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General Steel Industries Inc v Commissioner for Railways (1964) 11 CLR 125

Updated: Jul 20, 2021

Procedure, Summary dismissals, and legal principles

Facts; General Steel Industries owned a patent regarding their invention titled ‘Railway Vehicle Body and Truck Central Bearing.’ The Commissioner of Railways (NSW) and two other companies contested their patent because of alleged infringements on the manufacturing and assembly of the central bearing structures. General Steel Industries brought an action before the High Court to prevent infringements from their patent. However, all three claimants invoked ss 125 and 132 of the Patents Act 1952 (Cth). The defendants argued an exception to patent infringement and argued that the claim should be dismissed.

Issue(s) at Law; On what grounds may a case be dismissed?

Application; The test to be applied, has been variously expressed; "so obviously untenable that it cannot possibly succeed"; manifestly groundless"; so manifestly faulty that it does not admit of argument"; discloses a case which the Court is satisfied cannot succeed"; under no possibility can there be a good cause of action"; be manifest to allow them" (the pleadings) "to stand would involve useless expense." (Barwick CJ 129).

'[I]n my opinion, great care must be exercised to ensure that under the guise of achieving expeditious finality a plaintiff is not improperly deprived of his opportunity for the trial of his case by the appointed tribunal. On the other hand, I do not think that the exercise of the jurisdiction should be reserved for those cases where argument is unnecessary to evoke the futility of the plaintiff's claim. Argument, perhaps even of an extensive kind, may be necessary to demonstrate that the case of the plaintiff is so clearly untenable that it cannot possibly succeed.' (at 130).

Holding; The Chief Justice, sitting alone, agreed that the claim should be summarily dismissed, on the basis that his Honour was satisfied to the requisite degree for summary dismissal that the defendants' actions were covered by the Crown use exceptions to infringement in ss 125 and 132 of the Patents Act. The Chief Justice concluded that he was 'convinced to the requisite degree that the Commissioner's acts in relation to the invention for which the plaintiff holds letters patent and of which the plaintiff complains are covered by s 125 aided by s 132, and the plaintiff's action for infringement is precluded by s 125(8).' (Barwick CJ at 135).


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