UK

The English Court of Appeal rejects AI too

The Court of Appeal has dismissed by a 2:1 majority Dr Thaler’s appeal from Marcus Smith J’s decision rejecting the patent applications on the grounds that DABUS is not an inventor.

A recap

In late 2018, Dr Thaler applied for the grant of two patents, GB18116909.4 entitled “Food Container” concerning the shape of parts of packaging for food and and GB1818161.0 entitled “Devices and Methods for Attracting Enhanced Attention” for a form of flashing light.

In his application forms, Dr Thaler named DABUS as the inventor and stated that his entitlement arose “by ownership of the creativity machine ‘DABUS’”.

In later, amended forms, Dr Thaler explained “the applicant identified no person or persons whom he believes to be an inventor as the invention was entirely and solely conceived by DABUS”.

Patents Act 1977 (UK) ss 7 and 13

Section 7 of the UK’s Patents Act 1977 defines who is entitled to apply for and obtain a patent:

7 Right to apply for and obtain a patent.

(1)Any person may make an application for a patent either alone or jointly with another.

(2)A patent for an invention may be granted—

(a)primarily to the inventor or joint inventors;

(b)in preference to the foregoing, to any person or persons who, by virtue of any enactment or rule of law, or any foreign law or treaty or international convention, or by virtue of an enforceable term of any agreement entered into with the inventor before the making of the invention, was or were at the time of the making of the invention entitled to the whole of the property in it (other than equitable interests) in the United Kingdom;

(c)in any event, to the successor or successors in title of any person or persons mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b) above or any person so mentioned and the successor or successors in title of another person so mentioned;

and to no other person.

(3)In this Act “inventor” in relation to an invention means the actual deviser of the invention and “joint inventor” shall be construed accordingly.

(4)Except so far as the contrary is established, a person who makes an application for a patent shall be taken to be the person who is entitled under subsection (2) above to be granted a patent and two or more persons who make such an application jointly shall be taken to be the persons so entitled.

Although the wording is somewhat different, ss 13(1) and (2) of the UK Act appear to be similar in effect as, respectively, s 29 and s 15 of the Australian Act.[1]

Section 13 of the UK Act further provides:

13 Mention of inventor.

(1)The inventor or joint inventors of an invention shall have a right to be mentioned as such in any patent granted for the invention and shall also have a right to be so mentioned if possible in any published application for a patent for the invention and, if not so mentioned, a right to be so mentioned in accordance with rules in a prescribed document.

(2)Unless he has already given the Patent Office the information hereinafter mentioned, an applicant for a patent shall within the prescribed period file with the Patent Office a statement—

(a)identifying the person or persons whom he believes to be the inventor or inventors; and

(b)where the applicant is not the sole inventor or the applicants are not the joint inventors, indicating the derivation of his or their right to be granted the patent;

and, if he fails to do so, the application shall be taken to be withdrawn.

(3)Where a person has been mentioned as sole or joint inventor in pursuance of this section, any other person who alleges that the former ought not to have been so mentioned may at any time apply to the comptroller for a certificate to that effect, and the comptroller may issue such a certificate; and if he does so, he shall accordingly rectify any undistributed copies of the patent and of any documents prescribed for the purposes of subsection (1) above.[2]

Can an AI be an inventor?

All three judges were in agreement that DABUS, as an AI, cannot be an inventor because an inventor must be a person.

At [116] Arnold LJ, who gave the lead judgment for the majority, said:

In my judgment it is clear that, upon a systematic interpretation of the 1977 Act, only a person can be an “inventor”. The starting point is section 130(1) which provides that “‘inventor’ has the meaning assigned to it by section 7 above”. Section 7(3) provides that “‘inventor’ in relation to an invention means the actual deviser of the invention”. A dictionary definition of “deviser” is “a person who devises; a contriver, a planner, an inventor” (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 5th edition, Oxford University Press, 2002). Section 7(2) provides that a patent may be granted (a) “primarily to the inventor or joint inventors”, (b) “to any person or persons who …”, (c) “the successor or successors in title of any person or persons mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b) above”, but “to no other person”. As Lord Hoffmann explained in Yeda Research and Development Company Ltd v. Rhone-Poulenc Rorer International Holdings [2007] UKHL 43, [2007] Bus LR 1796 at [20], this is “an exhaustive code”. It is clear from this code that category (a) must consist of a person or persons, just as much as categories (b) and (c) do. Section 7(4) creates a presumption that “a person who makes an application for a patent shall be taken to be the person who is entitled under subsection (2) above to be granted a patent”. Again, it is plain that only a person can be entitled under section 7(2), and thus only a person can fall within paragraph (a).

Similarly, at [50] – [51], Birss LJ said:

50 Second, a purpose of the definition of inventor in section 7(3) was to change the law, from the old law going back to the Statute of Monopolies, and to abolish the idea of a true and first inventor who could be anyone other than the actual deviser of the invention. The concept of the actual deviser of the invention was already known to United Kingdom patent law from the 1949 Act (s16). It was the person who actually devised the invention. The contrast was between that person and others who had not done so but were regarded as the true and first inventor, e.g. importers. So in Yeda paragraph [18] the contrast was drawn between the actual deviser and a pretended or deemed deviser.

