’s loss was a natural and direct consequence of Apotex Australia not being able to apply to list its clopidogrel products on the PBS with effect from 1 April 2008, which was the precise conduct to which the first Apotex undertaking was directed, but not something the interlocutory injunction expressly or implicitly prohibited. This strongly suggests, in my view, that the loss alleged by the Commonwealth in this case was an indirect consequence of the interlocutory injunction.

It is worth considering the ramifications of that conclusion. First, it has been held that it is not an infringement of the patent for someone to apply for PBS listing of a drug containing the protected invention.[7] Further, the Commonwealth is not in a position to require a generic company to refrain from giving an undertaking not to seek PBS listing unless there is an undertaking as to damages. Thirdly, His Honour’s reasoning would apply equally to the losses claimed by Apotex under the undertaking as to damages, not just the Commonwealth’s. If you are acting for a ‘generic’ in this situation, therefore, make sure any undertaking as to damages extends to any undertaking not to seek PBS listing.

Sanofi argued that, even if it did not get an interlocutory injunction, the Minister (or delegate) would refuse listing of Apotex’ product in the PBS on the grounds of patent infringement until the outcome of the proceeding was known. Sanofi’s own witnesses, however, admitted such an outcome was unlikely. Instead, Nicholas J considered an application for listing would most likely have been approved if Apotex had given the necessary guarantee of supply. At [419], Nicholas J said:

I do not think it likely that the Delegate would have refused the application on the basis that a trial of the patent proceedings would shortly take place or that a judgment might be expected to be given some time between May 2008 and August 2008. In my view the Delegate is likely to have been most influenced by two matters: first, the willingness of Apotex Australia to provide an assurance of supply and, second, the absence of any interlocutory injunction restraining any such supply. I think it unlikely that a Delegate would have questioned the ability of Apotex Australia to either comply with its assurance of supply or comply with its obligations under the guarantee of supply. So far as the latter was concerned, I consider it most likely that the Delegate would have proceeded on the basis that, in the event that there was some failure on the part of Apotex to supply during the guaranteed period, then it would be open to the Minister in that situation to exercise one or more of the powers available under the relevant provisions of the NHA including the power to delist the Apotex Australia clopidogrel products and the power to reverse the 12.5% statutory price reduction.

Another area of dispute between the parties was what would have happened if the interlocutory injunction had not been granted but, as in fact happened, the trial judge found Apotex infringed. Mr Millichamp from Apotex gave evidence Apotex would have applied to have the Apotex product delisted. Sanofi argued that, in that situation, it would have been able to get the 12.5% automatic price reduction reversed. The Commonwealth contended that reversal was unlikely. There was a at least one prior case where the price reduction had been reversed before the price reduction became automatic. In the unexplained absence of the person who was the relevant decisionmaker within the Government at the time,[8] Nicholas J considered at [529] the chance the Commonwealth would not have reversed the price reduction to be less than 10%.

Sanofi disputed that interest was payable on compensation ordered under the undertaking as to damages. While his Honour did not finally decide the point, Nicholas J indicated at [697] that he would have ordered Sanofi to pay simple interest on the sum awarded on the basis that it would have been just and equitable to do so.

In light of the evidence that it would take only 2 to 3 weeks for Apotex to have written its own Product Information, Nicholas J would not have denied the Commonwealth recovery because the Product Information (and other stipulated regulatory disclosures) infringed Sanofi’s copyright.[9] His Honour considered at [643] there was “good reason to believe” that no interlocutory injunction would have been granted to restrain copyright infringement in that time frame.

Commonwealth of Australia v Sanofi (formerly Sanofi-Aventis) (No 5) [2020] FCA 543


  1. Australian Patent No 597784 for the dextro-rotatory enantiomer of methyl alpha–5 (4,5,6,7-tetrahydro (3,2-c) thieno pyridyl) (2-chlorophenyl)-acetate, a process for its preparation, and pharmaceutical compositions containing it.  ?
  2. One curiosity of this outcome is that Sanofi’s corresponding patents in Canada and the USA were both upheld as valid and infringed.  ?
  3. Further interlocutory injunctions were put in place pending the outcomes of the appeals.  ?
  4. In essence, while there was only one source of clopidogrel – Sanofi (and BMS as a licensee) – clopidogrel was listed in the PBS in formulary F1. As soon as a second, competing source obtained listing, Sanofi’s listing would be moved into formulary F2 with an automatic price reduction of 12.5% imposed by statute. See [144] – [145]. Paragraphs [36] – [77] contain a useful explanation of how the pricing of products listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme works and, in particular, the automatic reductions on pricing that apply when a second (usually generic) drug is listed.  ?
  5. The evidence disclosed that Apotex’ strategy, having successfully developed its generic clopidogrel (and having at least a further 18 months to complete development of a product based on a different salt), was (1) to secure ARTG listing then in short order (2) to apply for PBS listing, (3) to launch to the trade on an “at risk” basis – i.e. ensure the trade knew Apotex might have to withdraw the product if Sanofi’s patent was valid and (4) then to put Sanofi on notice of its plans to launch by bringing the revocation proceeding. An explicit part of the strategy was to secure the benefit of the undertaking as to damages if Sanofi did block sales through an interlocutory injunction.  ?
  6. The trial judge reached the statutory age for retirement in that month.  ?
  7. Warner-Lambert Company LLC v Apotex Pty Ltd (2017) 249 FCR 17  ?
  8. The fact that the person was no longer working for the Commonwealth was not a sufficient justification for the failure to call her.  ?
  9. The Copyright Act 1968 was subsequently amended to preclude the use of copyright against such materials. See now s 44BA.  ?

