Artificial intelligences and inventions Down Under

The Commissioner of Patents has rejected the DABUS application Down Under.

Stephen L. Thaler applied for a patent, AU 2019363177, entitled “Food container and devices and methods for attracting enhanced attention”. The application named the inventor as:

DABUS, The invention was autonomously generated by an artificial intelligence

The application being made under the PCT, there was a formalities check, which, in reg. 3.2C(2)(aa), requires the Commissioner to check whether the named inventor has been identified.[1]

When the Delegate objected that an inventor had not been identified. Thaler explained why he considered DABUS was the inventor (in part):

The sole contributor to the invention is DABUS, an artificial intelligence machine that includes artificial intelligence programs written by the applicant. DABUS is capable of devising inventions without the involvement of a natural person who traditionally qualifies as an inventor. For the present invention, the machine only received training in general knowledge and proceeded to independently conceive of the invention and to identify it as novel and salient. How DABUS functions is described in detail in US Patent 10,423,875 and other patent specifications.

The Delegate understood from this response that DABUS is not a person as understood in law – an individual, a corporation or a body politic.[2]

There is no definition of “inventor” in the Act. Thus, Wilcox and Lindgren JJ had declared that the word bears its ordinary English meaning.[3]

At [12], the Delegate said:

…. Any standard dictionary shows that the traditional meaning of inventor is a person who invents. At the time that the Act came into operation (in 1991) there would have been no doubt that inventors were natural persons, and machines were tools that could be used by inventors. However, it is now well known that machines can do far more than this, and it is reasonable to argue that artificial intelligence machines might be capable of being inventors. I have no evidence whether the ordinary meaning of “inventor”, assessed at the present day, can include a machine. But if this were the ordinary meaning, would this be consistent with the other provisions of the Act?

So far as the other provisions and context provided any (limited) assistance, the Delegate considered at [20] that it was clear a patentee must be a person. This implied that an inventor also needed to be a person and, in any event, an inventor who was not a person could not be a patentee.

Although it was not part of the decision, it may also be noted that an author for the purposes of copyright must be a natural person. A computer-generated work is not an original work for the purposes of copyright as there is no author.[4] Of course, a patent can protect ideas or function while copyright protects the “expression” of ideas. At least to the extent that the rationale for granting protection in either system is the natural rights of a person to the fruits of their mental labour,[4] one would think the same considerations should apply.

Thaler has enlisted the services of Allen’s pro bono and appealed, No. VID 108/2021.

Stephen L. Thaler [2021] APO 5]


  1. Correct identification of the inventor(s) is important as a patent can be revoked if it is not granted to an “entitled person” (or all the “entitled persons” (see s 138(3)(a)) and a person can be an “entitled person” only if they can trace their chain of title back to the inventor(s): s 15(1)(a).  ?
  2. Citing Acts Interpretation Act 1901 (Cth) s 2C.  ?
  3. Atlantis Corporation Pty Ltd v Schindler [1997] FCA 1105; 39 IPR 29 at 54.  ?
  4. Telstra Corporation Limited v Phone Directories Company Pty Ltd [2010] FCAFC 149 at [90] (Keane CJ) and [117] – [119] (Perram J).  ?

IP Australia and Indigenous Knowledge – consultations

In September 2020, IP Australia published its work plan to make provision for the better protection of Indigenous Knowledge in Australia’s Intellectual Property System.

Now it has released a consultation paper on four topics from that work plan it wishes to advance.

As summarised in the Introduction, the consultation paper raises four topics:

  1. Establishing an Indigenous Advisory Panel – providing a formalised Indigenous voice to IP Australia.
  2. Measures for trade mark or designs using Indigenous Knowledge – changes to processes to ensure IK owners benefit from, or have consented to, the use of their IK as the basis for rights.
  3. New requirements to declare the source of Indigenous Knowledge used in new innovations – make it easier to determine if IK has been used in a patent or plant breeder’s right, and encourage conversations about access and benefit sharing.
  4. Labelling to promote authentic Indigenous Products – exploring interest in labelling schemes that distinguish authentic Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander goods.

