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.
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.
IP Australia has published details of Trade Mark No. 2,000,000:
I am not sure whether the sequence has been unbroken right from Trade Mark No. 1. Even so, the meter has ticked over and it is definitely a milestone of sorts.
It does seem a little strange, in these days of tobacco plain packaging laws, that someone is pursuing a trade mark registration for a new brand, but it does also extend to smoker’s articles and e-cigs.
By way of interest, Trade Mark No. 1,000,000 was filed by Anchor Foods on 23 April 2004.
That is, it took almost 100 years to get to the 1,000,000 mark; but it took only 15 years for the next million.
I wonder whether “Northern Lights” will achieve the same degree of notoriety as the equally colourful “Golden Lights“.
Redbubble’s online market place has survived the Hells Angels’ copyright infringement claims, but did infringe their registered trade marks. The reasoning, however, leaves questions hanging over Redbubble’s business model.
Redbubble provides an online market place. Artists can upload their artwork and potential buyers can browse the site to purchase the artwork or merchandise such as t-shirts and coffee cups emblazoned with the artwork. If a purchase is made for, say, a t-shirt with a particular artwork printed on it, Redbubble’s system arranges for the order to be placed with a fulfiller and ultimately shipped in packaging which bears a Redbubble trade mark.
The claims in this case related to uploaded images of a Hell’s Angels membership card featuring a helmeted death’s head in profile:
and registered trade marks featuring versions of the death’s head: Trade Marks Nos 526530,723291, 723463, 1257992 and 1257993.
At 552 paragraphs long, this post is going to be a high level overview only.
A key feature in the case is that Hells Angels Motorcycle Corporation (Australia) Pty Ltd is not the owner of the copyright or the registered trade marks. It contended it was the exclusive licensee in Australia of those rights; the exclusive licences having been granted by Hells Angels Motorcycle Corporation, a US corporation.
The Hells Angels lost the claim of copyright infringement. They did so, however, because they could not prove Hells Angels USA was the owner of the copyright. As a result, Hells Angels Motorcycle Corporation (Australia) Pty Ltd could not be the exclusive licensee.
Reaching this conclusion required Greenwood J to explore, amongst other things, the notion of publication and whether the supply of membership cards was supply of copies of the work to the public. And the non-applicability of the US “work for hire” doctrine in ownership disputes under Australian law.
Redbubble is still in trouble.
First, if the applicants had been able to prove title to the copyright, Redbubble would have infringed.
Contrary to Hells Angels’ arguments, Redbubble was not liable for infringement by uploading the images. That was done by the artists in question. In the examples in question, the acts involved uploading images to websites outside Australia. For example, Example 1 was uploaded by an individual in Virginia in the USA. So the uploaders themselves were not liable as their actions did not involve any act done in Australia. At  – , Greenwood J ruled that, even though the images were made available online to the public in Australia, the artists (uploaders) did not infringe because they did no act in Australia.
…. the act of the artist in uploading the image to the website and thus making the work available online to the public must be an act “done” (that is, an exercise of the exclusive right), “in Australia” and therefore, none of the artists in the examples in suit can be regarded as a “primary infringer” in the territorial sense contemplated by s 36(1) because the relevant act was not done “in Australia”.
His Honour found, however, that Redbubble would be liable for communicating the images to the public in Australia as it was the person who was responsible for determining the content of the communication for the purposes of s 22(6) when a potential customer in Australia viewed the image on the website. Redbubble’s business model was crucial here. At , his Honour explained:
The business model as described by Mr Hosking and its working operation as described by Mr Kovalev makes it plain that Redbubble is not in the nature of an ISP linking a user to remote websites. It is not an intermediary providing a transmission service between particular participants. It owns, operates, manages and controls the website and conducts a transactional enterprise in which it facilitates the uploading of images, the interrogation of those images in Australia, relevantly, by users, with a view to enabling sales to consumers of articles bearing the relevant images. It has a detailed business model in which it derives revenue from each transaction and controls every step of the transactional engagement between an artist and a buyer. It confirms the sale. It facilitates payment. It organises a fulfiller to apply the work to the relevant goods. It facilitates delivery of the goods to the buyer. It generates email responses which not only confirm the order but track every step of the transaction. It affixes its own trade marks to the goods. It says that it does not directly do that but there is no doubt that an essential part of its business model is ensuring that fulfillers affix the Redbubble trade marks to the goods. The labels bearing the trade marks are on the goods as delivered to each buyer. Although I will address the trade mark case shortly, the reference to Redbubble’s trade marks, in this context, is simply to note another feature of the extent of Redbubble’s engagement in and association with each transaction. It is Redbubble’s business. But for the Redbubble website, the transactions would not occur. The artworks would not be available online to consumers in Australia to consider and appraise with a view to purchasing a product bearing the artwork. The entire focus of the business model is to enable works to be made available online so that consumers can pick and choose amongst the works so as to have them applied to goods. It would be difficult to imagine a more directly engaged participant than one deploying the business model adopted by Redbubble. Although Redbubble describes itself as the “agent” of the artist (presumably as principal), the relationship is not, in truth, a relationship of agent and principal. Redbubble acts as an “independent contractor” to “facilitate the transaction” as the Redbubble User Agreement and Appendix A to the Services Agreement makes plain:  and  of these reasons. The artist, in truth, is not the “seller” in the classic sense in which that term might be understood because Redbubble is the supplier as the facilitator of all of the essential elements of the transaction with the consumer in an analogous way to that discussed in: International Harvester Company of Australia Pty Ltd v Carrigan’s Hazeldene Pastoral Company  HCA 16; (1958) 100 CLR 644 at 653; Heidelberg Graphics Equipment Ltd v Andrew Knox & Associates Pty Ltd (1994) ATPR 41326 at 42, 31011, notwithstanding that the nature of the technology is different to the forms of distribution arrangement in those cases.
