The Agency Group is a real estate agency that operates nationwide including, amongst other places, on the Northern Beaches of Sydney. It services the Northern Beaches from offices in Manly and Neutral Bay.
In the 12 months or so up to 31 March 2023, between them the two offices sold more than 190 properties, with some 40 others up for sale. They had also leased over 300 properties, with another 17 still up for rent. The Agency Group had spent over $4.4 million on advertising its Northern Beaches properties on <realestate.com.au> and <domain.com.au>. In the 12 months to 31 March 2023, the properties serviced by the Neutral Bay and Manly offices had attracted 1,868,000 property views on <realestate.com.au> alone.
And, from February 2017 to March 2023, the two offices had generated almost $40 million in revenue.
H.A.S. Real Estate Agency began trading in the Northern Beaches area in March 2023 from offices in Dee Why, also in the Northern Beaches region. From the start, the business operated as “The North Agency”. Its two directors had been working in real estate in the area since 2007 and 2008.
Screenshots of the businesses’ respective websites before his Honour showed:
The Agency Group also had two registered trade marks for real estate services in class 36:
(TM 1836914) and a second registered trade mark for the figurative letter “A”.
The respondent of course also used “The North Agency” in plain text to refer to itself and in the URL for its website and email addresses etc.
The Self Care v Allergan “problem”
There have been a number of first instance and Full Court decisions since Self Care v Allergan but Jackman J’s decision is the first to confront what the High Court said and what it actually did directly.
At , Jackman J distilled helpfully 12 principles from Self Care v Allergan. Then at  to  his Honour considered a further principle: noting that the High Court at  and  stated as a matter of principle that trade mark infringement is concerned with a comparison of the two trade marks and is not looking at the totality of the respondent’s conduct as would be the case in passing off or for misleading or deceptive conduct. His Honour observed that:
(1) At  footnotes 67 and 68, the High Court expressly endorsed the Full Federal Court’s proposition in MID Sydney Pty Ltd v Australian Tourism Co Ltd (1998) 90 FCR 236 at 245, “that it is irrelevant that the respondent may, by means other than its use of the mark, make it clear that there is no connection between its business and that of the applicant”;
(2) “On the same page, their Honours said that the comparison is between marks, not uses of marks, and hence it is no answer that the respondent’s use of the mark is in all the circumstances not deceptive, if the mark itself is deceptively similar”;
(3) Also, the High Court approved Gummow J’s statement in the Moo-Moove case that disclaimers are to be disregarded as are price differences, colour and target audiences; and
(4) At , the High Court stated “the court is not looking to the totality of the conduct of the defendant in the same way as in a passing off suit” and cited numerous authorities in footnote 81 endorsing that proposition.
At , however, Jackman J recognised that, in explaining why PROTOX was not deceptively similar to BOTOX the High Court in fact took into account additional “matter” extraneous to the two trade marks such as a disclaimer on the PROTOX website that “PROTOX has no association with any anti-wrinkle injection brand”.
His Honour, with respect, rightly pointed out it is impossible to reconcile the principles declared by the High Court with what the High Court actually did. In those circumstances, Jackman J proposed to apply the principles declared by the High Court and disregard what the High Court actually did at  and  of Self Care v Allergan. Jackman J explained at :
With the greatest respect, those passages are impossible to reconcile with the Court’s approval of the authorities referred to above which state that such additional material used by the respondent is irrelevant to the issue of trade mark infringement. The internal contradiction places a trial judge in an awkward dilemma, which I propose to resolve by simply disregarding the passages quoted above from  and  as unfortunate errors. On the High Court’s own reasoning, it would be a fundamental error of longstanding legal principle if I were to adopt their Honours’ mode of analysis in  and  by taking into account on the question of deceptive similarity, for example, that the use by H.A.S. Real Estate of “THE NORTH AGENCY” was typically accompanied by the distinctive N Logo, thereby implicitly disavowing any association with the applicants or their services.
It can be hoped that other judges will also follow this brave course.
It has to be acknowledged, however, that the the High Court went on in  after footnote 81 to say:
…. 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. Consideration of the context of those surrounding circumstances does not “open the door” for examination of the actual use of the registered mark, or, as will be explained, any consideration of the reputation associated with the mark.
But, as the cases cited by the High Court show, those decisions were not engaged in the whole circumstances type of inquiry which characterises claims under the ACL and in passing off.
Why The North Agency did not infringe
The issue here is whether the respondent’s use of The North Agency was deceptively similar to The Agency Group’s registered trade mark.
Even on the “traditional” trade mark infringement analysis, Jackman J found that The North Agency was not deceptively similar to The Agency Group’s trade mark.
First, at  – , the inclusion of “North” in the respondent’s trade mark was a signficant differentiating factor. It was larger and more prominent in advertising material such as the website. But even in plain use such as the website URL and email addresses where “The North” was not given any particular prominence, it remained a striking aspect. As his Honour explained at  in rejecting the brand extension or franchising risk, “the Agency” and “the North Agency emphasised different businesses.
Secondly, at , Jackman J noted that TM No. 1836914 was not a word mark but a composite mark consisting of words and device elements. This was important as it meant that a trade mark consisting of a number of elements had to be considered as a whole. Moreover, where a trade mark consisted of words and other device elements, care needed to be taken before characterising the words as an essential feature lest what was distinctive because it was a composite mark be converted into “something quite different”.
Thirdly, that was important in this case as (at  and  – , ) the word “Agency” was commonly used by real estate agents to describe their businesses. This evidence of trade usage was admissible. It meant that the word itself had less distinctive force. Instead, it was the combination as a whole which operated as the badge of origin.
It is respectfully submitted his Honour’s approach to the significance of the commonality of the word “agency” in both the registered trade mark and the alleged infringement is the sort of contextual significance that the traditional case law has taken into account; assisting the Court to determine what the essential, memorable features of the trade mark are for the purposes of imperfect recollection.
It was the public’s familiarity with “Chifley” as a surname (including a prime minister) and as geographical places that meant The Chifley and Chifley on the Wharf were not deceptively similar to The Chifley Tower in Mid Sydney v Australian Tourism Co. For similar reasons, the High Court had ruled in the Mond Staffordshire case that Mulsol did not infringe Mondsol, way back in 1929 – “sol” and “ol” being commonly used in germicidal and medicinal preparations.
So, if this is the way the Courts will deal with the dilemma posed by Self Care v Allergan, we can probably breathe a sigh of relief (except when acting for a respondent!).
Jackman J went on to reject the claim of infringement of TM by the “N” logo. His Honour considered the slant of the “N” logo coupled with the degree symbol reinforced the idea of a compass pointing north in contrast to a stylised representation of a house.
For completeness, Jackman J did acknowledge at  that there would be even less prospects for deceptive similarity if one were to take into account the extraneous considerations referenced by the High Court in Self Care v Allergan and, consequently, the claims under the ACL and for passing off failed too.
The Agency Group’s figures nationally were $2, 788.5 million in sales revenue and, in the 12 months ending on 31 March 2023, there had been 8,748,102 views of its properties on <realestate.com.au> from NSW and a further 15,246,484 page views from the rest of Australia. ?
The Agency Group’s Neutral Bay office had a profile page on Domain: The Agency North but the applicant was not allowed to run a case of misleading or deceptive conduct based on that as a matter of pleadings (@ ) and, in any event, (@ ) there was not sufficient evidence to support a claim for reputation in the absence of evidence of how many page views there had been of the profile page or other use of the phrase. ?
A unanimous High Court has upheld Self Care’s appeal and ruled that PROTOX and “instant Botox® alternative” do not infringe Allergan’s BOTOX registered trade mark. Nor was “instant Botox® alternative” false, misleading or deceptive conduct contrary to the ACL.
The High Court’s ruling that the reputation of the registered trade mark has no part to play in infringement under section 120(1) has finally settled that issue. More interestingly, in explaining why PROTOX did not infringe BOTOX their Honours also may also have changed how infringement is assessed. Thirdly, the High Court’s explanation why “instant BOTOX® alternative” did not infringe confirms that the plain English 1995 Act fundamentally changed the nature of trade mark use.
Allergan owns various registered trade marks in Australia for BOTOX including in class 5 for “pharmaceutical preparations for the treatment of … wrinkles” and in class 3 for “anti?ageing creams” and “anti?wrinkle cream”.
Allergan’s BOTOX product is an injectable pharmaceutical product containing botulinum toxin, type A which is administered by healthcare professionals and which can last for several months. That is, a class 5 product type. It does not sell an anti-ageing or anti-wrinkle cream. Its class 3 registration, however, is a defensive registration under section 185. As the High Court pointed out at , it was the reputation Allergan had derived from its extensive use of BOTOX for the goods in class 5 that was the basis for the defensive registration in class 3.
Self Care markets anti-wrinkle creams under the trade mark FREEZEFRAME. Its FREEZEFRAME products come in at least 2 lines – PROTOX and INHIBOX. These creams could be self-administered and could reduce the appearance of ageing for up to a few hours. The image below shows the PROTOX packaging the subject of the litigation:
The INHIBOX labels are similar, but bearing INHIBOX AND the slogan “instant BOTOX® alternative”.
Some differences between trade mark infringement and passing off / ACL
To consider what the High Court did when finding PROTOX did not infringe BOTOX, I want to recall four or five main differences between actions for “traditional” trade mark infringement and passing off or misleading or deceptive conduct contrary to the ACL.
For “traditional” trade mark infringement (that is, infringement under section 120(1)), the trade mark owner just has to prove that the trade mark was registered – there is no need to prove reputation; just the fact of registration;
For “traditional” trade mark infringement at least, it was necessary to show that the accused conduct was conduct in relation to the goods or services for which the trade mark was registered whereas passing off and the ACL were not so limited;
Trade mark infringement can occur where a reasonable member of the public is caused to wonder whether or not there is some connection between the accused conduct while passing off and the ACL require a likelihood of deception or being misled;
At least for trade mark infringement, the accused use must be use as a trade mark; that is, as a “badge of origin” to identify trade source; and
“Traditional” trade mark infringement required a comparison of the mark as registered to the particular sign alleged to infringe alone. The Court has ignored the use of other marks or indicia that may distinguish the relevant goods. In contrast, the comparison for false or misleading conduct or in passing off involves the accused use in context of all the circumstances.