51 The rest of the 1977 Act is drafted on the footing that the inventor is a person. For example s7(2)(c) of the 1977 Act refers to “person or persons mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b)” and s13 of the Act require an applicant to identify the “person or persons whom he believes to be the inventor or inventors”. However, for what it is worth, I would hold that the mechanism by which the inventor is a person in the scheme of the 1977 Act is because the “actual deviser” is a person and so, by definition in s7(3), is the inventor.

and at [54] – [55]:

54 I conclude that the answer to the first question is a simple one. Within the meaning of the 1977 Act the “inventor” is the person who actually devised the invention.

55 That conclusion is arrived at without any need to examine the policy arguments raised by both parties. Machines are not persons. The fact that machines can now create inventions, which is what Dr Thaler says happened in this case, would not mean that machines are inventors within the meaning of the Act. Assuming the machine is the entity which actually created these inventions, it has no right to be mentioned as the inventor and no right to employee’s compensation under s39 (which no doubt it never had anyway).

At [102], Lady Justice Elisabeth Laing explained:

Both Birss LJ and Arnold LJ agree that the clear effect of the relevant provisions of the 1977 Act is that an inventor must be a person. I also agree with that conclusion. Rights are a consistent theme which runs through section 7. Only a person can have rights. A machine cannot. The premise of section 7 is that an inventor is and can only be a person. A patent can be granted ‘primarily to the inventor’, and only to someone else in the circumstances described in section 7(2)(c) and (d). A patent is a statutory right and it can only be granted to a person. That means that the effect of section 7(2)(a) is that the inventor must be a person. Only a person can make, before the invention is made, an enforceable agreement by which he is entitled to the whole of the property in the invention (other than equitable interests) (section 7(2)(b)). Such an agreement can only be made with another person. Only a person can have a successor in title (section 7(2)(c)). It follows that, absent a statutory deeming provision, it is simply not possible, as a matter of law, for Dabus to be an ‘inventor’ for the purposes of section 7. Nor, for the reasons given by Arnold LJ, has Dr Thaler identified any enactment of rule of law by which he is entitled to that property (even if he could, that would not help his case, because it would not overcome the hurdle that Dabus in not an inventor for the purposes of the Act). Only a person has a right to be named as an inventor (section 13(1)). Section 13(2)(a) also assumes that the inventor is a person. Arnold LJ gives many other examples of provisions in the 1977 Act which support that construction.

Dr Thaler was not entitled to the inventions

In the Court of Appeal, Dr Thaler appears to have shifted ground from the position taken before Marcus Smith J.

Dr Thaler accepted he was not entitled to the inventions under s 7 as the inventor. At [124], Arnold LJ recorded that Dr Thaler also abandoned his claim to entitlement on the basis of an assignment from DABUS.[3] Instead, Dr Thaler based his entitlement on the doctine of accession. Dr Thaler’s argument was that as the owner of DABUS he was the owner of the inventions it produced just as the owner of a cow is the owner of its calves.

At [130], Arnold LJ cited Blackstone for the common law definition of the doctrine of accession on which Dr Thaler relied:

“The doctrine of property arising from accession is also grounded on the right of occupancy. By the Roman law, if any given corporeal substance received afterwards an accession by natural or by artificial means, as the growth of vegetables, the pregnancy of animals, the embroidering of cloth, or the conversion of wood or metal into vessels and utensils, the original owner of the thing was intitled by right of possession to the property of it under such it’s statement of improvement; but of the thing itself, by such operation, was changed into a different species, as by making wine, oil, or bread, out of another’s grapes, olives, or wheat, it belonged to the new operator; who was only to make a satisfaction to the former proprietor for the materials, which he had converted. And these doctrines are implicitly copied and adopted by our Bracton, in the reign of king Henry III; and have since been confirmed by many resolutions of the courts.”

Arnold LJ explained that the doctrine of accession was rooted in the principle of “dominion” – exclusive possession: a person who has exclusive possession of a tangible (the cow) which produces a tangible (a calf) will generally also have exclusive possession of the tangible produced.

However, an invention is information, an intangible. As an intangible, Arnold LJ noted at [133] it was distinguishable from a tangible on the basis that intangibles are non-rivalrous goods: they were capable of simultaneous consumption by more than one person. Accordingly, a new intangible is not capable of exclusive possession.

Furthermore, Dr Thaler was forced to accept that the doctrine of accession did not apply to at least some situations where an intangible was produced by a tangible. At [135], Arnold LJ gave the example of a photograph taken by A using a camera owned by B: subject to an agreement to the contrary, the copyright in the photograph would be owned by the photographer, not the owner of the camera.[4]

Arnold LJ considered that Dr Thaler’s arguments were more about what the law should be rather than what it is. As to what it is, his Lordship said at [136] it ran into two obstacles:

…. As matters stand, it seems to me that the argument faces two obstacles. The first is that it pre-supposes that a machine can be an inventor for the purposes of the 1977 Act. The second is that I cannot see any basis in current law for a person to have a legal right to stand in the place of a machine with respect to the right to apply for a patent, because that pre-supposes that the machine would otherwise have that right, but as noted above machines do not have rights. A point which underlies both these obstacles is that modern patent law is almost entirely a creature of statute.

