Australia

CampaignTrack, Biggin & Scott and (not) authorisation

The High Court has unanimously allowed Real Estate Tool Box (RETB) and other parties’ appeals against findings that they had authorised infringements of copyright in Campaigntrack’s “DreamDesk” software.

The High Court made a point of emphasising that whether a person can be found liable for authorising copyright infringement depends on “the proper inference to be drawn from all of the facts of the case.”

I am afraid that, as their Honours said, “It is therefore necessary to set out those facts in some detail.”

Some facts

Real estate agents use web to print software to quickly and efficiently generate promotional materials advertising the properties on their websites, in brochures and other advertisements.

Biggin & Scott is one such real estate agent.

Back in the mists of time, Biggn & Scott licensed software from Campaigntrack for this purpose. However, Biggn & Scott became disenchanted with Campaigntrack for some reason and in 2015 had switched over to software licensed from DreamDesk Pty Ltd (DDPL) imaginatively named “DreamDesk”.

DDPL’s DreamDesk software had been written for it by an one of its “officers”, Mr Semmens.

Before he wrote the DreamDesk software, Mr Semmens had written the Process 55 software that another competitor, Digital Group,[1] was licensing to real estate agents.

Mr Semmens’ fellow directors in Digital Group formed the view that he had stolen Digital Group’s intellectual property in Process 55 in writing DreamDesk. They confronted him about this and on 26 May 2016 he signed documents admitting the infringements.

Shortly after these documents were signed, Digital Group informed Mr Meissner, the princiapl of DDPL who, the trial judge found, was “shocked” by this revelation. Mr Meissner accepted DDPL could not continue with DreamDesk and set about trying to buy the rights to Process 55 or sell DreamDesk.

Meanwhile, Campaigntrack was unhappy about the loss of customers and set about a campaign to buy out its competitors and so corner the market.

In July 2016, CampaignTrack agreed to buy DreamDesk from DDPL, granting DDPL a licence to keep using DreamDesk until 3 October 2016. Shortly after, CampaignTrack also acquired the rights to Process 55.

Not wanting to fall back into the clutches of CampaignTrack, Mr Stoner from Biggn & Scott met with Mr Semmens on 3 August 2016. At Mr Semmens’s suggestion, Mr Stoner commissioned Mr Semmens to start work on the new software which became known as Toolbox. The letter of instruction stated in part:[2]

You are instructed to build a web to print delivery system that does not breach any other companies IP or ownership, in particular Dream Desk or Campaign Track. …. In simple terms we do not want any thing used that can be claimed as owned by the 2 companies above.

Mr Semmens provided assurances that he could do the job in time and would do so without infringing anyone’s copyright.

To undertake the project, Biggn & Scott and Mr Semmens incorporated RETB. Mr Stoner was the sole director and Mr Semmens was doing the design and coding, with some assistance from some of DDPL’s employees and in a workspace borrowed from DDPL.

On 29 September 2016, CampaignTrack’s solicitor, Ms McLean, emailed Mr Meissner and DDPL warning it had discovered improper access and duplication of code which CampaignTrack now owned and expressing concerns about RETB. The email stated CampaignTrack was prepared to grant a one week extension of DDPL’s licence to use DreamDesk provided it was used “in the ordinary course of business” only and demanding undertakings from all involved that there would be no use of the improperly obtained code.

By 6 October 2016, all the Biggn & Scott and DDPL parties had signed and provided the undertakings to Ms McLean – except Mr Semmens.

On 7 October 2016, Ms McLean advised Biggn & Scott and DDPL that the DreamDesk licence would not be extended beyond 10 October 2016 as Mr Semmens had failed to provide the undertakings.

On 10 October 2016, ToolBox became operational and Biggn & Scott switched its users of DreamDesk over to Toolbox.

In the pre-litigation correspondence that followed, the parties agreed to allow CampaignTrack’s expert, a Mr Geri from Ferrier Hodson, to inspect the Toolbox system and prepare a preliminary report.