This last point is well illustrated by the June Perfect case. There, Saville Perfumery had “June” registered in fancy script for toiletry articles including shampoo and lipsticks. June Perfect brought out its own range of lipsticks and shampoo under the name “June”. The packaging made it clear that the goods were the products of June Perfect.
The House of Lords held there was a clear case of trade mark infringement as the comparison was between the mark as registered and the sign used by June Perfect. On the question of passing off, however, the House of Lords accepted that June Perfect might be able to use its name in such a way that the trade source of the goods was clearly distinguished from Saville Perfumery. While there was an injunction to restrain June Perfect from infringing the trade mark, the passing off injunction restrained only the use of “June” without clearly distinguishing the trade source of the articles from Saville Perfumery.
There has been some relaxation over time to propositions 1 and 2.
First, section 120(2) extends the trade mark owner’s rights to cover not just the goods or services specified in the registration but also to things of the same description or closely related. Unlike the case with infringement under s 120(1), however, it is a defence to this extended form of infringement if the alleged infringer can show that the way they use their sign is not likely to deceive or cause confusion. Thus, the proviso to s 120(2) states:
However, the person is not taken to have infringed the trade mark if the person establishes that using the sign as the person did is not likely to deceive or cause confusion.
Thus, Burley J quoted with approval Yates J’s dictum:
So too it is recognised that, for the purposes of considering infringement under s 120(1), it is beside the point that the alleged infringer has added other material to the impugned trade mark, even if those steps were taken to avoid the likelihood of deception: Saville Perfumery Ltd v June Perfect Ltd (1941) 58 RPC 147 at 161 (Sir Greene MR) and at 174 (Viscount Maugham); Lever Brothers, Port Sunlight Limited v Sunniwite Products Ltd (1949) 66 RPC 84 at 89; Mark Foy’s Ltd v Davies Coop and Co Ltd (1956) 95 CLR 190 at 205; Polaroid Corporation v Sole N Pty Ltd  1 NSWLR 491 at 495; New South Wales Dairy Corporation v Murray Goulburn Co-Operative Company Limited (1989) 86 ALR 549 at 589; Polo Textile Industries Pty Ltd v Domestic Textile Corporation Pty Ltd (1993) 42 FCR 227 at 231–232. Considerations of this kind, if raised by an alleged infringer, are relevant when considering infringement under s 120(2) and may be relevant when considering infringement under s 120(3). However, the general position under s 120(1) is that infringement cannot be avoided by, for example, the use of additional matter if the mark itself is taken and used. Once again, if the test is not applied in this fashion a trade mark owner may be deprived of the monopoly conferred by registration. (emphasis supplied by Burley J)
As the High Court recognised in the Self Care case, the 1995 Act introduced a further broadening of what could be infringement in s 120(3). If a trade mark owner could show that its trade mark was well-known in Australia, it could claim infringement by use of a sign on wholly unrelated goods or services where the use would be likely to indicate a connection to the trade mark owner and the trade mark owner’s interests were likely to be prejudicially affected.
With that background, we can turn to the High Court’s reasons.
Self Care and some principles
The appeal is concerned only with infringement under s 120(1). The extended versions of infringement for similar or closely related products (s 120(2)) and “famous” or “well-known” trade marks (s 120(3)) were not in issue in this case.
The High Court at  pointed out that infringement under s 120(1) requires 2 distinct questions to be addressed:
Did the alleged infringer use the sign “as a trade mark” – that is, as a “badge of origin” to indicate trade source?
If so, was the sign deceptively similar to the registered trade mark?
These are, as the High Court emphasised, two different issues and the High Court approached them separately.
Use as a trade mark
The High Court confirmed that whether a sign is being used as a trade mark is to be determined objectively, without reference to the subjective intentions of the user. At , their Honours explained:
Whether a sign has been “use[d] as a trade mark” is assessed objectively without reference to the subjective trading intentions of the user. As the meaning of a sign, such as a word, varies with the context in which the sign is used, the objective purpose and nature of use are assessed by reference to context. That context includes the relevant trade, the way in which the words have been displayed, and how the words would present themselves to persons who read them and form a view about what they connote. A well known example where the use was not “as a trade mark” was in Irving’s Yeast-Vite Ltd v Horsenail, where the phrase “Yeast tablets a substitute for ‘Yeast-Vite’” was held to be merely descriptive and not a use of “Yeast-Vite” as a trade mark. Therefore, it did not contravene the YEAST-VITE mark. [citations omitted]
At , their Honours affirmed the longstanding principle that the existence of a descriptive element or purpose was not determinative if there were several purposes for the use of the sign. So long as one purpose is to distinguish the trade source, that will be sufficient.
Further, their Honours acknowledged that the presence of ‘a clear dominant “brand”’ can be relevant to assessing the balance of the label or packaging, but that did not mean that another sign on the labelling was not also functioning as a trade mark.
For the last proposition, the High Court cited Allsop J’s decision in the Budweiser case at . In that case, Anheuser-Busch, the owner of trade mark registrations for BUDWEISER successfully sued the Czech company for infringement by the latter’s use of BUDWEISER on labels such as:
At , Allsop J explained:
It is not to the point, with respect, to say that because another part of the label (the white section with ‘Bud?jovický Budvar’) is the obvious and important ‘brand’, that another part of the label cannot act to distinguish the goods. The ‘branding function’, if that expression is merely used as a synonym for the contents of ss 7 and 17 of the TM Act, can be carried out in different places on packaging, with different degrees of strength and subtlety. Of course, the existence on a label of a clear dominant ‘brand’ is of relevance to the assessment of what would be taken to be the effect of the balance of the label.
Turning to the PROTOX label, there cannot really be any dispute that PROTOX is used as a trade mark. The question then is whether it is deceptively similar to BOTOX.
The test for deceptive similarity
The High Court discussed the principles for determining whether a trade mark is deceptively similar to another at  – .
Noting that section 10 defines a deceptively similar mark to be one that so nearly resembles the registered trade mark that it is likely to deceive or cause confusion, at  the High Court stated the resemblance of the two marks must be the cause of the likely deception or confusion. And this involved an assessment of the two marks as a whole taking into account both their look and sound.
At , their Honours endorsed the much quoted explanation of the principles given by Dixon and McTiernan JJ in Australian Woollen Mills at 58 CLR 658:
“But, in the end, it becomes a question of fact for the court to decide whether in fact there is such a reasonable probability of deception or confusion that the use of the new mark and title should be restrained.
In deciding this question, the marks ought not, of course, to be compared side by side. An attempt should be made to estimate the effect or impression produced on the mind of potential customers by the mark or device for which the protection of an injunction is sought. The impression or recollection which is carried away and retained is necessarily the basis of any mistaken belief that the challenged mark or device is the same. The effect of spoken description must be considered. If a mark is in fact or from its nature likely to be the source of some name or verbal description by which buyers will express their desire to have the goods, then similarities both of sound and of meaning may play an important part.
At , their Honours emphasised the artificial nature of the inquiry. Stating at :
…. The notional buyer is assumed to have seen the registered mark used in relation to the full range of goods to which the registration extends. The correct approach is to compare the impression (allowing for imperfect recollection) that the notional buyer would have of the registered mark (as notionally used on all of the goods covered by the registration), with the impression that the notional buyer would have of the alleged infringer’s mark (as actually used). …. (original emphasis) (citations omitted)
Returning to this issue, at  their Honours emphasised that “the court is not looking to the totality of the conduct of the defendant in the same way as in a passing off suit”. The High Court continued:
…. In addition to the degree of similarity between the marks, the assessment takes account of the effect of that similarity considered in relation to the alleged infringer’s actual use of the mark, as well as the circumstances of the goods, the character of the likely customers, and the market covered by the monopoly attached to the registered trade mark. (citations omitted)
Cases approved by the High Court in Self Care have acknowledged that questions of some subtlety can arise assessing the context of a use to determine if the sign is being used as a trade mark and assessing whether the infringing sign is deceptively similar.
All of the cases endorsed by the High Court in these propositions, however, make the same point: the comparison is between the registered trade mark and the mark being used by the alleged infringer without regard to the totality of the conduct by the infringer such as the presence of other trade marks or disclaimers.
One example of the role of impression in this mark to mark comparison, expressly cited by the High Court at , is the Chifley Tower case. There, MID Sydney’s registration of CHIFLEY TOWER for building management services was not infringed by Touraust’s proposed use of CHIFLEY for the names of the hotels it managed – such as “Chifley on the Wharf” or “The Chifley”.
One reason was that the services were not the same or of the same description.
Importantly for present purposes, the Full Court also found the marks were not deceptively similar because the public was familiar with many different uses of “Chifley” – apart from MID Sydney’s. This included the name of the Prime Minister, a restaurant and numerous geographical places. With that general background knowledge, therefore, the distinctive power of MID Sydney’s trade mark lay in the combined term, not in the common element CHIFLEY alone.
While this should not be surprising to trade mark lawyers, therefore, where it becomes interesting lies in what the High Court did when finding PROTOX did not infringe BOTOX.
Before turning to that issue, however, the High Court squarely addressed the role of reputation in infringement proceedings under section 120(1).
The role of reputation
Noting that the role of reputation has been contentious for a number of years, the High Court ruled at  that reputation is not relevant to infringement under section 120(1).
A number of considerations led the High Court to this conclusion. The first point at  was that it is registration which confers the rights in the trade mark on the owner and defines the scope of the registration. If considerations other than the registration could be taken into account “the level of protection afforded to that right would vary and be inherently uncertain.”
Another point was that the legislation specified various matters to be entered on the Register and available for public inspection. Reputation was not one of those matters and at  taking into account the reputation which had accrued to a trade mark would be contrary to the objective of the registered trade mark system:
which is to provide “a bright line that delineates the property rights” of a registered owner, for the benefit of the owner and the public, and runs the risk of collapsing the long standing distinction between infringement and passing off. (citations omitted)
Further, the Trade Marks Act expressly identified a role for reputation in four places:
section 60 providing a ground of opposition on the basis of the reputation in the opponent’s trade mark;
the provision for registration as a ‘defensive’ trade mark provided by section 185;
the provision by section 24 for “genericide” when a trade mark has become known as the generic description of the goods or services.
