A unanimous High Court has upheld Self Care’s appeal and ruled that PROTOX and “instant Botox® alternative” do not infringe Allergan’s BOTOX registered trade mark. Nor was “instant Botox® alternative” false, misleading or deceptive conduct contrary to the ACL.
The High Court’s ruling that the reputation of the registered trade mark has no part to play in infringement under section 120(1) has finally settled that issue. More interestingly, in explaining why PROTOX did not infringe BOTOX their Honours also may also have changed how infringement is assessed. Thirdly, the High Court’s explanation why “instant BOTOX® alternative” did not infringe confirms that the plain English 1995 Act fundamentally changed the nature of trade mark use.
Allergan owns various registered trade marks in Australia for BOTOX including in class 5 for “pharmaceutical preparations for the treatment of … wrinkles” and in class 3 for “anti?ageing creams” and “anti?wrinkle cream”.
Allergan’s BOTOX product is an injectable pharmaceutical product containing botulinum toxin, type A which is administered by healthcare professionals and which can last for several months. That is, a class 5 product type. It does not sell an anti-ageing or anti-wrinkle cream. Its class 3 registration, however, is a defensive registration under section 185. As the High Court pointed out at , it was the reputation Allergan had derived from its extensive use of BOTOX for the goods in class 5 that was the basis for the defensive registration in class 3.
Self Care markets anti-wrinkle creams under the trade mark FREEZEFRAME. Its FREEZEFRAME products come in at least 2 lines – PROTOX and INHIBOX. These creams could be self-administered and could reduce the appearance of ageing for up to a few hours. The image below shows the PROTOX packaging the subject of the litigation:
The INHIBOX labels are similar, but bearing INHIBOX AND the slogan “instant BOTOX® alternative”.
Some differences between trade mark infringement and passing off / ACL
To consider what the High Court did when finding PROTOX did not infringe BOTOX, I want to recall four or five main differences between actions for “traditional” trade mark infringement and passing off or misleading or deceptive conduct contrary to the ACL.
- For “traditional” trade mark infringement (that is, infringement under section 120(1)), the trade mark owner just has to prove that the trade mark was registered – there is no need to prove reputation; just the fact of registration;
- For “traditional” trade mark infringement at least, it was necessary to show that the accused conduct was conduct in relation to the goods or services for which the trade mark was registered whereas passing off and the ACL were not so limited;
- Trade mark infringement can occur where a reasonable member of the public is caused to wonder whether or not there is some connection between the accused conduct while passing off and the ACL require a likelihood of deception or being misled;
- At least for trade mark infringement, the accused use must be use as a trade mark; that is, as a “badge of origin” to identify trade source; and
- “Traditional” trade mark infringement required a comparison of the mark as registered to the particular sign alleged to infringe alone. The Court has ignored the use of other marks or indicia that may distinguish the relevant goods. In contrast, the comparison for false or misleading conduct or in passing off involves the accused use in context of all the circumstances.
This last point is well illustrated by the June Perfect case. There, Saville Perfumery had “June” registered in fancy script for toiletry articles including shampoo and lipsticks. June Perfect brought out its own range of lipsticks and shampoo under the name “June”. The packaging made it clear that the goods were the products of June Perfect.
The House of Lords held there was a clear case of trade mark infringement as the comparison was between the mark as registered and the sign used by June Perfect. On the question of passing off, however, the House of Lords accepted that June Perfect might be able to use its name in such a way that the trade source of the goods was clearly distinguished from Saville Perfumery. While there was an injunction to restrain June Perfect from infringing the trade mark, the passing off injunction restrained only the use of “June” without clearly distinguishing the trade source of the articles from Saville Perfumery.
There has been some relaxation over time to propositions 1 and 2.
First, section 120(2) extends the trade mark owner’s rights to cover not just the goods or services specified in the registration but also to things of the same description or closely related. Unlike the case with infringement under s 120(1), however, it is a defence to this extended form of infringement if the alleged infringer can show that the way they use their sign is not likely to deceive or cause confusion. Thus, the proviso to s 120(2) states:
However, the person is not taken to have infringed the trade mark if the person establishes that using the sign as the person did is not likely to deceive or cause confusion.
