infringement

A notice and take down / moderation scheme for trade marks

The Full Federal Court has allowed Redbubble’s appeal from the remedies granted for its eleven infringements of five Hells Angels’ registered trade marks. In doing so, the majority instituted a kind of monitoring and notice and take down system as a “safe harbour” against trade mark infringement. In addition, the Court raised questions about how use of a trade mark on a website overseas may, or may not, constitute infringing conduct in Australia.

Some background

Redbubble operates a website at www.redbubble.com. Creators can upload images to the website. Other users can browse the website, select one or more of these images for application to merchandise such as t-shirts and coffee mugs. Once the orders have been placed, Redbubble contracts for the merchandise to be manufactured and shipped to the purchaser. Redbubble provides the payment processing service, it also provides the fulfilment functions including communications such as order confirmation and invoices with the purchaser. Redbubble’s trade marks were on the communications, the goods ordered and the packaging.

The servers for Redbubble’s website, however, are located in the USA and the day to day management is carried out there.

The Hells Angels had successfully sued Redbubble in 2019 for infringement of the registered trade marks in issue.

In this round, in two decisions,[1] Greenwood J at first instance had found Redbubble infringed the Hells Angels registered trade marks by 11 transactions. The 11 transactions were trap purchases by Hells Angels Australia’s trade mark officer.

His Honour went on to order declarations of infringement, damages of $8,250 and additional damages of $70,000. His Honour also ordered an injunction in general terms – for example:

Redbubble is restrained whether by itself, its officers, servants or agents or otherwise howsoever, from using the sign being the device described in Declaration 2 …, or any sign substantially identical with, or deceptively similar to, a sign consisting of the device, on the website operated by Redbubble in relation to trade in goods to which the sign can be applied, where such goods are goods in respect of which Trade Mark No. 526530, Trade Mark No. 723463 and Trade Mark No. 1257993 is registered.

On appeal, Redbubble did not challenge the infringement findings but sought to set aside the remedies.

The injunction

At the time of the judgment, creators were uploading to the website some 90,000 new images each day.

To address the risks of infringement, Redbubble adopted a two-pronged strategy.[2] First, it implemented a Notice and Take down / counter-notice scheme.

Secondly, it adopted what it called a Proactive Moderation Policy. This involved co-operating with rights holders to build up a stock of Reference Content, which it then used to monitor uploads and remove content assessed as too similar. Redbubble had extended the moderation policy to include some rights even without input from the rights owner. As part of this, Redbubble had been developing a software tool, RB Protect, with image matching and optical character recognition capabilities. This tool was limited to identifying identical images and had not yet developed to the point where it could do so in real time.[3]

At the time of the trial, Redbubble was conducting proactive moderation for some 477 rights holders (up from 200 in 2017). It had proactively moderated about two million artworks since January 2017 and terminated over one million uploader accounts.

On appeal, the Full Federal Court split 3:2 on the injunction issue.

All five judges were agreed that the injunctions ordered by Greenwood J were in error because they were not limited to restraining use of the trade marks as a trade marks; i.e., as badges of origin (see e.g Perram and Downes JJ at [213] – [214]).

There was a disagreement whether it was right to describe a trade mark owner who had proved infringement as having a prima facie right to a final injunction, or generally having such a right. Perram and Downes JJ would not have ordered any injunction. Nicholas, Burley and Rofe JJ ordered an injunction but, as noted above, instituted a “safe harbour” scheme based on Redbubble’s moderation policies.

Perram and Downes JJ

Perram and Downes JJ were concerned that describing a final injunction as a prima facie entitlement risked enlarging the trade mark owner’s rights beyond its statutory entitlement under s 20. Their Honours recognised that a final injunction was generally appropriate but emphasised the remedy, albeit statutory, nonetheless retained its equitable nature and was discretionary.

At [224], their Honours considered a good working rule was that an injunction may be refused if:

(a) the injury to the plaintiff’s legal rights is small;

(b) the injury is one which is capable of being estimated in money;

(c) the injury is one which can be adequately compensated by a small money payment; and

(d) it would be oppressive to the defendant to grant the injunction.

Adopting Shelfer v City of London Electric Lighting Co [1895] 1 Ch 287 at 322–323 and an article by Burley J and Angus Lang in (2018) 12 Journal of Equity 132 at 137–142.

The working rule was significant in this case. First, the evidence demonstrated that the only way Redbubble could comply with the usual form of injunction was to cease operating. Thus at [225] complying with the injunction would not just be inconvenient but grossly disproportionate to the right protected.

The remedy was grossly disproportionate because the Hells Angels had not demonstrated any loss and was not likely to suffer loss of any kind. At [226], Perram and Downes JJ explained:

We do not accept therefore that it would be correct to grant an injunction which could only be obeyed by Redbubble ceasing to trade. The shuttering of Redbubble’s business at the instance of a party which has suffered and is likely to suffer no loss of any kind falls within the working rule. If Hells Angels had demonstrated some actual or apprehended loss then the question would be much more difficult. Such a case might be presented by the owner of a trade mark which had a reputation for the exclusive nature of the products to which it was affixed (although there might be many other circumstances generating similar problems). For such a trader, even the intermittent appearance of its marks on Redbubble’s website for short periods of time could cause real harm to that goodwill and this could be so even without any sales. ….

In the “somewhat unusual circumstances of this case”, therefore, their Honours considered it was not appropriate to grant an injunction at all.

Nicholas, Burley and Rofe JJ

While agreeing that the award of a final injunction is discretionary, at [248] Nicholas, Burley and Rofe JJ considered at [248] that describing the right holder as having prima facie entitlement to a permanent injunction is both unexceptional and correct. Their Honours explained at [245]:

But generally speaking, unless the court is persuaded that there is no significant risk of further infringement occurring, or unless there exists some other discretionary reason for refusing the remedy, a final injunction will usually be granted against a party that is found to have infringed.

Further, at [249], their Honours agreed with Perram and Downes JJ that it is not necessary for the right owner to prove it will suffer irreparable harm or that damages will not be an adequate remedy.

It is also not necessary for the trade mark owner to prove that it is more probable than not that the infringer will commit further infringing acts. A final injunction might still be granted even if the Court considers the risk of repetition is “slight” or “negligible”.

In this case, there was admittedly a significant risk of repeat infringements. Indeed, the case itself involved repeat infringements.

Like Perram and Downes JJ, Nicholas, Burley and Rofe JJ considered a general injunction was not appropriate. The risk of repitition, however, meant an injunction was appropriate. Accordingly, at [251] their Honours limited its effects by specifying that the general injunction would not be breached by compliance with the moderation policies. Therefore, the general injunction was qualified:

3 The Appellant will not be in breach of orders 1 or 2 (the general injunction) if:

(a) it maintains a system involving the surveillance of its website at www.redbubble.com (the Website) and the removal of images that might infringe the marks referred to in orders 1 and 2 above which is no less rigorous than that which it had in place as at 24 August 2022 and is referred to in the affidavit of Mr Joel Barrett of that date as “Proactive Moderation”; and

(b) within seven days of an image to which orders 1 or 2 above refers being identified on the Website by the Appellants or its servants or agents, the Appellant removes the image from the Website.

4 Notwithstanding Order 3, the Appellant will be in breach of order 1 or order 2 if, on the First Respondent or the Second Respondent or both of them becoming aware of an image to which such order refers being available on the Website, and notifying the Appellant of the image by sending an email to legal@redbubble.com (or such other email address as notified by Appellant in writing from time to time):

(a) with the subject field ‘Hells Angels Complaint’;

(b) identifying the image by reference to the location of the image on the Website in the form http://www.redbubble.com/people/[username] /works/[work number and name]; and

(c) stating that the First Respondent and/or the Second Respondent considers that the image would breach Order 1, Order 2 or both,

the Appellant fails to remove the image or images from the Website within seven days of such email.

Perram and Downes JJ had considered such a limitation inappropriate as it required Redbubble to comply with its existing policies and, further, would be seen as giving the Court’s imprimatur to those policies.

Nicholas, Burely and Rofe JJ countered that the Order did not require Redbubble to maintain any surveillance system but would reduce the burden and risks of the usual form of injunction and was similar to the “site blocking” orders under the Copyright Act 1968. In addition, their Honours considered the making of the injunction in this form did not preclude a general injunction alone or different remedies in different cases. At [254]:

What injunctive relief (if any) should be granted at the suit of a different applicant who establishes that its rights have been infringed by Redbubble will depend on the right infringed (eg. copyright or trade mark), the circumstances of the infringement and the evidence, including any evidence of the surveillance and moderation policies and practices followed by Redbubble at the time any such proceeding is heard.

Concluding comments

Review of the discussion about use as a trade mark on websites outside Australia and damages will have to await another occasion.

The judicial acceptance of a notice and take down / moderation scheme for trade mark infringement is a significant development as such a scheme has been implemented in Australia only by statutory intervention in the Copyright Act 1968. The development does have echoes of a similar development in the United Kingdom (albeit in a different regulatory regime).[4]

It is important, however, to keep in mind that the Full Federal Court was very conscious of the limited impact of the infringements in this particular case and the Hells Angels’ very limited attack on Redbubble’s argument that it was not feasible yet to develop a system which did more than detect exact image matches as discussed by Perram and Downes JJ at [147] and [161] – [162].