Why PROTOX did not infringe BOTOX
At , the High Court summarised the trial judge’s finding that PROTOX was not deceptively similar to BOTOX. His Honour accepted that the two marks looked and sounded very similar but less so in idea or meaning. Further, the trial judge had held that the reputation of BOTOX was so strong that it was not likely to be recalled imperfectly. Even if there was imperfect recollection, no-one was likely to be deceived. His Honour was reinforced in this conclusion by the close proximity of PROTOX to FREEZEFRAME and the lack of evidence of actual confusion.
At , the High Court noted the Full Court held the trial judge had erred by failing to consider whether the use of PROTOX might cause people to wonder if there was some connection to the owner of the BOTOX mark. In finding deceptive similarity, however, the Full Court had made two errors.
First, it had relied on Allergan’s reputation in BOTOX for pharmaceutical preparations to conclude that the public might wonder whether PROTOX was some form of brand extension. Secondly, in doing so, their Honour’s had relied on the way Allergan actually used BOTOX rather than taking into account its notional use for anti-wrinkle creams in class 3.
Considering the effect of the use of PROTOX on potential customers of anti-wrinkle creams in class 3, the High Court accepted at  that “pro” and “bo” looked and sounded similar and the common element “otox” was both distinctive and identical. But consumers would not have confused PROTOX or BOTOX:
…. The words are sufficiently different that the notional buyer, allowing for an imperfect recollection of BOTOX, would not confuse the marks or the products they denote. The visual and aural similarities were just one part of the inquiry. (emphasis supplied)
Despite the surprise many trade mark practitioners have felt about the trial judge’s similar conclusion, up to this point the High Court’s reasoning can be seen as consistent with the extensive array of case law endorsed by the High Court which distinguishes trade mark infringement from passing off. After all, as the High Court emphasised from Australian Woollen Mills, the ultimate conclusion onabout deceptive similarity is a question of fact.
However, the last sentence from  quoted above picks up what their Honours had said in . In considering the visual and aural impact of PROTOX, it was permissible to have regard to both the packaging and the website from which PROTOX was promoted:
it was necessary to consider the marks visually and aurally and in the context of the relevant surrounding circumstances. Considering both the packaging and the website for Protox accords with assessing the “actual use” of the PROTOX mark as required by the test for deceptive similarity. ….
The High Court then explained at  that the packaging and the website together dispelled the risk of implied confusion:
…. The notional buyer sees the PROTOX mark used on a similar product – a serum which is advertised on its packaging and website to “prolong the look of Botox®”. While the reputation of BOTOX cannot be considered, the relevant context includes the circumstances of the actual use of PROTOX by Self Care. “[P]rolong the look of Botox®” may suggest that Protox is a complementary product. However, as was observed by the primary judge, “it will be the common experience of consumers that one trader’s product can be used to enhance another trader’s product without there being any suggestion of affiliation”. In this case, the back of the packaging stated in small font that “Botox is a registered trademark of Allergan Inc” and, although the assumption is that Botox is an anti?wrinkle cream, the website stated that “PROTOX has no association with any anti-wrinkle injection brand”. (emphasis supplied)
It is very difficult, with respect, to see how these conclusions sit with the High Court’s earlier endorsement of the authorities that additional matter such as the presence of disclaimers does not avoid infringement.
Perhaps, given the copious citation of case law endorsing the “traditional” position that it is a mark to mark comparison only, the role of the packaging and the website will ultimately be characterised as reinforcing the finding of deceptive similarity rather than determining it. Indeed, at , their Honours concluded there was no real, tangible danger of deception or confusion:
…. As explained, the marks are sufficiently distinctive such that there is no real danger that the notional buyer would confuse the marks or products. The similarities between the marks, considered in the circumstances, are not such that the notional buyer nevertheless is likely to wonder whether the products come from the same trade source. That conclusion is reinforced by the fact that the PROTOX mark was “almost always used in proximity to the FREEZEFRAME mark” and that there was “no evidence of actual confusion”.
instant Botox® alternative
As noted at the outset, the High Court also found that Self Care’s use of “instant Botox® alternative” did not infringe Allegan’s trade mark. Nor was it misleading or deceptive conduct in contravention of the ACL. Given the length of this post, however, consideration of those issues will have to await another day.
Edit: on 3 April to clarify that it is the ultimate conclusion about deceptive similarity that is the question of fact. Thanks, Craig Smith SC.
That is, Allergan has used BOTOX so extensively, its use by someone else in relation to class 3 goods such as anti-ageing creams will falsely indicate a connection with Allergan. Where the reputation in the trade mark is so extensive to achieve a defensive registration, it does not matter whether the trade mark owner actually uses the trade mark for the goods or services covered by the defensive registration. ?
At , the “overwhelming” and “ubiquitous reputation of BOTOX”. ?
Saville Perfumery Ld. v. June Perfect Ld. (1941) 58 RPC 147. ?
As Lord Tomlin explained at 176, “It seems to me, and the form of the second injunction supports the view, that these Appellants may be able by proper precautions to sell the three articles in connection with their name of June Perfect Ld., while clearly distinguishing those goods from the Respondents’ goods. If that can be done there is no probability that the ultimate purchaser will be deceived.”. See also e.g.Puma Se v Caterpillar Inc  FCAFC 153; 168 IPR 404 (Nicholas, Rofe and McElwaine JJ) at  (Nicholas, Rofe and McElwaine JJ); In-N-Out Burgers, Inc v Hashtag Burgers Pty Ltd  FCA 193; 377 ALR 116; 150 IPR 73 at  and  (Katzmann J) (affirmed on appeal) and many others. ?
If you know of a court case where s 120(3) has been successfully asserted, please let me know. ?
Curiously, s 120 does not in terms require the trade mark owner to prove that alleged infringer did not have the owner’s consent to use the trade mark. An alleged infringer who claims to be licensed or set up consent must do so by way of [section 123][s123] in the case of services or, in the case of goods, the wonders of [section 122A][s122a]. (I tried to untangle the latter provision in Warwick A Rothnie, ‘Unparalleled importing and trademarks in Australia,’ (2020) 21(3) Business Law International 229.) ?
See e.g.Optical 88 at  and Budweiser at . Generally, one might have thought the emphasis in actual use in an infringement context lay in contrast to the situation at the examination and opposition stages where it is necessary to consider all fair and reasonable notional use that may be made by the applicant within the scope of the applied for registration. ?
Stewart J has dismissed Brick Lane’s ACL and passing off complaints against the get-up of Torquay Beverage Co’s Better Beer.
On 21 July 2021, Brick Lane issued a press release announcing the launch of its new Sidewinder Hazy Pale ale, a no to low alcohol beer. The range had been in development, behind the scenes, since September or November 2020. Sales of the product to the public began around 2 August 2021 including in outlets such as Dan Murphy’s.
The domain name had been registered and and Instagram account created on 9 July 2021. From then, the Instagram account, at least, featured an image of the Sidewinder product. Before 21 July 2021, however, there were only 9 followers (and they were likely from Brick Lane or otherwise associated with its development).
On 26 July 2021, Mighty Craft announced to the ASX that it had partnered with Torquay Beverage Co and The Inspired Unemployed to form Better Beer Co and the launch of the new zero carb beer Better Beer. The announcement was picked up and widely reported in industry publications; one of which, Beer & Brewer had a “reach” of 13,000 people and another, Drinks Trade, some 27,000 people. It was not until late October 2021, however, that product actually made it on to retail shelves.
There was no suggestion that the respondents had some how copied Brick Lane’s get-up.
On 3 December 2021, Brick Lane launched the second product in its Sidewinder range – an XPA Deluxe.
In April 2021, Better Beer ginger ale was launched.
As is conventional, Brick Lane argued the get-up of the respondents’ product was liable to misrepresent to the public that the product was Sidewinder or manufactured by or in some way endorsed, approved or sponsored by the manufacturer of Sidewinder.
The respective get-ups alleged:
an off-white 355 ml can
an off-white 355 ml can (save for the bottled product)
an off-white cardboard cluster and case (where sold by cluster or case)
off-white cardboard cluster and case (where sold by cluster or case)
a curving flared striped design (on the can, cluster and case) in blue and shades of yellow and orange with the dominant flared part of the stripes being vertically aligned
a curving non-flared striped design (on the can, bottle, cluster and case) in blue and shades of orange and yellow with the stripes oriented horizontally; and
the use of horizontal black lettering for the Sidewinder name and horizontal off-white lettering against a black background for the name of the particular product on the can and case (the lettering, or background to the lettering, being silver on the cluster packaging); and
the use of dark blue lettering for the product name, the lettering being rotated vertically; and
the use of a sans serif typeface in upper case for the “Sidewinder” lettering.
the use of a serif typeface in title case for the “Better Beer” lettering.
What went wrong
There were two main problems.
First, when the respondents started their conduct – the launch of their product a mere 5 days after the launch of the Sidewinder product, Sidewinder itself did not have any appreciable reputation with the public. At , Stewart J explained:
The first reason why Brick Lane’s claim in respect of the Sidewinder Hazy Pale product must fail is that at the relevant time, being 26 July 2021, there was no appreciable knowledge amongst members of the relevant class of the Sidewinder get-up. That is to say, the hypothetical member of the class of consumers purchasing beer is not likely to have any familiarity with the Sidewinder get-up with the result that on seeing the Better Beer get-up they would not be likely to confuse it with the Sidewinder get-up. As it was explained by Burley J in Homart FCA at , “it takes a strong case” to establish a reputation that the get-up relied on is associated by consumers with the relevant product. Put differently, even assuming a strong similarity in the respective get-ups, the hypothetical consumer is not likely to be misled or deceived into thinking that the two products are associated if they do not readily associate the applicant’s product’s get-up with the applicant or its product.
