4 min read

A design application by Aristocrat Technologies Australia Pty Limited (Aristocrat) for a bank of gaming machines has been refused because the representations were inconsistent with the product name for the design.  The decision shows that products made of assembled components must be carefully illustrated or run the risk of refusal.

Key takeaways

  • Components of products must be shown connected together in assembled form to be registered as a single product
  • Expert evidence may be of little use during prosecution of design applications
  • Arguments in favour of registration of a design based on previous registrations of similar designs are unlikely to succeed

Background

Aristocrat filed design application AU 201816709 for a “bank of gaming machines” (the Design) in relation to four gaming machines arranged in pairs back to back, as shown below.

During formalities examination, the Design was objected to for not showing the named product – a bank of gaming machines – in a “fully assembled” state because the gaming machines were spaced apart from each other in the representations.  For this reason, the Design was not in relation to a single product, but four separate gaming machines.

Aristocrat unsuccessfully argued that there was a single product – the “bank” of gaming machines.  As the objection was maintained, Aristocrat sought a hearing before a Delegate of the Registrar of Designs (the Delegate) to overcome the formalities objection.

Arguments

Aristocrat submitted evidence from a long time employee, Mr Attwood, asserting that it was common to install and replace gaming machines in groups or “banks”.  The representations illustrated this type of bank.

Aristocrat further submitted that the bank was a “complex product” under the Designs Act 2013 (the Act), which enabled designs for separately made components of a complex product to be registered. In this case, the individual gaming machines were separately made components of the bank, being a “complex product” and so were registrable.

Aristocrat also submitted that the bank could be a “kit”, which may be assembled by an end user.  The Act permitted the registration of designs for kits.

Aristocrat further submitted that the Designs Office had previously registered designs for banks of gaming machines.  Accordingly, the Design should also be registered for consistency in decision making by the Designs Office.

Decision

The Delegate cast doubt on the usefulness of the Attwood’s evidence.  Formalities examination did not require any consideration of an informed user, as represented by Mr Attwood.  Also, Mr Attwood was not independent, being an employee of Aristocrat. 

The Delegate then considered the definitions in the Act for the terms “product”, “complex product” and “kit”. 

The Delegate noted that the definition of “complex product” states that it must be capable of disassembly and re-assembly.  This implied that a complex product must be an assembly of its component parts.  Based on the ordinary meaning of “assembly”, the Delegate held that there must be some physical connection between the component parts. 

However, in the Design, none of the gaming machines were physically connected.  Accordingly, the bank of gaming machines was not in an assembled form and so did not show a complex product.

Aristocrat conceded that the gaming machines were not physically connected in the bank.  Aristocrat argued that they were in fact connected by electronic connections hidden from view and thus were not shown in the representations. 

The Delegate rejected that this argument as it assumed that a complex product was shown in the representations when this was not the case. 

The Delegate also rejected that the hidden connections should be read into the representations.  Such an approach was speculative as there was not any detail of those connections and it would render the scope of the design registration unclear.

The Delegate further rejected that the Design could be a registrable kit.  The definition of “kit” was qualified by the requirement that it is only taken to be a product “when assembled”.  Since the Design did not show the bank of gaming machines as assembled, the Design failed to meet this definition.

Finally, the Delegate agreed that there should be consistency in decisions made by the Designs Office, but said that each design application must be considered on its own merits.  The existence of similar registrations does not override the correct application of the Act and there was a small sample of prior registrations cited by Aristocrat.

Accordingly, the Delegate found that the representations did not illustrate a single product, being a bank of gaming machines.  Instead the Design showed four separate gaming machines and thus multiple designs.  Consequently, the Delegate refused to register the Design because Aristocrat had the opportunity to pay the extra official fees for the additional designs but chose not to do so.

Significance

The decision illustrates that care must be taken when preparing representations for a design that it shows a “product” within the definitions of the Act.  In this instance, the apparent lack of connections between the gaming machines was fatal to the registration of the Design.

The decision also illustrates that expert evidence may be of little assistance during formalities examination.  Also, arguments in favour of registration based on previously registered designs have little persuasive merit and are unlikely to succeed.

Authored by Andrew Lowe and Allira Hudson-Gofers

4 min read

FemTech is surging around the world with new start-ups and technology entering the marketplace every day, but what’s going on Down Under?

Need for FemTech

As of June 2019, just over half of Australia’s population faced complicated genetic, physiological and hormonal factors making them prone to and more severely affected by certain conditions in comparison to the other half of the population.

Conditions such as heart diseases, osteoarthritis, cancers, strokes and autoimmune diseases present in women differently and pose considerable health risks. 

While FemTech is rapidly growing in Australia, increased health technology options are still needed to support Australian women. This has become even more apparent during the pandemic where existing inequalities in healthcare for women have been laid bare. 

Research is currently well placed in Australia with the Australian Government announcing they will be investing $354 million over the next four years to support the health and wellbeing of Australia’s women, including funding for cervical and breast cancer, endometriosis and reproductive health.

Current market snapshot

FemTech in Australia is still relatively new and unchartered territory. No official study has been conducted about Australian FemTech companies, however, the rise of new FemTech companies and products is undeniably on an upward trajectory.

The Women’s Health Summit 2021 hosted by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists highlighted issues and deficiencies in the Australian healthcare system about health equity for women; access to mental health, contraception, abortion, sexual health and reproductive services; preventative approaches to chronic diseases; and areas in the medical industry where data about women lack.

Australian companies

FemTech typically spans across medical devices, digital health applications and direct to consumer products. Even though medical related digital health applications have only entered the market within the last decade, they are fast becoming the front runner for providing women with access to crucial information about medical conditions, including their diagnosis, treatment and management. Their popularity, which has reached new heights, is primarily due to their accessibility and ease of use.

The following Australian companies have redesigned, reinvented and recycled technology to benefit the health of women:

Menstrual pain

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulators (TENS) have typically been used for musculoskeletal pain, such as chronic back pain or knee joint arthritis.

Ovira, a female owned start-up had other ideas for TENS and have developed a non-invasive and instant period pain relief through their device, Noha. The Noha device sends low-level pulses of electric vibrations to the abdomen to block pain signals from being sent to the brain.