Redbubble Ltd v Hells Angels Motorcycle Corporation (Australia) Pty Limited [2024] FCAFC 15 (Perram, Nicholas, Burley, Rofe and Downes JJ)


  1. The Hells Angels discovered several new transactions after the initial hearing on liability had been heard and successfully applied to re-open the trial to address transactions 8 to 11.  ?
  2. The strategy had not saved it from injunctions in the 2019 proceeding.  ?
  3. Greenwood J’s remedies decision at [90] – [107]; [104] cataloguing a history of 8 notifications or infringements by the Hells Angels since 2014.  ?
  4. Cartier International AG v British Sky Broadcasting Limited [2016] EWCA Civ 658 and the Supreme Court’s decision on who bears the costs of compliance: Cartier International AG v British Telecommunications Plc [2018] UKSC 28.  ?

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New Copyright and AI reference group

The Commonwealth Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, yesterday announced that the Government will form a Copyright and Artificial Intelligence reference group “to better prepare for future copyright challenges emerging from AI.”

The Attorney-General and his department have held a number of roundtables during the course of the year to consult about a range of issues. One of the issues discussed included the issues arising from the use of AI tools.

According to the Media Release:

AI gives rise to a number of important copyright issues, including the material used to train AI models, transparency of inputs and outputs, the use of AI to create imitative works, and whether and when AI-generated works should receive copyright protection.

The reference group will be a standing mechanism for ongoing engagement with stakeholders across a wide range of sectors, including the creative, media and technology sectors, to consider issues in a careful and consultative way.

Engagement with a broad range of stakeholders and sectors will help Australia harness AI opportunities, while continuing to support the vitality of our creative sector.

The Media Release notes that the reference group will complement “other AI-related Government initiatives, including the work being led by the Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic on the safe and responsible use of AI.”

The Media Release notes that further details, in addition to outcomes from the Roundtables, will be made available through the Attorney-General’s Department’s website in due course.

Some very quick thoughts

One would hope the complementing of other agencies’ work may involve some fairly close co-operation on some issues at least since the question of authorship for copyright seems to raise similar issues to who is the designer for the purposes of registered design or the inventor for patents – all three being predicated on the assumption of human agency.

It seems pretty clear under our law following Telstra v PDC ([118] – [119] and [169]) that works generated by one or two simple “prompts” will not qualify for copyright protection as original works in Australia. The situation where the material results from much more detailed instructions is much more up in the air – both here and overseas.

In the USA, the Register of Copyright’s Review Board has rejected the claim to copyright in a work resulting from 624 prompts and further ‘adjustments’ by the human ‘operator’ / claimant, Mr Allen:

There is increasing commentary likening the generation of materials through detailed prompts to the basis on which copyright is recognised as subsisting in photographs. According to the Review Board, however, Mr Allen’s arguments based on the inputting of detailed prompts did not establish authorship:

As the Office has explained, “Midjourney does not interpret prompts as specific instructions to create a particular expressive result,” because “Midjourney does not understand grammar, sentence structure, or words like humans.” It is the Office’s understanding that, because Midjourney does not treat text prompts as direct instructions, users may need to attempt hundreds of iterations before landing upon an image they find satisfactory. This appears to be the case for Mr. Allen, who experimented with over 600 prompts before he “select[ed] and crop[ped] out one ‘acceptable’ panel out of four potential images … (after hundreds were previously generated).” As the Office described in its March guidance, “when an AI technology receives solely a prompt from a human and produces complex written, visual, or musical works in response, the ‘traditional elements of authorship’ are determined and executed by the technology—not the human user.” And because the authorship in the Midjourney Image is more than de minimis, Mr. Allen must exclude it from his claim. Because Mr. Allen has refused to limit his claim to exclude its non-human authorship elements, the Office cannot register the Work as submitted. (Footnotes and citations omitted)

Whether the US courts or, for that matter, an Australian court will follow that approach remains to be seen. Judge Howell, in rejecting Dr Thaler’s attempt to register copyright in “A Recent Entrance to Paradise” on purely administrative review grounds, outlined the argument in obiter:

A camera may generate only a “mechanical reproduction” of a scene, but does so only after the photographer develops a “mental conception” of the photograph, which is given its final form by that photographer’s decisions like “posing the [subject] in front of the camera, selecting and arranging the costume, draperies, and other various accessories in said photograph, arranging the subject so as to present graceful outlines, arranging and disposing the light and shade, suggesting and evoking the desired expression, and from such disposition, arrangement, or representation” crafting the overall image. Human involvement in, and ultimate creative control over, the work at issue was key to the conclusion that the new type of work fell within the bounds of copyright.

The position on the treatment of inputs is also up in the air. The Authors’ Guild of America and others have brought a number of cases against various AI operators including Open AI and LLaMA on the basis that the training of these LLMs involved the wholesale copying of the authors’ works into the LLM’s databases.

A number of commentators argue these cases are likely to fail, however, in light of the Second Circuit’s ruling that the Google Books Project, in which Google scanned thousands of in-copyright books to create a searchable digital database, did not infringe copyright as a “fair use”.

Arguably, however, the nature and purpose of the uses are different and it will be interesting to see if the US Supreme Court’s decision in Andy Warhol Foundation v Goldsmith with its emphasis on the balancing nature of the inquiry will lead to a different outcome.

On the other hand, if the conduct is found to be a non-infringing use in the USA, Australian law does not have a corresponding, broadly based “fair use” defence. Can one argue that the AI is engaged in “research or study”? If not, what will the policy ramifications be for Australia? Will anyone develop AIs in Australia if training an AI in Australia does infringe copyright while it is not an infringement in, say, the United States? If it’s open slather, though, how will authors and publishers get paid?

Then, there’s the question of infringement. It seems it is possible in at least some cases to find out what an LLM has been trained on – but how long that will remain the case must be a question. Then, ordinarily, a copyright owner under our law would approach this by demonstrating a close degree of resemblance to a copyright work and the potential for access. Then, a court is likely to see if the alleged infringer can explain how it developed the material independently (or there is some other defence).

We do have judicial statements that there is no infringement in copying the style or the ideas. The successful cases of emulating the style are pretty rare but I guess the point of asking an AI to produce something in the style of … is that the AI is going to produce something new rather than merely copied. Ultimately, that is going to depend on comparing what is produced to one (or much less likely, more) copyright works.

Apart from the uncertainties about how our law will deal with these issues, it seems clear that careful consideration of how things are developing overseas is required and, in Dr Pangloss’ world, development of uniform approaches.

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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 »

Self Care v Allergan – Part 2

Previously on IPwars.com we looked at why the High Court held PROTOX did not infringe BOTOX. The High Court also ruled that “instant BOTOX® alternative” did not infringe and overturned the Full Court’s ruling that the phrase was misleading or deceptive contrary to the ACL.

A recap

You will recall that Allergan has registered BOTOX as a trade mark for “[p]harmaceutical preparations for the treatment of … wrinkles” in class 5. The product Allergan makes and sells under the BOTOX trade mark is an injectable pharmaceutical which must be administered by a health professional. One treatment of BOTOX preparation can last for up to several months.

Because of its “overwhelming” and “ubiquitous” reputation in BOTOX, however, Allergan has also achieved registration of BOTOX in class 3 for anti-ageing and anti-wrinkle creams.

The second FREEZEFRAME product Self Care sells is INHIBOX. The INHIBOX product is a cream which the user can apply themselves at home and which lasts for up to a few hours to reduce the visible signs of ageing.

The INHIBOX product was sold in two forms of packaging:

Old packaging – Packaging A

Image of INHIBOX packaging showing FREEZEFRAME and INHIBOX trade marks, instant Botox® alternative and explanatory text on back

New packaging – Packaging B:

Image of INHIBOX packaging showing FREEZEFRAME and INHIBOX trade marks, instant Botox® alternative and explanatory text on back

Both forms of packaging included the phrase “instant BOTOX® alternative”. You will also notice that the back of both forms of packaging includes a longer declaration: “The original instant and long term Botox® alternative”.

Why “instant Botox® alternative” did not infringe

Self Care’s INHIBOX product being an anti-wrinkle cream falling squarely within the scope of Allergan’s BOTOX registration in class 3, the High Court had identified at [22] that the trade mark owner had to prove two things to establish trade mark infringement under s 120(1):

  1. that the impugned sign was being used as a trade mark; and
  2. that the impugned sign was substantially identical or deceptively similar to the registered trade mark.

At [23], a sign is being used as a trade mark when it is being used as “a badge of origin” to indicate a connection between the goods and the user of the mark.[1]

And whether that is the case is to be determined objectively in the context of the use without regard to the subjective intentions of the user. To repeat the High Court’s explanation at [24]:

Whether a sign has been “use[d] as a trade mark” is assessed objectively without reference to the subjective trading intentions of the user[50]. 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[51], 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[52]. A well known example where the use was not “as a trade mark” was in Irving’s Yeast-Vite Ltd v Horsenail[53], 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. (citation omitted)

Applying that test, the High Court held that Self Care was not using “instant Botox® alternative” as a trade mark. There were a number of reasons contributing to this conclusion.

First, Self Care did not present the phrase in a consistent style.

Secondly, the phrase was presented alongside two obvious trade marks – FREEZEFRAME and INHIBOX – so that the phrase was less likely to be taken as a trade mark.

And thirdly, while FREEZEFRAME and INHIBOX were presented as trade marks, the phrase “instant Botox® alternative” was a descriptive phrase which in context was used only with that descriptive purpose and nature.