The position was different with the Better Beer ginger beer, launched later in April 2022. By then, however, both the Sidewinder and original Better Beer products had been widely promoted and distributed throughout the market so that the public must be taken to have learned to distinguish between them.
The second main reason Brick Lane failed was the strikingly different names prominently plastered over the products and their packaging. At , Stewart J explained:
Turning now to the differences and similarities between the relevant products’ get-up, the first observation is that each product bears a distinctive brand name – Sidewinder and Better Beer. Not surprisingly, Mr Hall’s evidence was that the Sidewinder brand name is distinctive, unique and powerful. There is no reason to disagree with that assessment notwithstanding that not everyone encountering the name may associate it with 70s jet boats – they may think of air-to-air missiles or snakes or something else equally distinctive and memorable. Equally, Better Beer is a distinctive brand name. Brick Lane submitted that because it is descriptive it is weak, but I do not accept that. It is alliterative and catchy. Moreover, Sidewinder and Better Beer are rendered in quite different styles of typeface – sans serif and serif respectively. They look and feel very different. They do not have visual or phonetic similarities such as were material to the reasoning in Homart FCA at 195(b).
As in Parkdale v Puxu, this difference was compelling in distinguishing the products.
His Honour accepted that there were distinct similarities between the relevant get-ups and did not put much store in the different orientation of the coloured stripes or banding – vertical vs horizontal.
On the other hand, Stewart J did not think the size of the cans – 355ml instead of 375ml – had any significant role to play. Of the 894 different beers on offer at Dan Murphy’s, at least 50 used the 355ml can format so it could not be described as unusual.
Overall, Stewart J concluded at :
Taking all of the above matters into consideration, I am not satisfied that the hypothetical reasonable consumer of beer would at the relevant date have had any particular familiarity with Brick Lane’s Sidewinder get-up, but even if they did, they would not have been likely to be misled by the similarity of the respondents’ Better Beer get-up to the Sidewinder get-up into thinking that the products were in some way associated. As explained, that arises in particular from the distinctive names used for the different products as well as the differences between the get-ups and the features of the relevant market.
A couple of noteworthy points
As his Honour noted, the question whether there has been a contravention of the ACL in these types of cases is determined when the respondent started the relevant conduct.
Brick Lane argued that the relevant date was when Better Beer was actually on the shelves available for retail purchase – that is, late in October 2021 – by which time Sidewinder was well established in the market.
Stewart J rejected that argument at  –  finding that the relevant date was when the respondents’ launched (i.e., announced the launch of) their product. As his Honour pointed out, the promotion of a product could give rise to misleading associations regardless of whether the product was actually available for purchase. In the cases which focused on the date sales started, there was no suggestion that there had been advertising or promotion beforehand. On the other hand, in In-n-Out Burgers, the contravening conduct started (at  and ) when the respondent launched its Facebook page, not later when it opened its store. Correspondingly, the date Cadbury Schweppes started marketing its product in the Pub Squash case was accepted by the Privy Council as the relevant date in passing off.
Secondly, Stewart J sought to explain the role of reputation in an ACL case. Where conduct is directed to a class rather than specific individuals, case law has now established it is not necessary to establish that a substantial or not insubstantial number of that class are likely to be misled or deceived. It is only necessary to show that the ordinary or reasonable member of the class is likely to be mislead or deceived.
Stewart J considered that in this type of case it was nonetheless necessary to show some association in the mind of the public between the get-up and the applicant. After quoting the Full Court in Cadbury Schweppes v Darrell Lea at , his Honour explained at :
… although it might be said that a particular reputation is not necessary, it is nevertheless necessary that there is some association in the mind of the relevant sector of the public between the applicant’s product and its get-up such that confusion might arise from the use of the same or a similar get-up in relation to the respondent’s product. Without the pre-existence of such an association, it could not be said that the use by the respondent of the same or a similar get-up suggests a misleading or deceptive association. The inquiry does not proceed on the assumption that the hypothetical consumer member of the relevant class is familiar with the applicant’s product; that is required to be established.
In this case, the respondents had argued that its product was in a different market segment to Sidewinder – the low carb segment vs the low alcohol segment, but Stewart J found the relevant public was the beer market generally. There was no evidence that the different “segments” operated as distinct (sub-)markets. For example, there was no evidence that beer products were arranged on retail shelves in any fashion by market segments.
Brick Lane sought to rely on a Trade Mark examiner’s rejection of Torquay’s trade mark application in the face of Brick Lane’s prior application. Stewart J pointed out at  that the competing applications did not feature their respective brand names. His Honour also doubted the examiner’s opinion was admissible evidence in a Court in light of Evidence Act s 76.
Finally, for those of you that recall Lord McNaghten’s famous aphorism “thirsty folk want beer, not explanations”, this case was distinguishable. In Lord Mcnaghten’s case, there had been one brewery in the town of Stone making and selling its Stone Ales for hundreds of years when the competitor opened up as Stone Brewery selling Stone Ales. When Sidewinder and Better Beer launched into the market, however, the consumer was confronted with a plethora of brands and products.
Beach J has ruled that Maurice Blackburn did not breach any of State Street Global’s rights in the Fearless Girl statue by arranging for a replica to be displayed at the launch of a campaign to address the gender pay gap.
In 2016, State Street had commissioned Kristen Visbal to create a life-size bronze statue which became known as “Fearless Girl” in connection with a campaign to promote State Street’s Gender Diversity Index exchange traded fund, known as the “SHE fund”.
The completed statue was installed and unveiled in Bowling Green Park on Wall Street, famously appearing to confront the Charging Bull statue. This had been a wildly successful campaign with, amongst other things, over 4.6 billion Twitter impressions (?) and a “mere” 745 million Instagram impressions (?) in the first 12 weeks!
In 2019, Maurice Blackburn and a number of corporate and super fund backers negotiated an agreement with Ms Visbal for a fee of USD250,000 permitting them to display a Fearless Girl replica in Federation Square Melbourne in connection with a campaign for Equal Pay Day.
false, misleading or deceptive conduct in trade and commerce contrary to the Australian Consumer Law and passing off;
trade mark infringement; and
All the claims failed.
Beach J’s reasons for judgment run for some 1191 paragraphs over 274 pages. So, more considered analysis will have to await a later day (or days).
The central issue seems to have been the very specific nature of State Street’s rights to control further reproductions of the work and the careful way Maurice Blackburn had used Fearless Girl.
The terms State Street and the artist had negotiated included a clause granting State Street the exclusive rights:
to display and distribute two-dimensional copies, and three-dimensional Artist-sanctioned copies, of the Artwork to promote (i) gender diversity issues in corporate governance and in the financial services sector, and (ii) SSGA and the products and services it offers. …. (emphasis supplied)
and Ms Visbal also agreed that no other party could be authorised to use “the Artwork” as a logo or brand ….
Beach J held that the way Maurice Blackburn had used Fearless Girl in connection with the Equal Pay Day campaign did not fall within the scope of State Street’s exclusive rights. It also was not use as a logo or brand. Michaela Whitbourn has a nice summary.
However, it looks like there will need to be a further hearing to determine whether, and if so, how Maurice Blackburn may use and display its Fearless Girl replica in the future.
Those of you out there with long(-ish) memories, might recall that that juxtaposition caused its own ‘moral rights’ controversy. Fearless Girl was later moved in April 2018 to its current position in front of the New York Stock Exchange. ?
SOE claimed Ms Schwartz and her company, Chuchka, were infringing copyright in the Escape bag as a work of artistic craftsmanship by importing and selling the Chuchka bags. SOE also alleged that the sale of the Chuchka bags was misleading or deceptive conduct and passing off.
Despite Ms Schwartz’ denials, Davies J found that the Chuchka bag was copied from the Escape bag and, if copyright subsisted in the Escape bag, numerous versions of the Chuckha bag would be infringements. SOE did not have a registered design and SOE was selling at least 50 or 60 Escape bags a day. So, subsistence of copyright came down to whether or not the Escape bag was a work of artistic craftsmanship.
The Escape Bag
The Escape bag is a soft, oversized tote bag. It is made from perforated neoprene fabric with handles made from sailing rope which wrap around the body and base of the bag. It also has an internal, detachable pouch made from perforated neoprene and press studs at either end for expansion.
The bags are made by hand. They feature hand punched holes where the rope goes in, a heat seal tape finish along the top line of the bag and other contact points.
The Escape bag was designed over several months of trial and error in 2013 by Ms MacGowan who, with Ms Maidment, is a co-founder and director of SOE.
Ms MacGowan gave evidence that she designed the bag to be both beautiful and practical. She chose perforated neoprene as it was aesthetically pleasing and light:
The bag did not have any lining. I did not want it to have any embellishments. I did not want anything disguising something that was not beautiful. I wanted the whole thing to be beautifully created. I hand cut all the patterns. I wanted the inside to be as beautiful as the outside. I wanted to challenge ingrained ideas that a bag had to be a certain way. My focus was, ‘This is what it is’. I did not want the bag to be like something else. Everything in the design had to be there for a reason. For instance, there was a risk that binding could ruin the curve of the bag. I ended up putting binding on the top edge because I was concerned it would fray. There were a lot of things that I felt strongly about.
Ms MacGowan said she did not want to use leather or webbing for the handles as she considered they did not fit with the design aesthetic. She spent many months with her sewing machine working out how to fix the rope to the bag so it retained its round profile and was not merely glued. Ms MacGowan explained:
It really complemented the neoprene beautifully. And also it was very important that I had to find rope that matched back with the fabric beautifully because it was really about creating an impression of the whole than the individual parts. So that was also very, very important.
Ms MacGowan’s evidence explained design issues she had to confront and resolve including:
how to sew the rope on to the bag rather than glue it;
how to stop the fabric from ripping at pressure points where the rope joined the bag;
stopping the raw cut neoprene edges at the top of the bag from fraying;
reinforcing the pressure points under the press studs and rope entry points;
using a glue lined heat shrink black tubing to fix the rope to the bottom of the bag;
attaching the rope to the four bottom corners which would otherwise be exposed to the risk of damage;
providing a pocket for valuables;
finishing the inside seams to look like the rest of the bag.
