Adidas triumphs over 3-stripe trademark battle

After six years of prolonged dispute, Adidas AG could achieve a victory over trademark battle involving famous 3-stripe design. In a recent trademark invalidation appeal, case no. 2016-890047, the Trial Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) decided in favor of Adidas AG to retroactively null trademark registration no. 5430912 for three lines device mark (see below) due to a likelihood of confusion with Adidas’ famous 3-stripe design.

Disputed mark

Disputed mark was filed on March 2, 2011 by a Japanese business entity, designating shoes in class 25 and registered on August 5, 2011 (Registration no. 5430912).

To oppose the registration, on October 18, 2011, Adidas AG filed an opposition against disputed mark based on Article 43bis of the Trademark. But the Opposition Board of JPO overruled the opposition and decided to admit registration of disputed mark on June 27, 2012. Four years later, Adidas AG filed an invalidation appeal with an attempt to retroactively null disputed mark based on Article 4(1)(xv), 46(1)(i) of the Trademark Law.

The Japan Trademark Law provides where a trademark has been registered for five years or more, an invalidation appeal based on Article 4(1)(xv) shall be dismissed unless the trademark was aimed for registration with a fraudulent purpose.

It is presumed that the provision urged Adidas to take an invalidation action eventually since the appeal date is just one week before a lapse of five years from registration.


Invalidation trial

Adidas AG repeatedly argued a likelihood of confusion between Adidas’ famous 3-stripe design and disputed mark because of a high degree of popularity and reputation of 3-stripe design as a source indicator of Adidas sportswear and sports shoes, visual resemblance between the marks.

Board decision

The Board found that:

  1. Adidas’ 3-stripe design has acquired a substantial degree of reputation well before the filing date of disputed mark as a result of continuous marketing activities in Japan since 1971.
  2. Occasionally, Adidas promotes shoes depicting various types of 3-stripe design with a slight modification to length, width, angle, outline or color of the stripe.
  3. Disputed mark gives rise to the same visual impression in the mind of consumers with 3-stripe design by taking account of similar graphical representation consisting of three lines in parallel leaning to the left. Difference in detail is negligible since it can be perceived as a variation of Adidas shoes given actual business circumstances.

Based on the above findings, the Board concluded that relevant consumers and traders are likely to confuse shoes using disputed mark with Adidas’ famous 3-stripe design or misconceive a source from any entity systematically or economically connected with Adidas AG. Thus, disputed mark shall be invalidated in violation of Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law.

Appeal Board reversed examiner’s rejection in the BOB trademark dispute

In an administrative appeal disputing trademark similarity between TM registration no. 5719997 for word mark “BOB” and a junior application no. 2016-49394 for the “bob” device mark represented as below, the Appeal Board of the Japan Patent Office decided that both marks are deemed dissimilar and reversed examiner’s rejection.
[Appeal case no. 2017-10420, Gazette issued date: January 26, 2018]


TM Registration no. 5719997

The cited mark, consisting of a word “BOB” in standard character, was registered on November 21, 2014 by designating various items of furniture in class 20.


Junior Application no. 2016-49394

Applied junior mark consists of the following “bob” device mark.

It was applied for registration on May 5, 2016 by designating furniture in class 20.

As a result of substantive examination by the JPO examiner, applied mark was rejected due to a conflict with the cited mark based on Article 4(1)(xi) of the Trademark Law.
Subsequently, the applicant filed an appeal against the rejection and disputed dissimilarity of both marks.


Board decision

In the decision, the Appeal Board held that:

applied mark is a device in dark brown, consisting of two circles protruding upward on the left side, a circle connected with the two circles in line, and wavy lines underneath.

From appearance, even if it may happen the circle design is recognized as a stylized design of “bob”, the Board opines that the design is unlikely to be considered as alphabetical letters due to a remarkable extent of stylization or abstraction. Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that applied mark shall not give rise to any specific pronunciation and meaning.

Based on the foregoing, in the assessment of trademark similarity, the Board decided that:

Obviously, both marks are distinguishable in appearance. As long as applied mark does not give rise to a specific pronunciation and meaning, it is meaningless to compare the pronunciation and meaning of both marks. Consequently, the Board finds no ground to affirm examiner’s rejection from visual, phonetic, and conceptual point of view.

Astonishingly, JPO considered the bob device mark is unreadable.

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

JPO admits “TE’ CON MIEL” is distinctive in relation to tea

In a recent trademark opposition, the Opposition Board of the Japan Patent Office (JPO) decided to overrule the opposition against TM Registration no. 5951823 for word mark “TÉ CON MIEL” designating tea in class 30 due to distinctiveness of the mark among relevant Japanese consumers.
[Opposition case no. 2017-900259, Gazette issued date: January 26,2018]

Opposed mark

Opposed mark consists of a term “TE’ CON MIEL” and its transliteration written in Japanese character (Katakana) as shown below.