As to the first consideration, the High Court explained at [55]:

The presentation of “instant Botox® alternative” was inconsistent in size, font and presentation on each of Packaging A, Packaging B and the website, indicating “instant Botox® alternative” was not being used as a badge of origin to distinguish Self Care’s goods from those dealt with by another trader[126]. On Packaging A the phrase was presented vertically, marked out by four vertical lines separating each of the words. On Packaging B and on the website the phrase was presented horizontally without any lines separating the words. The arrangement of the words differed. On the packaging, each word in the phrase occupied its own line. On two website pages the phrase occupied a single line. On two other website pages the words “Instant” and “Botox®” shared a line and the word “ALTERNATIVE” appeared on the next line. The font was inconsistent. The packaging used a different font to the website pages, and one website page used a different font to the other website pages. The capitalisation was inconsistent. Three different forms were adopted: “instant Botox® alternative” on the packaging, “INSTANT BOTOX® ALTERNATIVE” on one website page and “Instant Botox® ALTERNATIVE” on three other website pages.

Then, the High Court explained at [56] that the likelihood “instant Botox® alternative” would be taken as a trade mark was diminished because its use was not as dominant as the use of FREEZEFRAME and INHIBOX:

…. This diminishes the likelihood that the phrase “instant Botox® alternative” could be objectively understood to indicate origin in itself[127]. This is because its use was not as dominant as the use of the other signs, FREEZEFRAME and INHIBOX. This is most evident on the packaging. On both Packaging A and Packaging B, “instant Botox® alternative” appeared only once, on the front of the box, in much smaller font than FREEZEFRAME and INHIBOX. FREEZEFRAME and INHIBOX were also featured prominently on the left and right sides of each box. Further …. (citations omitted)

At [57], the High Court recognised that a sign can be both descriptive and used as a trade mark (see also [25]) but the phrase “instant Botox® alternative” was not in this case:

The FREEZEFRAME and INHIBOX script style and presentation is also significant. FREEZEFRAME and INHIBOX were both distinctive and stylised signs that were apt to be perceived as brands. In contrast, “instant Botox® alternative” was a descriptive phrase that had an ordinary meaning and included within it the trade mark BOTOX (identified as such with a ® symbol). It was descriptive of the product to which it was attached as an alternative product. While a sign can both be descriptive and serve as a badge of origin, the better view is that the use of the phrase, consistent with its ordinary meaning, had only a descriptive purpose and nature[128]. As the primary judge found, the phrase amounted to “ad?speak”. (citation omitted)

As the phrase was not used as a trade mark, there was no need to consider whether it was deceptively similar to Allergan’s trade mark.

Some aspects of the High Court’s reasons

In reaching its conclusions, the High Court drew on three different uses – the two forms of packaging and the website collectively. At [54], the High Court said it was permissible “to address them together, identifying relevant similarities and differences in use.”

In this case at least, there appears to have been some overlap between Self Care’s use of Packaging A and Packaging B – the latter being introduced on the market in September 2016, the former still being on the market until February 2017. The website of course was contemporaneous with both.

Nonetheless, it might be thought a bit odd that generally the old form of packaging informed the understanding of the new form of packaging. And, if the question is whether or not the particular use on the packaging is use as a trade mark, one might wonder about the relevance of use elsewhere. It must also be acknowledged that the form of use was one only of the factors contributing to the conclusion.

The High Court’s approach therefore reinforces INTA’s longstanding message that the trade mark owner should ensure it presents its trade mark consistently. Giving this consideration too much weight in isolation, however, risks creating some sort of pirate’s charter.

Ultimately, it might be thought the result is not too surprising. Afterall, phrases like this have not been considered to be trade mark use since the House of Lords’ decision in 1934 that “Yeast tablets a substitute for Yeast-Vite” did not infringe the registered trade mark YEAST-VITE.

In explaining why the Full Court wrongly found use as a trade mark, however, the High Court advanced a very different explanation why “instant Botox® alternative” was not use as a trade mark. The Full Court had impermissibly conflated the tests of use as a trade mark and deceptive similarity. At [60], the High Court then said:

Conflation of those elements is not uncommon. As Shanahan’s Australian Law of Trade Marks & Passing Off observes, “[t]here is a common misconception that an infringer uses a sign as a trade mark if the use indicates or is likely to indicate a connection between the infringer’s goods and the owner of the registered mark”[129]. However, “factors relevant to whether there is a misrepresentation or likelihood of deception have no role to play in deciding the question of what constitutes ‘use as a trade mark’”[130]. As was stated in Coca-Cola Company v All-Fect Distributors Ltd, the inquiry is not “whether the sign indicates a connection between the alleged infringer’s goods and those of the registered owner”[131]. The correct approach is to ask whether the sign used indicates origin of goods in the user of the sign[132]. (emphasis supplied) (citations omitted)

This may be contrasted with the reason why the House of Lords held that there had been no use as a trade mark. Lord Tomlin explained:[2]

This is clearly a use of the word “Yeast-Vite” on the respondent’s preparation to indicate the appellant’s preparation and to distinguish the respondent’s preparation from it. It is not a use of the word as a trade mark, that is, to indicate the origin of the goods in the respondent by virtue of manufacture, selection, certification, dealing with or offering for sale.

The High Court’s endorsement of Coca-Cola v Allfect on this point cannot be the result of some change in the meaning or concept of “use as a trade mark”. In the Yeast-Vite case, Lord Tomlin said:[3]

The phrase “the exclusive right to the use of such trade mark” carries in my opinion the implication of use of the mark for the purpose of indicating in relation to the goods upon or in connection with which the use takes place, the origin of such goods in the user of the mark by virtue of the matters indicated in the definition of “trade mark” contained in s 3.

That is the same explanation of the concept as adopted by the High Court in Gallo at [42] and in Self Care at [23] and [53].

It also cannot really be explained by the introduction into the Trade Marks Act of s 122A and s 123. Lord Tomlin roundly rejected a similar argument by the trade mark owner in Yeast-Vite:

nor do I think it is legitimate to treat special defences available under other sections of the latter Act as constituting a measure of the right conferred by s 39.

It appears therefore that the High Court has resolved the point left open in the Gallo case at [53] – whether a retailer uses the trade mark as a trade mark when using it in relation to the genuine goods of the trade mark owner.[4]

Whether that means our law now needs amendment to provide a defence for parody and satire, or other types of nominative fair use, remains to be seen.

The ACL case

The Full Court had found that the phrase “instant Botox® alternative” conveyed the representations that use of INHIBOX would result in a similar reduction in the appearance of wrinkles to using Botox and, secondly, that the effects would last for a period equivalent to that resulting from use of Botox.

The Full Court found that Self Care had reasonable grounds for the former representation, but not the latter – the long term efficacy representation. Therefore, Self Care’s use of the phrase was misleading or deceptive in contravention of the ACL.

On appeal, Self Care did not contend INHIBOX had a similar long term efficacy to Botox. Rather, it denied that the phrase “instant Botox® alternative” conveyed the long term efficacy representation at all.

Recap of the ACL principles

At [81], the High Court confirmed that determining whether there had been a breach of s 18 required a four step analysis:

  1. Identifying the conduct said to contravene with precision;
  2. Confirming that the conduct was “in trade or commerce”;
  3. Considering what meaning the conduct conveyed; and
  4. Determining whether the conduct in light of that meaning was misleading or deceptive or likely to mislead or deceive.

At [82], the High Court also confirmed that the third and fourth steps required characterisation as an objective matter. This required viewing the conduct as a whole and its notional effects, judged by the conduct in context, on the state of mind of the relevant person or class of persons.

The context includes the immediate context – all the words in the communication and the way they are conveyed, not just the word or phrase in isolation. The context also includes the broader context – all the relevant surrounding facts and circumstances.

Next, in cases of this kind the High Court re-affirmed at [83] that it is necessary to identify an ordinary and reasonable representative member of the relevant class “to objectively attribute characteristics and knowledge to that hypothetical person (or persons), and to consider the effect or likely effect of the conduct on their state of mind.” This required allowing for a range of reasonable reactions to the conduct by excluding from consideration reactions of the ignorant or very knowledgeable, those resulting from habitual caution or exceptional carelessness and the extreme or fanciful.

The misrepresentation was not made

The High Court analysed each of the three types use – Packaging A, Packaging B and the website – separately. But the reasons why “instant Botox® alternative” was not misleading or deceptive are essentially the same.

In the case of Packaging A, the High Court noted the use of the trade marks FREEZEFRAME and INHIBOX and “instant Botox® alternative” on the front of the packaging. On the side of the packaging were printed the words “Clinically proven to erase wrinkle appearance in 5 minutes”. And on the back, there was the vertical script “The world’s first Instant and Long Term Botox® Alternative” in larger, blue lettering than the panel of explanatory text. Under the heading “Freeze wrinkles instantly”, the first paragraph of that explanatory text read:

Why wait for weeks to look dramatically younger when you can wipe away the years this very minute! freezeframe’s exclusive INHIBOX complex is clinically proven to wipe away visible expression wrinkles around the eyes and on the forehead within 5 minutes, so you get an immediate wrinkle freeze and eye lift that lasts for hours. (emphasis supplied)

The remainder of the text included three more references to the effects of INHIBOX being “long term”. This included a heading “And long term!” under which the packaging stated “”freezeframe technology is scientifically proven to reduce the appearance of wrinkles by up to 63.23% in just 28 days“ and ”freezeframe’s Dual Effect technology gives you proven instant wrinkle reduction, plus the world’s best long term wrinkle relaxing”.