Topic 2, relating to trade marks and designs, notes that IP Australia may currently reject an application if the application uses “IK” which is secret or sacred; the name of a group or a nation where there is no connection to that group or nation or uses a an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander word which should be available for other business to use.

Noting the limitations in that range, the consultation paper seeks input on a range of issues including:

(a) whether people would have concerns providing a statutory declaration etc. as evidence to support an objection to an application;

(b) whether IP Australia should ask applicants whether they have consent to use the “IK”;

(c) the introduction of a check to assess whether an application would cause cultural offence to a community or communities;

(d) whether IP Australia should assess whether the the application involves a use of “IK” in a way which falsely suggests a connection to an Indigenous person, community or nation.

Other questions relate to tools for better identifying applications which involve the use of “IK”.

Topic 3 raises questions about whether patent applicants should be required to declare the source of (1) genetic resources and/or (2) traditional knowledge included in their applications or on which an application is based.

Additional questions relate to how such requirements would be implemented, enforced and, if not complied with, penalised.

The Overview page states that consultations close on 24 May 2021.

Was the patent infringed?

Both A Pty Ltd and R Pty Ltd are located in Australia.

A Pty Ltd has a patent in Australia over a gizmo.

R Pty Ltd has entered into a contract with T LL C to make 100 gizmos for T for delivery to T’s facility in Eritrea. R Pty Ltd won’t make the gizmos itself; they will be made by its manufacturer in Shenzhen, China . Once made, R’s manufacturer will deliver the 100 gizmos FOB to a ship T has chartered in Hong Kong.

Assuming that the gizmos made in Shenzhen fall squarely within the claims of A’s patent, has R Pty Ltd infringed A’s patent? Cast your vote (anonymously) below:

[socialpoll id=”2382621″]

The answer should be posted on Friday.

Selected links from the last week

I am going to try an experiment. With the rise of “week in review” style blogposts and your day job probably means you don’t have all day to watch Twitter streaming by, here is a selection of links to IP-related matters I found interesting this week:

Patents

Trade marks

  • MACCOFFEE? We’re not lovin’ it, says General Court here

    The “Mac” family of trade marks are too well known for someone esle to register MACCOFFEE in the EU

  • “Own Name” defence in Singapore–when “honest practices” does the heavy lifting here
  • CJEU says operators of physical marketplaces may be forced to stop trade mark infringements of market-traders

    although you could contrast that to Dowsett J’s decision

  • Book Review: The law and practice of trademark transactions – A global and local outlook

Not categorised

  • Employees Bound By Clickthrough Agreements–ADP v. Lynch (USA)

Bit of a slow week in the northern hemisphere, but I hope you find some interesting. If you did or have a question, leave a comment or send me an email

Another Infringed Innovation Patent And A Delivery Up Question

Product Management Group (PMG) has lost its appeal from Middleton J’s finding that it infringed Blue Gentian’s innovation patents for a self extending/collapsing garden hose.

The appeal seems like a fairly straightforward application of construction principles and demonstrates, yet again, how slender an innovation need be to secure a monopoly for eight years.

There may, however, be a question for the future whether or not the “substantial contribution” to the working of the “invention” required by s 7(4) must be a positive contribution to the working of the invention.[1]

An interesting point is the Order Middleton J made for delivery up. His Honour did not just require delivery up of PMG’s unsold stock and componentry. In addition, by paragraph 3(c), his Honour ordered that PMG should contact the customers to which it hold sold the infringing products, offer them a refund and request that they return the products to PMG.

Nicholas J considered this travelled well beyond the purpose of an order for delivery up. His Honour considered that purpose was to relieve the infringer from the “temptation” of further infringing and so, in that sense, was in aid of the injunction. Nicholas J considered that an order requiring a party to try and retrieve property to which it no longer had any legal title could not fairly be described as in aid of delivery up and so would have set aside that part of the Order.

In circumstances where the Court had not been favoured with any oral submissions and only brief mention in written submissions, however, Kenny and Beach JJ were not persuaded that his Honour’s discretion miscarried and their Honours would let it stand in this case. However, they warned:

But our rejection of this ground should not be taken as any endorsement of this form of order for the future. We doubt that such an order would ordinarily be appropriate. We do not need to comment further.