His Honour would, if necessary, have also found Redbubble liable for authorising the conduct if it had been infringing.
Secondly, Greenwood J found Redbubble liable for infringement of the Hells Angels’ registered trade marks on works such as t-shirt designs featuring the death’s head logo.
The crux of this finding came back to Redbubble’s business model. Greenwood J accepted that the artist who uploaded the image was using the trade mark as a trade mark. Unlike the copyright test, there was no requirement that the artist be in Australia. However, so was Redbubble.
At  – , his Honour explained:
As to Redbubble, that company is “in the business” of facilitating the supply of products bearing the uploaded image of Ms Troen (in this example) or, put another way, Redbubble is in the business of facilitating the supply of clothing bearing, put simply, the registered trade marks of HAMC US (in this example). Redbubble is not the “seller” of artwork. However, it is the supplier, in the sense that it is responsible for all of the transactional supplyside elements of a transaction for the supply of goods bearing the applied works. (emphasis supplied)
Redbubble has created a business model designed to enable users, in Australia (and, for that matter users in all jurisdictions in which the website is accessible), to find images through the website comprised of, in this example, Ms Troen’s image made up of the identified trade marks of HAMC US. Redbubble enables images containing the relevant trade marks to be presented to buyers of particular goods (nominated by the artists from the website categories of those goods to which the work can be applied) expressly for the purpose of facilitating the supply of goods (clothing, in this example) to which the marks are applied. It does so by and through the functions and protocols of the website engaged by Mr Hansen (and other potential viewers of the image), in Australia.
His Honour elaborated on why Redbubble’s conduct attracted liability at  – . While this and two other examples infringed, his Honour found that, on the particular facts, Example 2 was not infringing use.
Greenwood J’s reasons also include an extended consideration of whether Hells Angels Australia was an authorised user; ultimately concluding it was.
Greenwood J, however, rejected Hells Angels’ claims that use of “Hells Angels” as search terms, or key words, within the Redbubble site was infringing. At  explaining:
542. …. However, I am not satisfied that this use, in itself, is use of the word marks as a trade mark, at this point in the functionality of the website. I take that view because I am not satisfied that using the term as a search term to find a relevant image is use of the term as a “badge of origin” of Redbubble. It is, undoubtedly, a use which is designed, quite deliberately, to lead a consumer by the “search nose” to images, marks, devices, livery and badging somehow or other connected with the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club.
544. … use of the word marks … as a search term is a search step along the way to use of the image and thus the registered trade marks, as trade marks but use of the word marks at the point of searching is not, in itself, in my view, use as a trade mark. (original emphasis)
It appears that, at the stage of entering the search term, it is not being used to identify things offered under the aegis of the Hells Angels, but just to locate things about the Hells Angels in some way.
This is the second ruling at first instance where Redbubble has been found to infringe.
While Redbubble’s business model does leave it exposed along the lines indicated above. It is worth noting that Greenwood J awarded only nominal damages of $5,000 in respect of two of the three infringements. His Honour did not allow even nominal damages in respect of the third infringement, Example 4, as it was online for a short period, viewed only 11 times and no sales resulted.
Greenwood J expressly rejected any claim for exemplary damages. His Honour does not go into reasons. Perhaps, Redbubble’s business model did protect it. The evidence was clear, for example, that Redbubble had a policy relating to infringement claims and implemented it promptly.
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 :
…. 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  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 ) 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 , 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  “[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 , their Honours explained:
… 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  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.
Burley J has handed down our first case dealing with the “spare parts” defence in the Designs Act 2003.