Under the heading “Two of the world’s most potent wrinkle erasers* in one formula”– the packaging stated “[i]magine… the power of an instant wrinkle freeze, combined with the long term benefits of the most potent, cumulative facial relaxing technology on the planet. All in one simple formula.”

Despite all these references to “long term”, the High Court held at [102] that both the immediate and broader contexts meant the phrase “instant Botox® alternative” would not convey to the reasonable consumer in the target market that either a single treatment or long term use of INHIBIX would last for an equivalent period to a BOTOX injection.

In the immediate context – the packaging, the words “long term” must be understood in the context of “lasts for hours” and that the treatment was “instant” and working “within 5 minutes”. As a result, “long term” was mere puffery. At [99], the High Court explained:

…. The fact that the effect of Inhibox was said to be instant makes it less likely that the reasonable consumer would believe that those effects would last for as long as those of Botox. Put differently, the reasonable consumer would likely believe it too good to be true that the effects of Inhibox are both instant and as long lasting as those of Botox.

The broader context included that INHIBOX was a cream applied by the user while BOTOX is a pharmaceutical injection requiring a visit to a healthcare professional. INHIBOX was much cheaper. The two products were not sold in the same locations. In these circumstances, the High Court concluded at [101]:

Taking into account that broader context, it is difficult to conceive why the reasonable consumer in the target market would think that a topically self-applied cream obtained from the pharmacy at a relatively low cost and worn in the course of the usual activities of life (including bathing and exercise) would have the same period of efficacy after treatment as an injectable anti-wrinkle treatment that is only available to be administered by healthcare professionals at a higher cost. ….

Moreover, the reasonable consumer would not assume that the use of BOTOX in the phrase indicated a common trade connection between INHIBOX and BOTOX.

Similar reasoning led to the same conclusion in respect of Packaging A and the website even though the latter, in particular, seems to have used “long term” rather more prominently.

The errors made by the Full Court

The High Court’s reasons why the phrase “instant Botox® alternative” was not misleading or deceptive suggest a rather robust approach to assessing the impact of the conduct on the target market. In addition, its reasons provide further guidance about how the conduct should be analysed.

First, at [88] – [89], the High Court agreed the trial judge had made an appealable error by considering only the phrase and the broader context, not taking into account the immediate context as well. So, it is necessary to consider all three aspects.

Secondly, the Full Court had also erred. There are a number of strands to this. One key error was misidentification of the ordinary and reasonable consumer. A second was the false premise that consumers would think the phrase “instant Botox® alternative” conveyed an association between INHIBOX and the trade source of BOTOX.

On the second point at [89], the High Court pointed out that the trial judge had found “instant Botox® alternative” would not convey an association between INHIBOX and BOTOX and there had been no appeal from that finding.

On the first point, the Full Court had found that some members of the relevant class would know that the effects of BOTOX lasted four months. The High Court criticised the factual basis for the conclusions about how long BOTOX lasted and whether consumers knew that.

More generally, however, the High Court said the Full Court had been wrong to assess the effects of the phrase on the target market on the basis that some reasonable consumers would have been misled. At [90], the High Court explained:

…. Further, the Full Court’s statement that the target market “would have included” reasonable consumers who had that knowledge demonstrated a misunderstanding of the relevant test. The ordinary and reasonable consumer is a hypothetical construct to whom the court attributes characteristics and knowledge in order to characterise the impugned conduct. The class in fact will always have reasonable consumers with varying levels of knowledge; the question was whether the knowledge should be attributed to the hypothetical reasonable consumer in this case.

Then, as already discussed above, the High Court proceeded to analyse how the phrase “instant Botox® alternative” would be perceived and understood by the ordinary reasonable consumer in all the circumstances.

Self Care IP Holdings Pty Ltd v Allergan Australia Pty Ltd [2023] HCA 8


  1. Picking up the definition of What is a trade mark in s 17 as explained in Campomar and E & J Gallo at [42]: “the requirement that a trade mark ”distinguish“ goods encompasses the orthodox understanding that one function of a trade mark is to indicate the origin of ”goods to which the mark is applied“[16]. Distinguishing goods of a registered owner from the goods of others and indicating a connection in the course of trade between the goods and the registered owner are essential characteristics of a trade mark[17]. There is nothing in the relevant Explanatory Memorandum[18] to suggest that s 17 was to effect any change in the orthodox understanding of the function or essential characteristics of a trade mark.” (citations omitted)  ?
  2. Irving’s Yeast-Vite Ltd v F A Horsenail (trading as The Herbal Dispensary) (1934) 51 RPC 110 at 115.36; 1B IPR 427 at 431.37.  ?
  3. 51 RPC 115.36; 1B IPR 432.  ?
  4. See also Scandinavian Tobacco Group Eersel BV v Trojan Trading Company Pty Ltd [2016] FCAFC 91 at [49]ff and Warwick A Rothnie, ‘Unparalleled importing and trademarks in Australia,’ (2020) 21(3) Business Law International 229.  ?

Self Care v Allergan – Part 2 Read More »

Did the High Court change the law of trade mark infringement to a kind of registered passing off?

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.

Some facts

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”.[1]

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 [17], 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.[2]

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.

  1. 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;
  2. 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;[3]
  3. 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;[4]
  4. 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
  5. “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.[5] 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.[6]

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:[7]

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 [1981] 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.[8]

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 [22] pointed out that infringement under s 120(1) requires 2 distinct questions to be addressed:

  1. Did the alleged infringer use the sign “as a trade mark” – that is, as a “badge of origin” to indicate trade source?
  2. If so, was the sign deceptively similar to the registered trade mark?[9]

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 [24], 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[50]. 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[51], 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[52]. A well known example where the use was not “as a trade mark” was in Irving’s Yeast-Vite Ltd v Horsenail[53], 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 [25], 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 [191]. 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 [191], 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 [26] – [51].

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 [26] 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 [27], 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 [28], their Honours emphasised the artificial nature of the inquiry. Stating at [29]:

…. 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)[10]

Returning to this issue, at [33] 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”.[11] 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.[12]

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 [29], is the Chifley Tower case.[13] 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 [50] 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 [37] 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 [40] 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:

  1. section 60 providing a ground of opposition on the basis of the reputation in the opponent’s trade mark;
  2. the provision for registration as a ‘defensive’ trade mark provided by section 185;
  3. the extended form of infringement provided by section 120(3); and
  4. 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 [63], 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 [64], 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 [69] 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 [69] quoted above picks up what their Honours had said in [68]. 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 [70] 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”[136]. 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 [71], 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 [2023] 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.


  1. 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.  ?
  2. At [19], the “overwhelming” and “ubiquitous reputation of BOTOX”.  ?
  3. 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 [1997] FCA 962; 39 IPR 187.  ?
  4. Compare Trade Marks Act 1995 (Cth) s 10 to the High Court’s approval in Campomar Sociedad, Limitada v Nike International Limited
    [2000] HCA 12 at [106] quoting Taco Co of Australia Inc v Taco Bell Pty Ltd (1982) 42 ALR 177 at 201 (Deane and Fitzgerald JJ).  ?
  5. Saville Perfumery Ld. v. June Perfect Ld. (1941) 58 RPC 147.  ?
  6. 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 [2022] FCAFC 153; 168 IPR 404 (Nicholas, Rofe and McElwaine JJ) at [43] (Nicholas, Rofe and McElwaine JJ); In-N-Out Burgers, Inc v Hashtag Burgers Pty Ltd [2020] FCA 193; 377 ALR 116; 150 IPR 73 at [80] and [160] (Katzmann J) (affirmed on appeal) and many others.  ?
  7. Goodman Fielder Pte Ltd v Conga Foods Pty Ltd [2020] FCA 1808; 158 IPR 9 at [364] citing Optical 88 Limited v Optical 88 Pty Limited (No 2) [2010] FCA 1380 at [99].  ?
  8. If you know of a court case where s 120(3) has been successfully asserted, please let me know.  ?
  9. 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.)  ?
  10. 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 [70].  ?
  11. 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 [44], Hashtag Burgers (2020) 385 ALR 514 at 532 [64], Combe International Ltd v Dr August Wolff GmbH & Co KG Arzneimittel (2021) 157 IPR 230 at 238 [27], PDP Capital Pty Ltd v Grasshopper Ventures Pty Ltd (2021) 285 FCR 598 at 622 [97] (see also 626 [111]) and Swancom (2022) 168 IPR 42 at 56 [73]. See also Self Care at [40] where the High Court acknowledged “the risk of collapsing the long standing distinction between infringement and passing off[101].”  ?
  12. See e.g. Optical 88 at [95] and Budweiser at [226]. 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.  ?
  13. MID Sydney v Australian Tourism Co (1998) 90 FCR 236.  ?

Did the High Court change the law of trade mark infringement to a kind of registered passing off? Read More »

Front views of two prior art microphones, the registered design and the XTrak

A case of design

A case of design

Burley J has ruled that Uniden’s XTrak mobile radio product would infringe GME’s registered design.

Uniden had begun displaying in Australia images of its Xtrak product on its website and in its online shop, but was not yet selling the product. After an exchange of correspondence in which Uniden refused to disclose its proposed launch date, GME sought an interlocutory injunction to restrain infringement of its registered design. Instead, Burley J listed the matter for early final hearing:

How good is that?

