Friday 24 January 2020

Alcoholic sweets: why a bear shape isn't a good idea

The Guardian carries this story today about a start-up business in Spain which has run into problems with a big trade mark owner. As with so many stories about intellectual property, we could call one party David and the other Goliath - in this instance the sweet-maker Haribo (a word which seems to be on the verge of entering the language as a generic term).

The idea of making the jelly-like sweets alcoholic is novel, though I would be a little surprised if it did not feature somewhere in the state of the art. The problem, though, is not with the nature of the product: the problem lies with its shape.

The sweets market is not one of which I have much familiarity (what I do know about Haribo products is that the contain gelatine, so cannot form part of my vegetarian diet - although the only time I have to refuse them is at feed stations in long-distance races). I am however familiar with the concept of Gummy Bears (Gummibär, in their native German), although I wouldn't without the prompting of The Guardian's article necessarily have associated them with Haribo. I would however have known enough to realise that bear-shaped sweets were likely to attract someone's unwelcome attention.

It's easy to present this as a David and Goliath situation, with a humourless, monopolisitic behemoth (and no, I'm not getting my bears and cats mixed up here) bullying young people who are only trying to get their own business up and running. The presence of alcohol in their sweets makes them a rather different proposition from Haribo's, of course, although a similarity and likelihood-of-confusion analysis might conclude that they are too close for comfort. (Student readers: Discuss.) But why on earth shape them like bears, when the animal kingdom offers so many other possibilities? Haribo's claim proceeds from the assumption (so it seems from the comments in the article) that it is no accident: perhaps there was no deliberate attempt to sell boozy bears by reference to Gummy Bears, but it is hard to believe that the newcomers could have been ignorant of what was already in the market (and should have done some market research to make sure) so the allusion to the Haribo product cannot have been entirely inadvertant. It has certainly succeeded in getting publicity that they would not otherwise have enjoyed.

Does an agreement to settle a dispute between a patentee and a generic drug maker breach competition law? AG's opinion

An agreement settling a patent dispute may constitute a restriction of competition by object or by effect and that entering into such an agreement may be an abuse of a dominant position, according to Advocate General Kokott's 276-paragraph, 223-footnote opinion of 22 January in Generics (UK) Ltd e.a. v Competition and Markets Authority (Case C-307/18) ECLI:EU:C:2020:28.

The reference to the Court of Justice came from the Competition Appeal Tribunal, which was hearing an appeal against the Competition and Markets Authority's finding that GlaxoSmithKline, Alpharma Limited and Generics (UK) Limited had breached EU and UK competition law by entering into a series of agreements that had the effect of delaying generic entry of the drug paroxetine. The generic manufacturers concerned undertook, inter alia, not to enter the market with their products for an agreed period: the CMA found the agreements to be akin to market exclusion agreements, prohibited under Chapter 1 of the Competition Act 1998 and by Article 101 TFEU, and an abuse of GSK's dominant position prohibited by Chapter 2. The CAT referred ten questions for a preliminary ruling.

The fact that the validity of the patents, and whether the generic products infringe them, remained uncertain did not mean that the patent holder and generic manufacturers were not potential competitors, according to the Advocate General. The correct question to ask is whether there are real, concrete possibilities to enter the market despite the patents, and this (the Advocate General went on) is a matter for the competition authority to decide taking into account all the relevant factors. She also considered that conduct that can constitute an abuse of a dominant position can only be justified by consumer benefits when it can be shown that those benefits offset an agreement's adverse effects on competition on the relevant market. Where the agreements provide limited benefits, while eliminating competition by removing all sources of potential competition, this condition is unlikely to be satisfied.

UK will not implement Digital Single Market Copyright Directive

In a written answer today to a question from Jo Stevens MP (Cardiff North), Rt Hon Chris Skidmore MP, Minister of State for Universities and Science, has told us what is hardly a surprise:
The deadline for implementing the EU Copyright Directive [that's 2019/790] is 7 June 2021. The United Kingdom will leave the European Union on 31 January 2020 and the Implementation Period will end on 31 December 2020. The Government has committed not to extend the Implementation Period. Therefore, the United Kingdom will not be required to implement the Directive, and the Government has no plans to do so. Any future changes to the UK copyright framework will be considered as part of the usual domestic policy process.
That's the domestic policy process that in 1988 put in place new legislation that had been needed since at least the Whitford Report ten years earlier. Meanwhile the carefully-considered changes to copyright law (whether you like them or not) that the Directive contains seem destined to pass us by. No "link tax", no change to the law on content-sharing, none of the other good things copyright owners were going to get from the Directive - Google and other platforms must be very happy.