This may pose an interesting dilemma for “convicted” infringers: object to such an order or, as the purchasers’ use of an infringing product would itself be an infringement, risk having the successful plaintiff require discovery and then suing the individual customers for infringement too.[2]

Product Management Group Pty Ltd v Blue Gentian LLC [2015] FCAFC 179


  1. Compare Kenny and Beach JJ at [178] to Nicholas J at [284].  ?
  2. On the approach taken vy Yates J in Winnebago (No 4). Of course, the plaintiff might not be willing to pursue individual purchasers of garden hoses, but what about Bunnings and the other hardware chains?  ?

Alphapharm v Lundbeck per se

The Full Federal Court has dismissed yet another appeal in the Alphapharm v Lundbeck (escitalopram) saga:

You will recall that Lundbeck had applied (10 years late)[1] for an extension of the term of its escitalopram patent under s 70 of the Patents Act, escitalopram being the (+) enantiomer of citalopram.[2]

The issue in this appeal was whether escitalopram satisfied the requirement in s 70(2)(a) that:

one or more pharmaceutical substances per se must in substance be disclosed in the complete specification of the patent and in substance fall within the scope of the claim or claims of that specification

Alphapharm’s argument was that Lundbeck’s patent was a claim to a pharmaceutical substance – the isolated or pure enantiomer – but it was not a claim to a pharmaceutical substance per se. Rather, Alphapharm characterised the claim as a claim to the substance limited by a requirement of purity of manufacture.

Bennett, Nicholas and Yates JJ rejected Alphapharm’s characterisation.

Claim 1 of the escitalopram patent is to:

(+)–1-(3-dimethylaminopropyl)–1-(4’-fluorophenyl)–1,3-dihydroisobenzofuran–5-carbonitrile and non-toxic acid addition salts thereof.

Their Honours pointed out that the claim did not itself use the word “isolated” or “pure”. Nonetheless, the skilled addressee would understand the claim to be referring to the substance constituted by the isolated enantiomer, not as existing in the racemate. That substance was a new chemical entity with different characteristics and properties to the racemate.

92 …. the claim is to the (+)-enantiomer and nothing else. The term “pharmaceutical substance per se” simply means the pharmaceutical substance “in itself”. In Boehringer, Heerey J observed that per se meant ‘by or in itself’ ‘intrinsically’ or ‘essentially’ (at [7]). The Full Court approved that approach on appeal (at [37]).

93 Semantics aside, it is clear that the claim describes a pharmaceutical substance per se. The substance was, as explained by Lindgren J at [536], a new chemical entity. The racemate and the (+)-enantiomer had different physico-chemical interactions manifested in different pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics (the Decision at [234]). The claim is to (+)-citalopram, irrespective of how it is produced. The isolated (+)-enantiomer plainly qualifies as a pharmaceutical substance per se and the primary Judge was correct in concluding that it satisfies s 70(2)(a) of the Act.

It looks like things are now getting down to the sharp pointy question of how much will have to be paid in terms of pecuniary remedies. As this was an appeal from a single judge who, in turn, was hearing an appeal from the Commissioner, Alphapharm needed leave to appeal.[3] While cases granting “leave” are not quite as rare as hen’s teeth, the Full Court noted leave should be granted because:

35 This application also represents Alphapharm’s only course in challenging the extension of term of the Patent, which has significant consequences to Alphapharm. If Lundbeck is successful, the term of the Patent will be extended and Lundbeck’s infringement proceedings against Alphapharm can proceed.

Alphapharm Pty Ltd v H Lundbeck A/S [2015] FCAFC 138 (Bennett, Nicholas and Yates JJ)


  1. The High Court held that Lundbeck was not “out of time” in making its application last year.  ?
  2. Lundbeck patented the racemate citalopram in 1980 and marketed it in Australia as Cipramil. The racemate being a mixture of both the (+) and (-) enantiomers. Lundbeck marketed escitalopram as Lexapro.  ?
  3. Patents Act s 158(2).  ?