Menstruation

Since their conception, menstrual products have made their way from rags to riches. Starting off from cloth, bandages, cotton and wool in the 1800’s to disposable pads, winged pads, and tampons in the 1900’s, menstrual products have come a long way.

Modibodi, are at the forefront of menstrual technology and provide reusable and sustainable leak-proof period apparel that replaces the need for disposable products such as panty liners, tampons, pads, and incontinence products.

Juju, a socially responsible and environmentally conscious company manufactures Australia’s only made menstrual cup.

Payment solutions for the adult industry

Businesses and workers operating in the sex industry find themselves facing discrimination and often struggle to get finance or financial services.

Intimate.io, a blockchain startup, has taken this issue into their own hands. Intiamte.io is focused on solving issues inherent in the adult industry by establishing a cryptocurrency to operate as a digital payment option for adult or sexual products, services or offerings.

Fertility solutions

Despite major technological advancements in IVF, the success rates of IVF still remain very low.

Life Whisperer, an AI focused company, has been using AI to increase the chance of pregnancy through IVF by identifying morphological features that constitute a healthy embryo.

Future of FemTech Down Under

With women comprising over 50% of the population, these emerging companies have a huge opportunity to improve the health and wellbeing of millions of Australians. We expect the Australian FemTech market to continue to grow with local start-ups and from the expansion of international FemTech companies.

It is encouraging to observe the recognition by the Australian Government of the need for better understanding of pressing health challenges faced by women and the injection of money into the women’s health sector to combat some of the challenges.

Companies like Ovira, Modibodi, Juju, Intimate.io and Life Whisperer continue to break boundaries and use technology to find solutions to age old women’s health issues.

Shelston IP are proud supporters of FemTech, assisting FemTech businesses to protect their innovative new products and develop and implement intellectual property strategies to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage.

Authored by Connie Land and Allira Hudson-Gofers

4 min read

Females make up half of the population of the world, but many of the issues they have to deal with, from menstruation to menopause, have often been considered taboo subjects. In fact, until very recently, medical technology and devices for women have been considered niche.

For many years, medical technology and products have historically been developed by men, tested on men and for men, with women expected to adapt. As a result, many diagnoses in women are still undetermined, and it takes several years longer to establish comparable diagnoses in women than in men.

The rise of trailblazing innovators and entrepreneurs creating, designing and developing products and apps for women has started a women’s health revolution by lifting health taboos around the world and giving rise to a global “Femtech” industry worth many billions.

What is Femtech

Femtech, also called female technology, is a newly recognised health sector that relates to technology such as mobile apps, wearables, diagnostic tools and software that is specifically geared towards the needs of women.

Opportunities in Femtech sectors

Today, Femtech accounts for more than 200 start-ups worldwide, many of which have been founded and led by women. 

Numerous spaces and new opportunities in areas such as sex and reproduction, menstruation, fertility, and pregnancy have emerged as age-old issues are being addressed by the unification of modern technology and a focus on women’s health.

While the Femtech industry is still relatively young and underfunded, it is predicted that the industry will grow exponentially in the coming years. Revolutionary steps are continually being taken to balance out gender disparities in the healthcare industry, propelling the agenda of Femtech into the modern world.

In fact, the topic of Femtech has been searched more than ever previously recorded and is on an upwards trajectory.


(Graph obtained from Google trends. Numbers represent search interest relative to the highest point on the chart for the given region and time. A value of 100 is the peak popularity for the term. A value of 50 means that the term is half as popular.)

The shift towards women’s health has also coincided with the next wave of wearable tech products prompting an explosion of wearable technology focused on women’s health, for example, wearable smartwatches to track mensuration and pregnancy and temperatures trackers to identify fertility phases.

On the other hand, the menopause market is an area of enormous opportunity as technology is lacking and largely unexplored. While all women will experience menopause at some point, the availability of products to assist wth tracking symptons is poor, including analogue charts, and very little technology exists for treating symptoms. For that reason, we expect to see this area thrive in the future.

Ongoing challenges in Femtech

While the medical technology and device industry is shifting a considerable amount of time and effort towards women’s health, the industry still faces many challenges.

Breaking down barriers, taboos and getting health data into the hands of those who can utilise it has been a real hurdle within the industry. A particular challenge within Femtech is securing funding. In essence, this requires overcoming the hurdle of pitching female specific products to mostly male investors which solve a problem they don’t understand and can’t relate to.

Other challenges include:

  • Receiving public support about subjects people are less likely to talk about.
  • Fewer researchers in women health fields mean fewer people to apply for grants.
  • Concerns about trust, security and privacy and fear of repercussions if sensitive data was released.

Future of Femtech

The future of Femtech is bright as the awareness of female-oriented health and technology continues to gain momentum, while the taboo around women’s health dissipates.

So far we have only seen the tip of the iceberg in female-focused technology. Notably, the developments in AI and the Internet of Things have largely contributed to the rise of Femtech and will continue to do so. Only recently have tech juggernauts, Fitbit and Apple, developed technology aimed at women’s health. In April 2018, Fitbit unveiled a woman focused smartwatch which allows women to track their menstrual cycle, followed by Apple in June 2019, who added a reproductive health tracking feature to their operating platform.

According to a report by research consultancy Frost & Sullivan, the value of the industry is increasing rapidly. It was estimated that the Femtech industry was worth US$200 million in 2018 and will skyrocket to a potential worth of US$50 billion by 2025.

Conclusion

As Femtech continues to pave the future, we will continue to explore other aspects of Femtech in Australia and Femtech in relation to Intellectual property through a series of focused articles.

Authored by Connie Land and Allira Hudson-Gofers

Welcome to Shelston IP’s wrap-up of the most notable patent law decisions in Australia and New Zealand delivered during 2020 – a remarkable year indeed. The High Court delivered its first decision in a patent case since 2015, and there was an interesting spread of Full Federal Court, Federal Court, Australian Patent Office and Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand decisions relating to issues of patent validity, infringement and amendment as well as procedural issues.