Productivity Commission Response No 2 – No 2

The Intellectual Property Laws Amendment (Productivity Commission Response Part 2 and Other Measures) Act 2020 received Royal Assent on 26 February 2020.

The Act as actually passed (with amendments) is available here (to get the text from Austlii when I went there, I had to download the RTF or plain text format). There is also now a Revised Explanatory Memorandum.

As assented to, section 2 now prescribes that the abolition of the innovation patent regime will occur 18 months after Royal Assent — 26 August 2021.

(Remember, this is achieved by specifying an additional ground for “the formalities check” in new s 52(3) – an application for an innovation patent may pass “the formalities check” only if the date of the patent would be before [26 August 2021]. There is presumably a good reason why it doesn’t just say The Commissioner must reject the application for an innovation patent if the date of the patent would be on or after [26 August 2021].)

The Revised Explanatory Memorandum explains that 18 months has been chosen to ensure that persons who have filed a provisional application or a basic application under the PCT are not prejudiced. Such a person has up to 12 months from the filing date to file a complete application in Australia and an additional 6 months has been allowed to allow them enough time to make a decision.

As you will recall both ACIP and the Productivity Commission recommended abolition of the innovation patent. The Revised Explanatory Memorandum explains that the Government has accepted those recommendations because (footnotes omitted):

The policy intention of the IPS was to encourage SMEs to innovate and benefit from their scientific progress. In practice however, the innovation patent system has been found to have limited use by SMEs as 74 per cent of SMEs and private inventors filed once and never again; 83 per cent never received an enforceable right; and 78 per cent let their innovation patent expire early rather than pay the minor cost of the renewal fee. The Productivity Commission found that the majority of SMEs who use the innovation patent system do not obtain value from it, and that the system imposes significant costs on third parties and the broader Australian community. Given this, the innovation patent system has shown to be unlikely to provide net benefits to the Australian community or to the SMEs who are the intended beneficiaries of the system.

Section 4 in the Act as passed also requires the Minister to establish a review of the accessibility of patents for small and medium enterprises within 3 months (i.e. by 26 May 2020). Matters the review should consider include:

(a) the cost of applications for patents; and

(b) processing times of patents; and

(c) advice provided by the Australian Government with respect to the patent application process; and

(d) awareness of the patent application process.

The written report from the review must be submitted to the Minister within 12 months of commencement and the Minister must table it in both Houses of Parliament within 15 sitting days of receiving the report.

In addition to these matters, the Act also:

  • introduces an objects clause into the Patents Act 1990 – Sch 1 Part 1;

The object of this Act is to provide a patent system in Australia that promotes economic wellbeing through technological innovation and the transfer and dissemination of technology. In doing so, the patent system balances over time the interests of producers, owners and users of technology and the public.

  • revises the Crown use provisions in both the Patents Act and the Designs Act – Sch 2 & 3;
  • amends the compulsory licence provisions for patents to be based on a “public interest” test rather than a failure to meet the reasonable requirements of the public in Australia – Sch 4;
  • provides for electronic seals in the Patents and Trade Marks Offices – Sch 5;
  • permits objection to ‘omnibus claims’ to be raised at opposition, re-examination and revocation stages as well as examination – Sch 6;
  • permits the Commissioner of Patents to redact information (i.e. parts of documents) as well as documents where confidentiality requires it – Sch 7; and
  • amends the circumstances a translation of a patent application originally in a foreign language will require a certificate of verification – Sch 8.

All the amendments commenced on 27 February 2020 except for the abolition of innovation patents and Sch 8. The timing of the abolition of innovation patents has been discussed above. Sch. 9 commences on 26 August 2020.

