Mattel failed in a trademark opposition to block “Salon BARBIES”

JPO dismissed an opposition by Mattel, Inc. – maker of the world-famous Barbie doll – who claimed “Salon BARBIES” is likely to cause confusion or association with famous Barbie doll when used on restaurant and fan club services. [Opposition case no. 2016-900395]

Opposed mark

Opposed mark, TM Registration no. 5881203, was filed on March 10, 2016 by designating various services in class 35 and 43 including restaurant, accommodation club services, business management analysis and others.

JPO granted to register opposed mark with no finding of refusal grounds and published for registration on October 11, 2016.


On December 12, 2016, Mattel, Inc., an American multinational toy manufacturing company, opposed an application to register the mark Salon BARBIES (see above).

In the opposition, Mattel cited two senior trademark registrations.

  • TM Registration no. 5383631 for word mark “BARBIE” in standard character (classes 9, 14, 18, 24, 25, 28, 35)
  • TM Registration no. 589632 for the BARBIE logo (classes 9, 15, 20, 21, 25, 28)

Mattel argued that Opposed mark is subject to cancellation in violation of Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law on the grounds that its BARBIE mark had acquired such fame that, upon seeing the opposed mark used on restaurant and fan club service, the average consumer would be led to infer the existence of a connection to the owner of the famous brand.

Besides, Opposed mark is objectionable in violation of Article 4(1)(xix) as well since it would presumably aim to dilute or do harm to remarkable prestige bestowed to BARBIE mark.

Board decision

The Opposition Board admitted BARBIE mark has acquired a high degree of popularity and reputation as a source indicator of dolls among relevant traders and consumers at the time of both the application and the grant of registration of Opposed mark.
In the meantime, the Board denied similarity of both marks in visual, phonetical and conceptual points of view.
Based on dissimilarity of the marks, the Board concluded relevant traders and consumers are unlikely to confuse or associate the services using Opposed mark with opponent or any business entity economically or systematically connected with Mattel.
Therefore, Opposed mark shall not be cancelled due to Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law.

Article 4(1)(xix) is applicable only where both marks are identical or similar.
Besides, from the totality of the circumstances, the Board found no fact and evidence to show or infer that Opposed mark was filed with malicious or fraudulent intent on the part of registrant to hinder the business of opponent. Thus, Opposed mark shall remain valid in light of Article 4(1)(xix) as well.

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

ENRICO COVERI failed to remove “COVERI” from trademark registration

The Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) held in an opposition filed by Enrico Coveri Società a Responsabilità Limitata (Opponent) that trademark registration no. 5874843 for a word mark “COVERI” (Opposed mark) shall remain as valid as ever and dismissed claims in the opposition entirely.
[Opposition case no. 2016-900368]

Opposed mark (see below) was applied for registration on November 27, 2015 by designating various kinds of goods in class 25 including apparels and shoes, and published for registration on September 20, 2016without any office action from the JPO examiner.

Opponent claimed that the opposed mark “COVERI” shall be cancelled on the basis of Article 4(1)(vii), (viii), (x), (xi), (xv) and (xix) of the Japan Trademark Law by citing senior trademark registrations for word mark “ENRICO COVERI”, a name of the late Italian fashion designer, in class 18, 24 and 25.

In the opposition decision, the Board concluded that “ENRICO COVERI” and “COVERI” are both dissimilar in appearance, pronunciation and concept.

Besides, the Board did not admit a high degree of popularity and recognition to “ENRICO COVERI” among relevant public in Japan because of insufficient evidence to demonstrate amount of sales, number of stores and expenditure for promotion and advertisement (Opponent has just produced some photographs or articles appeared in fashion magazines).

Based on the fact finding, the Board concluded that opposed mark was not filed in a malicious intent to do harm to the designer’s fame, and “COVERI” shall not be deemed as an abbreviation of “ENRICO COVERI”. Therefore, there finds less likelihood of confusion between “COVERI” and “ENRICO COVERI” even if both marks are used on apparels or shoes.

It is highly advisable to an owner of high-end or luxurious brand, consisting of two or more alphabetical words, to have each word registered as well for the purpose of preventing free-riding and enjoying a broader scope of protection against use by others.

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

It is just a 3D shape of electronic baccarat shoe, or trademark?

In a lawsuit disputing adequacy of decision by the JPO Appeal Board (Appeal case no. 2015-907) to refuse the applied 3D mark (TM2014-5943, class 28), consisting of a three-dimensional shape of electronic baccarat shoe with the program enabling to reduce the chance of foreign cards and eliminate dealer mistakes, due to lack of  distinctiveness and secondary meaning, the IP High Court sustained the decision being appealed.
[Case no. Heisei28(Gyo-ke)10266,  Decision date: September 27, 2017]

Inherent distinctiveness of the 3D shape

Plaintiff, a Japanese manufacturer and distributor of the ANGEL EYE electronic baccarat shoe, asserted that the 3D shape of ANGEL EYE, being the first products in the industry, is not an essential shape to make it free for public use since no competitors have dealt with same type of product other than plaintiff so far. Besides, a fact that the 3D shape has been registered in the legal gambling countries, e.g. US, EU, AU, RU, Malaysia and NZ, will rather bolster necessity to allow exclusive right on the shape.