On 19 January 2017, Mr Geri delivered his preliminary report. His conclusion was that it was “highly probable” there had been an infringement of CampaignTrack’s copyright in DreamDesk in the development of Toolbox. However, to confirm that opinion, he needed to undertake a forensic examination of the servers hosting Toolbox.

Through Ms McLean, CampaignTrack demanded that Biggn & Scott shut down Toolbox and provide Mr Geri with the requested access. Biggn & Scott refused, instead demanding proof of CampaignTrack’s ownership. The litigation followed.

It was not until 17 June 2018 that Biggn & Scott ultimately stopped use of Toolbox, having introduced a new system in April 2018.

At trial

The trial judge found that Mr Semmens had infringed CampaignTrack’s copyright in DreamDesk by reproducing a substantial part in Toolbox. Correspondingly, the users of Toolbox also infringed CampaignTrack’s copyright when they downloaded the software and ran it to generate their advertising collateral. Mr Semmens was also liable for authorising those infringements.

However, the trial judge rejected CampaignTrack’s cases against Biggn & Scott, Mr Stoner, Ms Bartels, DDPL and Mr Meissner alleging they had authorised Mr Semmens’ and the users’ infringements. As a result, his Honour found that CampaignTrack had not established that either the Biggn & Scott or DDPL parties had authorised either Mr Semmens’ or the users’ copyright infringements.

The Full Court

The Full Court (Greenwood and McElwaine JJ, Cheeseman J dissenting) allowed CampaignTrack’s appeal and found the Biggn & Scott and DDPL parties all liable for authorising infringement.

In the Full Court, the majority accepted that, before 29 September 2016, the Biggn & Scott and DDPL parties did not know about Mr Semmens’ infringing conduct and, until that date, were not obliged to take reasonble steps to avoid the infringements by Mr Semmens.

However, Ms McLean’s letter on 29 September 2016 put the Biggn & Scott and DDPL parties on notice of CampaignTrack’s claims. Accordingly, McElwaine and Greenwood JJ found that the Biggn & Scott and DDPL parties knew or had reason to suspect that Mr Semmens had infringed copyright and failed to sufficient steps to prevent infringements after that date.

The law

Section 36 of the Copyright Act 1968 provides:

(1) Subject to this Act, the copyright in a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work is infringed by a person who, not being the owner of the copyright, and without the licence of the owner of the copyright, does in Australia, or authorizes the doing in Australia of, any act comprised in the copyright.

So, there is direct infringement by doing one or more of the acts comprised in the copyright (such as reproducing, or communicating to the public, the whole or a substantial part of the work). There is also infringement by someone who “authorises” someone else to do the infringing act(s). In deciding whether there has been authorisation s 36(1A) further provides three considerations that a court must take into account:[3]

In determining, for the purposes of subsection (1), whether or not a person has authorised the doing in Australia of any act comprised in the copyright in a work, without the licence of the owner of the copyright, the matters that must be taken into account include the following:

(a) the extent (if any) of the person’s power to prevent the doing of the act concerned;

(b) the nature of any relationship existing between the person and the person who did the act concerned;

(c) whether the person took any reasonable steps to prevent or avoid the doing of the act, including whether the person complied with any relevant industry codes of practice.

The High Court

At [63] – [65], the High Court referred to the examination of the concept of ‘authorisation’ by Gummow and Hayne JJ in the Roadshow case and confirmed that ‘authorisation’ for the purposes of copyright law had long extended beyond traditional concepts of agency and could be found where there was ‘indifference’.

The High Court also endorsed Gummow and Hayne JJ’s warning that ‘authorisation’ for copyright infringement purposes “is not to be identified by deconstructing the dictionary definitions of notions such as ‘sanction’, ‘approve’ and ‘countenance’.”