Productivity Commission Response No 2

Parliament has now passed the wonderfully named Intellectual Property Law Amendment (Productivity Commission Response Part 2 and Other Measures) Bill 2019. Text here[1] and EM here.

When enacted, the “Act” will amongst other things:

(a) insert an objects clause, new section 2A, into the Patents Act:

The object of this Act is to provide a patent system in Australia that promotes economic wellbeing through technological innovation and the transfer and dissemination of technology. In doing so, the patent system balances over time the interests of producers, owners and users of technology and the public.

That clears things up nicely doesn’t it?

(b) suppress the granting of more “innovation” patents;

(c) harmonise the regimes for Crown use of patents and registered designs;

(d) introduces a revised regime for compulsory licensing of patents.

The suffocation of innovation patents will be achieved by introducing new sub-section 52(3) into the Patents Act.

Sub-section 52(3) will make it a requirement of the formalities check that the date of the patent (if granted) must be a date before the date the amendment came into force.

According to the form of the “Act” on Parliament’s website sub-section 52(3) will come into force 12 months after the “Act” receives Royal Assent.[2]

Once the sub-section comes into force, therefore, it will be possible to seek further innovation patents only where they are based on filings with a date before the commencement date so, for example, a divisional application.


  1. The bill does not become an Act until it receives the Royal Assent.  ?
  2. There had been reports that the phase out period would be extended to 18 months, but that does not appear to be reflected in the document on Parliament’s website. These reports also indicated that there was to be a review of the impact of “abolition” on Australian small and medium enterprises.  ?

Special leave!

The High Court has granted Calidad special leave to challenge the rules for parallel importing patented products.

Seiko’s Epson inkjet printers require print cartridges fitted with a chip which stores information about the model and the number of prints made. The chip on the cartridge interacts with the printer so that, amongst other things, each time a print is made, the chip memory is updated. When the number of prints stored on the chip reaches a number indicating that the ink has been used up, the printer is unable to print until a new print cartridge is inserted.

Seiko’s patent relates to the configuration of the cartridge in a particular way to achieve this proces.[1]

Calidad imported into Australia Epson printer cartridges. It had obtained the cartridges from Ninestar in Malaysia. Ninestar acquired genuine used Epson printer cartridges and “refilled” them. There was no dispute that the imported cartridges were genuine Epson products. The issue came down to whether what Ninestar did to “refill” the cartridges constituted “repair” or “making”.

At first instance, Burley J found that Calidad’s importation and sale of products imported before April 2016 infringed, but those imported after April 2016 did not.

The Full Court, however, upheld Seiko’s cross-appeal and found all imported products infringed.

In some respects, this is a rather “odd” case to be given special leave.

First, the rule about parallel imports and implied licence has been in place for almost 150 years.[2] Recently, however, the United States Supreme Court has affirmed that American patent law applies a doctrine of exhaustion rather than implied licence for imported as well as domestic products. The case also involved refilled printer cartridges – laser toner rather than inkjet. The US Supreme Court explained the difference between exhaustion and implied licence:

The problem with the Federal Circuit’s logic is that the exhaustion doctrine is not a presumption about the authority that comes along with a sale; it is a limit on the scope of the patentee’s rights. The Patent Act gives patentees a limited exclusionary power, and exhaustion extinguishes that power. A purchaser has the right to use, sell, or import an item because those are the rights that come along with ownership, not because it purchased authority to engage in those practices from the patentee.

The High Court’s questioning on the special leave application focused on the fact that the Privy Council decision in Menck in 1911 (before the Australia Act 1986) overturned the High Court’s adoption of the US domestic exhaustion doctrine. And the use of IP rights to enforce territorial restrictions has been the subject of regulatory comment.[3]

Secondly, the doctrine of exhaustion is predicated on marketing of the patented products by or with the consent of the patentee. As we have seen with attempts to adopt exhaustion for both copyright and trade marks, however, it has been necessary for legislation to enact extended definitions of “consent” to enable prospective parallel imports to act confidently.

For example, to override the decisions in Sporte Leisure and Lonsdale, Parliament introduced section 122A into the Trade Marks Act which embraces within “consent” trade marks applied by or with the consent of not just the trade mark owner in Australia but also related bodies corporate, associated persons and anyone having “significant influence” over the use of the trade mark in Australia, regardless of where those persons are located or act.

Moreover, it appears from section 122A(2) and (3) that it should not matter whether a licensee or distributor was actually acting within the scope of its licence.[4]

Furthermore, Parliament felt it necessary to shift the risks from the parallel importer to the trade mark owner as it does not appear the goods actually have to be genuine. Section 122A(1)(c) requires only that a reasonable person would conclude from the reasonable inquiries that have been made that the trade mark was applied by or with the consent of a relevant person.