Read our full report

  • The High Court of Australia has endorsed the doctrine of exhaustion in favour of the longstanding doctrine of implied licence with respect to patented products in Australia, but made clear the critical question remains whether the modifications made to a product in each case are properly characterised as permissible repair or impermissible re-making (Calidad v Seiko Epson).
  • An enlarged Full Federal Court has confirmed that a protocol for a clinical trial that is publicly available can be novelty-defeating, provided the information disclosed is sufficiently specific and complete to disclose the invention that is later claimed. The Full Court has also provided important guidance on the nature and scope of Swiss-style claims, and the circumstances under which such claims may be infringed (Mylan v Sun).
  • The Full Court of the Federal Court has found that a computer-implemented method that linked website users to online advertising was not a manner of manufacture and therefore not patentable subject matter (Commissioner of Patents v Rokt). In separate decisions, a computer-implemented method relating to “sandboxing” (Facebook) and an invention relating to the hardware and software components of an electronic gaming machine (Aristocrat v Commissioner of Patents) were held to be patent-eligible subject matter, while a modified roulette table was found not to be patent-eligible (Crown).
  • The Full Court of the Federal Court has confirmed that section 105(1A) of the Patents Act 1990 (Cth), introduced by the Raising the Bar reforms, confers on the Federal Court the power to direct amendments to patent applications during the course of an appeal hearing (Meat and Livestock Australia v Branhaven).
  • In the long-running patent dispute relating to Lundbeck’s antidepressant, Lexapro (escitalopram), the Full Court of the Federal Court overturned a decision that had found Sandoz liable for patent infringement during the extended term of a patent after it was restored, and awarded damages. Lundbeck has recently been granted special leave to appeal to the High Court of Australia, which for the third time will hear an appeal regarding an aspect of this long-running litigation (Sandoz v Lundbeck).
  • The Federal Court provided its first detailed analysis of the Raising the Bar reforms to Australian patent law concerning sufficiency and support. A subsequent judgment on final relief, delivered in November 2020, highlights the challenges facing a defendant who seeks to resist final injunctive relief on public interest grounds (Merck Sharp & Dohme v Wyeth). Those sufficiency and support requirements, as well as best method, were also considered in detail by the Australian Patent Office (University of British Columbia, Gliknik v CSL).
  • In an unprecedented decision, the Federal Court of Australia has considered and dismissed a claim by the Commonwealth Government for compensation from sponsors of innovator pharmaceutical products, pursuant to undertakings as to damages given in exchange for an interlocutory (preliminary) injunction restraining the launch of the first generic product (Commonwealth v Sanofi).
  • A party which gave undertakings not to launch an allegedly infringing biosimilar without first giving notice successfully resisted an application for preliminary discovery (Pfizer v Sandoz). Conversely preliminary discovery was granted against a former employee, but limited in scope due to the prevailing financial circumstances (Sovereign v Steynberg).
  • Extension of term applications were refused for pharmaceutical patents (Pharma Mar, Ono).
  • An opposition to an Australian patent application based solely on a challenge to entitlement was successful (Liquid Time v Smartpak).
  • The Federal Court considered the applicability of the Crown use defence to infringement, and the effect of prior disclosures by the Crown on validity (Axent v Compusign).
  • The nature and detail of disclosures in prior art and the common general knowledge proved determinative of the validity in decisions concerning a combination pharmaceutical product (Boehringer v Intervet) and a parking management system (Vehicle Monitoring Systems v SARB).
  • The construction of claims in the context of the entire specification proved determinative of issues of infringement and validity in several decisions (Caffitaly v One Collective, Nufarm v Dow, CQMS v ESCO).
  • The Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand has delivered decisions demonstrating the difficulty of opposing an application under the “old” 1953 Act (Lonza v Koppers), the high burden for computer-implemented methods (Thomson Reuters) and the more onerous support requirements under the “new” 2013 Act (Taiho Pharmaceutical).

As we continue into 2021 (and away from 2020), we hope this review provides a practical and comprehensive resource. Please do not hesitate to take the opportunity to contact our authors, all subject-matter experts in their respective fields, for advice on the issues raised by these important decisions.

Authored by Duncan Longstaff

11 min read

Axent Holdings Pty Ltd t/a Axent Global v Compusign Australia Pty Ltd [2020] FCA 1373 (25 September 2020) 

This decision of Kenny J of the Federal Court of Australia considers many issues including the Crown use defence; whether information published by the Crown (and made available to it by a patentee) can be novelty defeating; and the effect that requesting an extension of time to renew a patent outside of the renewal fee grace period has on the relevant period during which the patent is taken to have ceased before it is restored.

The Background

Axent Holdings Pty Ltd, trading as Axent Global (Axent), commenced proceedings against Compusign Australia Pty Ltd and Compusign Systems Pty Ltd (together Compusign) as well as Hi-Lux Technical Services Pty Ltd (Hi-Lux) (the respondents) for infringing Australian Patent No. 2003252764 titled “Changing Sign System” (764 Patent). The 764 Patent claimed an earliest priority date of 4 October 2002 and was granted on 26 June 2008. The respondents filed a cross claim asserting the 764 Patent was invalid. Except for any issues under ss 22A and 138, the Intellectual Property Laws Amendment (Raising the Bar) Act 2012 (Cth) (Raising the Bar Act) did not apply.

The invention related to a changing sign system for use as a variable speed limit sign (VSLS) on roadways. The VSLS could be used to display a lower hazard speed limit instead of the normal maximum safe speed when a certain condition is detected. When the hazard speed limit is displayed, a portion of the sign is varied to conspicuously indicate the change of conditions.

Independent claims 1, 17 and 20 described an electronic variable speed limit sign, which has a plurality of lights forming the central speed limit numerals and annulus rings around those numerals. The specification explains that a change of conditions is indicated by flashing some of the annulus outer rings while always retaining one ring on, to fulfil the criteria of being a speed display sign, that is, by always showing a number in a circle on a display panel. Dependent claims 2 to 16, 18 to 19 and 21 to 27 specified a number of further features, and claim 28 was an omnibus claim.

