Urban (f)ale

The Full Court has dismissed Urban Alley’s appeal from O’Bryan J’s rulings that URBAN ALE was invalidly registered as a trade mark and La Sirène’s use of URBAN PALE did not infringe URBAN ALE. The decision may provide some helpful clarification of the test of substantial identity and, perhaps, urges caution against his Honour’s conclusion that URBAN PAEL was not used as a trade mark.

Urban Alley had registered URBAN ALE for beer. La Sirène started selling a Farmhouse Style Urban Pale [beer] by La Sirène under this trade mark:

Not capable of distinguishing

The Full Court upheld O’Bryan J’s conclusion that URBAN ALE lacked any capacity to distinguish as essentially descriptive or laudatory. As Urban Alley had not used the term before it registered its trade mark, it was not registrable under s 41.

This was really just the result flowing from the facts arising on the evidence. So a successful appeal was always a steep hurdle.

Practice tip: if you are going to adopt something as a trade mark, it will be unhelpful to refer to it in marketing materials in terms like:

The signature Urban Ale sits somewhere between a classic Australian golden ale and a Belgian blonde, with pleasant tropical notes but a crisp, clean finish.  This is a premium beer for the people and is described as a ‘celebration of our great city, a tribute to the laneway culture and a blend of the old and the new’

and

Name: Once Bitter
Style: Urban Ale (Somewhere between an Aussie Golden Ale and Belgian Blonde)
ABV: 4-5%

One could be mistaken for thinking the trade mark was “Once Bitter”!

Deceptively similar to prior conflicting registration

Likewise, Urban Alley was unable to overturn O’Bryan J’s conclusion that URBAN ALE was deceptively similar to a prior registration for URBAN BREWING COMPANY and so invalid under s 44.

On this part of the case, Urban Alley argued O’Bryan J’s reasons for concluding the two marks were not substantially identical were inconsistent with his Honour’s conclusion that they were deceptively similar and so the latter conclusion was wrong.

In relation to substantial identity, O’Bryan J held that the inclusion of BREWING COMPANY in the prior mark conveyed a different meaning to ALE.

The Full Court rejected Urban Alley’s attack at [98] – [99]:

A side-by-side comparison of two marks is a studied comparison. It highlights the differences between the marks just as much as it shows their sameness, in order to reach a conclusion as to whether the two marks are, in fact, substantially identical. The primary judge’s observation must be understood as having been made in that light.


The test of deceptive similarity is fundamentally different. It is not a studied comparison. Rather, it is a comparison between one mark and the impression of another mark carried away and hypothetically recalled, paying due regard to the fact that recollection is not always perfect.

Thus, when considered from the perspective of deceptive similarity and imperfect recollection the differences which were apparent from a side by side comparison lost much of their significance. In that assessment, Urban Alley’s challenge overlooked the significance of URBAN being the first word of both marks and the close association in meaning of “brewing company” and “ale”. At [106], the Full Court explained:

The appellant also submitted that there is “no relevant trade mark resemblance” between the words “ale” and “brewing company”. This submission requires careful consideration. As the appellant’s submission recorded immediately above recognises, each compared mark must be considered as a whole. It is impermissible to dissect each mark to emphasise its disparate elements and then compare the disparate elements of each in order to reach a conclusion on deceptive resemblance. To start with, this would leave out entirely the impact of the common element “urban”. It would also ignore the synergy between the word “urban” and the other word(s) in each mark. This synergy contributes to the impression gained of each mark, which is carried forward into the relevant comparison between the two. This last-mentioned consideration brings into play the primary judge’s finding that there was a clear association in meaning between “brewing company” and “ale”. Given that clear association, coupled with use of the common element “urban”, it is understandable that the primary judge reached the conclusion he did on the question of deceptive similarity.

It might be thought that the strong emphasis on the narrow scope of the substantial identity test, requiring a studied side by side comparison, is a very welcome brake on the ruling in Pham Global.

No infringement

Having ruled that Urban Alley’s trade mark was invalidly registered on two alternative grounds, their Honours pointed out that Urban Alley’s appeal against the finding that La Sirène did not infringe must fail. So, it was strictly unnecessary to consider whether La Sirène’s use of “Urban Pale” would have been an infringement.

Speaking obiter dicta, the Full Court emphasised that O’Bryan J’s finding that La Sirène did not use URBAN PALE as a trade mark, despite its prominence, turned very heavily on the “overwhelmingly descriptive” nature of the expression. At [119], their Honours said:

Thus, it is entirely possible—indeed likely—that, absent the finding of the Word Mark’s lack of inherent adaptation to distinguish because of the ordinary signification of the word “urban”, the primary judge would have come to a different conclusion on trade mark use in relation to the respondent’s use of the name “Urban Pale” on the depicted label.  This is particularly so when regard is had to the prominence and location of the name “Urban Pale”.  Such use would normally be regarded as persuasively suggesting trade mark use, a consideration which his Honour seems to have recognised in the next paragraph of his reasons, where he said:

205         It is apparent that the labelling of the La Sirène Urban Pale product features the words “Urban Pale” in large lettering and an emboldened font.  It is the most prominent name on the labelling.  However … I do not consider that that prominence converts the essentially descriptive name into a trade mark indicating the source of origin of the product.