I don’t know whether territorial division is as prevalent for patents as it appeared to be for trade marks or copyright. For starters, there don’t seem to have been the same number of cases. And it used to be the case that American patentees in particular were nervous about potential anti-trust liability. But, the potential role of limited consents is certainly a live issue: as long ago as 1883, the English Court of Appeal allowed a patentee to block imports put on the market by its French licensee on the basis that the French licensee’s licence did not extend to selling in England.[5]

Thirdly, the Calidad decision might not be thought to raise the question of exhaustion or implied licence. The “real” question seems to be whether what Ninestar did was just “repair” or involved “making” (in effect) a new product.

The products Burley J found did not infringe involved “only” drilling holes in the cartridges to clean and refill them, sealing the holes up and reprogramming the chip already installed on the cartridge. Burley J considered at [240] – [243] that reprogramming the chip, in particular, did not interfere with the patent as the claim was directed to the chip only, not the content stored on it. Similarly, “the minor physical” changes to the cartridges were not the subject of features of a claim.[6] The products which his Honour found did infringe at [271] – [277] involved similar acts but, in addition, involved Ninestar removing and replacing the computer chip so that the ink cartridges would communicate their “new” status to the printer.

In contrast, the Full Court (in three separate judgments) considered that what Ninestar did was so substantial as to be making a new product. Accepting that whether what was done involved “repair” or “making” was a question of fact and degree in any particular case, Jagot J explained at [166]:

It cannot be doubted that on the facts as found by the primary judge, none of the Calidad products are the product as sold by Seiko. The products which Seiko sold all embodied the claimed invention including that part of the first integer consisting of a “printing material container”. Step 2 of the process for all categories of container involved creating a new hole in the container to enable the container to be filled with fresh ink and then sealing both the new hole and the original hole with plastic by applying heat and pressure: [240]. While the primary judge described this at [240] as a “minor physical alteration” with no relationship to the claimed invention, as Seiko submitted, at the moment the new hole was created, there was no longer an essential integer of the claimed invention, a “printing material container”, as unless and until the new seals were applied, the purported container could not contain printing ink. Nor do I see how it could be concluded that the implied licence which arose on sale enabling the purchaser to use and repair the original Epson printer cartridge could be thought to extend to re-purposing the cartridge once it was empty of ink by creating a new injection hole for ink to enable the cartridge to be re-filled and sealing the original and new holes so that the cartridge, which had ceased to be a printing material container, was made into a new printing material container. That is not a use of the patented article as sold at all; it is the making of a new article within the scope of the patent. As sold, the patented article could not be re-used at all for two reasons. One, the container was empty of ink. Two, the memory recorded that the container was empty of ink so it would no longer function. As re-purposed, the product was still an embodiment of the invention but was capable of re-use. Of itself, these facts indicate to us that the modifications involved the making of a new embodiment of the invention, outside of any implied licence arising on sale and outside any notion of repair of the original cartridge.

and at [172] in relation to reprogramming the memory:

…. I am unable to agree with the primary judge that the claim involves the mere physical existence of the memory chip. Integer [2] claims a memory “driven by” a memory driving voltage. The only thing which is driven by the memory driving voltage is the memory in the sense of the information stored on the chip. The fact that the chip has information on it which is able to be changed (driven by) the memory driving voltage is an essential part of the claimed invention. It may be accepted that the actual status of the memory (that is, whether it shows the cartridge as full, empty or anywhere in between) is not part of the claim, but the fact that the claim involves a memory driven by a memory driving voltage is not irrelevant. Considered in the context of the product as sold, which is essential to the scope of the implied licence to use the product without infringement of the patents, the fact that the re-purposing of the cartridges, as a minimum, involves re-programming the chip to change the memory supports the conclusion that the imported Calidad cartridges are outside the scope of any possible implied licence or any concept of repair.

At [180], Jagot J summarised her Honour’s conclusions:

In the present case, every purchaser purchased an embodiment of the invention which, in the form it was purchased, permitted a single use only. To render the cartridge capable of re-use, the acts described above were required. In the context of the invention as embodied in the product sold, I am unable to accept that what was done was other than an infringement of the patents. It was outside the scope of any implied licence which could have arisen on sale and outside any reasonable concept of repair. (emphasis supplied)

See also Yates J at [276] “On no reasonable view can it be said that the modifications carried out by Ninestar to the original Epson cartridges constitute “repair”.” and Greenwood J at [85].