Accordingly, Dr Thaler’s applications should be rejected.

Birss LJ dissented

Despite agreeing that an AI was not an inventor for the purposes of the Patents Act 1977, Birss LJ would have allowed the appeal. For his Lordship, it was no part of the Comptroller’s role under section 13 to inquire into whether DABUS was in fact an inventor.

To reach this conclusion, Birss LJ examined the history of s 13 and its predecessor under the Patents Act 1949, s 16. Section 16 of the 1949 Act wrought a number of changes. One of those was to permit assignment of the right to apply for a patent which in turn brought in the requirement that the assignee applicant provide an assent from the inventor.

The Banks Committee, however, reported that these arrangements had led to a number of problems. One problem was the difficulty in confidently identifying the inventors.[5] A second problem was that at the examination stage the Comptroller was in no position to check the accuracy of claims to inventorship or assignment. At [44], Birss LJ explained that the Banks Committee had recommended abolishing declarations of inventorship and assent:

This, we think, would simplify the procedure for applicants, protect patentees against invalidation of their patents through inadvertent error in naming inventors, give recognition to the fact that the Patent Office is in no position to check the completeness of declarations of assent and inventorship at present required (which therefore provide no real safeguard against wrongful obtaining of patents), and abolish the anomaly of “communicated” invention. We realise, however, that safeguards are necessary to protect the interests of inventors, and would stress that making of any application by a person other than the inventor should not imply in any way that the inventor has assented to the making of the application or acknowledged the right of the applicant to make it. Furthermore, since we believe that it is most important that the contribution of the inventor, where he is not the applicant, should not be overlooked, we recommend that the applicant, both in Convention and in non-Convention applications, should be required to name the person(s) believed to be the inventor(s), who would then be named in the published specification, but that the fulfilling of this requirement should not prejudice the right of any other person to apply under section 16 of the [1949] Act to be mentioned in the patent, nor should a bona fide error in the naming of inventors invalidate a patent. Where disputes arise over ownership of applications or patents, a new procedure will be necessary for their resolution, and this we recommend in Chapter 13.

Having regard to this history, Birss LJ considered at [58] – [59] that the requirements of s 13(2)(a) would be satisfied so long as the applicant identified who the applicant believed was the inventor. Correspondingly, s 13(2)(b) merely required the applicant to identify the basis on which the applicant claimed derivation from the inventor.

It was no part of the Comptroller’s role, at this stage, to investigate whether or not the identified inventor was in fact legally an inventor or the identified basis of derivation was legally effective. Any other approach would resurrect the very problems encountered under the 1949 Act [s 16][49uk].

In light of this conclusion, his Lordship did not consider Dr Thaler’s arguments based on the doctrine of accession.

With respect, a difficulty with Birss LJ’s approach is that an application would proceed to grant and could be asserted against third parties, or block subsequent applications, unless someone came forward to challenge the grant. And under the UK Act it seems objections on the ground of entitlement can be brought only by someone else claiming entitlement: See Birss LJ at [70] citing s 72.

Arnold LJ (with the agreement of Lady Justice Elisabeth Laing) accepted that the role of the Comptroller under s 13 was limited. His Lordship considered, however, rejection of Dr Thaler’s application did not involve such issues. Rather, the Comptroller took the information provided by Dr Thaler at face value and on its face that information failed to identify the person who was the inventor or any basis operative to transfer the rights of an inventor to Dr Thaler.[6]

As the applications failed to comply with two important statutory requirements, therefore, Arnold LJ held at [148] that the Comptroller was right to reject them.

A moral right

Before concluding, it is worth also noting that the Court of Appeal recognised that the requirement to identify the inventor is really a species of moral right. As Arnold LJ noted at [121], a paternity right: the right to be identified as the creator. At [44], Birss LJ noted the Banks Committee’s recognition that:

it is most important that the contribution of the inventor, where he is not the applicant, should not be overlooked, we recommend that the applicant, both in Convention and in non-Convention applications, should be required to name the person(s) believed to be the inventor(s), who would then be named in the published specification….

Thaler v Comptroller General of Patents Trade Marks And Designs [2021] EWCA Civ 1374 (Arnold and Elisabeth Laing LJJ, Birss LJ dissenting)


  1. See Foster’s Australia Limited v Cash’s (Australia) Pty Ltd [2013] FCA 527. Section 31 extends s 29 to joint applicants.  ?
  2. Section 13 of the UK Act does not have a counterpart in the Australian Act. However, ss 29(4A) and (4B) require applications to be in the approved form – which requires the inventor to be identified and reg. 3.2C(2)(aa) requires applications under the PCT to identify the inventor.  ?
  3. Before Beach J in Australia, Dr Thaler also accepted that, as an artificial intelligence system is not a legal person, DABUS could not legally assign the invention: see e.g. [115].  ?
  4. In Australia, see Copyright Act 1968 s 35, bearing in mind there are exceptions for works made in the course of employment, taking of photographs for a private or domestic purpose or the exception for photographs taken by journalists for newspapers etc.  ?
  5. A problem finally addressed in the Patents Act 1990 (Cth) by the enactment in the “Raising the Bar” Act of s 22A and s 138(4).  ?
  6. At [108], Lady Justice Elisabeth Laing explained “It will be clear from what I have already said that I do not agree that section 13(2)(a) only requires an applicant to ‘state their genuine belief about who the inventor was’ (judgment, paragraph 60). Rather, it expressly requires the applicant to identify the person who, he believes, is the inventor. That is a different requirement, and it is not met by a statement that the applicant genuinely believes that the invention was devised by a machine ….” (emphasis supplied)  ?