Opponent argued the mark shall be objectionable based on Article 3(1)(iii) and 4(1)(xiv) of the Trademark Law because of descriptive meaning in relation to tea.

Each Spanish word of the mark means ‘tea’ for “TE”, ‘with’ for “CON”, ‘honey’ for “MIEL” respectively. It is obvious that opposed mark gives rise to a meaning of ‘TEA WITH HONEY’ in English as a whole.

Article 3(1)(iii)

Article 3(1)(iii) of the Trademark Law prohibits any mark from registering if the mark solely consists of elements just to indicate, in a common manner, 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.

Opponent relied on the article on the assumption that opposed mark just indicates quality or ingredient of designated goods and lacks distinctiveness in relation to ‘tea with honey’ which is undoubtedly included in the designation of tea.

Article 4(1)(xiv)

Article 4(1)(xiv) is a provision to prohibit any mark from registering if the mark is likely to mislead as to the quality of goods or service.

Opponent relied on the article presuming that relevant consumers misconceive the quality of a tea when opposed mark is used on tea other than honey tea.

In order to bolster the argument, opponent produced evidential materials showing tea bags imported from Spain.

Board decision

However, the Opposition Board, by taking into consideration the produced evidences and relevant facts, held as follows.

  1. Each term of “TE”, “CON” and “MIEL” is not familiar among relevant Japanese consumers with an ordinary care. Besides, there exists no circumstance to find a whole term of “TE’ CON MIEL” gets to be known for its descriptive meaning. If so, relevant consumers consider opposed mark as a distinctive source indicator.
  2. A fact that “TE’ CON MIEL” is used on honey tea as a generic term in Spain and other Spanish native countries does not immediately negate a distinctive perception toward opposed mark among relevant Japanese consumers
  3. Obviously, produced evidences are insufficient to demonstrate a certain degree of perception as a generic indication of ‘honey tea’ in Japan.

Based on the foregoing, the Board concluded opposed mark shall not be objectionable under Article 3(1)(iii) and 4(1)(xiv) and dismissed the opposition.

It should be noted that a descriptive term in foreign language can be deemed distinctive and registered in Japan 

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

Apple Inc. failed in a trademark opposition to block “Apple Assist Center”

The Japan Patent Office dismissed a trademark opposition claimed by the U.S. tech giant, Apple Inc. against trademark registration no. 59923763 for word mark “Apple Assist Center” in class 35, 36, and 43 by finding less likelihood of confusion.
[Opposition case no. 2017-900155]

“Apple Assist Center”

Opposed mark “Apple Assist Center” was filed by a Japanese business entity on July 22, 2016 by designating the services of “secretary services; telephone answering and message handling services; reception services for visitors” in class 35, “rental of business and commercial premises; management of buildings; providing information in the field of buildings for business and commercial use” in class 36, “rental of conference room; rental of exhibition room” in class 43.
As a result of substantive examination, the JPO admitted registration on February 17, 2017 and published for registration on March 21, 2017.

Apple’s Opposition

To oppose against registration, Apple Inc. filed an opposition on May 17, 2017.

In the opposition brief, Apple Inc. asserted the opposed mark shall be cancelled in violation of Article 4(1)(xv) of the Japan Trademark Law.

Article 4(1)(xv) provides that a mark shall not be registered where it is likely to cause confusion with other business entity’s well-known goods or services, to the benefit of brand owner and users’ benefits. Theoretically, Article 4(1)(xv) is applicable to the case where a mark in question designates remotely associated or dissimilar goods or services with that of a well-known brand business.

Board Decision

The Opposition Board admitted a remarkable degree of reputation and population of opponent trademark “Apple” in the field of computers, smart phones, audio devices etc., however, gave a negative view in relation to goods and services remotely associated with Apple products by taking account of arguments and evidences Apple Inc. provided during the trial.

Besides, in the assessment of mark similarity, the Board found “Apple Assist Center” and “Apple” are dissimilar since they are sufficiently distinguishable in visual, phonetic, and conceptual point of view. The Board considered that the word of “Assist Center” does not immediately give rise to a descriptive meaning in relation to the designated service of class 35, 36, and 43. Given that “Assist Center” is deemed a coined word, it is not permissible to separate a element of “Apple” from the opposed mark.

Based on the foregoing, the Board decided that, unless Apple Inc. demonstrates possibility to embark on business related to the designated services and overlapping of consumers between Apple products and the opposed mark, relevant consumers are unlikely to confuse or misconceive a source of the opposed mark with Apple Inc. or any entity systematically or economically connected with the opponent.

It surprises me that the Board considered “Assist Center” does not lack distinctiveness in relation to business support services.

Masaki MIKAMI, Attorney at IP Law – Founder of MARKS IP Law Firm