Thus, Burley J quoted with approval Yates J’s dictum:
So too it is recognised that, for the purposes of considering infringement under s 120(1), it is beside the point that the alleged infringer has added other material to the impugned trade mark, even if those steps were taken to avoid the likelihood of deception: Saville Perfumery Ltd v June Perfect Ltd (1941) 58 RPC 147 at 161 (Sir Greene MR) and at 174 (Viscount Maugham); Lever Brothers, Port Sunlight Limited v Sunniwite Products Ltd (1949) 66 RPC 84 at 89; Mark Foy’s Ltd v Davies Coop and Co Ltd (1956) 95 CLR 190 at 205; Polaroid Corporation v Sole N Pty Ltd  1 NSWLR 491 at 495; New South Wales Dairy Corporation v Murray Goulburn Co-Operative Company Limited (1989) 86 ALR 549 at 589; Polo Textile Industries Pty Ltd v Domestic Textile Corporation Pty Ltd (1993) 42 FCR 227 at 231–232. Considerations of this kind, if raised by an alleged infringer, are relevant when considering infringement under s 120(2) and may be relevant when considering infringement under s 120(3). However, the general position under s 120(1) is that infringement cannot be avoided by, for example, the use of additional matter if the mark itself is taken and used. Once again, if the test is not applied in this fashion a trade mark owner may be deprived of the monopoly conferred by registration. (emphasis supplied by Burley J)
As the High Court recognised in the Self Care case, the 1995 Act introduced a further broadening of what could be infringement in s 120(3). If a trade mark owner could show that its trade mark was well-known in Australia, it could claim infringement by use of a sign on wholly unrelated goods or services where the use would be likely to indicate a connection to the trade mark owner and the trade mark owner’s interests were likely to be prejudicially affected.
With that background, we can turn to the High Court’s reasons.
Self Care and some principles
The appeal is concerned only with infringement under s 120(1). The extended versions of infringement for similar or closely related products (s 120(2)) and “famous” or “well-known” trade marks (s 120(3)) were not in issue in this case.
The High Court at  pointed out that infringement under s 120(1) requires 2 distinct questions to be addressed:
- Did the alleged infringer use the sign “as a trade mark” – that is, as a “badge of origin” to indicate trade source?
- If so, was the sign deceptively similar to the registered trade mark?
These are, as the High Court emphasised, two different issues and the High Court approached them separately.
Use as a trade mark
The High Court confirmed that whether a sign is being used as a trade mark is to be determined objectively, without reference to the subjective intentions of the user. At , their Honours explained:
Whether a sign has been “use[d] as a trade mark” is assessed objectively without reference to the subjective trading intentions of the user. As the meaning of a sign, such as a word, varies with the context in which the sign is used, the objective purpose and nature of use are assessed by reference to context. That context includes the relevant trade, the way in which the words have been displayed, and how the words would present themselves to persons who read them and form a view about what they connote. A well known example where the use was not “as a trade mark” was in Irving’s Yeast-Vite Ltd v Horsenail, where the phrase “Yeast tablets a substitute for ‘Yeast-Vite’” was held to be merely descriptive and not a use of “Yeast-Vite” as a trade mark. Therefore, it did not contravene the YEAST-VITE mark. [citations omitted]
At , their Honours affirmed the longstanding principle that the existence of a descriptive element or purpose was not determinative if there were several purposes for the use of the sign. So long as one purpose is to distinguish the trade source, that will be sufficient.
Further, their Honours acknowledged that the presence of ‘a clear dominant “brand”’ can be relevant to assessing the balance of the label or packaging, but that did not mean that another sign on the labelling was not also functioning as a trade mark.
For the last proposition, the High Court cited Allsop J’s decision in the Budweiser case at . In that case, Anheuser-Busch, the owner of trade mark registrations for BUDWEISER successfully sued the Czech company for infringement by the latter’s use of BUDWEISER on labels such as:
At , Allsop J explained:
It is not to the point, with respect, to say that because another part of the label (the white section with ‘Bud?jovický Budvar’) is the obvious and important ‘brand’, that another part of the label cannot act to distinguish the goods. The ‘branding function’, if that expression is merely used as a synonym for the contents of ss 7 and 17 of the TM Act, can be carried out in different places on packaging, with different degrees of strength and subtlety. Of course, the existence on a label of a clear dominant ‘brand’ is of relevance to the assessment of what would be taken to be the effect of the balance of the label.
Turning to the PROTOX label, there cannot really be any dispute that PROTOX is used as a trade mark. The question then is whether it is deceptively similar to BOTOX.
