Customs seizure and trade marks

In two ex parte applications, Greenwood J granted interlocutory injunctions restraining Customs from releasing imported goods which allegedly infringe a trade mark.

The interesting point is that the proceedings for infringement were not brought within the “action period” specified in by s 137 of the Trade Marks Act. Greenwood J reasoned:

Section 136 is headed “Release of Goods to Owner – No Action for Infringement and s 137 is headed “Action for Infringement of Trade Mark”. Some discussion has arisen in earlier authorities, including Jemella v Mackinnon & Another [2008] FCA 1022; 77 IPR 243, in which Logan J had to consider whether non-compliance with these provisions as to commencement and notification within the extension period, might have the effect of depriving the applicant of its standing to maintain infringement proceedings. I am satisfied that ss 136 and 137, taken together, do not deprive the applicant of its standing to maintain proceedings for infringement of the trade mark. Section 137 is not a primary empowering provision conferring rights of action in the applicant. It is permissive in the context in which it appears. Those rights are conferred by s 20 and the provisions of Part 12 of the Trade Marks Act. Section 137 recognises that a trade mark owner may elect to bring proceedings and ss 136 and 137 address what is to occur in the circumstances of those sections in respect of seized goods if the relevant steps are not taken. However, the provisions should be read subject to an order that might be made under s 137(5) to, in effect, preserve the status quo in circumstances where the Court is satisfied that there is a prima facie case of infringement. Nevertheless, a question arises as to whether it is appropriate to make an order directed to the Customs CEO preventing the goods from being released, in all the circumstances, in the exercise of discretion, when s 136 imposes a statutory obligation upon the Customs CEO to release the goods in the circumstances there identified and s 137 imposes time constraints. That directs attention to the merits.

That is, the foundation of the right to be protected by the interlocutory injunction was the right to sue for infringement of the registered trade mark – a right conferred by ss 20 and 120; s 137 merely facilitated that primary right.

Jemella Australia Pty Ltd v Bouobeid [2009] FCA 1567

Jemella Australia Pty Ltd v Daizli [2009] FCA 1566

In the Daizli action there is a further complication that the respondents seem to be out of the jurisdiction for some time. His Honour also refers to products being offered for sale on eBay. But, other than those products being alleged to be infringing, I’m not sure what particular significance that has.

Did eBay win?

Some headlines are reporting that L’Oreal lost its trade mark infringement action in the UK against eBay. For example: here, here and here.

The basic facts were that L’Oreal was suing eBay for trade mark infringement as a result of hosting auctions in which vendors were alleged to be selling counterfeit L’Oreal products.

It seems that most of the vendors turned out to be selling parallel imports – imported from outside the European Economic Area – and so they were infringing BUT …

the IPKat reports Arnold J didn’t exonerate eBay, rather his Honour has referred some questions to the European Court of Justice. There may well be a lot more to emerge about Arnold J’s ruling itself – as you’ll see from the IPKat’s update, there are at least 482 paragraphs to scramble through (put our Federal Court to shame (thankfully!)).

From [481]:

iii) eBay Europe are not jointly liable for the infringements committed by the Fourth to Tenth Defendants.

iv) Whether eBay Europe have infringed the Link Marks by use in sponsored links and on the Site in relation to infringing goods again depends upon a number of questions of interpretation of the Trade Marks Directive upon which guidance from the ECJ is required (see paragraphs 388-392, 393-398 and 413-418 above).

v) Whether eBay Europe have a defence under Article 14 of the E-Commerce Directive is another matter upon which guidance from the ECJ is needed (see paragraphs 436-443 above).

vi) As a matter of domestic law the court has power to grant an injunction against eBay Europe by virtue of the infringements committed by the Fourth to Tenth Defendants, but the scope of the relief which Article 11 requires national courts to grant in such circumstances is another matter upon which guidance from the ECJ is required (see paragraphs 455-465 above).

L’Oréal v eBay [2009] EWHC 1094 (Ch)

Meanwhile, you’ll recall that Dowsett J held that a market operator is not liable for authorising trade mark infringement when stall holders sell counterfeit products from their stalls.

Louis Vuitton Malletier SA v Toea Pty Ltd [2006] FCA 1443

So far as I am aware, this didn’t go on appeal. Therefore, you  have to bring such allegations within the common law tort of concerted action or ‘procuring or directing’.