More on DABUS – this time in Old Blighty

Ann Dufty, whom many of you will know, has pointed out to me that Dr Thaler’s lack of success in the UK was not limited “merely” to rejection by UKIPO. Dr Thaler’s patent application has been rejected by Marcus Smith J sitting in the High Court of England and Wales.

Under the Patents Act 1977 (UK) s 7(2) is in similar terms and, one might say, to the same effect as s 15 of the Australian Act:

(1) Any person may make an application for a patent either alone or jointly with another.

(2) A patent for an invention may be granted –

(a) primarily to the inventor or joint inventors; 
(b) in preference to the foregoing, to any person or persons who, by virtue of any enactment or rule of law, or any foreign law or treaty or international convention, or by virtue of an enforceable term of any agreement entered into with the inventor before the making of the invention, was or were at the time of the making of the invention entitled to the whole of the property in it (other than equitable interests) in the United Kingdom; 

(c) in any event, to the successor or successors in title of any person or persons mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b) above or any person so mentioned and the successor or successors in title of another person so mentioned; and to no other person.

(3) In this Act ‘inventor’ in relation to an invention means the actual deviser of the invention and ‘joint inventor’ shall be construed accordingly.

(4) Except so far as the contrary is established, a person who makes an application for a patent shall be taken to be the person who is entitled under subsection (2) above to be granted a patent and two or more persons who make such an application jointly shall be taken to be the persons so entitled.”

Sub-section 7(3) does not have an obvious counterpart in the Australian legislation but, DABUS aside, one would think Australian law is to the same effect. Putting to one side the question whether or not an AI can be an inventor, Australian law would consider the person who made the invention the inventor.[1]

In the English case, Dr Thaler’s substantive arguments were essentially the same as those advanced in Australia.

As to the meaning of “inventor”, Marcus Smith J at [45(3)] first noted that Lord Hoffmann in Yeda had agreed with Laddie J’s view that an inventor was a “natural person”:

The inventor is defined in section 7(3) as “the actual deviser of the invention”. The word “actual” denotes a contrast with a deemed or pretended deviser of the invention; it means, as Laddie J said in University of Southampton’s Applications [2005] RPC 220, 234, the natural person who “came up with the inventive concept.” It is not enough that someone contributed to the claims, because they may include non-patentable integers derived from prior art: see Henry Brothers (Magherafelt) Ltd v Ministry of Defence [1997] RPC 693, 706; [1999] RPC 442. As Laddie J said in the University of Southampton case, the “contribution must be to the formulation of the inventive concept”. Deciding upon inventorship will therefore involve assessing the evidence adduced by the parties as to the nature of the inventive concept and who contributed to it. In some cases this may be quite complex because the inventive concept is a relationship of discontinuity between the claimed invention and the rior art. Inventors themselves will often not know exactly where it lies.

Marcus Smith J then noted that he had not been cited any authority which explained why inventors were confined to natural persons only. His Lordship said at (a):

There is no authority to which I was referred or which I have myself been able to find which explains why the inventor is limited to natural persons only, as opposed to including also legal persons. Whilst one can see the need to limit Class (a) and so the term “inventor” to someone having personality, the exclusion of legal persons from the definition seems less clear-cut. The 1977 Act could, after all, have explicitly referred to “natural persons” rather than just the “inventor”.

Next his Lordship pointed out that DABUS was not, on any view, a person. Then, in contrast to Beach J at [135] – [145], Marcus Smith J considered that the requirement for a valid patent to have an inventive step was decisive:

It seems to me that, when once the notion of an “inventive step” is factored in, the restriction of the term “inventor” to natural person becomes inevitable. An “invention” by definition[29] must involve an “inventive step”, which is something “not obvious to a person skilled in the art”.[30] It is difficult to see how an inventive step can conceived of by a corporation – which must act through agents – without also striking one of those agents. In other words, the inventive step in the mind of a natural person is attributed to the corporation, which only has the inventive step in its “mind” by virtue of such attribution.[31] There is some sense in keeping the definition of inventor close to that which must arise out of the mind of an individual.

Accordingly, DABUS was not an inventor for the purposes of UK law.

Thaler v The Comptroller-General of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks [2020] EWHC 2412 (Pat)


  1. University of Western Australia v Gray [2009] FCAFC 116; 179 FCR 346 at [248] citing [Polwood Pty Ltd v Foxworth Pty Ltd][polworth] (2008) 165 FCR 527. For the counterparts to s 7(1) of the UK Act see ss 29 and 31.  ?