Even so, it will be necessary to treat the finding that Urban Pale was not used as a trade mark very carefully and confined to its particular facts. On this part of the case, the Full Court concluded at [120]:

Be that as it may be, our resolution of Grounds 1, 2 and 3 of the appeal adversely to the appellant necessarily means that Ground 5 of the appeal should be dismissed, as we have said.

Urban Alley Brewery Pty Ltd v La Sirène Pty Ltd [2020] FCAFC 186 (Middleton, Yates and Lee JJ)

Pacific (f)ale

Moshinsky J has rejected Stone & Wood’s attempt to block Thunder Road Pacific Ale and, instead, ruled that Stone & Wood made unjustified threats of trade mark infringement.[1]

In 2010, Stone & Wood renamed its Draught Ale product as Stone & Wood Pacific Ale. Stone & Wood has 3 other main products in its line up of beers, but the Pacific Ale makes up some 80 – 85% of its sales. These sales were mainly in the Northern Rivers area of NSW, south eastern Queensland, Sydney and Melbourne.

Pacific Ale was a name Stone & Wood coined for its product. At the time, Stone & Wood was based in Byron Bay and ‘Pacific’ was chosen partly to reflect Byron Bay’s location on the Pacific ocean and partly for its ‘calming, cooling emotional response’.

The second respondent, Elixir,[2] also started up in 2010, in Brunswick, Melbourne Victoria, which some people might consider far from the Pacific. One of its lines of beers is its Thunder Road range. In 2015, it added a Thunder Road Pacific Ale to that range.

misleading or deceptive conduct / passing off

This is what individual bottles of the competing products looked like:

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The Thunder Road logo is on the label around the neck. This is what a six pack of each looked like:

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Stone & Wood contended that Elixir’s use of Pacific Ale and/or the ‘similar’ green and orange colour scheme misrespresented that the Thunder Road product was Stone & Wood’s or in some way associated with it in contravention of s 18 or s 29 of the ACL or a passing off.

The essential problem with this type of claim is that whether or not there is a real possibility of misrepresentation falls to be determined in all the circumstances. What would the ordinary consumer of the relevant products think in all the circumstances. Moshinsky J’s reasoning is much more detailed than I am going to attempt here, but notwithstanding the large and prominent display of Pacific Ale on Elixir’s product:

  • the dominant element on Stone & Wood’s packaging and get-up was its name: Stone & Wood;
  • there was no use of Stone & Wood on the Thunder Road product;
  • the words Pacific Ale on the Elixir product was very closely associated with Thunder Road, itself a well-known brand amongst the discerning hipsters and others in the market for craft beers;
  • although Pacific Ale was not a technical ‘style’ recognised at beer shows, it had become by the time Elixir introduced its product, descriptive for many consumers of a beer made from Galaxy hops, a particular Australian variety which gave the beer a fruity or tropical flavour – this was reinforced by the reasons why Stone & Wood had adopted the name in the first place;
  • the colour schemes and get-up are, shall we say, pretty different.

Moshinsky J accepted that Elixir knew full well that Stone & Wood had a Pacific Ale product when it decided to launch its own Pacific Ale and was trying “to some extent” to take advantage of consumers’ recognition of the term Pale Ale. That was not the same thing, however, as trying to take advantage of the name Stone & Wood or trick people into thinking the Thunder Road product was the Stone & Wood product which was what Stone & Wood needed to show.

Stone & Wood also deployed expert evidence from the marketing expert, Professor Lockshin.[3] Prof. Lockshin argued that marketing theory posited consumers might have come to identify Stone & Wood’s product just by the sub-brand Pacific Ale. Moshinksy J was not prepared, however, to overlook the significance of the prominent use of Stone & Wood on Stone & Wood’s products and the other differences between the products in the absence of testing which showed how consumers actually reacted.

In an attempt to repeat Bodum’s rather surprising success against Euroline, Stone & Wood pointed to a blackboard in a bar which simply listed PACIFIC ALE as one of the beers on tap; the beer of course being Thunder Road, not Stone & Wood. Moshinky J was not prepared to infer that patrons ordering the beer from that listing were necessarily trying to order Stone & Wood Pacific Ale as opposed to a pacific ale. Also, Elixir should hardly be liable for the actions of an independent bar owner.

