Virtual patent marking: Australia vs New Zealand

Key takeaways:  

  • Historically, patent marking involved physical marking of products or devices; 
  • Virtual patent marking is relatively new, and Patent Acts should be reviewed in respect of jurisdictions; 
  • For patent owners, patent marking has significant benefits including making it difficult for an infringer to argue innocent infringement where the products have
        been visually marked;
     
  • For patent owners, damages may potentially be lost if products are not sufficiently marked.  


Many countries encourage patent marking of patented products through use of provisions in their respective Patent Acts.  However, the provisions administered in each country do vary.   

In the past, patent owners have physically marked their patented products using the terms ‘patented’ or ‘patent pending’ to indicate that the product is patent protected.  More recently, however, patent owners have begun marking their products with a web address directing users to a webpage listing the relevant patent information. One advantage of such ‘virtual’ marking is that the patent information may be updated without having to modify the physical product by way of updating molds, for example, which can mitigate expensive machinery modifications. 

Virtual patent marking is a relatively new form of patent marking and thus patent legislation often does not explicitly refer to ‘virtual’ marking but that does not mean you should not use it. 

Patent Marking in Australia 

Patent marking in Australia is not mandatory.  Certain provisions of the Patents Act 1990, however, aim to encourage patentees to indicate that their product is patented.   

Section 123 of the Patents Act 1990 provides: 

      1. A court may refuse to award damages, or to make an order for an account of profits, in respect of an infringement of a patent if the defendant satisfies the court
       that, at the date of the infringement, the defendant was not aware, and had no reason to believe, that a
patent for the invention existed. 

      2. If patented products, marked so as to indicate that they are patented in Australia, were sold or used in the patent area to a substantial extent before the date
      of the infringement, the defendant is to be taken to have been aware of the existence of the
patent unless the contrary is established. 

      3. Nothing in this section affects a court’s power to grant relief by way of an injunction. 

Essentially, if a patented product is marked to indicate patent protection exists in Australia, then an infringer will be presumed to be aware of the patent protection.  Further, if an infringer is aware of the patent protection, then a defense of innocent infringement will not be available and an award of damages or payment of an account of profits may be made. 

Section 123 does not mention ‘virtual’ marking.  However, section 123(2) states that a patented product need only be marked so as to ‘indicate’ that it is patented in Australia.  While untested in Australia, it is likely that virtual marking would be enough to satisfy the requirement of an indication of patent protection in Australia being met. 

Patent Marking in New Zealand 

Like Australia, patent marking is not mandatory in New Zealand.  Again, like Australia, the New Zealand Patents Act 2013 includes provisions aimed at encouraging patentees to indicate that their product is patented. 

Section 153 of the Patents Act 2013 provides: 

  1. The court must not award damages or an account of profits for infringement of a patent if the defendant proves that at the date of the infringement the defendant did not know, and ought not reasonably to have known, that the patent existed or, in the case of a proceeding under section 81, that the complete specification had become open to public inspection. 

  1. It is presumed that a person ought reasonably to have known that a patent existed if— 
           a) a product is marked so as to indicate it is patented in New Zealand and with the New Zealand patent number; and 
           b) the person knew, or ought reasonably to have known, of the product. 

  1. But there is no presumption if the product is marked merely so as to indicate it is patented. 

 
Similar to Australia, section 153(2) provides that a patent must be marked to ‘indicate’ that the product is patented.  However, section 153(2) adds that the product must be marked with the New Zealand patent number.  Further, section 153(3) explicitly indicates that there is no presumption that a third party is aware of the relevant patent rights if a product omits the New Zealand patent number. 

While there is an argument that a product virtually marked with a web address directing a user to a webpage including the relevant New Zealand patent number satisfies the requirement that the product indicates the product is patented in New Zealand, and that the product is at the least indirectly marked with the New Zealand patent number, these circumstances have yet to be tested.  In view of this uncertainty, the safest approach would be to simply mark the physical product with the New Zealand patent number when possible. 

Nevertheless, as with all patent matters, it is always recommended to obtain specific patent advice from a registered patent attorney in the relevant jurisdiction. Please do not hesitate to contact us at [email protected] if you would like to discuss. 

Sarah van der Waal

written by Sarah van der Waal, Associate



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