Unregistered design or registered design – UK

Over at the IpKat, Darren Meale has an extensive post explaining some of the intricate differences that arise when litigating an UK unregistered design right versus a registered design right. As he explains:

But UKUDR is quite powerful. As noted above, a designer can essentially make up what it says its rights are once it has seen an alleged infringement appear on the market, and it can lawfully do so in an immensely complex way. Only robust case management can deal with the menace….

Definitely well worth reading!

The case is Neptune v DeVol Kitchens [2017 EWHC 2172 (Henry Carr J)

Cutting the costs of designs litigation

Justice Carr in the UK has weighed into case management of design infringement cases in a big way.

Clingabeez[1] are apparently the runaway toy of the last year or so, being the Activity Toy of 2016 in the UK. They are the subject of a Registered Community Design. So, when what they allege are “copycats” hit the market, the letters of demand started flying. “Bunchem[2] is one such competitor.[3] It sued for unjustified threats and challenges the validity of the Registered Community Design. “Clingabeez” cross-claimed for infringement and denied invalidity.

At the initial case management conference, Clingabeez estimated a six-day trial and £776,000 costs; Bunchem estimated a four day trial and £360,000 costs.

Justice Carr considered both estimates were well out of order. His Lordship considered that a case relating to a registered design for a consumer product should be much simpler, largely dependent on the Court’s visual assessment of the evidence. In line with Court of Appeal decisions,[4] at [6], Justice Carr said:

(i) Registered design cases are concerned with the overall impression of the registered design, the alleged infringement and the design corpus. It is easier to see this than to describe it in words.

(ii) Admissible evidence in such cases is very limited, and is most likely to comprise technical evidence about design constraints. Such evidence is unlikely to require substantial cross-examination. It should be possible to decide a registered design case in a few hours.

(iii) If permission for expert evidence is to be given, then the precise ambit of that evidence should be defined. The expert should be told what question to address and the evidence should be confined to those questions.

(iv) It is clear law that whether the defendant has copied is irrelevant. It is equally irrelevant for the defendant to prove or to give disclosure about how his design was arrived at.

On the question of admissible evidence and further discovery, Justice Carr excluded evidence going to copying at this stage. Copying was not relevant to the question of infringement. However, it could be relevant to the remedy of additional damages. Accordingly, his Lordship postponed discovery and any evidence directed to that issue to any subsequent hearing on remedies if the trial on liability and validity resulted in a finding of infringement.

Both parties had already filed detailed particulars of, respectively, differences and similarities. Justice Carr did not consider the parties’ requests for further information about these matters would be helpful. However, his Lordship directed that each side should exchange concurrently enlarged photographs of the products alleged to infringe marked up to indicate the points it relied on.

His Lordship limited the expert evidence to the following matters;

There are very limited issues upon which expert evidence is admissible. The issues on which I intend to allow expert evidence are as follows. First, are any of the features listed in subparagraphs (1) to (9) of paragraph 6.5 of the Amended Particulars of Claim features of appearance of a construction toy such as Bunchems which are solely dictated by its technical function? Second, to what extent, if any, is the degree of freedom of design limited by the functional nature, if any, of the features of subparagraphs (1) to (9) of paragraph 6.5 of the Amended Particulars of Claim?

Bunchem” was happy with its expert evidence being limited to 10 pages and two pages (excluding exhibits) directed to the design corpus. “Clingabeez”, having asked for 20 pages, was permitted 15.

Justice Carr fixed the trial duration at three days including reading time, and did not think it would be necessary for any adjournment for preparation of final written submissions. His Lordship then set out at [23] eight “lessons for the future” to achieve shorter trials more expeditiously in such matters:

(i) The parties should, in appropriate cases, produce images at an early stage to show the differences or similarities upon which they rely, and in the case of the defendant, those features which are wholly functional or in which design freedom is said to be limited. Requests for further information are unlikely to be helpful.

(ii) Claimants should not try to introduce or seek disclosure in relation to copying. The parties should carefully consider why, if at all, disclosure is necessary, rather than agreeing to standard or even issue based disclosure.

(iii) Expert evidence as to whether the alleged infringement produces on the informed user the same or a different overall impression as the registered design should not be included in cases concerning consumer products.

(iv) The parties should try to limit the length of expert evidence to an agreed number of pages.

(v) If any evidence of fact is to be introduced, the court will need to be satisfied of its relevance.

(vi) The parties should be prepared at the pre-trial review to identify issues on which cross-examination is necessary, and to explain why.

(vii) Where multiple designs, or multiple infringements, are alleged, the parties should each select a limited number of samples on which the issues can be tested.

(viii) The parties should give careful thought to those issues which can be postponed to a damages enquiry, which will only need to be considered if liability is established.

Justice Carr’s approach would no doubt commend itself to Justice Finkelstein, were he still on the bench. It may also be rather more difficult for an Australian court to exclude evidence going to the “ultimate question”, given section 80 of the Evidence Act and the first Cadbury/Darrell Lea appeal. On the other hand, the relevance of copying is exactly the same.[5] Nonetheless, as both the Federal Court and the Federal Circuit Court are striving to make litigation more costs effective,[6] there may well be considerable interest in exploring Justice Carr’s admonitions DownUnder.