At 709 paragraphs, any considered analysis will have to wait for another day (or days). In the meantime, here are his Honour’s conclusions:
707. In these reasons, I conclude that GMGTO has failed to establish the bulk of its claim for design infringement. Despite extensive forensic examination of the business of SSS, it has not established infringement in respect of the importation, keeping for sale or offering for sale of the impugned SSS products in respect of any of the SSS respondent companies. In its claim for infringement by selling, GMGTO has established infringement in respect of 4 representative transactions made by SSS Sydney, 2 representative transactions entered into by SSS Melbourne (but only in part in relation to Transaction 17) and 2 representative transactions entered into by SSS Queensland. The parties must now, on the basis of these reasons, attempt to agree on a formula by which the balance of the transactions the subject of GMGTO’s claim might be resolved. They should also confer and attempt to agree to directions to bring these proceedings to a close.
708. I have concluded that SSS has substantially failed to establish its case on the cross-claim. It has established that there were unjustified threats insofar as they relate to designs that were never certified, which involves the threats made to Panel House, Carparts and Torq. SSS has also established an unjustified threat in relation to copyright infringement in the case of Holmart. I will hear submissions from the parties as to the appropriate relief to grant, if any.
Will your assignments and licences of intellectual property, such as in a typical franchise agreement, expose your client to liability for cartel conduct or will you be ready to apply for an authorisation?
Section 51(3) exempts from most of the prohibitions in Pt IV of the Competition and Consumer Act terms and conditions in assignments and licences of intellectual property which most of us take for granted.
The rationale for repeal is that most transactions involving IP do not have anti-competitive effects or purposes and, if they do, they should not be exempt from the competition laws.
Rodney De Boos, a consultant at DCC with many years’ experience in licensing and commercialisation of IP, however, points out that this explanation was developed before the provisions banning cartel conduct were introduced into the Act. And, he contends, typical arrangements in IP agreements which allocate, for example, territories or customers will constitute cartel conduct and so need authorisation if the parties are not to be in breach of the cartel provisions.
As Rodney explains, a cartel provision are certain types of specified provisions between competitors.
Now, it may well be that an assignor and assignee, or a licensor and licensee, will not be competitors. There are many types of arrangements, however, where the Competition and Consumer Act will deem them to be competitors. An obvious example is the case of a franchisor who has retail outlets (either itself or through a related body corporate) as well as retail franchisees. Other arrangements involving IP could also be similarly problematical.
You can read Rodney’s concerns in more detail here.
The bill repealing s 51(3) has already passed the House of Representatives and is due to be debated by the Senate in the sittings coming up.
Professor Mark Davison and colleagues have a paper forthcoming in the AIPJ exploring the validity of the claims to protection [SSRN paper here]
We have been here before – when the EU-Australia Wine Agreement knocked out use of names like ‘champagne’ in return for greater access to the EU for Australian sparkling and other wines.
When the second version of that agreement replaced the 1994 version, the National Interest Assessment pointed out:
8. In 2006-07, Australia exported 421 million litres of wine to the EC with a value of $1.3 billion, and imported 10.2 million litres with a value of $168 million. Key regulatory and intellectual property issues related to trade in wine between Australia and the EC are currently regulated by the 1994 Agreement.
9. The Agreement offers a number of advantages to Australian wine-growers, which will help consolidate their access to the EC market at a time when the domestic industry still faces concerns about an over-supply. The new Agreement also resolves several outstanding issues not covered by the 1994 Agreement, and thus will help maintain a mutually beneficial trade relationship with the EC.
10. In particular, the Agreement obliges the EC to permit the import and marketing of Australian wines produced using 16 additional wine-making techniques. It also sets out a simpler process for recognition of further techniques, with an option for disputes to be resolved by a binding arbitration. Under the 1994 Agreement, by contrast, the process for authorisation of new wine-making practices has no binding dispute settlement procedure, and no new practices have been authorised under the 1994 Agreement. This has been particularly problematic for Australian wines produced with an important wine-making technique involving the use of cation exchange resins to stabilise the wine. This technique was provisionally authorised for 12 months under the 1994 Agreement, and this authorisation has since had to be periodically extended for 12-month periods.
11. The Agreement also obliges the EC not to impose any new wine labelling requirements that are more restrictive than those which apply when the proposed Agreement comes into force. This means that industry will not face the difficulties and additional costs that might arise if the EC was permitted to introduce more onerous wine labelling requirements.
12. Finally, the Agreement obliges the EC to recognise and protect new Australian wine Geographical Indications. A Geographical Indication is a label or sign used on goods that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that place of origin.
How it will play out this time, who knows? As usual, the Australian government is keeping its position largely secret from us. The EU, however, is quite open about what it is seeking (Compare DFAT here and here and here to EU proposed text here see esp. article X.22 and from X.31 and generally).