In September 2001, Mr Fontaine, the director of Axent and named inventor of the 764 Patent, met with Mr Bean, who worked for VicRoads, to view a demonstration of Axent’s variable speed limit sign with a partly flashing annulus. Mr Fontaine stated that he subsequently received tender documents which included a VicRoads specification (the September 2001 specification), which contained a requirement, for variable speed limit signs, that part of the inner diameter of the annulus should be capable of flashing on and off.

The issues

Product or method claims

A preliminary question arose as to whether the claims were product or method claims for the purposes of determining infringement. Axent pleaded that the claims were to a product. The respondents submitted that the claim integers formed part of a method of using a variable speed limit sign. Her Honour rejected Axent’s submissions that the claims were framed in terms of capabilities, yet still construed the majority of the claims as product claims limited by result. Claims 12, 14 and 16 were construed as method claims which describe the operation of the claimed sign system.

Clarity

The respondents contended that independent claims 1, 17 and 23 lacked clarity because of the use of the terms “normal speed”, “input criterion” and “change in conditions”. Her Honour considered that when the claims were read as a whole, in the context of the specification, the skilled addressee would have no real doubt about what is intended by the above features and that the claims were clear.

Direct Infringement

Axent’s case was in substance that the supply by Hi-Lux and Compusign of their respective variable speed limit signs infringed all the claims of the Patent. Axent was unable to establish that either the Hi-Lux signs or the Compusign signs included relevant features of the product claims or that Hi-lux or Compusign performed the relevant claimed method in making their signs. Thus, the product and method claims were not infringed.

As omnibus claim 28 was narrowed “with reference to the examples”, and the specification included no ‘examples’, her Honour considered that there can be no infringement or alternatively that claim 28 was invalid for lack of clarity.

Indirect Infringement

Axent also relied on s 117 of the Patents Act 1990 (Act) to allege indirect infringement initially on the sole basis that the supply of a sign is, in and of itself, a supply that attracts the operation of s 117. Axent subsequently sought to broaden their case for indirect infringement to instances where the invention was for a method, rather than a product. Axent also sought leave to elicit from the respondents’ witnesses in cross-examination evidence as to the directions given and steps taken by the respondents when supplying their signage. The respondents submitted that it would be unfair to permit Axent to seek to make out an infringement case based on s 117 that it had not opened or properly foreshadowed. Her Honour agreed and held Axent to the case on which it opened. The evidence given by the respondents’ witnesses by way of cross-examination was admitted, however, it was limited in its use so that it could not be used to form the basis of an infringement case by reference to s 117. Axent was not able to make out its case of indirect infringement against the respondents.

Crown use defence

Hi-Lux submitted that each of VicRoads, the South Australian Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure, and the City of Greater Geelong was an authority of a State for the purposes of s 163 of the Act which provides that exploitation of an invention by or for the services of the Commonwealth, or a State is not an infringement of any patent rights.

Her Honour considered that each of the organisations were an Authority of the state and that the exploitation of the sign was for the services of each Authority. However, this was subject to s 163(3) which required that the exploitation of the invention was necessary for the proper provision of the services within Australia. Her Honour considered it may be that exploitation was not strictly necessary in the sense contemplated by s 163(3) because alternative signage was available and widely used. However, this was not considered further, in any event, as Hi-Lux failed to satisfy her Honour that the infringement  was authorised in writing by an authority of the State.

In particular, the documents in relation to Hi-Lux’s supply of signs to VicRoads and the City of Greater Geelong left open the possibility that Hi-Lux had a choice as to the electronic speed sign supplied, leaving it free to perform the relevant contract without infringing the claims of the Patent. It was clear that Hi-Lux was under no contractual obligation to supply an infringing item.

The contract for the supply and installation of variable speed limit signs between the Commissioner of Highways and Hi-Lux included a specification which set out the requirements for the variable speed limit signs. Her Honour noted the possibility this contract may have required a product that infringed the 764 Patent and thus, the infringing acts may well have been authorised for the purposes of s 163. However, in the absence of submissions or evidence to this effect, her Honour was not satisfied that the contract with the Commissioner required Hi-Lux to supply goods that necessarily infringed the patent in suit. Accordingly, Hi-Lux’s defence under s 163 of the Act did not succeed.

Innocent infringement

Compusign argued that they were not aware and had no reason to believe that a patent existed for the invention before receiving the letter of demand from Axent. Compusign gave evidence to the effect that they had not expected a patent to exist in relation to the requirements of the roads authorities’ specifications without the specifications referring to the patent. Her Honour considered that there was nothing in the relevant roads authorities’ specifications that would put a reader on notice of the existence of a relevant patent. Axent did not address the issue of innocent infringement.

Accordingly, if it were necessary to do so, her Honour would have provisionally refused to make an award of damages or an order for an account of profits in respect of any infringement by Compusign prior to the date of the receipt of the letter of demand.

Lapse of patent

Axent did not pay the renewal fees for the 764 Patent by the due date of 6 October 2015; nor did it pay the fees by 6 April 2016, within the 6 month renewal fee grace period. Axent applied for an extension of time which was granted on 1 September 2016 and the renewal fees were then applied to the 764 Patent. The 764 Patent therefore ceased to be registered for a period for the non-payment of fees.

The respondents submitted that Axent could not assert infringement of the patent from the day after that on which the renewal fee for the 764 Patent was due, 7 October 2015, to the day on which an application to extend the time to pay the renewal fee was granted, 1 September 2016. Axent submitted the relevant period began on 5 April 2016 (that is, approximately 6 months after 7 October 2015) and concluded on 1 September 2016. The commencement of the relevant period turns on the construction of reg 13.6 of the Patents Regulations 1991 (Cth), which relevantly provides that the period in which the renewal fee must be paid is the period ending at the last moment of the anniversary, however, if the renewal fee is paid within 6 months after the end of the relevant anniversary the period is taken to be extended until the fee is paid. The respondents submitted, and her Honour accepted, that the period is only “taken to be” extended if the condition of the renewal fee being paid within the 6 month grace period is satisfied. Had Axent paid the renewal fee at any time before the end of the 6 month grace period, the 764 Patent would never have ceased as the prescribed period would have been extended by reg 13.6(2)(a) to end on the day Axent paid the fee. However, Axent did not pay the renewal fee before 5 April 2016, and in consequence reg 13.6(2)(a) had no application.

