Intellectual Property Case Update - Close but no cigar

Intellectual Property
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Danish cigar manufacturer (STG) brought proceedings against an Australian parallel-importer (Trojan) for infringement of its registered Australian trade marks HENRI WINTERMANS, CAFE CREME and LA PAZ.  It also alleged misleading or deceptive conduct and passing off.

The essence of the alleged TM infringement was that, after purchasing and importing STG’s cigars, Trojan had repackaged them in order to comply with Australia’s plain packaging legislation.  As part of that repackaging process, STG’s registered marks were placed on the new packaging.  This was done without STG’s consent.  The cigars were then sold to retailers in the new packaging.

It was accepted by STG that the cigars imported into Australia by Trojan were genuine in the sense that they were manufactured by STG.  There was no contention that the Trojan cigars were in any material way different from the “authorised products” that were brought into Australia and sold by STG’s Australian subsidiary.

Is this a prima facie infringement?

Trojan accepted that the use of the STG trade marks on the new packaging was use of those marks “as a trade mark” for the purposes of s 120 of the Trade Marks Act 1995 (Cth) but contended that this was STG’s use, not Trojan’s, because “the connection in trade was between the goods and the manufacturer, not between the goods and Trojan.”

While it may be slightly counter-intuitive (and Allsop CJ considered it was) to conclude that there is prima facie infringement in circumstances where a third party sells goods emanating from the registered owner and bearing that registered owner’s mark, that is the plain wording of s 120 of the TMA.  Allsop CJ pointed out that this conclusion had been reached by at least four Full Courts and was supported by several obiter comments from the High Court.

His Honour therefore concluded that Trojan’s use of STG’s marks on its repackaging was aprima facie infringement.

Does s 123 apply?

Section 123 of the TMA provides:

Goods etc. to which registered trade mark has been applied by or with consent of registered owner

(1)  In spite of section 120, a person who uses a registered trade mark in relation to goods that are similar to goods in respect of which the trade mark is registered does not infringe the trade mark if the trade mark has been applied to, or in relation to, the goods by, or with the consent of, the registered owner of the trade mark.

Note:          For similar goods see subsection 14(1).

 (2)  In spite of section 120, a person who uses a registered trade mark in relation to services that are similar to services in respect of which the trade mark is registered does not infringe the trade mark if the trade mark has been applied in relation to the services by, or with the consent of, the registered owner of the trade mark.

Note:          For similar services see subsection 14(2).

Allsop CJ considered that this provision “applies naturally to parallel importing and second hand goods.”

This case differed from the usual parallel importing cases because of the repackaging: the STG marks had not been applied to Trojan’s repackaging with STG’s consent.

This opened s 123 to alternative readings.

STG contended that since Trojan’s application of the STG marks to the repackaging was without STG’s consent, it’s use of those marks fell outside the protection of s 123.

Trojan argued however that the STG marks had been applied to the the relevant goods with STG’s consent.  They were then removed from the goods and reapplied in the form of the new packaging – but the statutory test was whether the marks had been applied with the owner’s consent.

Allsop CJ considered that Trojan’s construction “more naturally conforms with a purpose in s 123 of protecting as non-infringing use that which does no more than draw a connection between the goods and the registered owner...”  His Honour therefore concluded that s 123 was engaged and Trojan’s use of STG’s marks was non-infringing.

As STG argued in its submissions, this does seem to muddy the waters on the issue of authorised use under s 8 of the TMA – as to which we will learn much more when the Full Court gives its decision in the appeal from Skyy Spirits LLC v Lodestar Anstalt [2015] FCA 509 which is listed for hearing on 10 November 2015 before a bench of five judges.

The passing off and misrepresentation claims were also dismissed.

The decision can be found here.

*Ben Gardiner has an online blog, Noth Pole Bananas, in which he discusses recent intellectual property cases in Australia.

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Ben Gardiner practises primarily in intellectual property litigation

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