Spin Master Limited v PMS International Group [2017] EWHC 1477 (Pat)


  1. Otherwise known as PMS International Group.  ?
  2. Spin Master Limited.  ?
  3. Indeed, a Google search or visit to Youtube might see the two brand names used interchangeably. For example  ?
  4. Procter & Gamble Co v Reckitt Benckiser (UK) Limited [2007] EWCA Civ 936; [2008] Bus LR 801 and repeated and expanded by the Court of Appeal Dyson Ltd v Vax Ltd [2011] EWCA Civ 1206; [2013] Bus LR 328  ?
  5. Review 2 Pty Ltd v Redberry Enterprise Pty Ltd [2008] FCA 1588.  ?
  6. See also chapter 19 of the Productivity Commission’s Intellectual Property Arrangements – Final Report.  ?

Court of Appeal orders ISPs to block access to trade mark infringing websites

The Court of Appeal[1] has confirmed that the court’s general power to grant injunctions can be invoked by trade mark owners to get orders against ISPs to block internet access to website that have infringing content.

The interesting point (for Australians) is that, like Australia, UK law has a specific statutory power authorising injunctions against ISPs to block access only to websites that infringe copyright. There is no corresponding provision in the Trade Marks Act 1994 (UK). Instead, section 37(1) of the Senior Courts Act 1981 (previously the Supreme Court Act 1981) provides:

The High Court may by order (whether interlocutory or final) grant an injunction … in all cases in which it appears to be just and convenient to do so.

The IPKat has a preliminary summary here.

The main question the Court of Appeal’s decision raises for us is whether an Australian court might be persuaded to make similar orders against ISPs to block access to website which infringe trade marks (or other IP). Australian courts have powers to grant injunctions corresponding to s 37 of the Superior Courts Act.[2]

On the other hand, Parliament has also only recently introduced the specific statutory provision in the context of copyright infringement and that provision is tightly focused for policy reasons against overseas websites which have infringement as their primary focus.

And, it appears that the Court of Appeal was heavily influenced by the obligations imposed on national law by art. 11 of the EU’s Enforcement Directive to require ISPs to take steps to stop infringing activity. That specific legislated obligation does not apply here. That there may be different philosophies at play may also be seen in what appears to be the different approach in the EU to the liability of market operators for infringing conduct by stall holders.[3]

A second point emerging from a very quick skim of the 214 paragraphs is that Kitchin and Jackson LJJ held that the ISPs should be liable for the costs of implementing and maintaining the blocks. Briggs LJ dissented on this point insofar as it required the ISPs to bear the costs of complying (apart from designing and installing the software). As Jackson LJ pithily put it in agreeing with Kitchin LJ, that is “part of the price which the ISPs must pay for the immunities which they enjoy”. This may point up another difference in the legal environment: ISPs in the EU have assumed obligations to block access to websites such as those dealing in paedophilia. In addition, the safe harbours regime for ISPs applies generally, not just for copyright infringement as in Australia.

Finally, so far, there haven’t been any orders in the site blocking cases brought under s 115A yet.

If you have a comment or a question, please feel free to post it in the comments section. Or, if you would prefer, email me.

Cartier International AG v British Sky Broadcasting Limited [2016] EWCA Civ 658


  1. For England and Wales, not New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland or ….  ?
  2. Australian courts have corresponding powers: for example, s 23 of the Federal Court of Australia Act 1977 provides “The Court has power, in relation to matters in which it has jurisdiction, to make orders of such kinds, including interlocutory orders, and to issue, or direct the issue of, writs of such kinds, as the Court thinks appropriate.” There are, of course, counterpart provisions in the Federal Circuit Court Act and the State Supreme Court Acts: see Victoria and NSW.  ?
  3. Compare this CJEU decision to Dowsett J’s decision at first instance.  ?

Keywords – Marks & Spencer infringes INTERFLORA TM

Marks & Spencer has been found to have infringed Interflora’s trade mark in the UK by ‘buying’ ads triggered by Google searches for the keyword INTERFLORA.

An example of the ads Arnold J found infringing:

Keyword search results
CLICK to enlarge

In Google France, the CJEU established that an advertiser would infringe a registered trade mark when its ads were triggered by a trade mark as a keyword where: [1]

“82 The essential function of a trade mark is to guarantee the identity of the origin of the marked goods or service to the consumer or end user by enabling him to distinguish the goods or service from others which have another origin (see, to that effect, Case C–39/97 Canon [1998] ECR I–5507, paragraph 28, and Case C–120/04 Medion [2005] ECR I–8551, paragraph 23).

83 The question whether that function of the trade mark is adversely affected when internet users are shown, on the basis of a keyword identical with a mark, a third party’s ad, such as that of a competitor of the proprietor of that mark, depends in particular on the manner in which that ad is presented.

84 The function of indicating the origin of the mark is adversely affected if the ad does not enable normally informed and reasonably attentive internet users, or enables them only with difficulty, to ascertain whether the goods or services referred to by the ad originate from the proprietor of the trade mark or an undertaking economically connected to it or, on the contrary, originate from a third party (see, to that effect, Céline, paragraph 27 and the case-law cited).