The test for deceptive similarity
The High Court discussed the principles for determining whether a trade mark is deceptively similar to another at  – .
Noting that section 10 defines a deceptively similar mark to be one that so nearly resembles the registered trade mark that it is likely to deceive or cause confusion, at  the High Court stated the resemblance of the two marks must be the cause of the likely deception or confusion. And this involved an assessment of the two marks as a whole taking into account both their look and sound.
At , their Honours endorsed the much quoted explanation of the principles given by Dixon and McTiernan JJ in Australian Woollen Mills at 58 CLR 658:
“But, in the end, it becomes a question of fact for the court to decide whether in fact there is such a reasonable probability of deception or confusion that the use of the new mark and title should be restrained.
In deciding this question, the marks ought not, of course, to be compared side by side. An attempt should be made to estimate the effect or impression produced on the mind of potential customers by the mark or device for which the protection of an injunction is sought. The impression or recollection which is carried away and retained is necessarily the basis of any mistaken belief that the challenged mark or device is the same. The effect of spoken description must be considered. If a mark is in fact or from its nature likely to be the source of some name or verbal description by which buyers will express their desire to have the goods, then similarities both of sound and of meaning may play an important part.
At , their Honours emphasised the artificial nature of the inquiry. Stating at :
…. The notional buyer is assumed to have seen the registered mark used in relation to the full range of goods to which the registration extends. The correct approach is to compare the impression (allowing for imperfect recollection) that the notional buyer would have of the registered mark (as notionally used on all of the goods covered by the registration), with the impression that the notional buyer would have of the alleged infringer’s mark (as actually used). …. (original emphasis) (citations omitted)
Returning to this issue, at  their Honours emphasised that “the court is not looking to the totality of the conduct of the defendant in the same way as in a passing off suit”. The High Court continued:
…. 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, 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. (citations omitted)
Cases approved by the High Court in Self Care have acknowledged that questions of some subtlety can arise assessing the context of a use to determine if the sign is being used as a trade mark and assessing whether the infringing sign is deceptively similar.
All of the cases endorsed by the High Court in these propositions, however, make the same point: the comparison is between the registered trade mark and the mark being used by the alleged infringer without regard to the totality of the conduct by the infringer such as the presence of other trade marks or disclaimers.
One example of the role of impression in this mark to mark comparison, expressly cited by the High Court at , is the Chifley Tower case. There, MID Sydney’s registration of CHIFLEY TOWER for building management services was not infringed by Touraust’s proposed use of CHIFLEY for the names of the hotels it managed – such as “Chifley on the Wharf” or “The Chifley”.
One reason was that the services were not the same or of the same description.
Importantly for present purposes, the Full Court also found the marks were not deceptively similar because the public was familiar with many different uses of “Chifley” – apart from MID Sydney’s. This included the name of the Prime Minister, a restaurant and numerous geographical places. With that general background knowledge, therefore, the distinctive power of MID Sydney’s trade mark lay in the combined term, not in the common element CHIFLEY alone.
While this should not be surprising to trade mark lawyers, therefore, where it becomes interesting lies in what the High Court did when finding PROTOX did not infringe BOTOX.
Before turning to that issue, however, the High Court squarely addressed the role of reputation in infringement proceedings under section 120(1).
The role of reputation
Noting that the role of reputation has been contentious for a number of years, the High Court ruled at  that reputation is not relevant to infringement under section 120(1).
A number of considerations led the High Court to this conclusion. The first point at  was that it is registration which confers the rights in the trade mark on the owner and defines the scope of the registration. If considerations other than the registration could be taken into account “the level of protection afforded to that right would vary and be inherently uncertain.”
Another point was that the legislation specified various matters to be entered on the Register and available for public inspection. Reputation was not one of those matters and at  taking into account the reputation which had accrued to a trade mark would be contrary to the objective of the registered trade mark system:
which is to provide “a bright line that delineates the property rights” of a registered owner, for the benefit of the owner and the public, and runs the risk of collapsing the long standing distinction between infringement and passing off. (citations omitted)
Further, the Trade Marks Act expressly identified a role for reputation in four places:
- section 60 providing a ground of opposition on the basis of the reputation in the opponent’s trade mark;
- the provision for registration as a ‘defensive’ trade mark provided by section 185;
- the extended form of infringement provided by section 120(3); and
- the provision by section 24 for “genericide” when a trade mark has become known as the generic description of the goods or services.