While some of us have been sweltering on the beach or disporting in the northern snows, Beach J has granted Branhaven’s application to amend its patent application for compositions and methods of inferring bovine traits following Meat & Livestock Australia’s opposition.
You will recall that Beach J had earlier rejected MLA’s attack based on manner of manufacture, novelty and inventive step. However, his Honour upheld the challenges based on lack of clarity and, to an extent, utility.
Branhaven applied to amend under s 105(1A) of the Patents Act 1990.
MLA opposed; in broad terms arguing that Branhaven was too late, there was no power to amend at this stage; the amendments were not permissible in any event and, as a matter of discretion, should not be allowed even if the Court did have power.
Prior to the Raising the Bar Amendments, the Court had power under s 60(4) to hear an appeal from the Commissioner’s decision in an opposition. The Court was restricted, however, to dealing with the application in the form the subject of the opposition before the Commissioner. If the opposition was successful but on grounds that could be cured, any application to amend had to be remitted to the Commissioner. Two of the amendments introduced by Raising the Bar were s 105(1A) and s 112A. Section 105(1A) provides:
If an appeal is made to the Federal Court against a decision or direction of the Commissioner in relation to a patent application, the Federal Court may, on the application of the applicant for the patent, by order direct the amendment of the patent request or the complete specification in the manner specified in the order.
MLA argued that, after such a hotly contested ‘appeal’ and detailed reasons, Beach J was in effect functus officio. Amongst other things, MLA’s application was not made during the appeal and the Court therefore had no power to deal with the amendment application.
Beach J has rejected all these attacks. In the course of doing so, his Honour recognised it would not be appropriate to remit the matter to the Commissioner (even if there were power). His Honour also found that s 105(1A), like s 105(1) but unlike the Commissioner’s powers under s 60, was discretionary. His Honour’s reasons also explored the types of considerations that might affect the exercise of that discretion in the context of an application instead of a granted patent.
At this stage, it is not known if MLA will seek to appeal.
Robertson J has allowed Rokt’s appeal and held that its ‘computer implemented method for linking a computer to an advertising message by way of an intermediate engagement offer ….” was a manner of manufacture and so patentable subject matter.
The Commissioner had found (and here) that Rokt’s patent was not a manner of manufacture as required by s 18(1)(a) and so refused grant.
On the appeal, Robertson J found Rokt’s claims were patentable subject matter in application fo the principles from Research Affiliats and RPL Central on the facts.
Crucial to his Honour’s decision was evidence that computer systems at the priority date in December 2012 did not work in the way claimed, which was not just a routine use of the technology.
In response to the Commissioner’s argument that the method was just a business method, Robertson J said at :
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 -, -, - and  above.
On the evidence, Robertson J found that known, exiting components were integrated into a new system in an innovative and previously unknown way. At , his Honour explained:
In this case, the evidence showed that the use of computers was integral to the invention, not just incidental. At  – , Robertson J said:
The use of computers was integral, rather than incidental, to the invention in the sense that there is an invention in the way in which the computer carries out the business scheme: see RPL Central at . It was not feasible to store and manage large amounts of tracking data collected from real-time interactions with digital devices and manipulate large quantities of data for context-sensitive decision-making without the use of computers. The data bank that was the source of engagement objects and historical/tracking data was a critical component of the invention. I accept the applicant’s submission that the computer was not merely acting as an “intermediary” but that the substance of the invention involved the new functioning given to the computer. I accept Professor Verspoor’s evidence summarised at - above. Storage and manipulation of data at the magnitude and speed that was required to implement the method could only be done on a computer or computers. The data analysis claimed in the patent could not be performed without a computer or computers, particularly having regard to the gathering, manipulation and subsequent use of the data by the engagement engine. The user interactions took place on the user’s computer and it was integral to the invention that data be collected, and engagement offers presented, through that computer. The transmission and receipt of data over the internet to and from the advertising system could also only be done using computers.
net cost to Australian IP professionals is $2.5 million (unchanged)
net cost to the Australian Government is $2.8 million (unchanged).
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the report is an analysis of all infringement court cases involving patents, trade marks or registered designs since 2008:
Rate of infringement cases by registered IPR
There have been far less design infringement cases but, having regard to the number of registered designs, litigation is in approximately the same proportion as trade mark infringement cases, but approximately only one third the rate of patent litigation.
Another surprising aspect: the New Zealand Intellectual Property Association also made submissions – which appear to have been rather influential – which strongly opposed Australia joining the Hague system.
Finally, the report is at pains to say that the costs benefit analysis of joining Hague is only one factor being considered. Anyone want to put money on Australia joining (before we sign up to anothere one-way trade agreement with, this time, the EU)?
The report gets a bit over-excited by the high proportion of certified designs which get litigated – well, duh! ?