Before Jagot J embarked on the detailed reasoning summarised above in terms of the scope of the implied licence and the right to repair, her Honour noted that the European doctrines of exhaustion did not extend to “making” a new product. At [164], Jagot J explained:

… none of the English cases suggest that the Privy Council’s decision in Menck altered the fact that a purchaser has no right to make a new embodiment of the invention. The implied licence arising on unrestricted sale could never extend so far. Nor could the doctrine of exhaustion of patent rights result in the loss of the right to prevent the making of new embodiments of the invention, whether or not the new embodiment involved starting from scratch or re-using and modifying parts of the patented product as sold. I accept that in the latter case questions of fact and degree will be involved, with the necessary focus being the nature of the patented product as sold and the nature of the acts done to that product, but I do not consider any aspect of the present case lies at the “borderline” between repair and making. (emphasis supplied)

In the Lexmark case, however, the US Supreme Court upheld Impression Products’ right to import the toner cartridges even though it seems Impression Products installed “unauthorised” replacement chips on at least some of the imported cartridges to circumvent the re-use restriction.[7]

The parties’ written submissions are due to be completed by the end of February 2020. Brave New Year indeed!

Calidad Pty Ltd & Ors v Seiko Epson Corporation & Anor [2019] HCATrans 225


  1. Claim 1 of AU 2009233643 for example has 11 integers and reads: “[1] A printing material container adapted to be attached to a printing apparatus by being inserted in an insertion direction, the printing apparatus having a print head and a plurality of apparatus-side terminals, the printing material container including: [2] a memory driven by a memory driving voltage; [3] an electronic device driven by a higher voltage than the memory driving voltage; [4] a plurality of terminals including a plurality of memory terminals electrically connected to the memory, and a first electronic device terminal and a second electronic device terminal electrically connected to the electronic device, wherein: [5] the plurality of terminals each include a contact portion for contacting a corresponding terminal of the plurality of apparatus-side terminals, [6] the contact portions are arranged in a first row of contact portions and in a second row of contact portions, the first row of contact portions and the second row of contact portions extending in a row direction which is generally orthogonal to the insertion direction, [7] the first row of contact portions is disposed at a location that is further in the insertion direction than the second row of contact portions, [8] the first row of contact portions is longer than the second row of contact portions, and, [9] the first row of contact portions has a first end position and a second end position at opposite ends thereof, [10] a contact portion of the first electronic device terminal is disposed at the first end position in the first row of contact portions and [11] a contact portion of the second electronic device terminal is disposed at the second end position in the first row of contact portions.”  ?
  2. Betts v Willmott [1871] 6 Ch App 239. The continued validity of the rule was acknowledged by the High Court a mere 40 years ago in the Time-Life case – admittedly, a copyright case.  ?
  3. In addition to the introduction of Trade Marks Act 1995 s 122A, see e.g. At What Cost? IT pricing and the Australia Tax.  ?
  4. See also Explanatory Memorandum para. 26. For copyright, see the definitions of “non-infringing copy” of sound recordings, computer programs, electronic literary or music items and [accesories][access].  ?
  5. Société Anonyme des Manufactures de Glaces v Tilghman’s Patent Sand Blast Co. (1883) 25 Ch. D. 1  ?
  6. In all his Honour was required to consider 9 different categories of imported products and there were a range of variations to Ninestar’s interventions depending on the category.  ?
  7. The US Supreme Court does not directly refer to this, but see Lexmark International Inc. v Impression Products Inc 816 F 3d. 721 (Fed. Cir. 2016) at 727. Lexmark had previously attempted to argue [unsuccessfullystatic the replacement microchips violated copyright and the DMCA.  ?

Encompass is still too abstract to be patentable subject matter

A Full Bench[1] of the Federal Court’s appeal jusrisdiction has dismissed Encompass’ appeal against Perram J’s ruling that its computer-implemented method was not a patentable invention because it was not a manner of manufacture.

Encompass had two innovation patents covering its concept. It sued Infotrack for infringing them. Infotrack admitted its conduct would infringe, but contended the patents were invalid on the grounds that they did not claim a manner of manufacture and did not involve “an innovative step”.[2]

At first instance, amongst other things, Perram J found the claims did involve an innovative step, but were not patentable because they were not for a manner of manufacture.