Productivity Commission to review all IP laws

The Harper Review[1] recommended that the Government should direct the Productivity Commission to undertake an overarching review Australia’s IP laws.

The Treasurer and the Minister for Small Business have now announced that review.

According to the Harper Review:

an appropriate balance must be struck between encouraging widespread adoption of new productivity-enhancing techniques, processes and systems on the one hand, and fostering ideas and innovation on the other. Excessive IP protection can not only discourage adoption of new technologies but also stifle innovation.

Given the influence of Australia’s IP rights on facilitating (or inhibiting) innovation, competition and trade, the Panel believes the IP system should be designed to operate in the best interests of Australians.

The Panel therefore considers that Australia’s IP rights regime is a priority area for review. (emphasis supplied)

In reaching that view, the Harper Review flagged concern about entering into new treaties with extended IP protections.

The terms of reference state:

In undertaking the inquiry the Commission should:

  1. examine the effect of the scope and duration of protection afforded by Australia’s intellectual property system on:

    a. research and innovation, including freedom to build on existing innovation;

    b. access to and cost of goods and services; and competition, trade and investment.

  2. recommend changes to the current system that would improve the overall wellbeing of Australian society, which take account of Australia’s international trade obligations, including changes that would:

    a. encourage creativity, investment and new innovation by individuals, businesses and through collaboration while not unduly restricting access to technologies and creative works;

    b. allow access to an increased range of quality and value goods and services;

    c. provide greater certainty to individuals and businesses as to whether they are likely to infringe the intellectual property rights of others; and

    d. reduce the compliance and administrative costs associated with intellectual property rules.

Then follows a catalogue of 9 matters for the Commission to have regard to. These include the Government’s desire to retain appropriate incentives for innovation, the economy-wide and distributional consequences of recommendation and the Harper Review’s recommendations in relation to parallel imports.[2]

The Commission must report within 12 months.


  1. The Competition Policy Review, recommendation 6.  ?
  2. Rec. 13 and section 10.6 of the Competition Policy Review: i.e., repeal any remaining restrictions unless the benefits outweigh the costs and the objectives of the restrictions can only be achieved by restricting competition. Cue diatribe about “restricting competition” especially given the oft mouthed formula that IP rights rarely (if ever) restrict competition.  ?

Innovation patent consultation on the consultation

IP Australia has issued a consultation paper seeking the public’s view on (the now departed) ACIP’s recommendations for the innovation patent. Specifically:

IP Australia is seeking feedback from interested stakeholders on:

  • the ACIP recommendation that the government should consider abolishing the innovation patent system
  • any alternative suggestions to encourage innovation amongst SMEs.

Get your comments in by 25 September 2015

IP Australia’s consultation paper here (pdf or word). The ACIP report being “consultated” upon, via here and updated here.

Australian Intellectual Property Report 2015

IP Australia has released its Australian Intellectual Property Report 2015.

In addition to reporting on a range of statistics and some commentary, the report includes a number of “interactive” graphs that you may explore. Much, if not all, of the data is available through the Government Open Data initiative.

The headline point is that applications for trade marks and plant breeder’s rights increased over 2013, while applications for patents and registered designs decreased. The report attributes the decline in patent applications to the increased threshold arising from the commencement of most of the substantive reforms in the Raising the Bar and the rush to file before their commencement.

Australians are the largest source of filings for trade mark, registered designs and pbr. US-based applicants the largest source of patent applications; Australian residents being the second largest.

There were 25,947 applications for standard patents in 2014, a decrease of 13% on 2013. 19,034 standard patents were granted; an increase of 13% over 2013. Over 94% were granted to non-residents. The average number of months from filing to request for examination fell from 16.3 to 13.6 months; the average time from request to first report is just over 9 month and, on average, the time from first examination report to acceptance was a further 14 months. Australians filed 9,012 patent applications abroad in 2013 (41% in the USA), up 3% on 2012.

There were 1523 applications for innovation patents, down from 1676 in 2013. Australians accounted for 66% of the filings.

