Taronga Zoo has been a common stop for both interstate and international visitors to Sydney for over 100 years. Located in Mossman it has sweeping views of the Sydney Harbour and only being 8 kilometres from Sydney’s CBD such proximity has made it popular with visitors, with about 1.5 million visitors per year.
What happens then when a rival organisation has $36 million plans for a cage-free zoo in Western Sydney in Blacktown, about 33 kilometres from Sydney’s CBD and wants to call it “Sydney Zoo”?
Is such name going to create confusion with visitors or in business terms, intentionally mislead the public that the new zoo is its long-established and well-known rival? These are the questions to be determined by the Federal Court after Taronga Zoo launched legal action to stop the rival organisation from using the name “Sydney Zoo”.
Should it be survival of the fittest – a type of “law of the jungle” – or should an established business be entitled to retain the association it has built up over many years to the words “Sydney Zoo”?
On 15 January, Taronga filed a misleading and deceptive conduct claim, along with a related case challenging Sydney’s Zoo’s application to trademark the name in a logo featuring animals’ silhouetted in front of a rising sun. The starting of this Court action follows adjudication about the trademark by IP Australia, the Federal Government Agency that administers intellectual property rights. It had earlier decided that Taronga had failed to establish any grounds for opposing the registration of Sydney Zoo’s trademark. It’s that decision that is now being challenged in the Federal Court.
The organisation behind Sydney Zoo lodged an application to register the Sydney Zoo Trademark in May 2015 after registering it as a business name in August, 2012.
Then, in November, 2015, Taronga lodged applications to register as Trademarks the words “Taronga Sydney zoo” and a logo featuring the words “Sydney zoo” with its widely used platypus icon.
In a sign of the times, social media and algorithms were used as part of the evidence presented on behalf of Taronga Zoo. Reference was made to an analysis of Google search algorithms and tags on the social media site Instagram to support Taronga Zoo’s argument that a “significant proportion of the public think of Taronga Zoo when they see the term “Sydney zoo””.
However, in its decision IP Australia said there was no evidence Taronga used Sydney Zoo as a trademark. The rationale was that the mere fact that some people used the term “Sydney zoo” to search for Taronga on Google, or the hashtag #sydneyzoo to caption photographs of Taronga Zoo on Instagram, did not mean the term was used as a trademark in a legal sense.
While the animals are undoubtedly the stars of Taronga Zoo, many famous humans have visited the Sydney icon.
A bilby enclosure was named after young Prince George when he visited Taronga Zoo in 2014 with his mother and father, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Sir David Attenborough has also spent time with the animals at Taronga. He is one of the zoo’s centenary ambassadors, along with comedian John Cleese, musician Jimmy Barnes and actress Naomi Watts.
Finishing this story with a point of general interest: Taronga is an Aboriginal word meaning beautiful view.