“F1 HEATER” was cancelled due to a likelihood of confusion with “F1” when used on electric heaters

The Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) decided to cancel a trademark registration for word mark “F1 HEATER” in favor of an opponent, Formula One Licensing BV.
[Opposition case no. 2016-900251]

F1 HEATER

Opposed mark “F1 HEATER” was filed on December 4, 2015 by designating electric heaters in class 11 and granted for registration on March 24, 2016.
Upon a payment of statutory registration fee, the opposed mark was published in gazette on June 14, 2016.

Opposition by Formula One

Formula One Licensing BV, managing the trade marks for the FIA Formula One World Championship, filed an opposition based on Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law by complaining that relevant public is likely to confuse or misconceive electric heaters using the opposed mark with goods derived from opponent group or any entity economically or systematically connected with opponent.

Likelihood of confusion

The Opposition Board admitted “F1” has become famous as an indicator of car races and automotive for race managed by the opponent among relevant consumers in Japan.
In the assessment of trademark similarity, the Board considered a word “HEATER” is less distinctive in relation to electric heaters. If so, consumers and traders are likely to conceive that the opposed mark contains the term “F1” from appearance and confuse a source of electric heaters with FIA, opponent or any entity economically or systematically connected with opponent. Accordingly, the opposed mark should be cancelled in violation of Article 4(1)(xv) retroactively.

Opposed mark owner voluntarily waived trademark registration during the opposition trial prior to a decision.

MASAKI MIKAMI, Attorney at IP Law – Founder of MARKS IP LAW FIRM

 

 

JPO concluded a famous smart phone cover glass brand “Gorilla Glass” is unlikely to cause confusion with “2.5D Gorilla Glass 3” when used on bracelets, personal ornaments, and jewelery

In a trademark opposition between Corning Inc. (USA) and LG Electronics Inc. (KOREA), the Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed the opposition against trademark registration no. 5862676 for word mark “2.5D Gorilla Glass 3”.

“Gorilla Glass” vs “2.5D Gorilla Glass 3”

Corning Inc. opposed to register the word mark “2.5D Gorilla Glass 3” designating goods of bracelets, personal ornaments, and jewellery in class 14 based on Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law by asserting a likelihood of confusion with his famous smart phone cover glass brand “Gorilla Glass”.

Famous smartphone cover glass

The Opposition Board admitted a certain level of awareness of trademark “Gorilla Glass” in association with smart phone cover glass and scratch-resistant and durable glass for electronics devices. In the meantime, the Board denied famousness of the trademark among relevant consumers and traders to deal with bracelets, personal ornaments, and jewellery.

Assessment of trademark similarity

In the assessment of trademark similarity, the Board held that dominant portion of the opposed mark is considered “2.5D Gorilla Glass” by deleting “3” at the ending of the mark. If so, it is groundless to assess similarity of mark simply based on literal elements of “Gorilla Glass” from both marks.

Likelihood of confusion

As long as the cited mark “Gorilla Glass” has not become famous in association with bracelets, personal ornaments and jewellery, relevant consumers at first sight of the opposed mark are unlikely to confuse or misconceive a source of origin from Corning Inc. or any business entity economically or systematically connected with the opponent.
[Opposition case no. 2016-900303]

Masaki MIKAMI, Attorney at IP Law – Founder of MARKS IP LAW FIRM

IP High Court ruled trademark “SeaGull-LC” is deemed similar to “SEAGULL”

In a dispute regarding similarity between trademark “SeaGull-LC” and “SEAGULL”, the  IP High Court took the side of original decision rendered by the Japan Patent Office on the following ground.

The term of “SeaGull”, giving rise to a meaning of a gull frequenting the sea and a pronunciation of “siːɡʌl”, is evidently distinctive as a source indicator in relation to the designated goods. In the meantime, a term of “LC” in itself does not have any specific meaning in English or other foreign languages. It becomes common in trade to use two alphabetical letters accompanying a brand name on goods with an intention to represent a model or series of the brand. If so, “LC” lacks inherent distinctiveness as a source indicator of designated goods as long as relevant traders and consumers perceive the term to indicate a model or standards of the goods.

In appearance of the applied mark, “SeaGull” and “LC” can be seen separately by means of hyphen. Hyphen in itself does not serve to fuction as a source indicator. It just connects two words to constitute new term as a whole, or separates a composing element of compound word to make it more visible. Since each connected word is respectively distinguishable in the aspect of linguistics, it should be allowed to extract such word connected by hyphen independently. Thus, it is admissible to consider the term “SeaGull” as the dominant portion of applied mark and compare the portion with senior trademark registration in the assessment of trademark similarity.  Accordingly, applied mark gives rise to a meaning of a gull frequenting the sea and a pronunciation of “siːɡʌl”  from the dominant portion as well as “siːɡʌl-el-siː” from its entirety.

In the assessment of trademark similarity, commercial practice can be duly taken into consideration where it reflects regular and constant circumstances relating to the disputed goods in general. Mere commercial facts involving specific goods with disputed mark are insufficient in this regard. Sales record and publicity of trademark “SeaGull-LC” should not be considered in the assessment of trademark similarity due to the above mentioned reason.

As a conclusion, the Court found a likelihood of confusion between “SeaGull-LC” and “SEAGULL”.
[IP High Court Heisei28(Gyo-Ke)10270, June 28, 2017]

It is worthy to note that the Court considered “hyphen” functions to separate a mark in the assessment of trademark similarity regardless of its actual function to connect words. It is advisable to investigate trademark registration consisting of each word when choosing a trademark including hyphen between word elements.