Helpfully, Burley J’s decision includes images of the prior art as well as the registered design and the Xtrak. Front views of the two closest prior art as well as the registered design and the Xtrak are set out below:

GME Uniden and the prior art

The legal issue

By s 71, a person infringes a registered design if they make, import, sell, offer to sell etc. a product embodying a design substantially similar in overall impression to the registered design.

Whether a product is substantially similar in overall impression to a registered design is tested by the matters set out in s 19.

Those matters require the Court to give more weight to the similarities than the differnces having regard to the state of development of the prior art, whether or not there is a statement of newness and distinctiveness[1] and the freedom of the designer to innovate. As GME’s design was registered before the ACIP Response Act, these matters fell to be considered from the perspective of the “standard of the informed user”.

The s 19 factors are also used to determine the validity of a registered design.

Burley J noted that the ALRC had explained how the substantial similarity test was supposed to work at paragraph 6.7:

…. The word ‘substantially’ is preferred to ‘significantly’ because ‘substantially’ has already been interpreted in a copyright context to be a qualitative and not quantitative term. The qualitative test is useful to determine designs infringement without importing a copying criterion. A qualitative test will assist the courts in evaluating the importance of the similarities and differences between competing designs. ….

and:

The phrase ‘overall impression’ is preferred because it encourages the court to focus on the whole appearance of competing designs instead of counting the differences between them.

(The emphasis is Burley J’s.)

Burley J pointed out, therefore, the prior art is relevant not just to the validity of the design but also infringement as it helps determine the proper scope of the design.

Accordingly, where the state of the art was highly developed, distinctiveness may lie in only small advances. If so, however, a correspondingly close degree of resemblance would be required between the accused product and the registered design.

Comparing the designs

Burley J considered the overall shape of the registered design and the Xtrak was very similar, both being vertically symmetrical curve-shaped trapezoids tapering to the base. The screen arrangement and screen surrounds were very similar. As was the curved PTT (or press to transmit button) and the clear spatial separation below the upper buttons and the lower buttons.

Front views of the registered design and the Xtrac labelled to identify corresponding features
Registered design v Xtrac

His Honour noted a number of differences. The registered design had a slight “step in” feature (which contributed to the spatial separation between the upper and lower buttons on the front face); the lower buttons in the registered design were arranged a central trapezoidal button where the Xtrak had a central column of speakers; thirdly, the Xtrak had a row of dummy buttons centred on the top speaker element while the registered design displayed a curving speaker panel. Other differences, such as the visibility of the microphone and the top buttons, were relatively trivial and given less weight.

Burley J accepted that there were functional and ergonomic considerations affecting the design of such products. For example, the “basic architecture” of such products would include a PTT button, buttons, a speaker, a microphone, a boss and a downward-facing grommet. Others included a shape that could be held in one hand, the positioning of the PTT button on the left-hand side.

However, the evidence of the prior art showed there was considerable scope for variation in these features so a designer had considerable freedom to innovate.

Overall, Burley J held at [84] the Xtrack was closer to the registered design than the registered design was to the prior art and so infringed:

I take into account the state of development of the prior art in making my assessment, in accordance with s 19(2)(a) of the Act. In my view the informed user would regard the XTRAK to be more similar in overall impression to the GME design than any of the other prior art devices. The prior art base demonstrates that the overall shape of each of the devices considered in section 3.3 above varies considerably, from broadly rectangular, to trapezoidal, to the waisted rectangle of the Crystal. The two most similar to the GME design, in terms of shape, in the prior art are the TX4500S and the Standard Horizon, yet they have more obviously different appearances in terms of their front face arrangements.

2 other matters

First, the statement of newness and distinctiveness was so general, not identifying any particular features, it played no role in the assessment.

Secondly, as noted, the comparison fell to be made under the “standard of the informed user” test applicable before the amendments made by the ACIP Response Act.

Burley J applied the “familiar person” test developed by Yates J and also applied by Nicholas J, not the “informed user” approach. It does seem both practical and sensible for the Courts to apply the “familiar person” test to pre-ACIP Response Act cases now, given the divergent responses and the legislative adoption of the “familiar person” test going forward.

Final judgment matters

In his Honour’s final orders disposing of the proceeding, Burley J refused to make an order for delivery up and takedown against Uniden. The orders included an injunction, the infringing products had never been sold in Australia and there was no reason to believe Uniden would not comply with the injunction:

… the broad principle underlying the making of such order is that where an injunction has been made and, that notwithstanding, there is a basis for considering that there may be a temptation to act in breach of the injunction because of materials possessed by a party, then it may be appropriate to order delivery up and takedown: see Goodman Fielder Pte Ltd v Conga Foods Pty Ltd [2021] FCA 307. That circumstance does not arise in the present case. An injunction will be made against Uniden, a large corporation. There is no reason to believe that it would not behave in accordance with the injunction, as counsel for the applicant accepts. In those circumstances, and having regard to the correspondence which indicates that the XTRAK product has never been sold in Australia, it is appropriate to decline to make an order for delivery up and takedown.

Burley J also adopted a process designed to expedite resolution of the order that Uniden pay GME’s costs of the proceeding.

At the parties’ request, Burley J allowed them 14 days to negotiate the quantum of costs payable by Uniden to GME. If they were unable to agree, Burley J ordered that GME should file and serve within a further 14 days a Costs Summary in accordance with the Costs Practice Note (GPN-Costs). Uniden would then have a further 14 days to file and serve a costs response. If the parties were still unable to agree within 14 days of that service, then a Registrar was directed to determine the quantum including, if thought appropriate, on the papers.

A check on Federal Law Search shows the proceeding as “closed”.

GME Pty Ltd v Uniden Australia Pty Ltd [2022] FCA 520


  1. There was a statement of newness and distinctiveness here: “Newness and distinctiveness is claimed in the features of shape and/or configuration of a microphone as illustrated in the accompanying representations.”  ?

A case of design Read More »

Big Mac sues Big Jack

Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun – it’s a …

As you have no doubt heard, late last month McDonald’s Asia Pacific sued Hungry Jacks following the launch in July of the “Big Jack”.[1]

Michaela Whitbourn at the Channel 9 paper has a clean slide over comparison or you can get messy fingers here (your choice whether you skip the ads or not).

Mr Too Aussie’s video suggests the Big Jack is a special or limited time offer. However, Hungry Jack’s did file for and has obtained registration for “Big Jack” as a trade mark, No 2050899, for hamburgers etc. in classes 29 and 30, way back in November 2019. And Ben Butler at The Guardian reports McDonalds is also seeking revocation of that registration on the grounds the application was made in bad faith.[2]

After news of the court proceeding broke, Hungry Jack’s doubled down:

Someone’s suing Hungry Jack’s. They reckon Aussies are confusing the Big Jack with some American burger. But the Big Jack is clearly bigger ….

Hmmm. Earlier this year, Katzman J, in another case about burgers, explained:

What is the line between inspiration and appropriation? That is the question at the heart of the dispute in the present case.

That case didn’t turn out so well for the emulators.

As you will appreciate, McDonald’s have to get TM No. 2050899 cancelled in light of s 122(1)(e). Presumably, in addition to the “bad faith” allegation, McDonald’s is also asserting s 44 and s 60.

These provisions, like s 120, raise the question whether Big Jack is substantially identical with, or deceptively similar to, Big Mac.

You might think, even on the expanded and controversial test for “substantial identity” declared in Pham Global, the side by side comparison doesn’t work out in McDonald’s favour. Mac and Jack look and sound different and, you might think, convey rather different ideas.

What about deceptive similarity tested on the basis of imperfect recollection?

There couldn’t be too many Australians, especially of the fast food consuming public, who wouldn’t appreciate that Big Jack is gunning for Big Mac. But, is there a real and appreciable risk that a significant number of them would be caused at least to wonder whether there was some association with McDonald’s?[3]

Also, you would have to think, all those ordinary Australians would know you can only get a Big Mac in a McDonald’s outlet.

You would probably have to think they pretty much know Hungry Jack’s is a direct competitor, which makes a point of being critical of McDonald’s.[4]

Similarly, pretty much all those ordinary Australians winding up in a Hungry Jack’s take away could hardly be under any illusions that they were in Big Mac land?

Now, at 50(iii), French J did wholly orthodoxly say:

In considering whether there is a likelihood of deception or confusion all surrounding circumstances have to be taken into consideration. These include the circumstances in which the marks will be used, the circumstances in which the goods or services will be bought and sold and the character of the probable acquirers of the goods and services.

Does being in the shop count? Or is that violating the rule that you compare only the allegedly infringing trade mark to the registered trade mark?

What about billboards and the like? No shop context, probably a Hungry Jack’s logo – maybe not.

Also, you might think that “Big Mac” gets into the Woolworths territory of a household name and there could have lots of fun re-running the fight between Woolworths and Henschke.[5]

What do you think?

Would things be any different if we had an anti-dilution law?

Maybe, at 50c to almost $1 more, the Big Jack will turn out to be a commercial flop and Hungry Jack’s will give up. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Lid dip: Jasper Kwok


  1. And, by way of fig leaf, Hungry Jack’s also introduced a “Mega Jack”. NSD967/2020 – First case management hearing before Justice Burley on 2 October.  ?
  2. Shades of “merit” and “nerit”, but note the interesting approach in OHIM rejecting Banksy’s – or those representing him – attempt to “trade mark” one of his, er, graffiti.  ?
  3. See Registrar of Trade Marks v Woolworths at [50] per French J.  ?
  4. Just exactly whose burgers are Hungry Jack’s supposed to be better than?  ?
  5. Most recently addressed in the AMG case at [36] – [42]: The more famous your trade mark, the less likely people will recall it imperfectly.  ?