Burge v Swarbrick
At , Davies J and counsel for the parties managed to divine nine guiding principles from the High Court’s decision in Burge v Swarbrick to determine whether the Escape bag qualifed as a work of artistic craftsmanship:
(a) the phrase “a work of artistic craftsmanship” is a composite phrase to be construed as a whole: Burge at 357 56, 360 . It is not permissible to inquire separately into whether a work is: (a) artistic; and (b) the manifestation of craftsmanship;
(b) in order to qualify as a work of artistic craftsmanship under the Copyright Act, the work must have a “real or substantial artistic element”: Burge at 356 52;
(c) “artistic craftsmanship” does not mean “artistic handicraft”: Burge at 358 59;
(d) a prototype may be a work of artistic craftsmanship “even though it was to serve the purpose of reproduction and then be discarded”: Burge at 359 60;
(e) the requirements for “craftsmanship” and “artistic” are not incompatible with machine production: Burge at 358–9 59–60;
(f) whilst there is a distinction between fine arts and useful or applied arts, when dealing with artistic craftsmanship there is no antithesis between utility and beauty or between function and art: Burge at 359 61;
(g) a work of craftsmanship, even though it cannot be confined to handicraft, “at least presupposes special training, skill and knowledge for its production… ‘Craftsmanship’… implies a manifestation of pride and sound workmanship – a rejection of the shoddy, the meretricious, the facile”: Burge at 359 61, citing George Hensher Ltd v Restawile Upholstery (Lancs) Ltd  AC 64 (Hensher) at 91 per Lord Simon;
(h) although the matter is to be determined objectively, evidence from the creator of the work of his or her aspirations or intentions when designing and constructing the work is admissible, but it is neither determinative nor necessary: Burge at 360 –65. In determining whether the creator intended to, and did, create a work possessing the requisite aesthetic quality and requisite degree of craftsmanship, the Court should weigh the creator’s evidence together with any expert evidence: Burge at 360 64 and 65; and
(i) in considering whether a work is one of “artistic craftsmanship”, the beauty or aesthetic appeal of the work is not determinative. The Court must also weigh in the balance the extent to which functional considerations have dictated the artistic expression in the form of the work: Burge at 364 83–84.
Having set out the High Court’s statement of principle at 83, Davies J emphasised at  the High Court’s factual conclusion at  in application of that principle:
Taken as a whole and considered objectively, the evidence, at best, shows that matters of visual and aesthetic appeal were but one of a range of considerations in the design of the Plug. Matters of visual and aesthetic appeal necessarily were subordinated to achievement of the purely functional aspects required for a successfully marketed “sports boat” and thus for the commercial objective in view.
The Escape bag was not a work of artistic craftsmanship
Ms MacGowan’s evidence at  was that “the overall appearance of the bag as an object was fundamentally the most important thing.” She explained that “simplicity, beauty and originality” were her guiding principles:
“something free of embellishments, that was so pure in its form, structure and makeup that it embodied beauty in simplicity.”
SOE’s expert, a Ms Beale, agreed; considering the Escape bag “unique”. In cross-examination, however, she accepted that the uniqueness arose from the “decision decision” to use perforated neoprene and sailing rope “rather than in any contribution to the creation of those underlying materials.”
Ms Schwarz’ expert, Mr Smith, considered the use of perforated neoprene and sailing rope to be “strong design features”, but neither of them in itself was “new”. Mr Smith considered that combining 2 or more features that had been in common use over many years “[was] an evolution in styling rather than a completely new design”.
While Davies J reported that the experts agreed the Escape bag was a quality product, at  her Honour reported the experts agreeing that:
the Escape Bag is constructed using a standard construction method of “stitched together and then turned out” and other elements conform to what is generally expected of this style of bag – significant skill, training or knowledge was not required beyond what was expected in the design or manufacturing process”.
Davies J accepted that Ms MacGowan aspired to produce something of beauty, but that was not determinative as, following Burge, whether something was a work of artistic craftsmanship had to be determined objectively. At , her Honour declared that assessment required looking at the bag as a whole and “not by disintegrating the design choices made by Ms MacGowan within the functional limitations of the bag she created.” (emphasis supplied) While Ms MacGowan set out to design a stylish bag, at  her Honour found that “the function and utility of the bag as a carry all bag governed the overall design of the bag.”
Davies J considered on the evidence that significant design features resulted from and served functional considerations.
In the result, Davies J considered that, in designing the Escape bag, Ms MacGowan was not an “artist-craftsperson”: she had no special training, skill and knowledge relating to the design of handbags. The central aesthetic choices were the decisions to use perforated neoprene and sailing rope. Those two choices alone were not sufficient to constitute the resulting bag as a work of artistic craftsmanship.
At  – , her Honour explained:
 I also accept the submission for the respondents that Ms MacGowan did not approach the design and manufacture of the Escape Bag as an artist-craftsperson. She had no special training, skill and knowledge relating to the design and manufacture of handbags and many of the issues she encountered were purely functional in nature – for example, preventing the raw edges of neoprene from fraying, reinforcing the point where the rope handle enters the bag, and how to sew the sailing rope onto the bag while retaining the roundness of the rope.
 Further, I do not regard the selection and use of perforated neoprene as the fabric for the Escape Bag or its use in combination with sailing rope as involving an act of artistic craftsmanship. Both materials were readily available commercial materials capable of being used to manufacture a carry all bag without some particular training, skill or knowledge. At its highest, the use of those materials to make an everyday bag was an evolution in styling. Whilst Ms Beale was of the view the combination of those materials made the Escape Bag “unique” she accepted in cross-examination that the uniqueness to which she referred related to “design decision” to use those materials, rather than in any contribution to the creation of those materials.
At one level, the decision can be seen as raising a high bar for designs applying the “form follows function” theory of design rather the embellishment of embellishment’s sake. That seems to follow, however, from Burge. The suggestion that “revolution” rather than “evolution” is required might also be thought concerning.
While Davies J emphasised at  the functional nature of issues to be resolved, one might question the ways they could be resolved and the aesthetic choices that might be involved.
There may also be troubling aspects of the level of skill required to be demonstrated. The experts agreed that the level of skill exhibited by Ms MacGowan was not “beyond what was expected in the design or manufacturing process”. Are then works of artistic craftsmanship limited only to those exhibiting rare levels of skill? It is important to remember that the point of protecting works of artistic craftsmanship is to encourage real artistic effort by silversmiths, potters, woodworkers, hand-embroiderers and many others whose work does not qualify as a sculpture, engraving, drawing, painting or any of the other categories named in paragraphs (a) and (b) of the definition of artistic work.
In that respect, it does not appear that Ms MacGowan could be characterised as an “artist-craftsperson”. Davies J appears to have considered that the innovation lay in the choice of materials – perforated neoprene and sailing rope – in an otherwise fairly standard bag design. In that case, the result should be uncontroversial especially as the objective was always large scale production.
Nonetheless, the decision highlights yet again the problematic decision to include what was intended to be an expansive, and expanding, category of subject matter as an exception to a defence.
On the “passing off” related allegations, Davies J (mercifully) found SOE did not a reputation in the features of the bag alone reputation. Her Honour also considered, where the competing bags sold for around, respectively, $300 and $100, the branding of the products brought into play the well-known principle from Parkdale v Puxu:
Speaking generally, the sale by one manufacturer of goods which closely resemble those of another manufacturer is not a breach of s 52 if the goods are properly labelled. There are hundreds of ordinary articles of consumption which, although made by different manufacturers and of different quality, closely resemble one another… the normal and reasonable way to distinguish one product from another is by marks, brands or labels. If an article is properly labelled so as to show the name of the manufacturer or the source of the article its close resemblance to another article will not mislead an ordinary reasonable member of the public.
See Copyright Act 1968 s 77 and see paragraph (c) in the definition of artistic work in s 10(1). Copyright was claimed in the first, finished bag Ms MacGowan made or, alternatively, the first 8 bags supplied to the first customer. At , the first finished bag differed from the 8 bags supplied to the customer in that it did not include heat shrinkable tubing, the internal pouch was differently designed and there was no branding. ?
See paragraph 260 of the Gregory Committee report quoted by the High Court in Burge at para. 49 ?
Morroccanoil Israel Ltd (MIL) has successfully obtained injunctions against some of Aldi’s lookalike products, but only on the basis that the marketing misrepresented they were “natural” products and further that their argan oil content conferred certain “performance” characteristics. MIL’s claims that the products infringed its trade marks and “passed off” failed. MIL did successfully appeal the Registrar’s refusal to register “Moroccanoil” as a trade mark and fended off Aldi’s attempt to have MIL’s trade marks removed on the grounds that they were not capable of distinguishing.
Katzmann J’s decision runs to 741 paragraphs, so there is a lot more ore to be mined than I shall cover in this blog post.
MIL has two registered trade marks in Australia1 in respect of, amongst other things, hair care products:
Although its get up varied over time, you can get a good idea of how it sold its products in Australia from the following:
Aldi (Like Brands, only cheaper) introduced its own range of Moroccan Argan Oil products such as:2
The Trade Mark Infringement Claim
MIL put its case on trade mark infringement on Aldi’s use of Moroccan Argan Oil, not the get up of any product packaging.
Despite Aldi’s reliance on the presence of the PROTANE (or PROTANE Naturals) or VISAGE house brands, Katzmann J had little difficulty despatching the claim that Aldi did not use Moroccan Argan Oil as a trade mark over the fence for six. The term was not purely descriptive; argan oil was only one ingredient of many and only the 11th or 12th ingredient in terms of volume. Viewed objectively, it clearly presented as a badge of origin, especially when depicted with oil drops instead of “o”.
However, Katzmann J held that Moroccan Argan Oil was not deceptively to either trade mark. A central consideration was that each of MIL’s trade marks was a composite mark. “Moroccanoil” was a prominent feature, but the prominent “M” was an equally prominent feature.3
Further, by the time Aldi came to adopt “its” trade mark, there other players in the market using the expression “Moroccan Argan Oil”.