Therefore, the prescribed period for renewal ended on 7 October 2015 being the point after the last moment of the anniversary date for the Patent. It follows that the Patent ceased on that day. The Patent was restored on 1 September 2016, when the extension of time for the renewal fee application was granted.

Prior use

The respondents relied on s 119(1) by way of defence to Axent’s infringement case. In the absence of evidence that either Hi-Lux or Compusign Australia was “making” an infringing product or “using” an infringing process before the priority date, neither could satisfy the requirements for the prior use defence required by s 119(1) prior to the Raising the Bar Act changes.

Invalidity of the Patent

The respondents submitted the claims were not novel because the invention was disclosed by the September 2001 specification and as part of the installation process for the Western Ring Road Project. Axent submitted that the September 2001 specification was merely a “wish list” that provided insufficiently direct disclosure and in any event was excluded from being considered for the purposes of novelty and inventive step because of s 24(1)(b) and/or s 24(2). Relevantly, s 24(1)(b) provides that, when assessing novelty and inventive step, the person making the decision must disregard any information derived from the patentee and made publicly available without their consent. Under s 24(2), the person making the decision must disregard any information given by, or with the consent of, the patentee, to the Crown, but to no other person or organisation.

Axent argued that it had disclosed its invention to VicRoads confidentially and never consented to VicRoads on-disclosing it in the September 2001 specification. The respondents contended, and her Honour agreed, that s 24(2) did not apply because the September 2001 specification was a disclosure made by, and not to, the Crown and the language of s 24(2) did not support the “reach-through effect” that Axent had argued.

There was still the further question as to whether s 24(1)(b) operated. A central issue was whether the information was made publicly available without the consent of Axent. Whilst there was no evidence that Axent expressly gave consent, having regard to the circumstances and the evidence, her Honour was satisfied that Axent positively consented to the inclusion of the claimed invention in the September 2001 specification. Accordingly, s 24(1)(b) did not apply.

Kenny J rejected the contention that the September 2001 specification was part of the common general knowledge or that it could be combined with the common general knowledge. Accordingly, the critical question was, whether each of the claims lacked inventive step by reference to common general knowledge alone. The evidence was clear that, apart from the flashing annulus feature, the other features of the claims were obvious as at the priority date. However, there was clear evidence that the skilled worker was aware of a flashing annulus feature well before the priority date.

Her Honour considered that no problem was overcome or barrier crossed by the adoption of the flashing annulus feature and that the evidence indicated a person skilled in the art would have taken the steps leading from the prior art to the claimed invention as a matter of routine. The 764 Patent was found invalid for lack of inventive step by reference to the common general knowledge alone, and claims 1, 9, 10, 14, 15, 17, 20 and 27 were invalid for want of novelty in light of the disclosure of September 2001 specification.

The Decision

Ultimately, Axent failed in its infringement case, even if it had succeeded, Compusign succeeded in its innocent infringement defence and all respondents succeeded on the lapsed patent defence. The Crown use and prior use defences failed.

Significance

The decision clarified that the prescribed period to pay a renewal fee to prevent a patent ceasing is only taken to be extended to the date of payment, if the fee is paid within the 6 month grace period. Accordingly, when the renewal fee is paid after the 6 month grace period by relying on an extension of time, the patent is taken to have ceased from the point after the last moment of the anniversary of the patent.

Regarding the Crown Use defence, the decision indicated that written authorisation by the Crown to exploit an invention may be explicit or implied, but the authorisation must be specific such that the necessary exploitation of the invention is authorised and that alternatives are not possible.

For information made available to the Crown by a patentee and subsequently published by the Crown, the decision indicated s 24(2) did not provide a “reach-through effect” to exclude such a publication from the prior art when considering novelty and inventive step.

The decision also offers guidance on the evidence required to establish innocent infringement in the case that a defendant was not aware, and had no reason to believe, that a patent for the invention existed.

Authored by Tam Huynh and Dean Bradley

5 min read

A recent YouTube spat over an AI created cover of Britney Spears’ 2004 song “Toxic” demonstrates that AI has now made it possible for one artist to sing a cover of another artist, no human required! In this case, a group called DADABOTS, which describes itself as “a cross between a band, a hackathon team and an ephemeral research lab”, created the rendition using software enabling generation of audio content in the voice of a particular artist, in a particular genre or as a novel fusion. The end result was a Frank Sinatra cover of the Britney Spears song.

Whilst this is a prospect that is bound to be exciting to some, from the perspective of conventional copyright law (and perhaps defamation law), the path to creating such a custom cover track using AI is fraught with complexity and uncertainty.

Yet that didn’t stop DADABOTS rendition being met with something a little more conventional, a copyright takedown notice and subsequent removal from YouTube, as Futurism’s Dan Robitzski recently reported. Futurism noted that GreyZone Inc., a company which offers copyright infringement identification and reporting services, was responsible for the complaint but wasn’t able to identify on whose behalf.

Appeal of YouTube take down

The basis for the original takedown notice is unclear – presumably representatives of either Frank Sinatra or Britney Spears’ respective record labels took the view that their copyright was infringed in some form. In Australia, their songs are likely to be covered by a suite of copyright and related rights, potentially including copyright in the lyrics, the musical work, performance rights and recording rights.

In this case, DADABOTS appealed YouTube’s decision to remove the rendition, calling in aid the US copyright doctrine of fair use. This doctrine is codified in the US Copyright Act and allows “fair use” of copyright works without infringing copyright. Unlike in Australia where the equivalent “fair dealing” is limited to quite specific circumstances, the US Courts have a broad discretion to determine what use is “fair”, depending on factors such as the nature of the copyright work, the purpose of the use and the effect of the use on the potential market for the copyright work. YouTube accepted the appeal and DADABOTS upload was reinstated, albeit with YouTube flagging it as a cover of “Toxic”. YouTube offers a service which allows eligible copyright holders to set up rules dealing with any third party copies of their exclusive copyright content uploaded on YouTube. This might include blocking the uploaded media, taking ad revenue from it or tracking the viewership information. YouTube’s flag of the DADABOTS version presumably makes it subject to any such controls in place in respect of “Toxic”.