Trade Mark infringement

Stone & Wood has a trade mark, No. 1395188, registered in class 32 for beer:[4]

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The problem Stone & Wood confronted with its infringement case is that Pacific Ale is such a subsidiary feature of the trade mark. Moshinsky J was not prepared to find that the words Pacific Ale in that configuration were likely to be an essential feature of the mark. His Honour considered that the Crazy Ron case required him to assess the essentiality of a feature in the context of the trade mark as a whole. It would have been wrong to focus on part of the mark in isolation only.

Groundless threats

Section 129 provides someone threatened with an action for trade mark infringement to bring proceedings for unjustified threats. A declaration that the threat was unjustified can be obtained, injunctions against repetition and, if damage be suffered, damages.

The Trade Marks Act is rather curious in that it is a defence to such an action if the trade mark owner starts proceedings for infringement “with due diligence”, even if the infringement allegation ultimately fails.[5] Moshinsky J denied Stone & Wood’s reliance on this defence in this case.

Stone & Wood had sent a letter of demand which included allegations of trade mark infringement as well as misleading or deceptive conduct, and threatened proceedings. When the correspondence did not lead to a resolution of the dispute, it started proceedings against Elixir, but only for misleading or deceptive conduct / passing off. It did not bring proceedings for trade mark infringement. It only brought the infringement proceedings by way of amendment after Elixir cross-claimed for unjustified threats.

In that respect, Moshinsky J distinguished Stone & Wood’s position from the trade mark owner in the Montana case. There, Wilcox J had rejected reliance on the ‘with due diligence’ defence, but the Full Court overturned that on appeal. In Montana, TTS did bring the infringement proceedings by way of cross-claim. However, it did not start the proceedings with a misleading or deceptive conduct claim. Montana started the earlier proceedings with its claim against unjustified threats and TTS brought the cross-claim at the first available opportunity.

The matter will continue to ascertain whether Stone & Wood will have to pay any damages.

It is tempting to wonder whether Stone & Wood would have had more success if it had promoted Pacific Ale more prominently and independently of its name, Stone & Wood. Perhaps, but these types of sign are slippery and it doesn’t take much for them to slide into descriptiveness. CAPLETS, for example, was a coined word, but not infringed.

If you have a comment or a question, please feel free to post it in the comments section. Or, if you would prefer, email me.

Stone & Wood Group Pty Ltd v Intellectual Property Development Corporation Pty Ltd [2016] FCA 820


  1. His Honour’s reasons run for some 95 pages or 245 paragraphs, so I am not going to try and convey all the nuances which were explored before his Honour in a blog post such as this.  ?
  2. The operation is sufficiently crafty, or un-boutiquey, that the first respondent is the holder of the group’s intellectual property rights.  ?
  3. If his name sounds familiar, that is because he was unsuccessfully deployed by Henschke in the Hill of Grace case.  ?
  4. It also has a pending application for PACIFIC ALE, but that has been opposed by, you guessed it, Thunder Road.  ?
  5. Dowsett J has recently pointed out that the patents legislation used to have this defence, but it was repealed a long, long time ago.  ?

Luscious Lips confectionary

Sundberg J has dismissed Nature’s Blend’s action against Nestlé for infringement of its LUSCIOUS LIPS trade mark, passing off and misleading or deceptive conduct by selling Allens RETRO PARTY MIX.

Nature’s Blend, which was principally a supplier of veterinary products registered LUSCIOUS LIPS in respect of confectionery. Initially, at least, it gave chocolates away branded with the trade mark and a device to promote its business.

Around the same time as Nature’s Blend began marketing products with its trade mark, Nestlé introduced a new product under its ALLENS brand called ‘RETRO PARTY MIX’. This was a box or packet of mixed lollies. The back of the packaging included the following:

That’s right! All your favourites are back, so put on those flares and get ready to party! Up to 7 lolly varieties including…cool Cola Bottles, those radical Racing Cars, yummy Honey flavoured Bears, totally freeeekie Teeth, luscious Lips, partying Pineapples and outrageous Raspberries. [emphasis added]

The “luscious” Lips were a jelly product in the shape of lips.

Sundberg J found that the words used in this setting were not used as a trade mark. First, because the word “luscious” was descriptive and in context consumers would be likely to regard the expression as laudatory and possibly even humorous. Secondly, the effect of the combined expression in context was diluted by the prominence of the Allens, RETRO PARTY MIX and Nestlé trade marks.

Sundberg J would also have found, if necessary, that Nestlé was using the term as a good faith description: Nestlé’s product manager explained the development of the name in terms which made it clear she had been unaware of Nature’s Blend’s trade mark or product.

Interestingly, at [13] Sundberg J also considered it clear that the relevant time for determining liability under s 52 of the Trade Practices Act 1974 (Cth) is the date when the respondent’s conduct started; the same as for trade mark infringement and passing off. Middleton J did not consider it necessary to decide the point in Playcorp v Bodum [2010] FCA 23 at [58]-[59].

Nature’s Blend Pty Ltd  v Nestle Australia Ltd [2010] FCA 198