Treating “Moroccanoil” as the relevant essential feature of MIL’s trade marks, Katzmann J accepted that the interposition of “Argan” between “moroccan” and “oil” may well not interrupt the recall of the brand moroccanoil but nonetheless went on to hold at :
…. In my view, there is no real, tangible danger that an ordinary or reasonable consumer with an imperfect recollection of one or other or both those marks or, as was argued, the name “Moroccanoil”, would wonder whether a mark called “Moroccan Argan Oil” is or is associated with either of the composite marks that are the First and Second Trade Marks. Ignoring similarities in the get-up of the respective products, including the colour-scheme and packaging, I am not satisfied that the hypothetical consumer would mistake the Aldi “Moroccan Argan Oil” mark for the First or Second Trade Marks or wonder whether the Aldi product is made by the owner of the First and Second Trade Marks. Considering each of the First and Second Trade Marks as a whole, I find that the Aldi mark is not deceptively similar to either of the MIL marks.
Four other points
First, MIL placed heavy reliance on what it said was evidence of 58 consumers being confused that Aldi’s product was MIL’s. These included reports of people who said, or were reported to have said, that they had bought MIL’s products in Aldo’s stores although, of course, MIL’s products were not available in Aldo’s stores.
Only one of those consumers gave direct evidence and Katzmann J considered there were sufficient deficiencies in her evidence to regard her as an unreliable witness.
For example, the witness had a clear recollection of seeing different Aldi products displayed together although it appears to have been accepted they were only displayed in different parts of the store, she referenced MIL’s get up rather than its trade mark, she admitted to being distracted by a distressed child and it emerged that she had not disclosed her previous experience working in advertising as the basis for concluding Aldi’s product was some kind of brand extension.
All the other evidence was the more typical hearsay evidence of employees of MIL and its distributor and stockists about what customers told them. Katzmann J accorded this evidence no weight. Her Honour’s reasons warrant very careful consideration, especially as this type of evidence (if not its scale) is very typical.
206 That is because the evidence largely consists of reports given to others in a way that makes it impossible to decide what was responsible for the confusion. Certainly, there is nothing to suggest that any deceptive similarity arising from the get-up of the products or aspects of it were disregarded. The evidence provides either no or no sufficient foundation for the conclusion that any purchase of an Aldi product was made because of the deceptive similarity of the respective marks.
The indirect nature of the evidence was critical as it meant there was no context to assess the conduct:
207 …. Matters such as the following are often left unclear, or are completely unexplained: whether the person was aware of MIL’s products when they encountered the Aldi products, and if so to what extent; which Aldi product(s) were in issue; in what circumstances the alleged confusion occurred, including what level of attention the person gave to the Aldi products at the time; whether there were other factors at play that might have led to the person acting in the way that they did; and any other relevant circumstances. It would be essential to understand these matters in order to accord any weight to the evidence.
208 In view of the way in which the evidence was adduced (predominantly through witnesses to whom the reports were either directly or indirectly made by anonymous consumers), and in the absence of contemporaneous records, it was not possible for these matters to be explored in cross-examination.
209 Furthermore, even at face value a number of the reports do not bespeak of confusion, let alone deception. In one case, reported by Ms Williamson, the consumer said that she had bought products at Aldi that “look like” MIL’s products. While this is illustrative of similarity, it does not denote deceptive similarity. Some of the evidence consists of second-hand hearsay, such as the complaints received by Thierry Fayard. As a matter of common experience this evidence is unreliable ….
Secondly, MIL sought to rely on Aldi’s alleged intention to trade on MIL’s reputation in its trade marks. There does not seem to have been any real dispute on the evidence that Aldi had set out to “benchmark” its products at least partly on MIL, but also partly on another competing product by Organix:
214 Ms Spinks’4 evidence is insufficient to demonstrate that by the choice of the name “Moroccan Argan Oil” Aldi set out to mislead consumers into thinking that the Aldi brand was moroccanoil. No precise evidence was led as to how Aldi settled on the name “Moroccan Argan Oil” and no questions on this subject were asked in cross-examination. If its object were as alleged, then one would think it would call its products “Moroccan Oil”. The name Aldi chose was different. The name Aldi chose —“Moroccan Argan Oil” — was the name then used by Organix, whose products Aldi had used as the “benchmark” for its shampoo and conditioner. Further, the ultimate product was not taken to market before Aldi had received advice as to compliance with Australian laws. Ms Spinks said that an organisation known as “Silliker” (Silliker Australia Pty Ltd) was retained to undertake “due diligence checks” to ensure that proposed product packaging and labelling complied with relevant “regulations” and the Australian Consumer Law. She was not challenged about this evidence in cross-examination.
A third aspect is that MIL also sought to lead evidence of 13 other major brands which Aldi was said to have knocked off “lookalikes”. MIL wanted to use this evidence as tendency evidence under s 97 of the Evidence Act to show that Aldi deliberately copied product get ups to take advantage of their reputation.
Katzmann J accepted that could potentially be relevant evidence. MIL’s application failed, however, because its notice was not sufficiently specific to comply with the stringent requirements for the admissibility of such evidence and it was given too late. Moreover, the evidence would not carry matters further than the direct evidence of Ms Spinks. At :
… tendency evidence is generally used to prove, “by a process of deduction, that a person acted in a particular way, or had a particular state of mind, on a relevant occasion, when there is no, or inadequate, direct evidence of that conduct or that state of mind on that occasion”: …. Here, however, there was direct evidence from Ms Spinks of the development process in relation to the goods in question. The evidence MIL wished to adduce as “tendency evidence” consisted merely of samples and images of other, unrelated products. It did not include any evidence as to how or why the get-up for the particular products was selected. It takes the evidence given by Ms Spinks no further. Consequently I am not persuaded that the evidence in question has significant probative value.
Even if the tendency evidence had been admitted, it would not have helped on the trade mark case as it was evidence of a tendency to adopt features of get up, not the trade mark itself.
Finally on this part of the case, Katzmann J held that Aldi’s hair brushes and dryers etc. were goods of the same description as the hair care products in class 3 covered by MIL’s registrations. As with Aldi’s own hair care products, however, there was no likelihood of deception or confusion so s 120(2) did not come into play.
The ACL claims
MIL brought three claims under the Australian Consumer Law alleging that Aldi had engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct by:
misrepresenting that its products were MIL’s products or in some way sponsored or associated with MIL (i.e., a passing off type claim);
misrepresenting that its products were made from, or substantially from, natural ingredients; and
misrepresenting that the argan oil in the products gave the products performance benefits which they did not in fact have.
As noted above, MIL succeeded only on the latter two claims.
In relation to the passing off claim, Katzmann J accepted that Aldi had modelled the get up of some of its products on MIL’s get up5 and sought to appropriate some of the reputation of MIL’s products to its own benefit. At :
Aldi unquestionably modelled its Oil Product on the MIL Oil Treatment. Ms Spinks referred to it as “the benchmark” product. Aldi copied several of its “diagnostic cues”, including the use of a bottle very similar in style, size, shape, and colour, the same pump mechanism for the extraction of the oil from the bottle, the use of a cardboard box, and the prominent use of a similar colour for both the bottle’s label and the box. Ms Spinks accepted in cross-examination that Aldi’s object was to achieve an exact colour match with the bottles and conceded that consumers would associate the colour of the bottle and the type of packaging with the MIL product. ….
384 The evident purpose of copying important features of the MIL Oil Treatment was to remind consumers of that product. It would be naïve to believe that in doing so Aldi was not seeking to capitalise on MIL’s reputation and attract to itself some of its custom. I find that in adopting the particular get-up for the Aldi Oil Treatment bottle and box, Aldi copied from the get-up of the MIL Oil Treatment and box and that it did so in order to appropriate part of MIL’s trade or reputation or the trade of MIL’s authorised distributors and resellers.
That was not sufficient in itself for a finding of misleading or deceptive conduct. The question was whether or not Aldi had sufficiently distinguished its products from MIL’s.
Katzmann J considered that, if regard were paid only to the similarities between the respective get ups, there would have been a likelihood of deception. However, it was necessary to have regard to the respective get ups as a whole. When considered as a whole, there were important differences which served sufficiently to distinguish Aldi’s products:
first, ALDI’s products were prominently branded with its well-established house brands PROTANE or VIGOUR;
secondly, MIL’s products featured the very prominent large “M”, which was not replicated in ALDI’s get up;
thirdly, in MIL’s products “moroccanoil” appeared vertically, while Aldi used “moroccan argan oil” horizontally only;
fourthly, there were significant differences in the packaging, especially the shampoo and conditioner which were closer to the Organix product than to MIL’s;
fifthly, the closest products – the competing oil treatment products – were sold by MIL in a glass bottle, but Aldi had used a plastic bottle only;
Her Honour considered that none of these differences were concealed and were at least as conspicuous as the similarities. Further, viewed as a whole, the Aldi range was cheaper and the use of the house mark clearly marked the products out as a different brand. Further, the two businesses marketed their products through completely different trade channels and at very different price ranges.
MIL’s heavy reliance on the similarity of the turquoise colours used did not avail:
413 Colour-blind, inattentive consumers, and consumers with an imperfect recollection of the MIL products might confuse the colours. I accept Professor Quester’s evidence that consumers are unlikely to detect subtle differences in colour between two sets of products as they would not ordinarily engage in a side-by-side comparison. Indeed, I am prepared to accept that a not insignificant number of consumers might think the colours are the same. On the other hand, as Ms Spinks’ evidence shows, at the time Aldi entered the market with “Moroccan Argan Oil”, at least one other company, Organix, was selling hair care products in turquoise containers and also under the name “Moroccan Argan Oil”. Other products, like Pure Oil of Marrakesh, were sold in cartons, bottles and other containers featuring various shades of blue.
414 Knowledge of third-party usage of a particular get-up or name can affect the chances that a consumer might be misled or deceived.
MIL also failed in its attempt to rely on the printing of “Moroccan Oil” on (at least) some Aldi receipts. At , they were issued after purchase, which was too late.
As one would expect, the failure of this part of MIL’s ACL claim was also fatal to its passing off claim.