Use of copyright works during development of AI powered applications

To make the rendition, DADABOTS used an AI software tool developed by California based OpenAI. Known as “Jukebox”, the software utilises neural networks, a form of machine learning. To become competent, Jukebox was trained by processing various datasets, which in turn allowed it to create the rendition on the basis of what it learnt from that data processing. In this case Jukebox then performed lyrics (of “Toxic”) in the voice and/or genre of the artist on which the software had been trained (Frank Sinatra). According to Open AI’s website, Jukebox was trained on 1.2 million songs, corresponding lyrics and metadata, including artist, genre, year and associated keywords.

Interestingly, Futurism’s article suggests the YouTube appeal arguments were crafted without reference to the use of AI to create the DADABOTS rendition. The fair use arguments were focussed on the end result (i.e. the new rendition) as a fair use in itself, rather than by reference to the method used to create it. Separate to issues around copyright ownership of works created wholly or substantially by AI technologies, the use of copyright works for AI related functions, such as machine learning and datamining is very much a live issue globally. The extent to which such uses are thought to be “fair uses”, is likely to influence the development of the fair use doctrine in copyright, the bounds of which already vary considerably from country to country, if not lead to specific copyright provisions. One notable mover in this space is Japan, which from 1 January 2019 enacted various provisions in its Copyright Act aimed at exempting computer data processing and analysis of copyright works from infringement in certain circumstances. The way in which the law on this topic develops globally may well be a factor which influences where companies with a focus on developing AI powered applications choose to base themselves (if it is not already). Differences in the law on this topic around the globe may also lead to potentially complicated questions of jurisdiction where AI generated material is exported from one country to another.

In Australia, the current law is likely to be less friendly to machine learning and AI powered applications, as a result of the stricter confines on fair dealing, and other limited exceptions to copyright infringement. Certainly where AI applications are used for development which is commercial in nature, it is unlikely that Australian copyright exemptions would apply. While section 40 of the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) does provide an exemption for fair dealing for research purposes, it has generally been given a narrow reach.

Indeed, extension of the fair dealing provisions in Australia was a topic considered extensively by the Productivity Commission in its review of intellectual property laws in Australia and consequent report issued in 2016. Submissions made on this issue included those from tech companies supporting a broader fair use exception and specifically referring to machine learning in this context. The Productivity Commission ultimately recommended significant reforms in this area paving the way for a US-style fair use exception. However following two years of further consultation, the Government announced in August 2020 only a limited extension of the fair dealing exceptions for non-commercial quotation.

As a consequence, use of datasets to train AI systems in Australia appears likely to carry with it a significant risk of copyright infringement for the foreseeable future, in the absence of an appropriate licence. As the law in this area continues to develop worldwide, this is clearly a space to watch for both copyright owners and anyone using databases of copyright material to power or utilise AI technologies.

Authored by Onur Saygin and Duncan Longstaff

For a number of years, Shelston IP has partnered with Girls Invent an organisation dedicated to inspiring and motivating girls to become successful innovators. At Shelston IP, innovation is our passion, and we are excited to support Girls Invent through our pro bono advice program in its mission to encourage innovation.

Girls Invent invited Allira Hudson-Gofers and Tam Huynh to take part in a podcast to discuss their successful careers and the influences that have shaped them to become the women they are today.

Tune in here to listen to what they had say.

Authored by Allira Hudson-Gofers and Tam Huynh

6 min read

Aristocrat Technologies Australia Pty Limited v Commissioner of Patents [2020] FCA 778

Aristocrat Technologies Australia Pty Limited (ATA) appealed to the Federal Court from an Australian Patent Office decision that four of its innovation patents (the Patents) for electronic gaming machines (EGMs) should be revoked to failing to define patentable subject matter.  The Federal Court allowed the appeal, finding that the EGMs were patentable subject matter.

Background

EGMs, also called “slot machines”, are a combination of hardware and software components.  The hardware includes cabinets with video display screens, a “slot” or other vending device to receive money or other forms of credit, and various internal electronics, including an internal computer to operate software to operate the EGM.  The internal computer, commonly called a “game controller”, runs software to visually display reels with symbols on the screen and simulate movement of the reels, in order to play a game based on the displayed symbols.  Typically, a person makes a wager or monetary bet via the vending device to play the game on the EGM.  In this case, the novel and innovative features of the Patents lay in the aspects of the game played on the EGM, as controlled by the computer, and not in any aspect of the hardware (which was essentially generic for EGMs).

ATA had filed the Patents and requested examination of each one before the Australian Patent Office.  The Patents each defined in their respective independent claims an EGM comprising various hardware components and the steps performed by the game controller to execute the game.  During examination, the Patents were each objected to for failing to define patentable subject matter (known as “manner of manufacture” under the Australian Patents Act 1990 (Cth)).  The basis of the objection was that the substance of the invention was in the rules or procedure for playing the game, and so was a mere scheme that was unpatentable.  ATA requested a hearing before a Delegate of the Commissioner of Patents to decide the issue.  The Delegate agreed with the examiner and held that the Patents did not define patentable subject matter, finding that the hardware components of the claimed EGM did not add anything of substance to the “inventive concept”, being the game. ATA appealed the Delegate’s decision regarding each of the Patents to the Federal Court.

Decision

In the Federal Court appeal, Burley J reviewed the authorities on patentable subject matter and found that in determining whether a patent defined patentable subject matter, there was a two-step test.  The first step was to consider whether the invention related to a mere scheme or business method.  If so, the second step was to consider whether the invention is in the computerisation of the scheme or business method.

Expert evidence

In deciding the issue, Burley J followed the recent Full Federal Court decision in Commissioner of Patents v Rokt Pte Ltd [2020] FCAFC 86, where it was held that expert evidence on patentable subject matter was of limited use.  As such, the extensive expert evidence filed by both parties during trial before the Rokt decision issued was mostly ignored.  However, Burley J did rely on expert evidence as to the highly regulated nature of EGMs in Australia as an indication that EGMs must have a particular construction and are built for a specific (and limited) purpose.