However, the Court opposed to plaintiff. “It is inadequate to allow plaintiff to use the 3D shape exclusively. Applied 3D mark can be perceived objectively as a general shape of electronic baccarat shoe aimed to fulfill its original function and produce aesthetic image. If so, it may disorder a fair marketplace to allow exclusive use to plaintiff just because of a first-to-file. A mere fact of trademark registrations in countries where the ANGEL EYE has been distributed is insufficient to admit trademark registration in our nation since the goods is yet to be distributed in Japan.” Accordingly, the Court refused Applied 3D mark based on Article 3(1)(iii).


Secondary meaning of Applied 3D mark

Plaintiff argued Applied 3D mark has already served to function as a source indicator by means of substantial use of the mark sine 2005. Plaintiff exported 11,481 units (sale proceeds: 2.7 billion yen) over the lase decade and has achieved 90 % market share in Macau, the world’s largest casino gambling hub.

In this respect, the Court ruled in favor of the JPO. As plaintiff admits, the shoe has not been manufactured for domestic use. Any evidence suggesting a high degree of recognition to Applied 3D mark in foreign countries is neither relevant nor persuasive. Unless plaintiff demonstrates that domestic consumers have become aware of such recognition, it is groundless to find Applied 3D mark would satisfy requisite of secondary meaning based on Article 3(2) of the Japan Trademark Law.

The case raises a question: What is a role of the Trademark Law where applied mark, being registered in foreign nations,  confronts with an insuperable refusal attributable to legal restrictions on domestic use of the mark?
Unsuccessful domestic registration prevents domestic company from utilizing the Madrid Protocol and protecting his/her vital brands on the global market in an effective and economical manner.  

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

V&W is unlikely to cause confusion with VW emblem

In a recent trademark opposition involving the circular Volkswagen logo, the Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) decided that famous VW emblem is entirely dissimilar to, or unlikely to cause confusion with, the word mark “V&W” in standard character when used on retail services for automobiles [Opposition Case no. 2017-900009].

Trademark opposition

German car giant Volkswagen AG filed an opposition against TM registration no. 5888513 for word mark “V&W” written in standard character (Opposed mark) on the grounds that Opposed mark violates Article 4(1)(xi), 4(1)(xv) and 8(1) of the Trademark Law based on senior trademark registrations for the VW emblems and a word mark “VW”.
The opposed mark designates retail services or wholesale services for automobiles and various other goods in class 35.

Volkswagen argued Opposed mark gives rise to a pronunciation of “vi: dʌb·l·juː” by omitting “&” since the prevalent symbol representing a word of “AND” is just to connect “V” and “W”, and relevant traders and consumers are prone to omit the symbol in pronouncing the entire mark in light of transactional customs at present. If so, Opposed mark is deemed similar to the VW emblem as well as “VW” in visual, phonetical and conceptual point of view.

Besides, the VW emblem has acquired substantial popularity and reputation as a source indicator of famous automobile maker, Volkswagen. Thus, it is highly likely that relevant traders and consumers confuse the source of retail service for automobiles and its parts using Opposed mark “V&W” with opponent or a business entity systematically or economically connected with the opponent.


Board decision

The Board admitted the VW emblem has become famous for a source indicator of opponent by taking into consideration of the facts that opponent’s cars with the VW emblem have been continuously imported to Japan since 1978 at the latest and ranked in the top 3 of new imported automobile registrations for the past three years.

In the meantime, the Board denied high awareness of the word mark “VW” as a source indicator of opponent. A mere definition of VW to indicate the opponent in a dictionary is insufficient since the term is often seen in conjunction with corporation name “Volkswagen” in newspaper, magazines and newsarticle on a website.

In the assessment of trademark similarity, the Board concluded that “V&W” is obviously dissimilar to the VW emblem and “VW” in appearance, pronunciation and meaning. Due to substantial distinction between the marks, relevant traders and consumers are less likely to confuse or associate “V&W” with opponent and any business entity systematically or economically connected with opponent.

Based on the foregoing, the Board dismissed opposition and allowed “V&W” to survive.

It is noteworthy that a mark consisting of two alphabetical letters written in a plain font design is considered less distinctive in Japan. In this respect, IR no. 1272004 for the word mark “VW” did not function to broadly protect the VW emblem in favor of Volkswagen.

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