Big Mac sues Big Jack Read More »

The Commonwealth gets nothing on Sanofi’s undertaking as to damages

Nicholas J has dismissed the Commonwealth’s application for Sanofi to pay it compensation under the undertaking as to damages when Sanofi obtained an interlocutory injunction against Apotex’ plans to launch clopidogrel in Australia, but the patent was ultimately ruled invalid.

The decision is some 698 paragraphs long, so this going to be the briefest overview of some highlights only.

Some litigious background

Clopidogrel is a medication which can be used to inhibit blood clotting. Sanofi (then called Sanofi-Aventis) had patents protecting it around the world and had generated over US$1 billion in revenues. Sales in Australia being under Sanofi’s Plavix trade mark and BMS’ Iscover trade mark.

In August 2007, Apotex commenced proceedings for the revocation of Sanofi’s Australian patent.[1] Shortly after, Apotex also obtained registration of its generic version of clopidogrel on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods. In September 2007, it then applied for listing of its generic clopidogrel in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), through which the Commonwealth government subsidises the price of drugs in Australia.

As it missed the cut off date for the next round of listings in the PBS, it withdrew that application with the intention of making a further application before the next round closed on 1 December 2007. An application made in the December round would be for listing on the PBS from 1 April 2008.

In September 2007, however, Sanofi obtained an interlocutory injunction restraining Apotex from importing or selling in Australia pharmaceuticals which included clopidogrel as their active ingredient. Sanofi gave the usual undertaking as to damages as the price for that interlocutory injunction.

At the hearing for the interlocutory injunction, Apotex also gave an undertaking not to make an application for listing in the PBS pending the outcome of the trial. Apotex did not obtain from Sanofi an undertaking as to damages for that undertaking.

At the substantive trial, Gyles J dismissed Apotex’ application for revocation and instead found that it had infringed Sanofi’s patent. In September 2009, however, the Full Court upheld Apotex’ appeal and ordered the patent be revoked.[2] Sanofi’s application for special leave was dismissed by the High Court on 12 March 2010.[3]

Sandoz obtained PBS listing for its generic clopidogrel on 1 April 2010. Apotex did not obtain listing of its product until 1 May 2010. So, in addition to whatever sales it lost between 1 April 2008 and the lifting of the injunction in 2010, Apotex also lost whatever advantages may have flowed from being the first generic mover.

Sanofi and Apotex settled Apotex’ claims for compensation on the undertaking as to damages out of court.

The Commonwealth’s claims

The Commonwealth also claimed compensation under the undertaking as to damages.

Its case was that Apotex would have been listed on the PBS from 1 April 2008 if Sanofi had not been granted the interlocutory injunctions and so, as a result of the interlocutory injunction, the price payable for clopidogrel:

(a) was not reduced by the statutory reduction to the Approved Price to Pharmacists of 12.5%[4] (i.e. in very loose terms, the Commonwealth paid a price 12.5% higher than it should have been on all sales of clopidogrel between 1 April 2008 and 1 May 2010);

(b) further statutory reductions of 2% each were not triggered on, respectively, 1 August 2009 and 1 August 2010; and

(c) additional price reductions consequent upon the triggering of a statutory price disclosure regime which should have occurred on 1 April 2008.

(From [653] in his Reasons, Nicholas J discusses various scenarios for the calculation of how much the grant of the interlocutory injunction cost the Commonwealth. The lowest amount his Honour would have found in terms of compensation was in the order of $15 million.)

To succeed in its claim, Nicholas J held (at [196]) that the Commonwealth had to show:

· Would the relevant loss have been sustained but for the grant of interlocutory injunction?

· Did such loss flow directly from the interlocutory injunction?

· Could loss of the kind sustained have been foreseen at the time the interlocutory injunction was granted?

Why the Commonwealth lost

The Commonwealth was able to secure a number of witnesses from Apotex. These included the managing director of Apotex Australia, a Mr Millichamp, whose affidavit evidence was to the effect that Apotex was committed to launch its generic clopidogrel in Australia if, having been notified of Apotex’ plans to launch, Sanofi did not obtain an interlocutory injunction.[5]

The problem for the Commonwealth was that Apotex Australia is part of a corporate group controlled by Apotex Canada and the decision on whether or not to launch the product in Australia was to be made by Apotex Canada – specifically its founder and managing director, Dr Barry Sherman.

The evidence did show that in February 2007, Dr Sherman did plan for Apotex to launch its generic clopidogrel in Australia if Sanofi did not get an interlocutory injunction against it. Over time, however, the situation developed further. For example, the evidence included an email Mr Millichamp sent to one of his offsiders on 27 June 2007 when it appeared that the TGA listing was imminent (emphasis supplied) which stated:

[redacted]

[redacted] If we are successful in avoiding an injunction we will plan to launch subject to Barry’s further advice / approval.

If anything changes I’ll let you know.

“Barry” being Dr Sherman. At [251], Nicholas J considered this email indicated that Apotex had not yet decided whether it would launch its clopidogrel product in Australia if Sanofi did not succeed in getting an interlocutory injunction to restrain it.

Secondly, Apotex appears to have been planning to supply Australia from US stocks, but the shelf life of those products would not extend beyond August 2008 which was not very practical – especially when the earliest launch date would be April 2008.

Thirdly, Apotex’ challenge to Sanofi’s patent in the USA had been rejected by the trial judge.

Fourthly, Apotex’ communications to pharmacies did not definitely commit to a launch of the product.

Fifthly, Apotex had not exposed its legal advice on its prospects so Mr Millichamp’s evidence that “we always believed that all of the claims of the patent were invalid”

are not persuasive in circumstances where any legal advice upon which such a belief was based is not in evidence particularly in circumstances where the validity of the US Patent had already been upheld by the US District Court in a decision that was later affirmed on appeal.

Sixthly, at the time of the hearing for the interlocutory injunction in September 2007, the judge had indicated the final trial of substantive issues would be heard in April 2008 and he would give judgment by August 2008.[6] That is, the trial would take place in the same month as the earliest date that Apotex could be in the market if it re-submitted its PBS application before 1 December 2007.

In these circumstances, Nicholas J considered at [286]:

In the absence of evidence from Dr Sherman, I am not persuaded that he would have authorised a launch at risk in circumstances where an interlocutory injunction had been refused, but a final hearing was fixed to commence on 28 April 2008. ….

Rather, Nicholas J considered there was every reason for Dr Sherman to have deferred Apotex’ decision whether to launch or not until the last possible moment.

At this point, the failure (or inability) of the Commonwealth to call Dr Sherman as a witness became decisive all the more so as the Commonwealth was able to produce for cross-examination other Apotex witnesses who did travel from Canada and India. Nicholas J concluded at [347] – [349]:

I conclude that Dr Sherman was a witness who I would have expected to have been available to the Commonwealth and who would have had a close knowledge of relevant facts. In circumstances where the Commonwealth’s decision not to call Dr Sherman was wholly unexplained, I infer that the Commonwealth chose not to call him because it considered that his evidence would not have assisted its case.

I am not prepared to infer, based on the 20 February 2007 email, or any of the subsequent correspondence in evidence which was said to justify the drawing of such an inference, that Dr Sherman was likely to have instructed Mr Millichamp to procure the listing of Apotex’s clopidogrel products with effect from 1 April 2008.

In my opinion, the Commonwealth’s case suffers from an evidentiary deficiency which cannot be made good by drawing inferences from correspondence written by Dr Sherman in the lead up to the hearing of the interlocutory application. In particular, I do not think it can be inferred that if Dr Sherman had known that the trial of the patent proceeding would commence in the same month that Apotex Australia obtained a PBS listing of its clopidogrel products (triggering a 12.5% statutory price reduction), that he would have, in those circumstances, authorised Apotex Australia to obtain such a listing before judgment was delivered or, at least, until the trial had concluded (by which time he and his colleagues and his legal advisers may have had a clearer view of the strength of Sanofi’s case).

In the result, at [351], Nicholas J held that the Commonwealth’s claim must be dismissed.

Some other matters

Having dismissed the claim, Nicholas J went on to consider a number of other matters, albeit by way of obiter dicta.

Apotex’ undertaking not to seek PBS listing was not direct loss

The fact that Sanofi did not give an undertaking as to damages in return for Apotex’ undertaking not to seek PBS listing if an interlocutory injunction restraining sale was made would have provided a second basis for dismissing the Commonwealth’s claim.

Nicholas J accepted that the losses claimed by the Commonwealth were a foreseeable consequence of the interlocutory injunction, however, they were not a sufficiently direct consequence of it.

Apotex had recognised that, if an interlocutory injunction restraining sale was granted, there was no point seeking PBS listing. It would not be able to give the guarantee of supply required to obtain PBS listing and so any listing would fail or be revoked. In addition, it might expose it to increased damages having to compensate Sanofi for the profits lost on the automatic 12.5% reduction in price.