Why PROTOX did not infringe BOTOX
At , the High Court summarised the trial judge’s finding that PROTOX was not deceptively similar to BOTOX. His Honour accepted that the two marks looked and sounded very similar but less so in idea or meaning. Further, the trial judge had held that the reputation of BOTOX was so strong that it was not likely to be recalled imperfectly. Even if there was imperfect recollection, no-one was likely to be deceived. His Honour was reinforced in this conclusion by the close proximity of PROTOX to FREEZEFRAME and the lack of evidence of actual confusion.
At , the High Court noted the Full Court held the trial judge had erred by failing to consider whether the use of PROTOX might cause people to wonder if there was some connection to the owner of the BOTOX mark. In finding deceptive similarity, however, the Full Court had made two errors.
First, it had relied on Allergan’s reputation in BOTOX for pharmaceutical preparations to conclude that the public might wonder whether PROTOX was some form of brand extension. Secondly, in doing so, their Honour’s had relied on the way Allergan actually used BOTOX rather than taking into account its notional use for anti-wrinkle creams in class 3.
Considering the effect of the use of PROTOX on potential customers of anti-wrinkle creams in class 3, the High Court accepted at  that “pro” and “bo” looked and sounded similar and the common element “otox” was both distinctive and identical. But consumers would not have confused PROTOX or BOTOX:
…. The words are sufficiently different that the notional buyer, allowing for an imperfect recollection of BOTOX, would not confuse the marks or the products they denote. The visual and aural similarities were just one part of the inquiry. (emphasis supplied)
Despite the surprise many trade mark practitioners have felt about the trial judge’s similar conclusion, up to this point the High Court’s reasoning can be seen as consistent with the extensive array of case law endorsed by the High Court which distinguishes trade mark infringement from passing off. After all, as the High Court emphasised from Australian Woollen Mills, the ultimate conclusion
on about deceptive similarity is a question of fact.
However, the last sentence from  quoted above picks up what their Honours had said in . In considering the visual and aural impact of PROTOX, it was permissible to have regard to both the packaging and the website from which PROTOX was promoted:
it was necessary to consider the marks visually and aurally and in the context of the relevant surrounding circumstances. Considering both the packaging and the website for Protox accords with assessing the “actual use” of the PROTOX mark as required by the test for deceptive similarity. ….
The High Court then explained at  that the packaging and the website together dispelled the risk of implied confusion:
…. The notional buyer sees the PROTOX mark used on a similar product – a serum which is advertised on its packaging and website to “prolong the look of Botox®”. While the reputation of BOTOX cannot be considered, the relevant context includes the circumstances of the actual use of PROTOX by Self Care. “[P]rolong the look of Botox®” may suggest that Protox is a complementary product. However, as was observed by the primary judge, “it will be the common experience of consumers that one trader’s product can be used to enhance another trader’s product without there being any suggestion of affiliation”. In this case, the back of the packaging stated in small font that “Botox is a registered trademark of Allergan Inc” and, although the assumption is that Botox is an anti?wrinkle cream, the website stated that “PROTOX has no association with any anti-wrinkle injection brand”. (emphasis supplied)
It is very difficult, with respect, to see how these conclusions sit with the High Court’s earlier endorsement of the authorities that additional matter such as the presence of disclaimers does not avoid infringement.
Perhaps, given the copious citation of case law endorsing the “traditional” position that it is a mark to mark comparison only, the role of the packaging and the website will ultimately be characterised as reinforcing the finding of deceptive similarity rather than determining it. Indeed, at , their Honours concluded there was no real, tangible danger of deception or confusion:
…. As explained, the marks are sufficiently distinctive such that there is no real danger that the notional buyer would confuse the marks or products. The similarities between the marks, considered in the circumstances, are not such that the notional buyer nevertheless is likely to wonder whether the products come from the same trade source. That conclusion is reinforced by the fact that the PROTOX mark was “almost always used in proximity to the FREEZEFRAME mark” and that there was “no evidence of actual confusion”.
instant Botox® alternative
As noted at the outset, the High Court also found that Self Care’s use of “instant Botox® alternative” did not infringe Allegan’s trade mark. Nor was it misleading or deceptive conduct in contravention of the ACL. Given the length of this post, however, consideration of those issues will have to await another day.