Having reviewed four prior High Court judgments, at [77], their Honours explained:

The foregoing survey of authorities demonstrates that what constitutes indifference amounting to authorisation depends upon a close analysis of the facts of each case. Mere neutrality or inattention will not suffice. The quality of the indifference, and the nature of the relationship between the infringer and the alleged authoriser, must be such as to justify a conclusion that there was sufficient involvement in the infringement as to amount to authorisation of the acts constituting the breach of copyright for the purposes of s 36(1) of the Copyright Act. The central factors to consider will be those matters in s 36(1A):[39] the person’s power to prevent the act of infringement; the relationship between that person and the infringer; and whether the person took any reasonable steps to prevent or avoid the doing of the act, including compliance with any relevant industry codes of practice. That necessarily requires consideration of whether a person knows or has reason to anticipate or suspect an infringing act is occurring or is likely to occur.[40] (citations omitted)

and at [88] their Honours posed the issue as what the particular person in the particular circumstances at the particular time (or times) ought to have done:

Proof of an allegation of authorisation by indifference requires findings, supported by evidence, that the person was in a position and had knowledge of facts, matters and circumstances sufficient to give rise to a duty to take reasonable steps to avoid or prevent the doing of an act by another person, or else be liable for the act of that person. That is not a general inquiry. It is directed to a particular state of affairs at a particular time or times. That inquiry requires an assessment of the reasonableness, again supported by evidence, of what the person did, and what the person, in that position with that knowledge, at that particular time or times, ought to have done.

The High Court than concluded that, in the circumstances of this case, the Biggin & Scott parties could not be said to have omitted to take reasonable steps they ought to have taken to prevent infringement. At [45], the High Court identified the primary judge’s unchallenged findings in relation to the Biggn & Scott parties:

(a) Mr Stoner and Ms Bartels trusted Mr Semmens not to infringe the intellectual property rights of DDPL or Campaigntrack P/L in developing Toolbox and they did not want Mr Semmens to misuse intellectual property belonging to others in developing it.

(b) Mr Stoner and Ms Bartels considered Mr Semmens to be a person who had the relevant expertise in building a software system and he could build the system in sufficient time given his expertise. They left the development of Toolbox to Mr Semmens and that was not unusual or surprising.

(c) Biggin & Scott was in a contractual relationship with, and could instruct, Mr Semmens. Its instruction to him was relevantly to build Toolbox without infringing any person’s intellectual property rights.

(d) Given the instructions to Mr Semmens, and that Mr Stoner and Ms Bartels trusted him, there was no independent audit of Toolbox or verification that Mr Semmens had not infringed another person’s intellectual property rights. In all likelihood, neither Mr Stoner nor Ms Bartels turned their mind to consider this.

(e) Mr Stoner did not instruct Mr Semmens to “tamper” with the commit log file.

(f) Mr Stoner, Ms Bartels and Mr Semmens were friends. The payment of Mr Semmens’ legal bills in this matter did not indicate any authorisation of the infringement of copyright.

(g) It had not been established that any of the Biggin & Scott parties knew, or should reasonably have known, that Campaigntrack P/L’s intellectual property had been used to develop Toolbox.

Accordingly, up to the sending of Ms McLean’s letter of 29 September, both the trial judge and all members of the Full Court accepted the Biggin & Scott parties did not know or have reason to suspect Semmens had infringed copyright in making ToolBox. Ms McLean’s letter of 29 September, or subsequent developments, did not change the result.

89 It was not established that the Biggin & Scott parties knew of or suspected Mr Semmens’ infringing acts at any relevant time. Although, following the letter of 29 September 2016, the Biggin & Scott parties had some reason to suspect that the infringing acts might be occurring, and although they had the necessary means to prevent these infringing acts, this Court cannot conclude that they defaulted in some duty of control by failing to take any further action. Given the manner in which the case was conducted at first instance, the Court cannot conclude that the Biggin & Scott parties omitted to take reasonable steps after 29 September 2016, being steps that they ought to have taken to prevent or avoid the infringing acts.

A similar conclusion was reached in relation to Mr Meissner and DDPL even though they made personnel available to Mr Semmens to write the infringing code and provided infrastracture necessary for him to undertake the work.

Some comments

From the outside, it is difficult to assess some aspects of the High Court’s reasoning.