Infotrack was joined in resisting the appeal by the Commissioner of Patents (appearing as of right pursuant to r 34.23. The Institute of Patent Attorneys also sought and obtained (on a limited basis) leave to intervene.[3]

The claimed invention

Encompass’ (innovation) patent claimed a computerised method and apparatus for displaying business intelligence about “entitites”. The idea seems to have been to facilitate searching of multiple third party electronic databases[4] to ascertain and present aggregated data about the “entity” of interest. Claim 1 provided:

A method of displaying information relating to one or more entities, the method including, in an electronic processing device:

a) generating a network representation by querying remote data sources, the representation including:

i) a number of nodes, each node being indicative of a corresponding entity; and,

ii) a number of connections between nodes, the connections being indicative of relationships between the entities; and,

b) causing the network representation to be displayed to a user;

c) in response to user input commands, determining at least one user selected node corresponding to a user selected entity;

d) determining at least one search to be performed in respective of the corresponding entity associated with the at least one user selected node by:

i) determining an entity type of the at least one user selected entity;

ii) displaying a list of available searches in accordance with the entity type; and,

iii) determining selection of at least one of the available searches in accordance with user input commands;

e) performing the at least one search to thereby determine additional information regarding the entity from at least one of a number of remote data sources by generating a search query, the search query being applied to one of the number of remote databases to thereby determine additional information regarding the entity; and,

f) causing any additional information to be presented to the user.

Crucially for the outcome of the appeal, the Court noted at [30] that neither claim 1 nor any of the other claims “characterised” the electronic process device which performed the method – “any suitable process system” may be used.

Encompass’ challenge

Basing itself on NRDC and CCOM, Encompass argued that the concept of manner of manufacture required the claim to give rise to an artificially created state of affairs which had economic significance. These requirements were satisfied, Encompass argued, because the claimed invention involved:

(a) the interrogation of remote data sources;

(b) the generation and display of the network representation;

(c) the interaction with the network node to initiate a further search;

(d) the determination that the results thereby produced relate to the same entity as the one produced from the first search (the contention that this is a step of the claimed method is an issue in this appeal); and

(e) the display of the results of that search.

Encompass argued that Perram J had erred by considering whether the claimed invention “improved the functionality of the machine”. This was said to be an erroneous incorporation of the “machine or transformation” test from US law.

The appeal

Despite what it described as the “oblique attacks” made by Encompass and IPTA on Research Affiliates and RPL Centrol, the Court considered at [77] the appeal did not raise any significant question of principle. Their Honours considered that, having regard to the submissions made by Encompass and IPTA, the correctness of the two earlier decisions was not seriously in doubt. Rather, the issue was whether Perram J had applied the principles from those cases correctly.

The Court started by noting that the High Court in Myriad had agreed with NRDC that the issue is whether the claimed invention is a proper subject for the grant of a patent.

At [80], therefore, the Court noted that to determine whether a claimed invention involves a manner of manufacture requires a characterisation of the claim.

At [81], the Court reiterated that this characterisation is to be undertaken as a matter of substance rather than merely as a matter of form.

At [83], the Court noted the Myriad majority had held the NRDC court had not been attempting an exhaustive definition of “manner of manufacture” when it referred to ‘an “artificially created state of affairs of economic significance”’. Further, the satisfaction of that formulation did not necessarily lead to a finding of “inherent patentability”.

Encompass’ reliance on the reasoning in CCOM was misplaced. The Full Court in CCOM had explained why the computer program in that case was a manner of manufacture in the following terms:

The NRDC case at 275–277 requires a mode or manner of achieving an end result which is an artificially created state of affairs of utility in the field of economic endeavour. In the present case, a relevant field of economic endeavour is the use of word processing to assemble text in Chinese language characters. The end result achieved is the retrieval of graphic representations of desired characters, for assembly of text. The mode or manner of obtaining this, which provides particular utility in achieving the end result, is the storage of data as to Chinese characters analysed by stroke-type categories, for search including “flagging” (and “unflagging”) and selection by reference thereto.

First, however and as the High Court in Myriad had confirmed, this reaoning was a guide only and not a rigid formula.

Secondly, the Court rejected Encompass’ argument that the proposition in Grant that a manner of manufacture required a “physical effect in the sense of a concrete effect or phenomenon or manifestation or transformation” was inconsistent with CCOM and Catuity. Rather, both CCOM and Catuity involved methods where a component was physically affected or a change in state or information in a machine.

The Court then confirmed that the presence of a physical effect in the broad sense envisaged in Grant was also not conclusive. (There being such a transformation in the electronic processing device’s state by performing Encompass’ method.) The question was whether the claimed invention as a matter of substance transcended an abstract idea or mere information.