Are inventions relating to EGMs a mere scheme?

In applying the two-step approach, Burley J found that the invention claimed by each of the Patents was not simply a mere scheme or business method.  Rather, Burley J construed each of the claimed inventions as a “mechanism of a particular construction, the operation of which involves a combination of physical parts and software to produce a particular outcome in the form of an EGM that functions in a particular way”.  As the initial question was answered in favour of patentability (ie, not a mere scheme), it was not necessary to answer the second question (ie, whether the invention lay in the computerisation).

In support of his finding, Burley J pointed out specific hardware components of an EGM, including the display for displaying the virtual reels, credit input mechanism (vending device), game play mechanism (buttons) and the game controller that are characteristic of EGMs.  Also, due to the highly regulated environment in Australia in which EGMs can be operated, these factors demonstrated that the invention is a machine specifically designed to provide a specific gaming function.  Accordingly, the combination of the physical hardware components and the virtual software components (being the virtual reels and displayed symbols) produced the “invention”.  Thus, the invention had a specific character and a single purpose – to enable a person to play a game.

The fact that the hardware components were agreed by both ATA and the Commissioner to be part of the common general knowledge in the art did not detract from this finding.

Mechanical equivalent

It was also noted by Burley J that the Commissioner of Patents had conceded that a traditional gaming machine comprised solely of hardware and mechanical components that implemented the same game without any software would have been patentable subject matter.  To Burley J, this concession was inconsistent with the Commissioner’s position that effectively separated the game rules or procedure from the hardware in an EGM only because of its electronic nature.

Comment

It seems that the particular construction of EGMs and their highly regulated nature influenced Burley J’s assessment of whether the claims of the Patents defined patentable subject matter.  Despite the agreement of both parties that the hardware components were conventional in the art of gaming machines, the specific function and purpose of those hardware components, compared to generic computer or processor parts typically found in other computer-implemented inventions, led to the finding that the invention was not simply a scheme or business method, and so was decisive.

While this reasoning seems logical to some extent, the test for when hardware forms part of the invention appears to remain somewhat arbitrary. It could be said that hardware components of EGMs are just as “generic” or “conventional” within the EGM field as general computer elements, like a processor or memory.

Justice Burley J relied upon previous Federal Court decisions in which EGMs were found to be patentable subject matter: Neurizon Pty Ltd v LTH Consulting and Marketing Services Pty Ltd (2002) 58 IPR 93 at [15] and [101] (Dowsett J) and Aristocrat Technologies Australia Pty Limited v Konami Australia Pty Limited (2015) 114 IPR 28 at [60] (Nicholas J). However, each of those previous decisions was decided prior to keyFull Federal Court decisions confirming the current principles for determining the patentability of computer-implemented inventions, particularly Encompass Corporation Pty Ltd v InfoTrack Pty Ltd [2019] FCAFC 161 and Rokt.

While this decision is of benefit to EGM manufacturers, it should be noted that the claims are limited to those hardware components.  As such, the claims are of limited scope to physical EGMs and thus online gaming platforms, mobile devices and even desktop computers appear to be free to simulate the same game the subject of these claims without fear of infringing the claims if they do not also provide the hardware components defined by the claims of the Patents.

Significance

The decision provides some guidance on the patentabilty of computer-implemented inventions that employ specific and not generic hardware.  Where a computer-implemented invention employs hardware components are specific to the invention or purpose-built, then the invention will be patentable, even if those hardware components are well-known in the technical field.

However, due to this requirement for specific or purpose-built hardware, the decision has limited application to the patentability of computer-implemented inventions in general, such as those found to be unpatentable in previous Federal Court decisions.  In particular, many computer-implemented inventions are specifically, and advantageously, designed to be “hardware-neutral” so they can efficiently leverage a wide variety of computer technologies (such as personal computers, smartphones, physical and wireless internet networks, satellites, etc).  This recent decision does not provide any additional hope for companies seeking patent protection in Australia for such inventions.

Accordingly, in the appropriate circumstances, patent applicants should carefully draft their patent applications to emphasise the combination of hardware and software in achieving a computer-implemented invention, and especially whether the hardware components are specific to a particular technical field or serve a particular purpose, and are not simply generic computer components applicable to all fields of computer technology.

Authored by Andrew Lowe and Duncan Longstaff

2 min read

To celebrate International Women in Engineering day (23 June 2020), Shelston IP would like to highlight our outstanding female patent attorneys and patent engineers qualified in this field.

With 30 years of experience in the patent profession, Caroline Bommer is the female engineer that we aspire to be. She provides a wonderful example of the possibilities for our young female attorneys and is appreciated by all of her clients, particularly in her effective communication and her ability to understand their business strategies. Caroline’s mechanical engineering expertise is also extensive, including practical knowledge acquired prior to joining the patent profession in the industries of building, transport, aerospace, and defence. She has a keen interest in green technologies, with many years of personal involvement in solar car racing. Ask her to take you for a spin!

Tam Huynh works in the fields of electrical engineering and information technology patents. Growing up, Tam would find any excuse to integrate electronics into her arts and crafts projects. This included raiding her Dad’s electronics kit to make LED greeting cards for her family. She went on to study Computer Engineering at University and undertook a project exploring the use of solar power technologies and their application with mobile devices. Tam now assists with the ongoing management of patent portfolios in a range of fields, including electrical power systems, information and software systems, mining and automation, and medical devices. Tam also holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree and her accounting background adds additional depth to her handling of financial-system related inventions.

With childhood memories of jumping off a red billy cart and yelling “Newton’s third law”, Allira Hudson-Gofers brings her enjoyment of physics and engineering into her role as the head of Shelston IP’s Engineering and ICT Patents Group. Allira studied both mechatronics and biomedical engineering at University, going on to develop particular expertise in research, product development, regulatory affairs, and intellectual property in the medical technology space. She now applies this expertise, together with her recent MBA studies, to help her clients protect and commercialise their innovations.  