For example, in both [77] and [88], their Honours referred to liability arising where the alleged authoriser knew or had reason to suspect there was an infringer. And, in [89], their Honours accepted that the Biggin & Scott parties had some reason to suspect infringements on receipt of Ms McLean’s 29 September letter. But, the High Court rejected reliance on the letter in this case.

In practice, such letters are typically relied on to fix the alleged infringer with knowledge. In this case, however, the letter immediately led to all the parties, except Mr Semmens, unreservedly giving the undertakings demanded by CampaignTrack. In addition, Mr Stoner and Ms Bartel were friends with Mr Semmens, he had the expertise which they did not, they had repeatedly sought assurances from him that he had complied with his instructions and they were entitled to trust him to carry out their genuine concern not to infringe.

Even so, in many situations, you might very well expect the alleged infringer to be put on inquiry when they learned, as the Biggin & Scott parties did within a few days, that Mr Semmens refused to give the underakings – according to his evidence, because he was concerned it would restrict him from working in his industry.

Likewise, one would often expect a preliminary report from a forensic IT expert would provide a sufficient basis to infer authorisation. The High Court held that it did not in this case:

84 As to the Geri investigation, it is notable that the Biggin & Scott parties permitted it to take place and co-operated with Mr Geri. That is entirely consistent with the Biggin & Scott parties continuing to trust Mr Semmens. Moreover, Cheeseman J was correct to characterise the Geri report as “inconclusive”.[44] Indeed, the “preliminary” conclusion that there was a “high probability” that Campaigntrack P/L’s intellectual property had been used to develop Toolbox was confined to matters already known to the Biggin & Scott parties: namely, that both DreamDesk and Toolbox had been developed by the same person, who had access to both systems during the production of Toolbox. Because Mr Geri could also not confirm his conclusion, there is no sensible basis for concluding that the ongoing faith in Mr Semmens’ compliance with his express instructions had now become unreasonable. …

The forensic IT expert’s opinion, however, was qualified. It acknowledged that many similarities were the sorts of things one would expect anyone in the industry to require and requested further access. Indeed, in the Full Court at [157], Cheeseman J had described the conclusion of a high probability of infringement as “no more than a speculative assumption” – in effect based on the fact that the same person wrote both programs.

As to the Biggin & Scott parties’ refusal to allow the further inspection of Biggin & Scott’s servers, the High Court continued at [84]:

…. it will be recalled that the relationship between the Biggin & Scott parties and Campaigntrack P/L had soured considerably since the refusal to extend the licence for DreamDesk. The Campaigntrack system was a competitor product with Toolbox. No doubt the Biggin & Scott parties saw the attack on them in that light. As such, in defence of Toolbox, they were entitled to insist upon proper proof of Campaigntrack P/L’s claims and to reject what appeared to them to be a fishing exercise. Such conduct is unremarkable in the tousled field of commercial disputation.

This might suggest that an alleged infringer may be entitled to take a robust position in the face of allegations, especially from a competitor with whom there is bad blood. However, in addition to the matters already canvassed, it is important to remember that the High Court’s conclusions are also predicated on references to how the case was run at first instance. On the High Court’s analysis, this meant the conclusions reached by the majority in the Full Court were not open on the evidence.

Finally, it is interesting to note that, in four of the five cases the High Court has considered liability for copyright infringement by authorisation, the High Court has ruled there was no authorisation.[4]

Real Estate Tool Box Pty Ltd v Campaigntrack Pty Ltd [2023] HCA 38 Gageler CJ, Gordon, Edelman, Steward and Jagot JJ)