I don’t propose to go into the detail of why the use of the brand name Protane Naturals was misleading or deceptive other than to record that Katzmann J did find the brand name deceptive since the relevant products were not substantially “natural” products. There is some quite involved evidence about what a “natural” product is or may be if you are going to get into that sort of thing.
Some of Aldi’s products claimed on their packaging to “helps strengthen hair” and “helps protect hair from styling, heat and UV damage” and similar claims.
Katzmann J rejected Aldi’s argument that this was a reference to the capabilities of the product as a whole rather than as a result of the use of moroccan argan oil. Apart from the presentation on the packaging and the prominence given to that oil, Aldi’s own internal documents claimed it was the argan oil that conferred these attributes.
MIL’s scientific evidence established, however, that there was too little argan oil (which is apparently very expensive) in Aldi’s products to have the desired effects. Needless to say, the expert evidence dealing with this part of the case is also rather involved.
Overall and barring the outcome of any appeal, this seems like a rather Pyrrhic victory for MIL. I don’t have any idea how much damages will flow for the breaches of the ACL. Nonetheless, here is plenty of scope for Aldi to continue using its lookalike get up; the prevention of which was surely the point of the exercise. What is more, the result was achieved only after a very lengthy trial including, amongst other things, eight experts: 2 lexicographers, four marketing experts and two chemists!
Following her Honour’s decision (and barring any appeal), it will have three including TM No. 1463962 “moroccanoil” in respect of Hair care products, including oil, mask, moisture cream, curly hair moisture cream, curly hair mask, curly and damaged hair mask, argan and saffron shampoo, hair loss shampoo, dandruff shampoo, dry hair shampoo, gel, mousse, conditioner and hair spray in class 3. ?
In addition to hair “lotions” such as shampoo, Aldi also marketed hair brushes and powered hair dryers and the like. ?
Those of you who read 140 year old case law might also be thinking about the striking colour scheme. Katzmann J, citing the 5th edition of Shanahan and the Office Manual, held that MIL’s trade marks were not limited to the specific colours as there was no endorsement under s 70 and so the marks were taken to be registered for all colours. One could be forgiven for thinking this approach renders the Register seriously misleading at times. ?
The Aldi employee charged with introducing the range. ?
The Aldi shampoo and conditioner products were “benchmarked” on Organix’ get up, not MIL’s. ?
Last week, we looked at Mortimer J’s reasons for dismissing Shape Shopfitters’ allegations of trade mark infringement against Shape Australia. Presumably, given the colour and stylistic constraints of the registered trade mark, Shape Shopfitters’ main attack was based on the prohibition against misleading or deceptive conduct under the Australian Consumer Law. It too was unsuccessful.
Shape Shopfitters’ contention was that, by changing its name from ISIS to Shape Australia, Shape Australia was misrepresenting to the public that the two businesses were affiliated in some way with Shape Shopfitters being the specialist shopfitting arm of the Shape Australia. The descriptive nature of the common term, Shape Shopfitters’ fairly confined reputation and the fact that most of its dealings were with well-established contacts combined to mean that there was no such misrepresentation.
In about October 2016 when Shape Australia changed its name, Shape Shopfitters had annual turnover of between $10 million to $13 million a year. Almost all of its business was in fitting out, or the maintenance of, retail food outlets; especially quick service restaurants. Two thirds of its jobs were for contracts under $5,000; over 90% was for jobs under $200,000. Most of its business was in Victoria. 88% of its business outside Victoria was for the same seven clients: Grill’d, Nando’s, Sumo Salad, San Churro, Mad Mex, Schnitz or Coco Cubano. All of whom were well-established customers. Most of its work came from invitations to participate in closed tenders requested by established clients or directly negotiated contracts, once again with established customers.
In contrast, Shape Australia had annual revenues of around $400 million and the average size of its contracts was $1.55 million. Its role was usually as head contractor and construction manager, contracting out the work to specialist sub-contractors. It did do, however, some shopfitting work.
Mortimer J rejected Shape Australia’s argument that the relevant public was restricted just to the purchasers of construction services. Section 18 is not limited just to consumers; it provides protection to all people dealing with the respondent. In this case, including suppliers such as architects and subbies.
Mortimer J also rejected Shape Australia’s argument that none of its customers would mistakenly think that there was a connection with Shape Shopfitters. That was irrelevant. The question was whether people aware of Shape Shopfitters’ reputation would be misled or deceived.
However, there was no real, practical risk that the public would be misled or deceived. The businesses were simply too different and those dealing with Shape Shopfitters were well aware of its identity: At  – :
I am not satisfied that participants in the industry would be led into such an error [i.e. thinking that Shape Shopfitters was an arm of Shape Australia]. The parties’ business activities are too different, they operate in different areas, with the applicant being far more specialised and more geographically contained. The link the applicant posits is possible and not fanciful in a theoretical sense, but it is without any foundation in the reality of the way the parties’ business activities are conducted, and in the way the “participants in the commercial construction industry” encounter the two businesses. That is especially so when one considers evidence such as that from Mr Billings that the applicant secures a lot of its business through word-of-mouth referrals.
The most that can be said is that there is a likelihood that participants in the industry, on isolated occasions, may be led to confuse the two entities because they both have the word “Shape” in their name, and occasionally communications may be directed to one when meant for the other. That is what the evidence discloses has in fact occurred, from time to time, in relatively few instances.
While there was some evidence of confusion, confusion itself is not enough and they were isolated instances only. Quickly dispelled.
You might recall that her Honour excluded evidence of print outs of websites of various businesses as hearsay and prejudicial. Evidence of the registration of such businesses as companies or business names was admitted, however, because the evidence was official ASIC records. There were 12 such businesses. While Mortimer J accepted that this evidence did not take the matter very far, nonetheless it showed that the public could well come across other “Shape” entities in circumstances which undermined the potential for Shape Shopfitters to be seen as an “arm” of Shape Australia:
I accept that evidence of the bare existence of these entities cannot take the matter very far. However, the number of such entities using the word “shape” in their corporate names, and (I am prepared to infer) trading activities, is not without significance. Even without more information about those entities, the relative prevalence of the word “shape” in corporate and trading names, frequently in conjunction with construction-related words such as “joinery” and “projects” suggests that “participants in the industry” (including potential clients, purchasers and subcontractors) might well come across other entities using the word “shape” in the provision, sale and promotion of their particular services. That possibility cannot be discounted, and it tends against the linear proposition on which the applicant’s case relies: namely, the likelihood that the applicant (and it would appear, only the applicant) will be perceived to be part of the respondent’s larger group, and perhaps as its specialist shopfitting arm. That linear proposition must depend, it seems to me, on the applicant occupying something of a unique place in the market so that such a representation by the respondent’s use of the word “SHAPE” could only be made in respect of the applicant, and not other entities. This evidence tends against such a conclusion.
There was also some evidence from a search engine optimisation expert. It showed that neither business had very active websites. Those people who searched for Shape Shopfitters, however, typically did so by reference to the term “shopfitters”. This reinforced her Honour’s impression that it was its shopfitting specialty that identified Shape Shopfitters. On the other hand, Shape Australia did not typically generate hits in searches on terms related to “shopfitting”. If it did come up, it was invariably placed below the result for Shape Shopfitters:
Because of this, people searching for the Shape Shopfitters Website through searches for these terms are very unlikely to be misdirected to the SHAPE Australia website.
The passing off allegations failed similarly for want of the necessary misreprensation.
Shape Building Pty Ltd; Shape Design; Shape Property Developments; Shape Consulting; Shape Constructions Pty Ltd; Shape Project Management Pty Ltd; Shape Builders Pty Ltd; Shape Joinery & Design Pty Ltd; Shape Fitouts Pty Ltd; Shape Projects Pty Ltd; Shape Construction; the 12th, Shape Developments Pty Ltd changed its name in the course of the litigation although the reasons for that were not known. ?
Now, you might be thinking that CHÉRI marks out Homart’s product from CHANTELLE rather plainly. But the dreaded Red Bull and Peter Bodum cases reared their heads again.
Sales of Careline’s CHANTELLE product had exploded after it adopted its current get-up: from between $25,000 to $60,000 per year to over $2 million in between June 2014 and early 2016 when Homart introduced its competing product.
Homart’s get-up was nothing like the other products in its CHÉRI range. Its get-up was much closer than any other competing product to Careline’s. The boxes of the products were often displayed in stores stacked, with the lid of the top box open so that customers could see the contents.
Accordingly, the branding on Homart’s product was often not visible, at least initially. CHÉRI itself was not thought to be a particularly distinctive mark, especially as both CHANTELLE and CHÉRI began with the same “shhh” pronunciation. Burley J could not accept the explanation for the adoption of the get-up advanced by Homart’s designer.
After a very careful consideration of the evidence, his Honour summarised:
194 The unique combination of features making up the get-up of the CHANTELLE bio-placenta product are eye-catching. They extend to the packaging in open or closed configuration and provide strong visual cues by which a consumer would note and remember the product. From this combination, quite separately to the name, the consumer is informed of the origin, quality and type of goods being purchased. Homart has taken all of those cues.
195 The suggestion conveyed by the get-up is not, in my view, dispelled sufficiently by the use of the CHÉRI Australia brand name. The name CHÉRI Australia is a relatively weak mark for distinguishing otherwise identical products because:
(a) such reputation as Homart has in the mark CHÉRI is weak and has been significantly dissipated by reason of Homart’s choice to use it in packaging distinctly different to the products in the balance of the CHÉRI range (see section 9 above);
(b) the phonetic and visual similarities between the first letters of both the CHÉRI and CHANTELLE marks diminish the effect of the use of different words (see  above). In this context both Chantelle and Chéri are French sounding names. Both commence with “Ch…”. To persons not familiar with French, they are likely to be weak means of distinguishing otherwise identical products (unlike “Andronicus” and “Moccona” in Stuart Alexander). They are likely to be perceived as words that convey little or no meaning (I make this observation without particular regard to the level of English literacy of the target market and assuming it to be roughly on par within native English speakers); and
(c) the addition of the reference to “Australia” has a similar local geographical connotation to “Sydney” as used in the CHANTELLE bio-placenta product.