Connie Land had her interest in the human body and medical devices sparked in high school, which lead her to pursue a degree in Biomedical Engineering. Connie started her career with hands-on experience maintaining, repairing, and programming medical devices.  Last year, after discovering that the role of a patent attorney was a career option for engineering graduates, she hung up her tools and joined Shelston IP as a Patent Engineer. Connie now works with medical devices in a different capacity and uses her passion and knowledge of medical devices and technology to help her clients navigate the path to obtaining patent and design protection. She is currently studying a Masters in Intellectual Property and is looking forward to becoming a registered patent attorney in Australia and New Zealand. 

Authored by Allira Hudson-Gofers, Caroline Bommer, Tam Huynh and Connie Land

5 min read

In the Registrar’s decision of National Australia Bank Limited [2020] ATMO 41 (19 March 2020), National Australia Bank (“NAB”) have successfully relied upon the their significant reputation in Australia to overcome citations of prior rights and secure acceptance of the composite logo mark (“NAB Logo mark”) shown below.  The Registrar followed the previous decision of the Full Federal Court in Registrar of Trade Marks v Woolworths [1999] FCA 1020, which held that in certain circumstances, an applicant’s reputation may be considered as a “surrounding circumstance” when determining whether two marks should be regarded as “deceptively similar”.

NAB applied to register the NAB Logo mark for a wide range of goods and services.  The Examiner raised an objection against this mark under Section 44, on the basis that it was too similar to four earlier registrations and covered the same or similar goods and services. Each of the earlier cited registrations were comprised of the plain words “THE BRIDGE” and covered goods and services that are the same or similar to those covered by the NAB Logo mark (although, while not noted in the decision, the only same goods or services concerned philosophical education and certain personal services).  After several failed attempts to persuade the Examiner to reconsider this objection (on the basis of written submissions), NAB filed a request for this matter to be heard by the Registrar.

When assessing whether the NAB Logo mark is substantially identical with or deceptively similar to each of THE BRIDGE marks, the Registrar applied the traditional test for the comparison of marks as outlined in Shell Co of Australia Ltd v Esso Standard Oil (Australia) Ltd.  The Registrar also took guidance from the comments of Jacobson J in Millennium & Copthorne International Limited v Kingsgate Hotel Group Pty Ltd with respect to the various historical principles outlined in past authorities as follows:

Without seeking to reformulate the various statements of principle stated in the Full Court authorities, it is sufficient for present purposes to identify the critical elements which seem to me to inform the issue of deceptive similarity in the present case. There are nine elements.

First, the judgement of likelihood of deception is a practical one. It requires an assessment of the effect of the challenged mark on the minds of potential customers.

Second, the question of deceptive similarity is not to be decided by a side-by-side comparison. It is to be determined by a comparison of the impression based on recollection of the opponent’s mark that persons of ordinary intelligence and memory would have, and the impression that those persons would get from the opposed trade mark.

Third, allowance must be made for imperfect recollection.

Fourth, the effect of the spoken description must be considered.

Fifth, it is necessary to show a real tangible danger of deception or confusion.

Sixth, a trade mark is likely to ‘cause confusion’ if the result of its use will be that a number of persons are ‘caused to wonder’ whether the two products come from the same source.

Seventh, all surrounding circumstances must be taken into consideration. The circumstances include those in which the marks will be used, and in which the goods or services will be bought and sold, as well as the character of the probable acquirers of the goods and services.

Eighth, the question of whether there is a likelihood of confusion is not to be answered by reference to the manner in which a party has used the mark, but by reference to what an applicant can do. That is to say, the use to which it can properly put the mark if registration is obtained.

Ninth, if a registered trade mark includes words which can be regarded as an ‘essential feature’ of the mark, another mark that incorporates those words may cause a tangible danger of deception or confusion by reason of consumers retaining an imperfect recollection of those words. However, care must be taken to not too readily characterise words in a composite trade mark as an ‘essential feature’ because to do so may effectively convert a composite mark into something different.

Reference was also made to comments by French J in the Woolworths decision (see above), where it was held:

reference to the familiarity of the name ‘Woolworths’ in Australia was appropriate. Where an element of a trade mark has a degree of notoriety or familiarity of which judicial notice can be taken, as is the present case, it would be artificial to separate out the physical features of the mark from the viewer’s perception of them. For in the end the question of resemblance is about how the mark is perceived. In the instant case the visual impact of the name ‘Woolworths’ cannot be assessed without a recognition of its notorious familiarity to consumers.

The Hearing Officer concurred with NAB’s assertion that the NAB Logo is as well-known as “WOOLWORTHS” and there was nothing before the Hearing Officer which obviously distinguishes that case (Woolworths) from the present matter.  On this basis, the Registrar held that the NAB Logo mark was not substantially identical or deceptively similar to the earlier THE BRIDGE marks and accepted it for potential registration.

The decision is short on detail and while not stated specifically, it seems that NAB’s mark was accepted as well-known simply on the basis of general knowledge, rather than evidence. As NAB is a well-known bank, the extent to which that reputation is relevant in respect of the cases of the direct conflict with services covered by the prior registrations, namely ‘Courses, lectures and seminars on philosophical subjects’ and ‘Personal care services (non-medical nursing assistance); Providing non-medical assisted living services for personal purposes’ is debatable. However, the Hearing Officer seems to have accepted it as sufficient, irrespective of the nature of the services.

When examining a trade mark for potentially conflicting rights under Section 44, Australian examiners do not consider the “reputation” of the respective marks involved in their initial assessment.  However, where one particular element of a trade mark has a high degree of notoriety or familiarity to Australian consumers, the owner’s reputation in that element may be considered as a “surrounding circumstance” when determining whether or not two marks are “deceptively similar”.  While the degree of notoriety or familiarity required by a trade mark is not entirely clear, and examiners will typically need this to be proved, it is reasonable to conclude that the owner must have made lengthy and widespread use of the relevant mark in Australia, such that most Australian consumers are familiar with the mark and its owner.

Authored by Nathan Sinclair and Sean McManis