  1. Mr Semmens was, with his brother-in-law Mr Farrugia, a founder Digital Group. By the time of the events relevant to this proceeding, Mr Semmens, Mr Farrugia and a third person, Mr Stewart, were the three directors of Digital Group.  ?
  2. The letter is set out in full in paragraph 17 of the judgment.  ?
  3. As the High Court noted in footnote 39, these matters have been derived from Gibbs J’s judgment in University of New South Wales v Moorhouse (1975) 133 CLR 1.  ?
  4. In this case, the High Court considered Adelaide Corporation v Australasian Performing Right Association Ltd (1928) 40 CLR 481; University of New South Wales v Moorhouse (1975) 133 CLR 1 and Roadshow Films Pty Ltd v iiNet Ltd (No 2) (2012) 248 CLR 42. The fifth case, Australian Tape Manufacturers Association Ltd v The Commonwealth [1993] HCA 10; 176 CLR 480, was directly concerned with the constitutional validity of the blank tapes levy which turned on whether or not the suppliers of blank cassette tapes on whom the levy was imposed ‘authorised’ the unlicensed copying of recorded music on to those tapes by purchasers.  ?

CampaignTrack, Biggin & Scott and (not) authorisation Read More »

Lavazza qualità Oro – Oro tarnished or sanity restored

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

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

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

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

Infringement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cross-claims

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

Not capable of distinguishing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(See also [463].)

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

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

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

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

Not the owner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obiter dicta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

To be estopped or not …

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

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

Overview

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

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

Some background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legal tests

The parties were not really in dispute about the principles.

Anshun estoppel

At [26], O’Bryan J explained:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abuse of process

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

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

Why O’Bryan J dismissed Orikan’s application

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An observation

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

To be estopped or not … Read More »

A cautionary trade mark tale

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

Overview

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

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

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

Secion 59

Section 59 provides:

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

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

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

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

which mirrors s 27.

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

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

What happened

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What O’Callaghan J found

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

O’Callaghan J held it did not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

A cautionary trade mark tale Read More »

Motherland, Mothersky and Mother

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

Some background

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

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

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

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

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

MOTHERLAND

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOTHERSKY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other circumstances

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

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

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

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

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


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

Motherland, Mothersky and Mother Read More »

ToolGen’s CRISPR/Cas9 patent application rejected

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

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

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

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

For the reasons that follow I have concluded:

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

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

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

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

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

More detailed consideration will have to wait for another day.

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

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

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

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

Some facts

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

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

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

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

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

[2]

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

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

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

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

The Self Care v Allergan “problem”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why The North Agency did not infringe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Designs law reform

IP Australia has published 3 consultation papers on proposed reforms to registered designs law:

  1. Public consultation of Protection for Virtual Designs
  2. Public consultation on Protection for Partial Designs; and
  3. Public consultation on Protection for Incremental Improvements of Designs

There are also 3 one page “fact” sheets to go with them:

(a) Virtual Designs;

(b) Partial Designs;

(c) Incremental Improvements,

but you probably want to read the consultation papers proper to understand them.

Incremental improvements

The idea here is that a designer may file a low-cost preliminary design and within 6 months file the “main design”. The priority date of the “main” design would be the preliminary design’s priority date. The “main” design may include “incremental” improvements over the preliminary design. This apparently means the “main” design must still be substantially similar in overall impression to the design disclosed in the preliminary design.

The term and rights to sue for infringement would run from the “main” design. Prior user rights, however, would end with the filing of the preliminary design.

In addition, after the “main design” has been registered, subsequent applications for “incremental” improvements may be linked to the registered main design. The “main” design and the preliminary design would not form part of the prior art base for the linked design. As with the preliminary design and the “main” design, it is proposed that a subsequent design must be substantially similar in overall impression to the “main” design. It is also proposed that “linking” could be requested during certification if the “main” design is cited against a later design application by the design owner.

According to the consultation paper, the term of the subsequent design would start from the filing date of the subsequent, linked design but end on the expiry of the maximum term (i.e. currently 10 years) of the “main” design.

Virtual designs

The consultation proposes to amend the definition of “product” from “a thing that is manufactured or handmade” to include virtual designs and to define a virtual design as “an intangible thing, the use of which results on the display of visual features through electronic means” and would make it clear it includes images only temporarily displayed on a screen.

It appears it is still contemplated that the virtual design would have to be registered for specific products – so the consultation paper gives the example that a graphical user interface (GUI) could be registered as a user for a coffee machine but not simply as just a “user interface”.

