“Dental Excellence” vs “south perth dental excellence”
A rare case of IP in a court other than the federal courts. Guess who didn’t win?
Dr Agapitos has operated a dental surgery under the name Dental Excellence from Mt Hawthorn in Perth since 2002. In (or from) 2010, he secured registration, TM No. 1388792, for Dental Excellence in respect of “dentistry” in class 44. The provisions of s 41(5) were applied.
Dr Habibi had 3 dental practices in various parts of Perth. Then in 2007, she bought from Dr McNeil his dental practice in South Perth, McNeil’s Dental Care, which promoted its services with the slogan (or tag or strap line) ‘Excellence in Dental Care’. In 2010, when Dr Habibi was updating the signage at the South Perth practice, she changed the name to South Perth Dental Excellence. It was accepted on both sides that Dr Habibi did not know of Dr Agapitos’ practice when she settled on her name. (According to Google Maps, they are about 12.5km apart or somewhere between 13 and 20 minutes drive.)
Le Miere J applied the standard test from Clark Equipment Co v Registrar of Trade Marks:
The applicant’s chance of success in this respect (i.e. in distinguishing his goods by means of the mark, apart from the effects of registration) must, I think, largely depend upon whether other traders are likely, in the ordinary course of their businesses and without any improper motive, to desire to use the same mark, or some mark nearly resembling it, upon or in connexion with their own goods.
to find that Dental Excellence lacked any capacity to distinguish. So at  his Honour said:
other service providers are likely, without any improper motive, to desire to use the words ‘dental excellence’ in connection with their own services. An honest dentist may want to use the word ‘excellence’ on or in connection with ‘dental’ to indicate, or at least claim, that they provide dental services of a superior quality. ‘Dental Excellence’ may not be words which are commonly used by somebody outside the calling of dentistry but that is not the point. The point is that a dentist may well want to use the words ‘dental excellence’ to identify the services they provide and the quality of those services. The name ‘dental excellence’ at the date of filing had a sensible meaning that was descriptive of the plaintiff’s designated services. The name was apt to describe the provision of dental services of superior quality.
What is more, there was evidence that other dentists did in fact use the phrase in relation to their businesses.
Dr Agapitos could not save his registration on the basis of acquired distinctiveness under s 41(6). He put on the usual types of evidence of advertising and promotion. There was also evidence from 3 customers and a dental nurse who had gone to Dr Habibi’s practice by mistake. There was also some evidence of “licensing” of practices in other states, albeit the licences were created some two years after the trade mark was applied for. Jacobs J’s warning from British Sugar about use not equalling reputation was applied: in this case, the evidence of use, by what appears to have been a suburban dental practice, was too slight to overcome the evidence of other users.
Le Miere J finished off by (perhaps surprisingly) finding that Dr Habibi did not use “dental excellence” as a trade mark and so s 120 was not infringed. In any event, she had adopted her sign in good faith and so qualified for the defence under s 122(1)(b).
The CJEU on the revocation of a trade mark on the basis that it no longer distinguishes the relevant goods or services (genericide) – Kornspitz. Of course, they do things differently in America: Living Proof is apparently distinctive, but Perfect Hair Day is not.
Agapitos v Habibi  WASC 47 (Le Miere J)