There were 64,381 trade mark applications filed in Australia in 2014, up 2% from 2013; correspondingly, Australians filed 16,267 applications overseas (in 2013). The top 3 filing destinations were the USA, China and NZ – accounting for 50%. The USA supplanted China as the “top destination”. Apparently, this is in line with a global trend.

6550 designs were registered in 2014, and 1452 were certified – almost double the number certified in 2013. IP Australia speculates that there are few applications to register designs because:

According to Lim et al (2014) the role of IP rights in the market for designs is limited.9 Buyers and sellers in the market view designs as a service that is co-created. As IP rights protect the artefact, not the service, IP rights are perceived as a secondary issue in the marketplace. This view of design rights provides insights into the low volume of design registrations relative to patents and trade marks.

The number of applications for plant breeder’s rights skyrocketed from 330 in 2013 to 341!

The report notes that IP Australia is aiming in 2015 to complete research projects into innovation trends in the mining industry, who and in which areas in the textile, clothing and footwear industry is filing patents and the role of geographical indicators.

Springboard injunctions and patents

In December, Beach J found AUG infringed Streetworx’ innovation patent for a street light fitting. Now, his Honour has granted an injunction restraining AUG from further infringing the patent, but has refused to grant a “springboard injunction” or order delivery up.

Before the trial, AUG had secured contracts with two municipal councils, Monash and Moonee Valley, to supply, respectively, 8,000 and 6,000 infringing light fittings. The lights have yet to be supplied. AUG couldn’t negotiate a royalty or licence fee with Streetworx so it could supply. Therefore, it sought to modify its fittings so they no longer infringed. Streetworx sought the “springboard injunction” to block that supply on the basis that AUG secured the contracts with the infringing product and should not be allowed to take the benefit of that infringement.

Beach J accepted that the Court does have power to order a “springboard injunction” of the kind sought.

Beach J accepted Streetworx’ argument that but for the infringing conduct there would not have been any contract to supply.[1] However, that was not enough to secure the “springboard injunction” as his Honour considered it was also necessary to consider the quality of the advantage obtained by the infringement.

[81] …. The quality of the unwarranted advantage needs to be considered. In the scenario where the relevant integers had no causal significance (ie absent the relevant integers the contract would have been awarded for the product in any event), the nature and quality of the unwarranted advantage is less egregious than if the presence of the relevant integers in the product played a critical role in the decision to award the contract. So, in that more nuanced fashion, it is relevant to consider the causal significance of the presence of the relevant integers to the decision to award the contract. The more the unwarranted advantage is causally tied to the significance of the presence of the relevant integers, the stronger the basis for the injunction and vice versa. The concept of unwarranted advantage contains within it a normative aspect and has a spectrum quality rather than Streetworx’s simplistic binary characterisation of it either being established or not established. In other words, there are degrees of unwarranted advantage which are to be considered and which are not foreclosed from consideration by merely demonstrating “but for” factual causation as Streetworx has demonstrated in the present case.

In this case, Beach J considered that damages or an account of profits would be an adequate remedy.[2] Secondly, the qualitative advantage gained by the infringement was low. So far as the evidence went, the infringing features were not a selling point in AUG achieving the sales. Although there was no evidence directly from the Councils themselves, this was supported by the fact they were prepared to accept the non-infringing products in place of the infringing fittings. Thirdly, his Honour took into account the impact of the proposed injunction on the innocent Councils in a market where there were limited suppliers.

His Honour also refused to order delivery up as the fittings had been modified so that they no longer infringed.

Streetworx Pty Ltd v Artcraft Urban Group Pty Ltd (No 2) [2015] FCA 140


  1. If the fitting to be supplied had not been itself the infringement – a holistic infringement, but rather merely a component such as the brake of a car, Beach J may have been prepared to take the more nuanced approach advocated by AUG at the causation stage.  ?
  2. This is an unusual consideration at the final injunction stage as typically the Courts will not condone future infringing conduct. Here, of course, his Honour found the conduct would not be infringing. His Honour did order that the price of escaping the injunction would be an undertaking from AUG to pay its gross margin from the sales into a trust account pending the damages/account inquiry.  ?