The consultation paper discusses a number of other issues including, in particular, how the copyright / design overlap provisions (Copyright Act 1968 ss 74 to 77A) and, especially, the concept of “industrially applied” would operate in this brave new world.

I guess one could ask, if X registers a design for a GUI, or icon, for a smartphone, does X just lose the ability to sue for copyright infringement in smartphones, or tablets and watches as well, or only after the expiry of the design for smartphones or not lose rights to enforce copyright at all?

Partial designs

This consultation looks at a range of amendments required to permit design registration for partial designs: that is, for parts only of a product. An obvious example is the handle of a cup rather than just the cup as a whole.

The consultation paper contemplates that products for this purpose may be physical products or virtual products or composites. One example given by the consultation is the protection of the pattern and ornamentation of a logo. However, the consultation paper contemplates that the logo would not provide protection for all products but would still need to be registered in respect of particular products such as travel bags, shoes, wallets etc. – that could mean a lot of registrations would be required!

The consultation paper discusses a range of other considerations and, in addition to welcoming general comments asks:

>1. Do you support IP Australia’s approach (outlined in this paper) to implementing partial designs protection in Australia? If not, why not? 

>2. Would you register your partial designs using the proposed system? If not, why not? 

>3. Are there any particular risks or unintended consequences that would arise from this proposal? 

>4. Would the copyright/design overlap provisions have any adverse effect on how design businesses commercialise their partial designs? 

Submissions

Submissions are due by 8 August 2023.

The consultation process landing page, with links to the documents etc. is here.

Designs law reform Read More »

Zarya of the Dawn – copyright and an AI

Those of you who heard Shira Perlmutter, the US Register of Copyright, on her Australian tour last year will recall the US Copyright Office had withdrawn and was reconsidering the copyright registration for Zarya of the Dawn.[1] On 21 February 2023, the US Copyright Office announced the outcome of that review. While the Copyright Office allowed registration of some aspects, it rejected the claim to copyright in the images created by Midjourney, an AI.

Image of a young feminine looking person with golden skin, dark brown eyes and dark brown hair in corn rows - against a teal background
Zarya of the Dawn – Cover Page

The work(s)

Zarya of the Dawn[2] is a comic consisting of images and text depicting Zarya’s adventure to different worlds to collect mental health tools to handle their emotions, thoughts as a non-binary person.

A page with 4 comic images; the first of which is a postcard of some otherworldly place. The young, feminine looking person reads the card addressed to 'My Dearest Zarya'. They wonder if they are Zarya and why they cannot remember their name
Page 2 of the Zarya of the Dawn comic book

The Copyright Office accepted that the applicant, Ms Kristina Kashtanova, was the author of both the text and the selection and arrangement of the text and images. However, the Copyright Office refused registration for the images themselves on the grounds that they were generated by Midjourney and did not have a human author.

How Midjourney generated the images

As described by the Copyright Office, Midjourney generates an image in response to instructions (called “prompts”) input by the user. The Copyright Office illustrated this process by the prompt:

/imagine cute baby dinosaur shakespeare writing play purple

which generated the images below:

4 images generated by Midjourney of purple coloured, baby dinosaurs each holding a pen and working over a manuscript. In 2 images, the dinosaur looks to the right bottom corner; in the other two, to the right bottom corner
Baby dinosaur writing a play

The user could click on the blue “recycle” image to generate four new images. The user could also refine the images regenerated by providing URLs of images to be used as models or by providing more detailed instructions.

This was not authorship for copyright purposes

For copyright to subsist in original works such as text (literary works) or images (artistic works), US law, like Australian law (see further below), requires the work to be original. That requirement in turn requires the work to be made by a human who is an author. And, according to the Copyright Office, an author is the person “who has actually formed the picture,” the one who acts as “the inventive or master mind.”