85 In such a situation, which is, moreover, characterised by the fact that the ad in question appears immediately after entry of the trade mark as a search term by the internet user concerned and is displayed at a point when the trade mark is, in its capacity as a search term, also displayed on the screen, the internet user may err as to the origin of the goods or services in question. In those circumstances, the use by the third party of the sign identical with the mark as a keyword triggering the display of that ad is liable to create the impression that there is a material link in the course of trade between the goods or services in question and the proprietor of the trade mark (see, by way of analogy, Arsenal Football Club, paragraph 56, and Case C–245/02 Anheuser-Busch [2004] ECR I–10989, paragraph 60).

Arnold J found on the evidence that a significant section of the public were confused and so Marks & Spencer infringed.

It is not possible to do justice in a blog post to the full range of reasons[2] contributing to his Lordship’s conclusion. Some that stand out follow.

Arnold J accepted (at [316]) that the majority of UK internet users appreciated the difference between paid ads and natural or organic search results, but there was still a significant proportion of internet users in the UK who did not. His Lordship also accepted that “nowadays” the majority of consumers appreciate .

nowadays the majority of consumers appreciate [they are being presented with ads by competitors to the brand they had searched for]. But I consider that a significant proportion do not. (emphasis supplied)

Secondly, the nature of the INTERFLORA brand appears to have been crucial. As you will no doubt be familiar, INTERFLORA is a network. It operates through a network of agents who are usually (always?) branded under their own names and trade marks. Those customers who were not buying online from “interflora.co.uk” or “interflora.com”, for example, would typically go into a retail outlet operating under its own name (and which may display the INTERFLORA name and logo).

The significance of this (at [297] and [299]) was that there was great potential for those customers who realised they were dealing with Marks & Spencer when they clicked on the ad mistakenly to think it was part of the INTERFLORA network.

That potential was in fact borne out by the evidence. In particular, there was evidence from “Hitwise data” that people who (1) searched on the keyword INTERFLORA and (2) as a result clicked on a Marks & Spencer ad generated in response to the search (3) were between 44 and 106 times more likely than the average visitor to the M & S flowers site to leave the M & S site without purchasing and instead go on to an INTERFLORA site.

At [304] – [306], his Lordship accepted the propositions that:

a significant number of consumers in Segment A decided after they had clicked through to the M & S website that it was not where they wanted to be and went to the Interflora website instead. The second is that the reason for this change of mind was that those consumers had clicked through from the M & S advertisement because they assumed from the appearance of the advertisement in response to their search that M & S was part of the Interflora network, but they realised that that was not the case when they clicked through to the M & S website and saw no reference to Interflora.

and such “initial interest” confusion was itself enough for trade mark infringement.

Thus, while Google doesn’t infringe by ‘selling’ keywords, the advertiser may and, in this case on Arnold J’s findings, did.

What, if anything, does it mean for us?

First off, the judgment is full of fascinating details about the “AdWords” and “search” market and the strategies that businesses deploy. For example, it appears that Google held around 90% of the global search (and paid advertising relating to search) market, with Bing and Yahoo! trailing out of site. There are also discussions of market research reports and Ofcom studies into what consumers understand when using the internet.

It is not clear whether Arnold J’s reasoning will provide us with much assistance here. First, while EU law does not appear to require use as a trade mark to infringe, the origin function referenced by the CJEU in Google France appears similar to our concept of use as a trade mark – as a badge of origin or to identify the trade source.[3]

Secondly, it seems doubtful that the considerations identified in [84] of Google France would be relevant at all under our law. The idea of examining whether the “normally informed and reasonably attentive internet users” could ascertain the trade source from the ad, or do so “only with difficulty”, indicates that the content of the advertisment may make it clear that the trade mark owner is not the source of the advertised product. However, a registered trade mark is infringed in Australia even if the trade source is made clear, for example by a disclaimer or other identifying factor. The type of analysis being engaged in under EU law is rather more like what would take place in a passing off action or action for misleading or deceptive conduct.[4]

Thirdly, our law does recognise the idea of “initial interest confusion”,[5] but the number of people who apparently went to M & S’ website and “clicked away” does rather highlight the difficulties with the concept as applied to web searches: clicking the back button, or even doing another web search in the browser, is not so costly as walking out of the shop, hopping back in your car and going looking for the intended destination.

Arguably, the most significant point could be the starting point identified at [288] – the Court of Justice’s recognition that:

keyword advertising is not inherently or inevitably objectionable from a trade mark perspective. On the contrary, the case law of the CJEU in this field recognises that, as a general rule, keyword advertising promotes competition ….

On this view, it was only the very special nature of INTERFLORA as a ‘network’ that convicted Marks & Spencer.

Interflora Inc v Marks and Spencer plc [2013] EWHC 1291 (Ch)


  1. See also [226] – [267] (esp.) of Arnold J’s judgment  ?
  2. Embracing some 318 paragraphs! His Lordship does start drawing the threads together at [295].  ?
  3. See *e.g. Optical 88 (No 2)* at [212].  ?
  4. See *e.g. Optical 88 (No 2)* at [99] and Crazy Ron’s at [86] – [88].  ?
  5. For example Southern Cross v Toowoomba at [5] but, at least in the context of misleading or deceptive conduct / passing off (yes, I know this is a post about registered trade marks) some brake may be imposed on that in at least some cases.  ?

