Zhang v Sealegs International Ltd

JurisdictionNew Zealand
CourtCourt of Appeal
JudgeBrown J
Judgment Date27 August 2019
Neutral Citation[2019] NZCA 389
Date27 August 2019
Docket NumberCA454/2018

[2019] NZCA 389




French, Cooper and Brown JJ


First Appellant
Second Appellants
Smuggler Marine Limited
Third Appellant
Darren Leybourne
Fourth Appellant
Vladan Zubcic
Fifth Appellant
David Pringle
Sixth Appellant
Stryda Marine Limited
Seventh Appellant
Sealegs International Limited

J G Miles QC and A K Hyde for Appellants

B P Henry, K M Elcoat and S S Singh for Respondent

Intellectual Property — breach of copyright — collocation-based copyright claim comprising known functional components and the application of well-known engineering mechanisms and principles — conceptual distinction between ideas and their expression — Copyright Act 1994

The Court held that the prototypes were models and qualified as artistic works under s14(1)(a) CA (copyright in original works). The HC had not approached the issue of originality by making an assessment of the extent of the skill and labour which had been expended in the creation of the identified copyright work, namely the sequence of the collocation of known components. Novelty and originality had been treated as synonymous. Sealegshad proceed solely in reliance on an unpleaded allegation of copyright in the collocation of unoriginal features appearing in the prototypes. The lists had not defined the combination of features as a precise description to facilitate the identification of particular Sealegs leg assemblies. The components referred to were generic, not bespoke in the sense of being confined to the particular manifestation of that componentry as deployed in the Sealegs prototypes. The evidence had not demonstrated that the selection of the sequence of such generic known components required substantial skill and labour. Sealegs' evidence had focused on the testing of the components themselves, not on the order in which they were to be arranged.

The HC's consideration of objective similarity was deficient in four respects: failure to take into account the extent to which the claimed copyright work was commonplace or dictated by functional constraints; the evaluation of the degree of originality in Sealegs' relevant copyright work as high (the protection provided by copyright in an arrangement was proportionate to the work's originality); the significance accorded to the “functional resemblance” of the assemblies and stating that the two assemblies were also substantially similar in terms of “their dimensions and geometry”. Sealegs' bespoke leg assembly arrangement and the Orion leg assembly arrangement were not visually similar. There was no originality in the sequence of the generic components. Having based its claim not only on a collocation of known components in a functional sequence but also on a collocation of such components of the generic nature described in the schedules, Sealegs' case failed at the objective similarity stage for want of a copyright comparator.

The appeal was allowed. The HC orders were set aside.

  • A The appeal is allowed. The orders in the High Court are set aside.

  • B The respondent must pay the appellants one set of costs for a complex appeal on a band B basis plus usual disbursements. We certify for second counsel.

Table of Contents

Para No



Relevant facts


Mr Bryham's idea


Two concept boats


Prototype boat 1


Mr Leybourne and Mr Zubcic join Sealegs


Prototype boat 136


The SL100 project


Mr Leybourne forms Orion Marine Ltd


The 2015 Shanghai Boat Show


Smuggler Marine and Sealegs


Prototype IKA11


Orion provides its amphibious system to Smuggler


Sealegs' intellectual property rights


NZ Patent 526705


Design registration 403199




The changes in the formulation of Sealegs' copyright claim


The pleaded claim


Sealegs' case at trial


The report of the conference of experts


The High Court judgment


Scope of appeal


The relevant copyright work: identification


Ideas and their expression: patent vs copyright


Were the prototypes “models”?


Was the arrangement of features original?


Infringement — principles


Objective similarity?


The High Court's finding


Errors in approach


Functional resemblance — the third error


Dimensions and geometry — the fourth error


Our analysis


The relevance of an engineer's perspective


A failure to take account of the appellants' expert evidence?


Undue reliance on credibility issues?





(Given by Brown J)


Sealegs International Ltd (Sealegs) asserts copyright in models 1 in the form of prototypes of its arrangement of known mechanical components comprising the wheel assemblies of its amphibious system externally located on the hulls of boats. The copyright is said to be the expression of the novel idea to place wheel assemblies on the exterior of a boat hull which are retractable to visible positions outside the hull form, thereby providing a solution to the problem of amphibious capability for small craft.


Sealegs claimed that its collocation-based copyright was infringed by the amphibious system developed by the second appellants (Orion). It also contended that Orion had infringed Sealegs' registered design. However it elected not to sue for patent infringement.


In the High Court Davison J held that the arrangement of components comprising the central core of the Sealegs amphibious boat system was highly original and was appropriated by the design of the Orion amphibious system. 2 Differences identified between the systems were discounted because they did not alter the leg assemblies' fundamental functionality. Sealegs' registered design claim was dismissed.


The appellants challenge the High Court's findings of originality and objective similarity, and the rejection of their claimed independent design path. They contend that the judgment fundamentally misconceives the law of copyright with the consequence that Sealegs has been granted an unprecedented monopoly in a collocation of known functional components, untethered to any visual expression. While acknowledging that they adopted Sealegs' idea, they maintain that the Orion

arrangement was not a copyright infringement but inevitably derived from functional constraints

Hence in the context of a collocation-based copyright claim comprising known functional components and the application of well-known engineering mechanisms and principles, the parties' cases trod the notoriously ill-defined boundary between ideas and their expression.

Relevant facts
Mr Bryham's idea

Mr Maurice Bryham, an Auckland beachside resident, was inspired to design and construct an amphibious system comprising three supporting legs and powered wheels which when attached to a powerboat enabled it to be manoeuvred while on land, driven from the beach into the water and the legs then retracted when the boat was afloat. Such a product, which would provide the convenience and safety of a boat that could be launched and returned to land without the occupants having to leave the boat, was expected to appeal to the high end of the recreational boating market. He named the design “Sealegs” and incorporated the respondent on 10 May 2000. All his work on the prototypes for the Sealegs amphibious boat system was undertaken as its employee.


Mr Bryham explained why he considered his idea was unique:

4 There are many, many ways to achieve a design of a three-legged amphibious boat system. These include the use of hull recesses with opening flap doors, vertically lifting and lowering wheels, or having wheels that deploy from the side of the hull. The decision I made was unique at the time, as the way I conceived to achieve the retraction of wheels from a boat is to have the wheels, the legs, the retraction actuator and the front steering actuator all located outside the hull leaving the boat streamlined in the water when underway.

5 Other solutions are to have the wheels, legs, retraction actuator, and/or steering actuator partly inside and partly outside of the boat hull. The combinations available to a designer are many and varied.

6 I thought it would be better to have the legs and retraction assembly attached to the outside of the hull with the legs and the retraction actuators all externally mounted. When the legs were retracted, the wheels would be lifted and stored above the boat waterline.

This concept maintained the integrity of the hull, but resulted in the external attachments of the legs, wheels, retraction actuator and front steering actuator.

Hence his idea was not merely an amphibious boat, as the written submissions for Sealegs suggested, but rather, as his reply brief described, the unusual design decision to have all the motorised wheels and amphibious assemblies located outside the watertight hull in both land and water positions”. 3


Mr Bryham also experimented with another design in which the legs when retracted were substantially concealed and enclosed within recesses built into the hull of the boat. He obtained design registration 403199 in relation to that design. However he did not seek registration of the design which was the subject of the copyright claim.

Two concept boats

The first stage in Mr Bryham's design endeavours was known as “concept boat 1”. He purchased a 4.7 metre rigid inflatable boat (RIB) and built wooden mock-ups of legs and wheels to create a...

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