Masaki MIKAMI, Attorney at IP Law – Founder of MARKS IP LAW FIRM

JPO decided trademark “WHITNEY HOUSTON” is descriptive when used on music recordings

In a recent appeal decision, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) upheld examiner’s refusal and granted to protect trademark “WHITNEY HOUSTON” on the condition that the trademark does delete music recordings from goods designated under the International Registration (IR) no. 1204044. [Appeal case no. 2016-650045]

Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston, an American singer and actress, tragically died on February 9, 2012 in Beverly Hills, was one of the best-selling musical performers of 1980s and ‘90s and one of the most famous singers in the world undoubtedly.

International Registration

IR no. 1204044, registered in the name of The Estate of Whitney Houston on March 24, 2014, designates following goods in class 9, 16 and 25.

International class 9 –      Series of musical sound recordings; series of musical video recordings; downloadable musical sound recordings; downloadable music video recordings featuring music and entertainment; audiovisual recordings featuring music and entertainment; downloadable audiovisual recordings featuring music and entertainment; downloadable ringtones for mobile phones and wireless devices.
International class 16 –    Posters; concert and souvenir programs; calendars; song books.
International class 25 –    T-shirts; shirts; sweatshirts; hooded sweatshirts; hats; headwear.

JPO Initial Examination

At an initial examination proceeding, JPO examiner refused the trademark with respect to all goods in class 9 on the grounds that consumers can easily perceive or conceive the late Whitney Houston, an American famous singer from the applied mark “WHITNEY HOUSTON” written in a common font design. Besides, in a business to deal with music recordings, the title of a song or an album as well as name of performer or player are routinely indicated on goods or packages to show contents of it. Therefore, relevant consumers and traders at a sight of the applied mark used on designated goods in class 9 are just likely to conceive the goods contains music or performance by the late Whitney Houston. If so, IR no. 1204044 is subject to refusal based on Article 3(1)(iii) of the Trademark Law.
Furthermore, when the applied mark is used on music recordings unrelated to Whitney Houston, consumers will surely be in trouble since they expect the goods contains song or performance of the late Whitney Houston. If so, it should be refused for registration based on Article 4(1)(xvi) due to misconception of quality of goods.

Article 3(1)(iii)

Article 3(1) of the Trademark Law is a provision to prohibit descriptive marks from registering.
Section (iii) of the article aims to remove any mark merely or directly suggesting quality of goods and services.

“Article 3(1) Any trademark to be used in connection with goods or services pertaining to the business of an applicant may be registered, unless the trademark:
(iii) consists solely of a mark indicating, in a common manner, in the case of goods, the place of origin, place of sale, quality, raw materials, efficacy, intended purpose, quantity, shape (including shape of packages), price, the method or time of production or use, or, in the case of services, the location of provision, quality, articles to be used in such provision, efficacy, intended purpose, quantity, modes, price or method or time of provision;”

New Trademark Examination Guideline

Trademark Examination Guideline (TEG) pertinent to Article 3(1)(iii) provides that where a trademark is widely recognized by consumers as a name of a singer or of a music group in respect of goods “sound recorded magnetic tapes, sound recorded compact disks, phonograph records” or its equivalent, the mark is deemed to indicate the quality of the goods.
http://www.jpo.go.jp/tetuzuki_e/t_tokkyo_e/pdf/tt1302-002/1-5.pdf

Likewise, where a trademark is recognized to clearly indicate specific contents of articles provided for use by a person to which the service is provided (“cine films,” “image recorded magnetic tapes,” “sound recorded magnetic tapes,” “recorded compact disks,” “phonograph records,” etc.) such as their classifications and types in respect of such services as the rental of “cine films” “image recorded magnetic tapes” “sound recorded magnetic tapes,” “recorded compact disks,” “phonograph records,” etc., is deemed to indicate the quality of a service.
(Example)
1.Trademark “Japan Folksong Collection” in respect of a service “Rental of sound recorded compact disks”
2.Trademark “Suspense” in respect of a service “Rental of cine films”

Article 4(1)(xvi)

Article 4(1) of the Trademark Law is a provision to provide unregistrable trademarks.
Section (xvi) of the article aims to prohibit registration of any mark likely to mislead quality of goods or services.

“Article 4(1) Notwithstanding the preceding Article, no trademark shall be registered if the trademark:
(xvi) is likely to mislead as to the quality of the goods or services”

Appeal Decision

Since The Estate of Whitney Houston deleted all goods classified in class 9 from Japan, a designation country of IR no.1204044, after the initial refusal, the Appeal Board admitted registration of trademark “WHITNEY HOUSTON” with respect to remaining goods, namely, “Posters; concert and souvenir programs; calendars; song books” in class 16, “T-shirts; shirts; sweatshirts; hooded sweatshirts; hats; headwear” in class 25.

Comments from author

Result seems a bit of trick. It means the name of Whitney Houston functions as a source indicator when used on song books and apparel, but a mere descriptive indication when used on music recordings though her fame never changes depend on goods.
Having reviewed examination result of IR no. 1204044 at other designation countries by means of ROMARIN , the trademark confronted with the same refusal in Singapore.
Apparently, registrability of a famous singer name as trademark varies depend on jurisdiction, goods or services and whether he/she is alive or not.

Masaki MIKAMI, Attorney at IP Law – Founder of MARKS IP LAW FIRM