While Nicholas J accepted the Commonwealth’s loss was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the interlocutory injunction, his Honour held it did not result directly from the injunction in the relevant sense. At [445], his Honour explained:

Even if it is accepted, as I have found, that the first Apotex undertaking would never have been given if the interlocutory injunction had not been granted, it does not follow that the Commonwealth’s loss flowed directly from the interlocutory injunction. The terms of the interlocutory injunction did not prevent Apotex Australia from applying for a PBS listing of its clopidogrel products or from taking any other steps to obtain such a listing. Doing so would not have involved a breach of the interlocutory injunction. The Commonwealth’s loss was a natural and direct consequence of Apotex Australia not being able to apply to list its clopidogrel products on the PBS with effect from 1 April 2008, which was the precise conduct to which the first Apotex undertaking was directed, but not something the interlocutory injunction expressly or implicitly prohibited. This strongly suggests, in my view, that the loss alleged by the Commonwealth in this case was an indirect consequence of the interlocutory injunction.

It is worth considering the ramifications of that conclusion. First, it has been held that it is not an infringement of the patent for someone to apply for PBS listing of a drug containing the protected invention.[7] Further, the Commonwealth is not in a position to require a generic company to refrain from giving an undertaking not to seek PBS listing unless there is an undertaking as to damages. Thirdly, His Honour’s reasoning would apply equally to the losses claimed by Apotex under the undertaking as to damages, not just the Commonwealth’s. If you are acting for a ‘generic’ in this situation, therefore, make sure any undertaking as to damages extends to any undertaking not to seek PBS listing.

Sanofi argued that, even if it did not get an interlocutory injunction, the Minister (or delegate) would refuse listing of Apotex’ product in the PBS on the grounds of patent infringement until the outcome of the proceeding was known. Sanofi’s own witnesses, however, admitted such an outcome was unlikely. Instead, Nicholas J considered an application for listing would most likely have been approved if Apotex had given the necessary guarantee of supply. At [419], Nicholas J said:

I do not think it likely that the Delegate would have refused the application on the basis that a trial of the patent proceedings would shortly take place or that a judgment might be expected to be given some time between May 2008 and August 2008. In my view the Delegate is likely to have been most influenced by two matters: first, the willingness of Apotex Australia to provide an assurance of supply and, second, the absence of any interlocutory injunction restraining any such supply. I think it unlikely that a Delegate would have questioned the ability of Apotex Australia to either comply with its assurance of supply or comply with its obligations under the guarantee of supply. So far as the latter was concerned, I consider it most likely that the Delegate would have proceeded on the basis that, in the event that there was some failure on the part of Apotex to supply during the guaranteed period, then it would be open to the Minister in that situation to exercise one or more of the powers available under the relevant provisions of the NHA including the power to delist the Apotex Australia clopidogrel products and the power to reverse the 12.5% statutory price reduction.

Another area of dispute between the parties was what would have happened if the interlocutory injunction had not been granted but, as in fact happened, the trial judge found Apotex infringed. Mr Millichamp from Apotex gave evidence Apotex would have applied to have the Apotex product delisted. Sanofi argued that, in that situation, it would have been able to get the 12.5% automatic price reduction reversed. The Commonwealth contended that reversal was unlikely. There was a at least one prior case where the price reduction had been reversed before the price reduction became automatic. In the unexplained absence of the person who was the relevant decisionmaker within the Government at the time,[8] Nicholas J considered at [529] the chance the Commonwealth would not have reversed the price reduction to be less than 10%.

Sanofi disputed that interest was payable on compensation ordered under the undertaking as to damages. While his Honour did not finally decide the point, Nicholas J indicated at [697] that he would have ordered Sanofi to pay simple interest on the sum awarded on the basis that it would have been just and equitable to do so.

In light of the evidence that it would take only 2 to 3 weeks for Apotex to have written its own Product Information, Nicholas J would not have denied the Commonwealth recovery because the Product Information (and other stipulated regulatory disclosures) infringed Sanofi’s copyright.[9] His Honour considered at [643] there was “good reason to believe” that no interlocutory injunction would have been granted to restrain copyright infringement in that time frame.

Commonwealth of Australia v Sanofi (formerly Sanofi-Aventis) (No 5) [2020] FCA 543


  1. Australian Patent No 597784 for the dextro-rotatory enantiomer of methyl alpha–5 (4,5,6,7-tetrahydro (3,2-c) thieno pyridyl) (2-chlorophenyl)-acetate, a process for its preparation, and pharmaceutical compositions containing it.  ?
  2. One curiosity of this outcome is that Sanofi’s corresponding patents in Canada and the USA were both upheld as valid and infringed.  ?
  3. Further interlocutory injunctions were put in place pending the outcomes of the appeals.  ?
  4. In essence, while there was only one source of clopidogrel – Sanofi (and BMS as a licensee) – clopidogrel was listed in the PBS in formulary F1. As soon as a second, competing source obtained listing, Sanofi’s listing would be moved into formulary F2 with an automatic price reduction of 12.5% imposed by statute. See [144] – [145]. Paragraphs [36] – [77] contain a useful explanation of how the pricing of products listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme works and, in particular, the automatic reductions on pricing that apply when a second (usually generic) drug is listed.  ?
  5. The evidence disclosed that Apotex’ strategy, having successfully developed its generic clopidogrel (and having at least a further 18 months to complete development of a product based on a different salt), was (1) to secure ARTG listing then in short order (2) to apply for PBS listing, (3) to launch to the trade on an “at risk” basis – i.e. ensure the trade knew Apotex might have to withdraw the product if Sanofi’s patent was valid and (4) then to put Sanofi on notice of its plans to launch by bringing the revocation proceeding. An explicit part of the strategy was to secure the benefit of the undertaking as to damages if Sanofi did block sales through an interlocutory injunction.  ?
  6. The trial judge reached the statutory age for retirement in that month.  ?
  7. Warner-Lambert Company LLC v Apotex Pty Ltd (2017) 249 FCR 17  ?
  8. The fact that the person was no longer working for the Commonwealth was not a sufficient justification for the failure to call her.  ?
  9. The Copyright Act 1968 was subsequently amended to preclude the use of copyright against such materials. See now s 44BA.  ?

The Commonwealth gets nothing on Sanofi’s undertaking as to damages Read More »

How you infringe a Swiss claim in Australia

The Full Court has upheld Nicholas J’s ruling that Apotex infringed the Swiss claims in Warner-Lambert’s (Pfizer’s) pregabalin patent by making the product outside Australia and then threatening to import it into Australia for sale.

Claims 16 to 30 of the pregabalin patent were Swiss claims. For example, claim 16 was for “use of a compound of Formula 1 or a pharmaceutically acceptable salt diastereomer or an enantiomer thereof … in the manufacture of a medicament for the treatment of pain.”

Apotex’ plan was to have its product made overseas by a third party, then import the product and offer it for sale.

As you know, infringement requires the infringer to “exploit” the claim said to be infringed in the patent area.[1] For this purpose, the Dictionary defines exploit to mean:

“exploit ”, in relation to an invention, includes:

(a) where the invention is a product—make, hire, sell or otherwise dispose of the product, offer to make, sell, hire or otherwise dispose of it, use or import it, or keep it for the purpose of doing any of those things; or

(b) where the invention is a method or process—use the method or process or do any act mentioned in paragraph (a) in respect of a product resulting from such use.

Apotex argued that it was not going to infringe because Swiss claims are method claims[2] and so, according to Apotex, could be infringed only by practising the method in Australia. Therefore, according to Apotex, paragraph (b) of the definition of “exploit” should be limited to products made by practising the method in Australia only.

In Lundbeck at [693] – [694], Lindgren J had found infringement in similar circumstances, but through some rather convoluted reasoning. At [167], while rejecting Apotex’ criticisms of Lundbeck, the Full Court upheld the trial Judge’s finding of infringement on the basis of his Honour’s reasoning in preference to Lindgren J’s reasoning. Nicholas J found at [296]- [298]:

296 The definition of “exploit” makes no reference to the patent area. As I have said, the express territorial limitation upon the patentee’s exclusive rights is found in s 12 and s 13. In my respectful view, there is therefore no reason to read down the words of either para (a) or para (b) of the definition of “exploit” to found any territorial limitation. This is because the Act expressly provides that a patent only has effect in the patent area: see also s 70 of the Patents Act 1952 (Cth).

297 Paragraph (b) of the definition of “exploit” refers to the doing of an act referred to in para (a) which includes to make or import a product. The patentee’s exclusive rights are infringed (subject to available defences) if another person does any such act within the patent area. The fact that the patented method is performed outside the patent area does not avoid infringement of a method claim (including a Swiss claim) if the product imported and sold in Australia was made using the patented method because the acts of importation and sale occur within the patent area. The relevant act of infringement is not the use of the method outside the patent area but the exploitation (by importation and sale) in Australia of a product made using the patented method.

298 In my respectful opinion, contrary to the approach taken by Lindgren J, the relevant territorial limitation is reflected in the language of s 12 and s 13(3) and there is therefore no justification for importing words of territorial limitation into the definition of “exploit”. It follows that I take a somewhat different approach to the construction of the definition of “exploit” to that taken by Lindgren J in Alphapharm, though I do not think the difference has any impact on whether or not Apotex threatens to infringe the Swiss claims in this case.

So the question now appears to be “Is the respondent exploiting in Australia a product which was made by a method as claimed in the patent?” It does not matter whether the method was performed in or outside Australia.

If Apotex imported its product as planned, therefore, Apotex would infringe because it would be importing into Australia and then offering for sale a product which had been made by one of the claimed methods. Any other result, of course, would have seriously compromised the utility of method patents.