At least in theory, if someone gave a draftsperson sufficiently detailed instructions about what a drawing should depict, they rather than the draftsperson may be the author.[3]

The Copyright Office, however, found that the instructions Ms Kashtanova gave to Midjourney did not make her the author of the resulting images. This was because it was not possible to predict the outcome resulting from her prompts:

A person who provides text prompts to Midjourney does not “actually form” the generated images and is not the “master mind” behind them. Instead, as explained above,[4] Midjourney begins the image generation process with a field of visual “noise,” which is refined based on tokens created from user prompts that relate to Midjourney’s training database. The information in the prompt may “influence” generated image, but prompt text does not dictate a specific result. See Prompts, MIDJOURNEY, https://docs.midjourney.com/docs/prompts (explaining that short text prompts cause “each word [to have] a more powerful influence” and that images including in a prompt may “influence the style and content of the finished result”). Because of the significant distance between what a user may direct Midjourney to create and the visual material Midjourney actually produces, Midjourney users lack sufficient control over generated images to be treated as the “master mind” behind them.

The Copyright Office recognised that additional prompts could be applied to initial images to influence subsequent images, however, the process was not controlled by the user as it was “not possible to predict what Midjourney will create ahead of time.”

The Copyright Office contrasted the way Midjourney works with the way an artist might use Photoshop or other tools:

The fact that Midjourney’s specific output cannot be predicted by users makes Midjourney different for copyright purposes than other tools used by artists. See Kashtanova Letter at 11 (arguing that the process of using Midjourney is similar to using other “computer- based tools” such as Adobe Photoshop). Like the photographer in Burrow-Giles, when artists use editing or other assistive tools, they select what visual material to modify, choose which tools to use and what changes to make, and take specific steps to control the final image such that it amounts to the artist’s “own original mental conception, to which [they] gave visible form.”15 Burrow-Giles, 111 U.S. at 60 (explaining that the photographer’s creative choices made the photograph “the product of [his] intellectual invention”). Users of Midjourney do not have comparable control over the initial image generated, or any final image. (emphasis supplied) (footnotes omitted)

Ms Kashtanova also contended that her modifications in Photoshop to some images constituted authorial contribution to support her claim to copyright. From the description in the Copyright Office’s decision, some of the work seems more like touching up or editing rather than authorship. As the material before the Copyright Office did not include the “before” and “after” images, however, the Copyright Office was not include to accept those claims either.

An Australian perspective

Australian courts have also ruled that an author must be a human. Applying the IceTV case, the Full Federal Court has ruled that the processing of telephone subscriber name, address and phone number details into a directory by a computerised database did not qualify as an original copyright work as there was no human author. In the first Telstra v PDC case, Perram J explained at [118] – [119]:

The Act does not presently deal explicitly with the impact of software on authorship (although this is not so in the United Kingdom: s 9(3) Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (UK)). But a computer program is a tool and it is natural to think that the author of a work generated by a computer program will ordinarily be the person in control of that program. However, care must taken to ensure that the efforts of that person can be seen as being directed to the reduction of a work into a material form. Software comes in a variety of forms and the tasks performed by it range from the trivial to the substantial. So long as the person controlling the program can be seen as directing or fashioning the material form of the work there is no particular danger in viewing that person as the work’s author. But there will be cases where the person operating a program is not controlling the nature of the material form produced by it and in those cases that person will not contribute sufficient independent intellectual effort or sufficient effort of a literary nature to the creation of that form to constitute that person as its author: a plane with its autopilot engaged is flying itself. In such cases, the performance by a computer of functions ordinarily performed by human authors will mean that copyright does not subsist in the work thus created. Those observations are important to this case because they deny the possibility that Mr Vormwald or Mr Cooper were the authors of the directories. They did not guide the creation of the material form of the directories using the programs and their efforts were not, therefore, sufficient for the purposes of originality.

The consequence of those conclusions is that the directories were not copied from elsewhere but neither were they created by a human author or authors. Although humans were certainly involved in the Collection Phase that process antedated the reduction of the collected information into material form and was not relevant to the question of authorship (other than to show that the works were not copied). Whilst humans were ultimately in control of the software which did reduce the information to a material form, their control was over a process of automation and they did not shape or direct the material form themselves (that process being performed by the software). The directories did not, therefore, have an author and copyright cannot subsist in them. (emphasis supplied)

See also Yates J at 169.