Encompass’ claimed invention did not provide sufficient specificity to transcend the abstract idea. At [99], the Court explained:

99 the method claims in suit are, in truth, no more than an instruction to apply an abstract idea (the steps of the method) using generic computer technology. The appellants endeavoured to explain why the claimed method falls within the notion of an artificially created state of affairs by attributing computer functionality to the method: the computer (or, in the language of the claims, the electronic processing device) searches remote data sources; the computer generates a network representation; and the computer responds to a user’s selection to conduct a further search. The appellants also attributed computer functionality to the method by the computer determining additional information relating to the same entity. As we have previously noted, this involves the contentious question of “entity matching”—a step which the primary judge found was not a step in the claimed method. We discuss this below when dealing with the grounds relating to innovative step. But even if for present purposes “entity matching” is taken to be a step in the claimed method, neither it nor the other steps, individually or collectively, amount to anything more than a method in which an uncharacterised electronic processing device (for example, a computer) is employed as an intermediary to carry out the method steps—where the method itself is claimed in terms which amount to no more than an abstract idea or scheme. (emphasis supplied)

The Court accepted that Encompass’ method could not be implemented using “generic software”. This did not save the claims as they did not specify as an essential feature of the invention any particular software or programming. It was left to a user of the method to devise and implement their own suitable computer program. According to the Court, this was merely an idea for a computer program. As in Research Affiliates and RPL Central, at [101] the Court characterised Encompass’ claims as merely a “method … in an electronic processing device”, which itself is not characterised.”

Finally, the Court at [105] – [110] rejected Encompass’ criticism that Perram J had improperly required the claimed method to result in “an improvement in the computer” by reference to the Research Affiliates court’s discussion at [104] – [105] to Alice Corporation in the USA. The Court considered that Perram J’s reference to these matters, properly understood, was just “an inquiry into and search for possibly patentable subject matter by reference to a touchstone of such subject matter.”

So, there you have it; all cleared up!

Next up, the Commissioner’s appeal (NSD66 of 2019) against the finding that Rokt did claim a manner of manufacture.

IPTA’s intervention

The Court summarised IPTA’s intervention as seeking to contest the Commissioner’s approach to computer related inventions. The Court outlined how it understood IPTA’s proposed intervention:

72 IPTA’s submissions took issue with the Commissioner’s statement that, in considering the patentability of computer-implemented methods, a key consideration is determining where the alleged ingenuity lies. IPTA submitted that this statement is “misconceived” because it intrudes questions of novelty and inventive step into the question whether the invention is a manner of manufacture; it suggests that the way in which the method is implemented in the computer is decisive and directs attention away from the method as claimed; and it suggests that a method characterised as a business method or a scheme is unpatentable, whereas it is only methods or schemes that are no more than a method of doing business or an abstract idea (with no practical application or effect) that are not patentable.

73 IPTA submitted that the Commissioner’s “misconceptions” had become established practice when examining patent applications. IPTA said that this was of “central concern to IPTA and its members’ clients seeking patent protection for their inventions”. IPTA said, further, that these “misconceptions” are reflected in the Australian Patent Office Manual of Practice and Procedure (the Manual) on which the Commissioner’s delegates rely for authoritative guidance in the examination of patent applications. IPTA argued that this has “led … to a confused state of affairs in the examination of computer-implemented inventions, and will cause examination of many such applications to miscarry”.

The Court, however, refused to buy into this fight on the grounds that the correctness or otherwise of the Commissioner’s earlier decisions was not a controversy before the court. The Court also refused to engage with what it described as “IPTA’s editorial comments” on the Manual of Practice and Procedure.

Encompass Corporation Pty Ltd v InfoTrack Pty Ltd [2019] FCAFC 161 (Allsop CJ, Kenny, Besanko, Nicholas and Yates JJ)


  1. A sitting of the Full Court constituted by 5 judges, rather than the more usual 3 judges. A bench of 5 judges appears to be appointed where there appear to be inconsistent rulings of differently constutited (3 Judge) full courts or there may be some compelling reason to doubt the correctness of an earlier decision.  ?
  2. Patents Act 1990 s 18(1A).  ?
  3. IPTA’s intervention sought to challenge the Commissioner’s approach to computer related inventions  ?
  4. For example, land registries, ASIC company records, police records “or the like”.  ?

Repeal of s 51(3)

The bill repealing (amongst other things) s 51(3) of the Competition and Consumer Act did get passed and has received royal assent.

The repeal takes effect on 13 September 2019.

So, if you thought you were relying on s 51(3)’s protection, you have a bit less than 6 months to get your house in order.

Your licences and assignments of IP rights probably will not get you into trouble for the most part unless you have market power. But that is not exactly a hard and fast rule so you should discuss your arrangements with your lawyers ASAP.

As discussed in this post, one area of potentially significant concern is where the IP holder has its own retail outlets and also licenses other retail outlets – e.g. not uncommon for franchisors who have their own outlets and franchisees. There is a concern that may give rise to criminal cartel conduct.

If you want to know about the prohibitions on cartel conduct, Ian Wylie has published a paper “Cartel conduct or Permissible Joint Venture?