The Full Court also dismissed Apotex’ appeal against the findings that the Patent was fairly based and not invalidated by a false suggestion. That may be a topic for another day.

 

Warner-Lambert Company LLC v Apotex Pty Ltd (No 2) [2018] FCAFC 26 (Jagot, Yates and Burley JJ)


  1. Or authorise someone else to exploit the invention: s 13.  ?
  2. Otsuka at [120].  ?
  3. Article 83 of the European Patent Convention provides “The European patent application shall disclose the invention in a manner sufficiently clear and complete for it to be carried out by a person skilled in the art.”  ?

How you infringe a Swiss claim in Australia Read More »

Pokemon v Redbubble: the DMCA doesn’t apply Down Under

Pagone J has awarded Pokémon $1 in damages and 70% of its costs from Redbubble for misleading or deceptive conduct and copyright infringement. An interesting aspect of the case is that Redbubble’s implementation of a notice and take down scheme under the DMCA didn’t save it from liability, but did influence the ruling on remedies.[1]

Redbubble provides a print on demand online market place by which artists can upload their works to the Redbubble website and purchasers can then buy the artworks or designs applied to desired products such as t-shirts, cups and the like. A person uploading a work to the marketplace warrants that he or she has the relevant intellectual property rights and indemnified Redbubble against infringement claims.

The evidence showed Google searches in which paid (sponsored) and organic search results listing “Pokémon” products such as t-shirts bearing Pokemon’s Pikachu character[2] which could be ordered from the Redbubble site. The sponsored links were paid for and arranged by Redbubble through the Google Merchant Centre and the products themselves were offered for sale through Google Shopping. From the tenor of the judgment, I think that the designs were uploaded by third parties, but Redbubble arranged the “fulfillers” who printed and shipped the t-shirts (and other products) with the designs printed on them.

Pagone J found that Pokémon owned the copyright in the images of the Pokémon characters depicted on the various products in evidence. Further, the images were uploaded without Pokemon’s consent.

Pagone J found therefore that Redbubble had infringed Pokemon’s copyright and misrepresented, contrary to sections 18[3] and 29(1)(g) and (h) of the Australian Consumer Law, that the products were official or authorised Pokémon products.

In finding that there had been misrepresentations that the products were sponsored or approved by Pokémon, Pagone J referred, amongst other things, to the fact that the “sponsored” links did include the word “sponsored” (although this meant in fact that the products were sponsored by Redbubble, not Pokemon). His Honour also found significance in the fact that:

There was nothing on the Redbubble website to inform the consumer that there was no connection, authorised or otherwise, between Redbubble on the one hand and [Pokemon] (or any other entity authorised to exploit Pokémon products) on the other.

Copyright subsistence and ownership

Pokémon was able to prove it owned the copyright in the artistic works through the evidence of its attorney responsible for obtaining copyright registration in the USA. Although the attorney, Mr Monahan, had not been personally present when any works were created, Pagone J considered his evidence sufficient. At 36, his Honour said:

…. He conceded in cross?examination that he had not stood over the shoulder of any creator and, therefore, that he did not have direct eyewitness, or other direct, knowledge beyond that gained from “detailed consultation with the client” but that “with respect to each series of the cards, [he had] consult[ed] with the client to determine which – for instance, which Japanese card they derive[d] from, or [… where] the artwork comes from”. His specific and direct evidence was that of consulting with the client to determine that the works were made by the Japanese company and were made as the Japanese card, although, as mentioned, he did not fly personally to Japan and had not been witness to the creation process. It had been his specific professional responsibility to obtain and secure registrations in accordance with lawful entitlements and requirements. He was confident in that context of his conclusion that the Pikachu work was not a copy based upon an animation cell because of his experience over many years of consulting with the client as his professional obligations and legal duties. In specific response in cross?examination about being confident in giving evidence that the pose of Pikachu was not derivative of any other pose already published, Mr Monahan said that every investigation he had done about the card making process enabled him to say that the cards were generated on their own and were not derivative of the animation, “common poses notwithstanding”.[4]

Further, unlike Perram J in Dallas Buyer’s Club, Pagone J also accepted that the certificate of copyright registration in the USA identifying Pokémon as the claimant to copyright ownership was sufficient to enliven the presumption under s 126B(3) of the Copyright Act. (Given the history of the provision recounted by his Honour, one might think this should not be too controversial: afterall, how many other countries out there have a copyright registration system?)

Copyright infringement

Pagone J then held that Redbubble had infringed the copyright in three ways. First, his Honour held that Redbubble infringed by communicating the infringing images from its website. Although the images were uploaded by third parties, Redbubble made the communication for the purposes of [s 22(6)][22]: Pagone J distinguished Redbubble’s position from that of ISPs like iiNet at [48]:

In the present case Redbubble does not provide the content of the communications in the sense of being the originator of any of the 29 images on its website said to be infringements of the Pikachu work. In each case the originator was the artist who had placed the image on the Redbubble website. Redbubble, however, was responsible for determining that content through its processes, protocols and arrangements with the artists. Redbubble’s position is not like that of an internet provider. Redbubble is the host of the website with the infringing material. It has a user agreement with artists which deals with matters including the possibility of infringing materials, an IP policy, and a team dedicated to deal with impermissible content.

Secondly, offering the products for sale online was sufficient to enliven s 38 which, amongst other things, extends to exhibiting “infringing” articles in public by way of trade.

Although there appear to have been some rather unspecific complaints about copyright infringement by Pokémon between 2012 and 2014,[5] Pagone J found that Redbubble knew, or ought reasonably have known, that the products were infringing from the date of the letter of demand from Pokémon’s external solicitors on 25 November 2015.[6]

Thirdly, Pagone J held that Redbubble had infringed Pokemon’s copyright by authorising the manufacture of the infringing products when orders for their purchase were placed.

In this respect, it is worth noting that Redbubble had implemented and acted on a notice and takedown system under the (US) DMCA.[7] Pagone J recognised, therefore, that Redbubble did not expressly authorise infringement and took conscious, considered and reasonable steps, both proactively and responsively, to prevent infringements.[8] These, however, were not enough. At [67], his Honour said:

The business established by Redbubble carried the inherent risk of infringement of copyright of the kind complained of by [Pokemon]. It is true that Redbubble sought to mitigate the risk, but it was an inevitable incident of the business, as Redbubble chose to conduct it, that there were likely to be infringements. It could have prevented them by taking other steps but for business reasons Redbubble chose to deal with the risk of infringement by a process that enabled the infringements to occur. Such infringements were embedded in the system which was created for, and adopted by, Redbubble. There may have been a sound commercial basis for Redbubble to manage the risks of infringement as it did, but in doing so it authorised the infringements which occurred.

Remedies

Pokémon sought $44,555.84 in damages by way of lost royalties for the consumer law breaches and only nominal damages for copyright infringement. As already noted, however, Pagone J awarded only $1 in total.

The evidence did not establish that sales made by Redbubble were lost sales by Pokémon. There was, for example, no evidence that many of the sales were sales of kinds of products sold by Pokémon or its licensees. For example, his Honour said:

…. Many of the items sold through the Redbubble website involved a “mash up” of images, such as the combination of Pikachu and Homer Simpson. The finding of an infringing use of a work, or an impermissible representation in trade, does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that the sale made by the infringement or upon the misrepresentation was necessarily a sale that would have been made by the wronged party. The unreliability of such an assumption in this case can be seen from the fact that the infringements were in the use of the image in mash ups in, and in items that were not sold or authorised for sale by [Pokemon]. ….

Given the notice and take down processes put in place by Redbubble, Pagone J was not prepared to find the infringements were “flagrant”, warranting the award of additional damages under s 115(4)

Pokémon Company International, Inc. v Redbubble Ltd [2017] FCA 1541


  1. Implementation and compliance with the DMCA scheme explicitly affected the ruling on additional damages.  ?
  2. Even if you haven’t played it, you must have seen all those people milling around in parks at lunchtime trying to “capture” these imaginary Pokémon Go “critters”. Pokemon itself has an even longer history. There are also trading card games and a successful television series which has been broadcast in Australia since 2000 and distributed on over 57,000 DVDs.  ?
  3. If you are not sweltering in the southern summer sun, s 18 provides “A person must not, in trade or commerce, engage in conduct that is misleading or deceptive or is likely to mislead or deceive.” And s 29(1)(g) and (h) prohibit making false or misleading representations in trade or commerce about sponsorship, affiliation or approval.  ?
  4. Curiously, at [44] (when discussing ownership by proof of a certificate), his Honour also said Pokémon had not proved ownership on the basis of authorship.  ?
  5. In fact, Pagone J subsequently found that Redbubble did in fact remove listings when Pokemon notified it that they were infringing.  ?
  6. It is less than clear from the judgment what action Redbubble took in response to the letter of demand. Ordinarily, one would assume that it had continued engaging in the infringing conduct but that seems a bit surprising given Pagone J records that Redbubble did comply with other take down notices once the subject of complaint had been properly identified.  ?
  7. The DMCA, being US legislation, does not provide protection from infringement in Australia under the Australian Copyright Act 1968. Redbubble also purported to operate under the corresponding Australian provisions ss116AA – 116AJ but, of course, it is not a carriage service provider and so they do not apply either.  ?
  8. Cf. esp. Section 36(1A)(c)[s36].  ?

Pokemon v Redbubble: the DMCA doesn’t apply Down Under Read More »

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