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’
Name: Once Bitter
Style: Urban Ale (Somewhere between an Aussie Golden Ale and Belgian Blonde)
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  – :
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 , 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.
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 , 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 :
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  FCAFC 186 (Middleton, Yates and Lee JJ)