Property in the proceeds of infringement

In a decision which no doubt has some further distance to run, Newey J (sitting in the Chancery Division of the High Court in England) has ruled that the owner of copyright does not have a proprietary interest in the proceeds (read profits) made by an infringer of the copyright.

Harris et al. are alleged to be the person (or persons) behind the Newzbin file sharing sites which, amongst other things, have been found to infringe the movie studios’ copyrights in a range of films (here and here, where Arnold J ordered the ISPs to block access).

In December last year, the Newzbin sites appear to have closed down, claiming they had run out of money.

Having obtained freezing orders (formerly called Mareva injunctions) against the assets of the defendants (such as the house in which Mr Harris lives and the Maclaren car he parks in its driveway), the movie studios sought “proprietary injunctions” over the assets as well. This seems to involve a court determination that the assets in question were the property of the movie studios rather than the defendants. For example, Newey J explained the difference between the (already in place) freezing order and the injunctions now sought by reference to Millett LJ’s description:

“The courts have always recognised a clear distinction between the ordinary Mareva jurisdiction and proprietary claims. The ordinary Mareva injunction restricts a defendant from dealing with his own assets. An injunction of the present kind, at least in part, restrains the defendants from dealing with assets to which the plaintiff asserts title. It is not designed merely to preserve the defendant’s assets so as to be available to meet a judgment; it is designed to protect the plaintiff from having its property expended for the defendant’s purposes”.

The movie studios based their argument on observations in the Spycatcher cases that Peter Wright may have held the rights in Spycatcher on constructive trust for the Crown in view of his breaches of duties of confidence and fidelity.

Newey J seems to have rejected this claim partly on the basis that there were cases binding on him (albeit apparently disapproved by the Privy Council) ruling that there was no such proprietary interest and partly on the basis that s 18 of the Copyright Act 1956 had expressly deemed the copyright owner to be the owner of infringing copies and provided remedies in conversion and detention. That remedy, however, had been repealed by the Copyright Design and Patents Act 1988 as unjust and unfair.

There are some interesting issues for Australians.

First, the conversion/detention remedy on the basis of deemed ownership has not been repealed (but is now discretionary) – see s 116 (but the Full Court may not be too keen on the remedy – see [94] of French and Kiefel JJ (as their Honours then were).

Secondly, in Lenah Game Meats, Gummow and Hayne JJ did say at [102]:

A cinematograph film may have been made, as in Lincoln Hunt, in circumstances involving the invasion of the legal or equitable rights of the plaintiff or a breach of the obligations of the maker to the plaintiff. It may then be inequitable and against good conscience for the maker to assert ownership of the copyright against the plaintiff and to broadcast the film. The maker may be regarded as a constructive trustee of an item of personal (albeit intangible) property, namely the copyright conferred by s 98 of the Copyright Act[96]. In such circumstances, the plaintiff may obtain a declaration as to the subsistence of the trust and a mandatory order requiring an assignment by the defendant of the legal (ie statutory) title to the intellectual property rights in question[97]. Section 196(3) of the Copyright Act provides that an assignment of copyright does not have effect unless it is in writing signed by or on behalf of the assignor.

Gaudron and Callinan JJ also agreed.

Newey J considered, however, that:

i) The point under consideration (viz. whether copyright in a film made unlawfully was subject to a trust) was rather different to that with which I am concerned (viz. whether a copyright owner has a proprietary claim to the fruits of infringement); and

ii) The Australian approach to constructive trusts is by no means the same as that in this jurisdiction. In particular, as the Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia noted in Grimaldi v Chameleon Mining NL (No. 2) [2012] FCAFC 6 (in paragraph 574)

His Lordship’s second point may be thought to be a second factor why an Australian court might take a different approach to his Lordship’s conclusion.

As to the first point, one might well think, if such a constructive trust arose, that the trustee would have to account for the fruits of the use of the trust property and possibly even handover such fruits as were still in his possession.

Finally, the Privy Council’s rejection of the authority binding on Newey J (and the determination of the movie studios) may well indicate that Newey J’s decision is just the first step in the war.

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation v Harris [2013] EWHC 159

Lid dip: Fiona Phillips

A third case of extradition

The 1709 blog has a good summary of the arrest of Megaupload.com’s Kim “Dotcom” in New Zealand for allegedly copyrights in the USA.

Case 1 (Hew Griffiths aka ‘bandido’)

Case 2 (Richard O’Dwyer)

Meanwhile, some controversy is brewing because the FBI has seized the domain name and apparently blocked any access to the site even by those who have stored material legitimately in the service. Does that mean we all need to start worrying what will happen if our online back-up service is being used by alleged pirates too?

Extraditing (alleged) copyright criminals

The internet is all a twitter over the prospect that a 23 year old British subject, Richard O’Dwyer, may be extradited from the UK to the USA to face criminal charges for copyright infringement.

Well guess what, it has happened before albeit from this far away destination.

Mr Griffiths has apparently served his time (in both Australia and the USA) and had this to say to an enterprising journalist.

Lid dip: Graham Dent for the boing boing link!