Friday 17 January 2020

Full and frank disclosure needed for order for service out

I haven't exactly been waiting for a case on service out , but suddenly two have come along together in the manner of no 253 London buses (substitute your own favourite route number if you wish ). In Easy Group v Easy Fly [2020 ] EWHC 40 (Ch) Nugee J set aside such an order in a passing off, trade mark infringement and unlawful means conspiracy (and, you might add, kitchen sink) claim.

Unlike my previous subject, Wheat v Google (in which judgment was given the following day), there were serious issues to be tried - that wasn't the problem. The issues included where the defendant's website was targeted, whether using a trade mark in a press release made a link between the mark and the services, and whether flying an aeroplane with the trade mark on the side was an infringement.

The problem was that the claimant had failed to tell the judge everything when making the application. Its case was based on the premise that the defendant, a domestic Colombian airline,
was offering its sences in the UK and the EU. It wasn't. The court declined to treat the claim form as valid. The claimants can start again, but will only be able to claim damages for the six years before
the new claim .

Refusal to allow service out upheld

A Chancery Division judge has dismissed an appeal against a Master's refusal to give leave to serve Google outside the jurisdiction . The point arose in an action for copyright infringement, Wheat v Google LLC [2020] EWHC 27 (Ch) (15 January 2020).

The substantive claim involved hotlinking, or inline linking. The hotlinks appear in Google search results, and the claimant argued that Google enabled users to access content on his website via other hotlinking (or, more descriptively and I think more commonly, aggregating) sites - thus depriving the claimant's site of visitors and of advertising potential. Mr Wheat's website, at, was devoted to ecological and sustainability issues and contained original articles and photographs created by him. (It went offline in 2018.) He became understandably miffed when aggregator sites availed themselves of his content to attract visitors to their advertising-laden sites.

On an application to serve a foreign defendant outside the jurisdiction, the claimant must satisfy three
requirements (Seaconsar Far East Ltd. Bank Markazi Jomhouri Islami Iran [1994 ] 1 AC 438, 453-457, endorsed by the Privy Council in Altimo Holdings and Investment Ltd v Kyrgyz Mobile Tel [2011] UKPC 7, [2012] 1 WLR 1884. There must be a serious issue to be the on the merits; there must be a good arguable case that the claim falls within one or more classes of case where permission may be given to serve out ; and the claimant must satisfy the court that in all the circumstances the forum in which proceedings have been commenced is appropriate. The main issue, the judge (HHJ Keyser) decided, was whether there was a serious issue to be tried on the merits: substantive copyright law therefore had to be considered .

According to the case law , the claimant would have to show that Google had communicated his copynight works either to a new public or by a different technical means from that authorised by the claimant. The second possibility could be immediately knocked on the head: Case C-466/12, SvenssonEU:C:2014:76 makes clear that the whole of the Internet is a single technical means. But Svensson also tells us that because the publie to which the communication was made was within the class of potential visitors to the claimant's website , the first possibility was excluded too . The claimant argued that his initial consent to communication was subject to an implicit restriction was not supported by evidence. The Master had been correct in his interpretation and application of the case law. Google's acts of caching and indexing amounted to communication neither to a new public nor by a new technical means, and were not unauthorised communications to the public within the meaning of s.20.

Such is the result of the way the technical process works, and of the present state of the law. Surely copyright law should deal with the economic reality of the situation, though, and prevent parasites (oh, I hadn't intended that pun but it works rather well) from taking a free ride on someone else's original work. Perhaps Mr Wheat's mistake was to make his website freely accessible - but the whole ethos of what he was doing clearly required him to do so. The Internet is perhaps becoming no place for anyone who is not out to make as much money as possible, regardless of whose efforts that is based on. Or so it seems to me.

Friday 10 January 2020

Intellectual property update webinar

I'm presenting an online webinar (I suppose the word "online" is redundant there but I'll leave it in, having taken the trouble to write it in the first place) next week for MBL. Details are here. I'll be covering as much as I can of what has happened in the IP field since mid-September - so, roughly quarter 4 of 2019 - in the space of 2 hours. "Tour d'horizon" might be a better term for it. Still time to join in if you are interested!