Self Care IP Holdings Pty Ltd v Allergan Australia Pty Ltd  HCA 8 (Kiefel CJ, Gageler, Gordon, Edelman and Gleeson JJ)
Edit: on 3 April to clarify that it is the ultimate conclusion about deceptive similarity that is the question of fact. Thanks, Craig Smith SC.
- That is, Allergan has used BOTOX so extensively, its use by someone else in relation to class 3 goods such as anti-ageing creams will falsely indicate a connection with Allergan. Where the reputation in the trade mark is so extensive to achieve a defensive registration, it does not matter whether the trade mark owner actually uses the trade mark for the goods or services covered by the defensive registration. ?
- At , the “overwhelming” and “ubiquitous reputation of BOTOX”. ?
- For an extreme case where the services were so far removed from the goods associated with the reputation – Tabasco sauce – that deception or misrepresentation were so unlikely that there was no contravention of the ACL or passing off, see McIlhenny Co v Blue Yonder Holdings Pty Ltd formerly trading as Tabasco Design  FCA 962; 39 IPR 187. ?
- Compare Trade Marks Act 1995 (Cth) s 10 to the High Court’s approval in Campomar Sociedad, Limitada v Nike International Limited
 HCA 12 at  quoting Taco Co of Australia Inc v Taco Bell Pty Ltd (1982) 42 ALR 177 at 201 (Deane and Fitzgerald JJ). ?
- Saville Perfumery Ld. v. June Perfect Ld. (1941) 58 RPC 147. ?
- As Lord Tomlin explained at 176, “It seems to me, and the form of the second injunction supports the view, that these Appellants may be able by proper precautions to sell the three articles in connection with their name of June Perfect Ld., while clearly distinguishing those goods from the Respondents’ goods. If that can be done there is no probability that the ultimate purchaser will be deceived.”. See also e.g. Puma Se v Caterpillar Inc  FCAFC 153; 168 IPR 404 (Nicholas, Rofe and McElwaine JJ) at  (Nicholas, Rofe and McElwaine JJ); In-N-Out Burgers, Inc v Hashtag Burgers Pty Ltd  FCA 193; 377 ALR 116; 150 IPR 73 at  and  (Katzmann J) (affirmed on appeal) and many others. ?
- Goodman Fielder Pte Ltd v Conga Foods Pty Ltd  FCA 1808; 158 IPR 9 at  citing Optical 88 Limited v Optical 88 Pty Limited (No 2)  FCA 1380 at . ?
- If you know of a court case where s 120(3) has been successfully asserted, please let me know. ?
- Curiously, s 120 does not in terms require the trade mark owner to prove that alleged infringer did not have the owner’s consent to use the trade mark. An alleged infringer who claims to be licensed or set up consent must do so by way of [section 123][s123] in the case of services or, in the case of goods, the wonders of [section 122A][s122a]. (I tried to untangle the latter provision in Warwick A Rothnie, ‘Unparalleled importing and trademarks in Australia,’ (2020) 21(3) Business Law International 229.) ?
- The High Court cited Shell (1961) 109 CLR 407 at 415; Wingate Marketing Pty Ltd v Levi Strauss & Co (1994) 49 FCR 89 at 128; MID Sydney v Australian Tourism Co (1998) 90 FCR 236 at 245 and Swancom (2022) 168 IPR 42 at . ?
- Citing numerous authorities: New South Wales Dairy Corporation v Murray-Goulburn Co?operative Co Ltd (1989) 86 ALR 549 at 589 (emphasis added), approved in Henschke (2000) 52 IPR 42 at 62 , Hashtag Burgers (2020) 385 ALR 514 at 532 , Combe International Ltd v Dr August Wolff GmbH & Co KG Arzneimittel (2021) 157 IPR 230 at 238 , PDP Capital Pty Ltd v Grasshopper Ventures Pty Ltd (2021) 285 FCR 598 at 622  (see also 626 ) and Swancom (2022) 168 IPR 42 at 56 . See also Self Care at  where the High Court acknowledged “the risk of collapsing the long standing distinction between infringement and passing off.” ?
- See e.g. Optical 88 at  and Budweiser at . Generally, one might have thought the emphasis in actual use in an infringement context lay in contrast to the situation at the examination and opposition stages where it is necessary to consider all fair and reasonable notional use that may be made by the applicant within the scope of the applied for registration. ?
- MID Sydney v Australian Tourism Co (1998) 90 FCR 236. ?