198 Further, the trade circumstances to which I have referred in section 5 above demonstrate that often the display of the bio-placenta products in stores may not clearly show the trade mark, for instance, when the products are stacked one on top of the other. In those circumstances consumers are likely to use the visual cues provided by the get-up of the packaging to indicate the product which they seek rather than the names.
199 In my view, it is likely that a not insubstantial number of persons within the relevant class, who are aware of the CHANTELLE bio-placenta product, would be diverted from a search for that product by the get-up of the Homart product. They may note that something seems different about the brand name, but be convinced by the other similarities in the get-up that her or his recollection as to the brand name was mistaken. A consumer familiar with the CHANTELLE bio-placenta product may well recall its get-up, but have no or an imperfect recollection of its name and acquire the CHÉRI bio-placenta product believing it to be the CHANTELLE bio-placenta product. This would be especially likely in circumstances where the store does not stock both brands. The rapier of suggestion caused by the similarity in get-up will in those circumstances result in a sale for Homart.
200 Further, the findings that I have expressed in section 8 above (Development of the CHÉRI bio-placenta product) as to Homart’s intention, lead to the application of Australian Woollen Mills. That authority was applied by the Full Court in RedBull at  (Weinberg and Dowsett JJ, Branson J agreeing) who said:
Without wishing to labour the point unduly, we again point out that where a trader, having knowledge of a particular market, borrows aspects of a competitor’s get-up, it is a reasonable inference that he or she believes that there will be a market benefit in so doing. Often, the obvious benefit will be the attraction of custom which would otherwise have gone to the competitor. It is an available inference from those propositions that the trader, with knowledge of the market, considered that such borrowing was “fitted for the purpose and therefore likely to deceive or confuse…”. Of course, the trader may explain his or her conduct in such a way as to undermine the availability of that inference. Obviously, this reasoning will only apply where there are similarities in get-up which suggest borrowing.
201 In the present case, I am satisfied that this was the intention of Homart. As noted in Red Bull at first instance (Conti J) at , the difference between the brand names is not necessarily decisive of an absence of the requisite intention. Nor, as I have noted above by reference to the Full Court decision in Peter Bodum, is the presence of a brand name determinative of an absence of misleading conduct. In the present case, in any action under s 18 of the ACL, one must look at the totality of conduct of the alleged deceiver.
202 I have found that Homart intentionally adopted a get-up for its product for the purpose of appropriating part of the trade or reputation of Careline. The choice of the CHÉRI Australia brand name was not, in the particular circumstances of this case, sufficient.
In the context of the findings at  above, his Honour had earlier noted at  –  that the cause of action could be made out even if the customer’s mistaken impression was dispelled by the time they had reached, or at, the sales counter. Burley J did discount Careline’s argument that the largely Chinese speaking customer base would not appreciate the different wording in Roman characters.
You will remember that Winnebago (USA) successfully sued the Knotts for passing off in Australia but (in large part because of Winnebago (USA)’s delay in asserting its rights) the Knotts had developed their own reputation in Australia and so could continue using WINNEBAGO here provided it was used with an appropriate disclaimer (here and here). The damages were to be assessed.
Now we know what the damages will be:
Knott Investments, the company that built and supplied the “Australian” Winnebagoes will have to pay a royalty calculated at 1% of its sales on all sales made from 6 years before the proceedings were started until the disclaimer was put in place.
The dealers who sold the vehicles will also have to pay a royalty of 1% on their sales in addition, but only from the date proceedings were actually commenced.
Winnebago (USA) claimed damages on the basis of a reasonable royalty. The respondents resisted. It was clear that Winnebago (USA) would never have granted them a licence and, equally, they would never have taken a licence from Winnebago (USA). In those circumstances, the respondents said, the court could not impose a royalty on the basis of an assumed agreement that would never have happened:
the applicant suffered no damage by way of a lost royalty (in effect, no lost “sale”) because the applicant would not have licensed the respondents to use the Winnebago marks in the first place.
Yates J rejected that defence and held that compensation was required to be paid on what has been called “the user principle”:
Under this principle, a plaintiff is entitled to recover, by way of damages, a reasonable sum from a defendant who has wrongfully used the plaintiff’s property. The plaintiff may not have suffered actual loss from the use, and the wrongdoer may not have derived actual benefit. Nevertheless, under the principle, the defendant is obliged to pay a reasonable sum for the wrongful use. The reasonable sum is sometimes described as a reasonable rent, hiring fee, endorsement fee, licence fee or royalty (amongst other expressions), depending on the property involved and the nature of the wrongful use.
Black CJ and Jacobson J in a copyright case in the Full Court had appeared to reject the application of that principle. Yates J, however, considered the principle could and should be adopted in the context of passing off (and trade mark infringement) on the basis of a long line of English and Australian cases applying the principle in the context of trespass to real property, conversion, detinue and intellectual property infringements. Otherwise, the respondents would escape liability for damages as a result of the very thing that made their conduct unlawful: the lack of consent by Winnebago (USA).
The respondents also argued that no damages should be payable because, as the Full Court found, they had a concurrent reputation in WINNEBAGO in Australia. Yates J rejected this too. His Honour considered that the existence of concurrent reputations – one which did not require a disclaimer and one which did – meant there was value in being able to use the reputation without any disclaimer. Yates J arrived at the royalty of 1% on the basis that Winnebago (USA) had granted a licence to an Australian licensee at that rate and, while various other considerations were entered into, that was an appropriate round number.
Three points in relation to the dealers.
Yates J rejected their first argument: that they should not be liable for anything as the supplier, Knott Investments would already have paid a royalty. However, the dealers’ sales of vehicles in passing off were separate wrongs to those of the manufacturer and so required separate compensation.
Secondly, while Winnebago (USA) did not submit evidence about what damages the dealers’ actions caused, it claimed a royalty of 4 or 5%. Yates J considered, in the absence of evidence, that a royalty of 1% would be consistent with that imposed on the supplier.
Thirdly, the dealers (and for that matter, the Knotts) would be liable for damages for passing off only where they acted with fraud: that is, with knowledge of Winnebago (USA)’s reputation in Australia and its desire to assert those rights here. In the absence of evidence avout what the dealers knew, Yates J considered that they could only be held to have acted with fraud once proceedings were initiated:
The difficulty for the applicant is that the evidence does not address the question of what the dealers knew or thought. Even if they might have been aware of the applicant’s activities in the United States or in other overseas markets, it does not follow that they also understood that the applicant had a reputation of any significance in Australia, let alone one that was capable of legal protection, or, more importantly, that, prior to the commencement of this proceeding, the applicant was claiming that it had rights in Australia in respect of the Winnebago marks and that the commercial activities of the first respondent and its dealers constituted an infringement of those rights. However, from the time of commencement of this proceeding, when the applicant’s claims were exposed, the position of the second to twelfth respondents was different. From that time, they were on notice of the applicant’s claimed rights. Their persistence in using the Winnebago marks after this notice constitutes fraud in the relevant sense.
The need to show “fraud” is another difference between the tort of passing off and the action for misleading or deceptive conduct under the Australian Consumer Law.
Flick J has provided a timely reminder that a registered trade mark does not always trump common law rights in passing off or under the Australian Consumer Law, in finding that Nappy Land and nappyland.com.au passed off Nappyland’s rights in NSW.
Mr Ngo and Mr Ho (through his company Powerware) started off in business together in 1997 as Nappy Land in New South Wales. Mr Ho also incorporated National Australian Nappies in 1997. Mr Ngo and Mr Ho fell out in 1999 and Mr Ngo seems to have bought out Mr Ho’s share in Nappy Land when Mr Ngo and his wife became the owners of the business name in NSW. They appear to have carried on the business in NSW through his company CI JI Family. At some point, CI JI Family started using the following (unregistered) trade mark:
By late 2000, Mr Ho through National Australian Nappies had registered Nappy Land as a business name in Victoria and appears to have been trading throughout Australia except NSW. From February 2002, National Australian Nappies secured registration of TM 902900
It seems like Mr Ngo and Mr Ho had very different views about who bought what when their partnership came to an end. Be that as it may, there doesn’t appear to have been any real dispute that Mr Ngo and CI JI Family were operating throughout the period in NSW as effectively Nappyland or that National Australian Nappies was operating outside NSW as Nappy Land.
At some point, it appears in or about 2013, however, National Australian Nappies, started attempting to enter the market in NSW. CI JI Family and Mr Ngo sued seeking interlocutory relief, but secured a speedy trial instead.
National Australian Nappies and Mr Ho sought to rely on their registered trade mark to fend off the action on the basis that s 20 of the Trade Marks Act confers on the owner the exclusive right to use the trade mark as a trade mark in Australia for the relevant goods/services. (Section 122(1)(e) also provides a defence to trade mark infringement.) However, s 238s 230 (of course; thanks: Tim Golder) provides:
Passing off actions
(1) Except as provided in subsection (2), this Act does not affect the law relating to passing off.
(2) In an action for passing off arising out of the use by the defendant of a registered trade mark:
(b) that is substantially identical with, or deceptively similar to, the trade mark of the plaintiff;
damages may not be awarded against the defendant if the defendant satisfies the court:
(c) that, at the time when the defendant began to use the trade mark, he or she was unaware, and had no reasonable means of finding out, that the trade mark of the plaintiff was in use; and
(d) that, when the defendant became aware of the existence and nature of the plaintiff’s trade mark, he or she immediately ceased to use the trade mark in relation to the goods or services in relation to which it was used by the plaintiff.
The fact of the trade mark registration therefore provided no protection against either the passing off or ACL claim. Despite aspects of the evidence being less than satisfactory, Flick J held there was sufficient evidence that the public in NSW was being misled or deceived and so s 18 of the Australian Consumer Law was contravened and there was a passing off.
His Honour went on to award damages of $25,000 as an exercise in “judicial estimation” rather than impermissible “imagination” with further orders to be decided at a later hearing. Presumably, unless bought out, CI JI Family will seek injunctions to stop further use in NSW of Nappy Land unless some form of disclaimer can be arrived out which prevents the misrepresentation. We shall have to wait and see.
CI JI Family Pty Limited v National Australian Nappies (NAN) Pty Limited  FCA 79