by Ursula Kampmann
translated by Christina Schlögl
February 8, 2018 – On December 22, 2017, the Australian government received unpleasant news in the mail: The Royal Canadian Mint had sued them before an Australian court. The lawsuit is not actually directed against the Royal Australian Mint, which cannot be a direct target of charges since it is a state-owned business and is only liable to recourse via the government. The accusation refers to the first Australian coloured circulation coins, the 503,000 “Poppy Coins”, issued in the year 2012. The coins are 2-dollar-coins with a small red poppy blossom on the reverse. The production of the coin is said to entail a method that had been patented by the Royal Canadian Mint since 2013. The patent was still pending in 2012 but it had been submitted in 2007.
The object of dispute: The Australian “Poppy Coin”, issued on occasion of Remembrance Day in 2012. Photo: Royal Australian Mint.
Collectors might be surprised that this colour application is actually enough reason to sue. There have been commemorative coins with colour application since 1992, after all. But this kind of colour application is done with pad printing, which has many advantages: It can produce a broad variety of fine shades of colour, highest precision and it can even be used for high relief coins. But pad printing is not viable for circulation coins since it is extremely time-consuming. Currently, pad printing machines can only produce 350 coins per hour. If you consider the fact that circulation coins emerge from minting presses at 850 coins per hour, you will understand why pad printing is not suited for circulation coins.
It is for this reason that the Royal Canadian Mint developed a method for applying a coloured image to a metal surface by filling 0.1-0.5 mm pores in the metal surface with ink. This method is not just quicker, but it is also more durable. It was first used in Canada in 2004 for the Canadian 25 cent-coin, commemorating the 60th anniversary of the landing of the allies in Normandy. The patent was submitted in 2007. Since 2013, the method has benefitted from patent protection.
At this point in time, the disputed 503,000 Australian coloured coins were already circulating. Now the Canadian mint wants to see all of them collected and destroyed. They also demand that the Australian mint refrain from further infringing the patent or producing or distributing coins that were made using the method without a license. The Royal Canadian Mint demands compensation and a statement that the Royal Australian Mint infringed the patent.
If the Australian court decides in favour of the litigator, there could be a number of additional law suits against the Australian government: After all, Australian circulation coins with colour application have been continually minted since 2012, ranging from almost one million in 2013 to 10 million coins for the Paralympics in 2016.
One can only speculate why the Royal Canadian Mint has only sued now. After all, they have known of these coins since 2012. But the first letter concerning a possible patent infringement only arrived at the Royal Australian Mint in December of 2015. At that time, the Royal Australian Mint answered that the technology was “sufficiently different to have not infringed.”
In terms of timing, one could align the late change of course in the patent case with a personnel matter. In February of 2015, Sandra Hanington took over the office of Mint Master at the Royal Canadian Mint from Ian Bennett.
The lawsuit could be her reaction on the ever-growing competition between the mints. Alex Reeves, press spokesman of the Royal Canadian Mint thus told the Canadian National Post, who we largely relied on for this article: “It has become necessary for us to institute infringement proceedings to protect and preserve our intellectual property rights. The Mint distinguishes itself in the global marketplace with its cutting-edge coin technologies. As a Crown corporation mandated to operate in anticipation of profit, our technologies are vital to maintaining our competitive standing, and the Mint undertakes all steps necessary to protect its intellectual property rights.”
A first hearing of this case at court is scheduled for February 7, 2018.
CoinsWeekly has presented the Australian poppy coin in November of 2012.
Is there an economic background to the lawsuit, too? If you are interested in the financial outcome of the Royal Canadian Mint in the year 2016, please read our article from August 2017.
We have published a press release when Sandra Hannington took office.
If you are interested in coloured coins, we suggest reading the MünzenMarkt from January 2018. You can download it here (only in German).