Duke and Duchess of Sussex apply for trade mark protection

Stepping back from what is colloquially referred to as the Firm (though IIRC it was Her Majesty herself who first used the expression) evidently involves turning to trade mark law for protection. It was always available to them, but surely the Royal family doesn't need anything so mundane? Perhaps the Sussexes' application to register SUSSEX ROYAL (application number 3408516, and also 3408521 which has a reference to their Foundation tacked on) as UK trade marks, reported inter alia by The Guardian here, is indicative of their departure from the core of the Royals (although other reports today suggest that they aren't going to find it very easy to get away).

They were apparently prompted to apply when someone else filed an application. I don't think it's necessarily right to refer to it as "squatting" because it's hard to imagine the owner trying to extract payment from the Royal couple. "Troll" seems like a better term. That application failed, however, because of s.4(1): the words would be
(d) ... likely to lead persons to think that the applicant either has or recently has had Royal patronage or authorisation,
... unless it appears to the regstrar that consent has been given by or on behalf of Her Majesty or, as the case may be, the relevant member of the Royal family.
I have dealt in the past with a very few trade mark applications that required Royal consent (in practice, the consent of the Lord Chamberlain, the most senior officer of the Royal Household, the route to whom is via the Queen's solicitors, Farrars, who will again IIRC impose a modest charge). Surprisingly, even if an organisation is incorporated by Royal charter or has the word "Royal" in its name with the monarch's approval it still needs further consent to satisfy the registrar. Given that the registrar is a servant of the Crown, should not he or she be trusted to oversee the whole process?

Be that as it may, the new application raises an intriguing question. Will the registrar be satisfied that the requisite consent has been given? The application was originally filed by two of the couple's "people", and later assigned to the Foundation, so the applicants have never been the Royals themselves. Nevertheless, it might be reasonable to infer that their Foundation acts with their consent. But does that suffice, or does s.4(1) (and s.3(5), which makes this an absolute ground for refusal) give Her Majesty a veto? The conjunction used is "or" not "and", so perhaps Prince Harry did not need to ask his grandmother: but equally, his grandmother could have given consent and he would not have been able to veto it. But the tricky element of the trade mark is the word ROYAL, which isn't specific to the Sussexes - so consent from on high would be necessary.

The register shows that it took a long time (some six months) for the application to get as far as being published. However that seems to have been time taken up with assigning the application and dealing with the specification, not worrying about consent, which isn't mentioned.

There's also another interesting question, though perhaps unlikely to arise: if the application were to cover potatoes, which it doesn't, would it conflict with the Protected Designation of Origin JERSEY ROYAL? There is probably no reason why similar potatoes should not be grown in Sussex.

Now there is news (see The Guardian today, 11 January) of another troll application, this time for an EU trade mark - against which the same objection based on the word ROYAL would not run. If it isn't a bad faith application one wonders what would be, but bad faith is a difficult area of trade mark law (though it should be somewhat clearer after the Court of Justice opines in Sky v SkyKick, about which see my recent posting dated 16 October). But the Foundation is going to have to oppose it to get anywhere.

Thursday 9 January 2020

EPO: Correcting payment of wrong appeal fee

I am not a patent prosecutor - my involvement in the patent world usually starts only once the things have been granted - but if you do prosecute applications for European patents, here's a decision which ought to be important. If you pay the wrong appeal fee, Rule 139 allows you to correct an unintentional underpayment, notwithstanding that it looks as if should only be concerned with errors in documents (as made clear in case G001/12): and better still it has retroactive effect, so your appeal shouldn't be out of time.

This was case J 0008/19 (29 November 2019, published 9 January 2020), in which an appeal against refusal of a division application was filed a few minutes before the grant appeared in the Bulletin. The Legal Board of Appeal found that the law was clear and an application ceased to be pending on the day on which the mention of the grant was published - the date, not the precise time, was what mattered, which could produce some harsh reaults. It meant that even though the appeal was entertained it didn't succeed because the effect of rule that pendancy ends on the day of publication - in effect at 00:00 hours on that day, regardless of the time of actual publication - was clearly that the divisional had been filed too late.

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