On Tuesday, the ACCC also announced it hopes to publish draft guidelines by “mid-2019” and finalise them before 13 September. Amongst other things, these proposed guidelines will outline:

how the ACCC proposes to investigate and enforce Part IV in relation to conduct involving intellectual property rights. They will also provide hypothetical examples to illustrate conduct that the ACCC considers is likely or unlikely to contravene Part IV.

Invalidity cross-claim blocks interlocutory injunction

The Full Court has upheld Burley J’s refusal to grant Sanofi-Aventis an interlocutory injunction over Alphapharm’s SEMGLEE insulin solution for an injector pen. The significance here is that this is an unusual case where the (alleged) infringer’s cross-claim has negatived the patentee’s prima facie case of infringement. The Full Court also affirmed his Honour’s approach to balance of convenience issues.

Burley J found a clear case that Alphapharm’s product fell within claim 1 of Sanofi-Aventis’ patent. His Honour found, however, that Alphapharm’s cross-claim that the patent was invalid for lack of novelty was sufficiently strong that “it was doubtful” Sanofi-Aventis had made out a prima facie case of infringement.

Since the Interpharma case, cross-claims by alleged infringers that the patent is invalid have not enjoyed much success as the Court has approached matters on the basis that it is the patentee’s “title” to interlocutory relief which is in issue.

What was different here was that the invalidity cross-claim was not “merely” a triable issue. It was of such strength that Burley J considered (provisionally) the patent was invalid. The Full Court explained the correct approach at [14]:

…. A case for invalidity which is merely arguable, of itself, does not undermine the existence of a prima facie case of infringement which has otherwise been found to exist. However, a sufficiently strong case of invalidity may well qualify the conclusion that there is a prima facie case of infringement at all. Far from reasoning contrary to the approach in Interpharma and Janssen, the primary judge was applying the same reasoning, albeit with an outcome not to Sanofi’s liking because his Honour was satisfied that Alphapharm’s case on invalidity was sufficiently strong to qualify (indeed, virtually to negate altogether) Sanofi’s prima facie case of infringement. Further, it is Sanofi’s submissions which have conflated the relevance of the competing cases on invalidity. What is relevant is the strength of the case that the claim or claims said to be infringed are invalid. The primary judge at [118] found that “the lack of novelty case advanced by Alphapharm is sufficiently strong (at the provisional level) to qualify (in the sense contemplated in Interpharma at [17]) the conclusion that Sanofi has a probability of success”. ….

Sanofi-Aventis argued that the weight of the balance of convenience in its favour was a factor in considering its prima facie case of infringement. This argument failed both at the level of principle and on the facts.

First, the Full Court accepted that the strength of a plaintiff’s prima facie case is relevant to consideration of the balance of convenience. Balance of convenience, however, did not affect the assessment of the strength of the prima facie case of infringement. At [8], the Full Court explained:

…. The strength of the prima facie case is relevant to the balance of convenience, but the weighing process involved in evaluating where the balance of convenience lies does not affect the assessment of the existence or strength of the prima facie case. As was said in Samsung at [59] “[t]he critical integer in the test …is the need for the Court to assess the strength of the probability of ultimate success on the part of the plaintiff. The strength of that probability will depend upon the nature of the rights asserted and the practical consequences likely to flow from the grant of the injunction which is sought”. ….

Secondly, Burley J had apparently considered the respective losses relatively finely balanced on the question of balance of convenience, but had ultimately considered the difficulties of calculating Alphapharm’s losses outweighed the difficulties in calculating Sanofi-Aventis’.

In particular, the Full Court considered that Burley J had not inappropriately undervalued Sanofi-Aventis’ position as a long standing incumbent. For example at [51], their Honours explained:[1]

… Sanofi had not demonstrated a sufficient likelihood of success in all of the circumstances to justify the preserving of the status quo. Each case turns on its own facts so it is not the point that in GenRx and Warner Lambert the preservation of the status quo was given considerable weight. In neither case was the strength of the prima facie case undermined in the same way as in the present case. In neither case was there a suggestion of market circumstances similar to the present case given the primary judge’s reference in [174] to the real possibility of Alphapharm’s prospective market disappearing as a “significant aspect” of this matter. Faced with the primary judge’s reasons, Sanofi’s submission that his Honour failed to take into account the disruption of the status quo as a material consideration is untenable. His Honour weighed all those matters but the balance favoured Alphapharm not Sanofi.

Sanofi-Aventis Deutschland GmbH v Alphapharm Pty Ltd [2019] FCAFC 28 (Jagot, Yates and Moshinsky JJ)


  1. One can only speculate how the 1336 paragraphs Jagot J had to write to work out the quantum on an undertaking as to damages in Sigma v Wyeth concentrated her Honour’s appreciation of this issue!  ↩