Finished! Somat successful in dishwashing tablet trade mark washup

Dean Gerakiteys, Natalie Coulton
28 Sep 2022
Time to read: 4 minutes

Despite early success in obtaining urgent interlocutory relief, Finish was unable to prove trade mark infringement by German brand Somat and will have two of its trade marks removed from the register for non-use.

Almost a year ago to the day after interim injunctive relief was granted, a long-running trade mark dispute has come to judgment, with a number of interesting issues including the intersection between product depiction and trade marks, an issue that frequently arises but is rarely dealt with by courts (RB (Hygiene Home) Australia Pty Ltd v Henkel Australia Pty Ltd [2022] FCA 1042).

Finish brand owner RB challenged Henkel’s use of marks on its Somat brand of dishwashing tablets in Australia. Justice Rofe found:

  • RB had not used either of the trade marks in issue as trade marks during the relevant period;
  • the discretion to allow those trade marks on the register should not be exercised;
  • Somat's SE Logo, used on its Somat Excellence Gel Caps products did not infringe either of RB's Trade Marks;
  • RB had failed to establish its passing off or Australian Consumer Law cases.

This means that rather than the success which may have been foreshadowed by the outcome of the interim injunction, RB has not only failed to stop Henkel from using the SE Logo in Australia, but will lose two of its key trade marks off the register.

RB's trade marks

RB alleged that Henkel's use of a stylised dishwashing tablet (on the left below) infringed two of its registered trade marks (in the middle and on the right below), amounted to passing off and contravened sections 18 and 29 of the Australian Consumer Law:


Firstly, with respect to the 914 Mark, it was noted that many of the stylised product depictions on RB's products differed from the specific shape and colour of the trade mark. Only one of the various FINISH products was ultimately considered to contain images substantially similar to the shape and colour mark actually registered. However, the instances of use that RB relied on were ultimately found not to amount to trade mark use. In part this was due to the fleeting nature of the appearance of the image in television commercials, while the example used from an Amazon site was found to be buried and not immediately presented in association with the FINISH products. Neither was considered to constitute trade marks use.

With respect to the 311 Mark, Justice Rofe found that this formed a small part of the larger FINISH powerball logo and considered that that logo did not give the overall impression of comprising several distinct trade marks. This, together with the dearth of evidence establishing use of the 311 Mark on its own, led Justice Rofe to the conclusion that there had not been trade mark use of the 311 Mark.

Similar issues arose in the context of the infringement case. Firstly, Justice Rofe noted that it is common in the trade for dishwasher capsule packaging to include a stylised depiction of the dishwashing tablet inside the package and that the main feature consumers would use to differentiate products in this category of goods would be the prominent and distinctive brand name on the packaging, rather than the stylised depictions. Further, Justice Rofe did not consider the use of the stylised depiction of the Henkel product on the packaging was use of that image as a trade mark.

When considering whether the SE Logo was deceptively similar to either of RB's Trade Marks, Justice Rofe emphasised that the 914 Mark was a colour and shape mark, the impression of which an ordinary consumer would take away being of a rectangular prism with sharp edges and rounded corners made up of two distinct coloured parts with a red circle in the centre of, and flush with the top of, the prism. The SE Logo on the other hand was not rectangular shaped, or a rectangular prism, it was not a capsule with two distinct parts, it did not have flat faces of a prism in speckled white, or blue, it did not have a red circle in the centre and flush with the top surface of the capsule, and it did not have a blue wave portion on the top surface of the capsule which wraps around the red circle flush with the top face.

On turning to the 311 Mark, Justice Rofe noted that RB's case invited a consideration of just the red oval portion of the SE Logo, completely devoid of the remainder of the logo before noting a number of differences between the SE Logo and the 311 Mark.

Element of trade mark / logo
311 Mark
SE Logo

Shape of red element



General position of the ball

Floating in space

Connected to the capsule

Placement of the white start element

Behind the ball

In front of the ball

Composition of the white star element

Asymmetrical composition with varying lengths of rays

Symmetrical composition with uniform long and short rays

Overall appearance

Exploding star against a solid background

Red oval attached to speckled capsule surrounded by anti-clockwise swirling droplets of different blue hues

Even accounting for imperfect recollections of RB's Trade Marks, she did not find the SE Logo deceptively similar to either trade mark.

Trade mark or product depiction?

As part of its defence against RB's infringement claims, Henkel had argued firstly that it did not use the SE Logo as a trade mark and secondly, that the SE Logo was good faith use of a product depiction within the meaning of section 122(1)(b) of the Trade Marks Act 1995 (Cth). As part of this argument, Henkel also pointed to the consistent practice within the dishwashing capsule market of brands including stylised product depictions on their packaging. FAIRY, FINISH and EARTH CHOICE all included similar product depictions on their packaging.

Justice Rofe found there was no lack of good faith in Henkel's use of the SE logo or the SE Gelcap and that Henkel had not sought to benefit from RB's reputation in FINISH or either of RB's Trade Marks. Despite the findings about infringement – which meant she did not have to decide whether section 122(1)(b) applied here – Justice Rofe considered that the defence would have been made out.

Consumer confusion

When it came to the passing off and ACL elements of the case, RB again relied heavily on the stylised product depictions for this purpose. However, Justice Rofe noted that even as at the date of SOMAT's attempted launch, RB offered a variety of FINISH capsules which were not a gelcap product and which involved colours other than the red, white and blue which it had attempted to establish it had a reputation in. Ultimately, she found that RB had not established that it had a reputation in either the red Powerball in combination with the colours white and blue, nor the narrower claim of a predominantly white tablet with a blue waveform and a red circular element, which reflected the description of the 914 Mark. In part this was due to another competitor, FAIRY, also using similar colours for its product depictions.

Another curious aspect of this case was the way in which RB sought to confine the relevant class of consumers for the purposes of the passing off and Australian Consumer Law case. RB's case centred around considering various different sub-classes of consumers and whether each of those sub-classes would be likely to be misled or deceived. However, Justice Rofe held that this was contrary to authorities which have indicated that the relevant class of consumers must include all astute and gullible consumers.

Finally, it should be noted that evidence from focus groups which RB had attempted to rely on to prove that consumers would be confused was instead held to show that consumers are not confused, as they recognised that the SOMAT products were not FINISH products.

Somat Finishes on top

With the rising instance of interim injunctions being sought (and granted) in trade mark infringement cases, this case serves as a reminder that all is not lost at the first stage. Orders made just days ago have vacated the interim injunction which restrained Henkel from using the SE Logo or any other trade mark substantially identical or deceptively similar to RB's Trade Marks. This case goes to show that success on an interim injunction does not mean the case finishes there.

Please contact Clayton Utz if you would like any assistance or advice conducting trade mark due diligence or are concerned that another trade may be infringing your trade mark rights.

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