Trademark Abbreviations

A company should be mindful of how the public perceives and uses its trademarks in Japan.

Japanese is prone to abbreviate trademarks. Occasionally, the abbreviation has no resemblance to its original name.

For example, ABERCROMBIE & FITCH is popularly called “ABA-KURO” among general public in Japan. Likewise, DOLCE & GABBANA can be called “DOLU-GABA”. STARBUCKS COFFEE is known as “SUTABA”. TOMMY HILFIGER is called “TOMI-HIRU”.

Where a trademark is composed of five sounds or more, you should mind that general public in Japan gets to call the mark in abbreviation contrary to brand owner’s intention.

BMW is even called as “BI-EMU”.

Most popular name recognized in abbreviation is McDonald without doubt. We seldom call “McDonald” as it is. One of the most popular fast-food chains and one of the top franchises in the world has always been called “MAKUDO” or “MAC”.

A combination mark is an easy target for abbreviation as well.


Trademark abbreviations may serve as a barometer for well-recognition of the mark among general public in Japan. In the meantime, abbreviations or nicknames used by the public are not protected under the respective registrations given that they have no resemblance to the original names e.g., “ABA-KURO” and “DOLU-GABA”.

Using abbreviations, nicknames, and acronyms as trademarks may be appealing from a marketing perspective, however, trademark protection for an abbreviation has to be sought independently from the trademark protection that its extensive version might be already enjoying, and vice versa.

A company that seeks trademark protection for an abbreviation should abide by the standard trademark requirements.

Defensive mark

Article 64 of the Japanese Trademark Law stipulates definition and requirements for defensive mark registration.

“Where a registered trademark pertaining to goods is well known among consumers as that indicating the designated goods in connection with the business of a holder of trademark right, the holder of trademark right may, where the use by another person of the registered trademark in connection with goods other than the designated goods pertaining to the registered trademark or goods similar thereto or in connection with services other than those similar to the designated goods is likely to cause confusion between the said other person’s goods or services and the designated goods pertaining to his/her own business, obtain a defensive mark registration for the mark identical with the registered trademark in connection with the goods or services for which the likelihood of confusion exists.”

A trademark may be registered as a defensive mark with respect to dissimilar goods/services that are not covered by the primary registration, where the owner of the trademark can demonstrate that the mark has acquired remarkable prestige in relation to the goods/services on which the mark has been substantially used, and thus there is a likelihood of confusion that consumers would conceive a connection between those dissimilar goods/services and the registered owner.

Obtaining a defensive mark registration is seemingly a desirable way to protect a well-known, registered mark from infringement. At the outset, the owner can prevent the registration from challenging a non-use cancellation. Besides, there are provisions in the Japanese Trademark Law that allow the owner of a defensive mark to take action against a third-party for infringement of the mark by its use on dissimilar goods/services that are covered by the defensive mark registration. In the meantime, the  provision does not specify that owner may take action against a non-identical or deceptively similar mark by a third-party. In this respect, many of famous-mark owners hesitate to apply for a defensive mark registration. Since standard trademark registration provides a broader protection to compel third-party to cease an unauthorized use of similar mark as well, they feel less incentive to register a defensive mark in light of costly proceeding and a large volume of evidence. It is true that the owner has registered the mark as standard trademark by designating goods/services unrelated to their ordinary business.

Nevertheless, a defensive mark remains effective for famous-mark owners. It is largely because defensive mark registration signifies the mark to be certified well-known by the Japan Patent Office (JPO). Japanese well-known trademarks are posted for public review on the JPO website.

A defensive mark also serves to act as a blocking mechanism against junior applications that seek to take advantage of the reputation associated with the well-known mark.