This appears to be consistent with the approach taken by the US Copyright Office although both Perram J and Yates J recognised that whether some particular claimed work falls on the “copyright” or “not copyright” side of the line is a question of judgment and degree.

Zarya of the Dawn (Registration # VAu001480196)


  1. No, as I am sure you know, you do not have to register your claim to own copyright in Australia. Registration of copyright is just one of the way Americans are different to most of the rest of us. In Australia copyright comes into existence automatically by the act of creating the material (and not slavishly copying it from some pre-existing material). There is no need to register it. Who the owner of the copyright is will depend on a number of factors such as the type of material – a literary or artistic work or an audio-visual work such as a film or a sound recording or broadcast; whether or not the work was made in the course of employment and whether there has been a written assignment or other contractual arrangement. (That is the sort of thing that requires advice based on the specific individual circumstances.)  ?
  2. This is a link to the donationware download but the Copyright Office’s decision includes images of the cover and page 2.  ?
  3. While the creation of an artistic work raises rather more challenges, an obvious illustration of this theory is the case of someone who dictates a letter or a book to an amanuensis.  ?
  4. Earlier the Copyright Office had explained: ‘… Midjourney “does not understand grammar, sentence structure, or words like humans,” it instead converts words and phrases “into smaller pieces, called tokens, that can be compared to its training data and then used to generate an image.” … Generation involves Midjourney starting with “a field of visual noise, like television static, [used] as a starting point to generate the initial image grids” and then using an algorithm to refine that static into human-recognizable images.’  ?

Zarya of the Dawn – copyright and an AI Read More »

GIs, free trade, Australia and the EU

With the closing stages of the negotiations between Australia and the EU over the proposed free trade agreement almost upon us, the EU has proposed a list of 55 further wine geographical indications it wants to protect.[1] Amongst others, the list includes “prosecco” and “vittoria”. The Department of Agriculture is holding a Public Objections Process to assess the impact of accepting these names.

There are four grounds for potential objection (and only four):

  1. The EU GI name is used in Australia as the common name for the relevant good, including as a type or style of wine.
  2. The EU GI name is used in Australia as the name of a grape variety, plant variety or an animal breed.
  3. The EU GI name is identical to, or likely to cause confusion with, a trade mark that is registered in Australia or the subject of a pending application made in good faith in Australia. Confusion may be likely where a trade mark consists of, or contains, the EU GI name or something so nearly resembling it.
  4. The EU GI name is identical to, or likely to cause confusion with, an unregistered trade mark that has acquired rights through use in good faith in Australia. Confusion may be likely where a trade mark consists of, or contains, the EU GI name or something so nearly resembling it.

You can see what the problem is with a name like “prosecco” as there are lots of Australian producers of wines under that name, all the more so when the grape variety formerly known (or thought to be known) as prosecco was renamed in 2009 by an Italian government decree as “glera”.

SBS Italian published an article (in Italian) looking at the issue.[2]

I also wonder about “Vittoria”, especially if the EU is pressing for protection not just against use of the name itself but terms and expressions which “evoke” that. There are, afterall, lots of wines which are made in a place called “Victoria”.

Whether Australia agrees to these names or not, Australian producers using these names are effectively giving up the potential to sell in the EU (unless they go to the trouble and expense of different labelling).

The consultation process has been running since late March and closes at 12 NOON AEST Friday 21 APRIL 2023. If you want to lodge an objection (good luck!), you must make your submission via here. Be warned: this is a “hard” deadline; finalisation of the deal is that close.

If you are feeling a little bit like “deja vu”; you’re right, there was a whole round of consultations about a much more extensive range of names two years ago.


  1. The full list of the new wines is Appendix A to the Public Objections Process: EU Wine Geographical Indications also available here (pdf).  ?
  2. If like me your Italian is not up to that here’s a link to Google Translate’s interpretation. Lid dip (for the article in the original) Dr Paula Zito.  ?

GIs, free trade, Australia and the EU Read More »