Japan IP High Court Ruling – Shape of “Unit Shelf” functions as a source indicator of Ryohin Keikaku

The Japan IP High Court has affirmed an earlier ruling by the Tokyo District Court, and sided with Ryohin Keikaku Co., Ltd, an operator of the MUJI retail chain, in a lawsuit accusing CAINZ Corporation, the second largest DIY store chain in Japan, of violating the Unfair Competition Prevention Act (UCPA) by distributing ready-to-assemble storage rack “Joint System Shelf” which is allegedly an imitation of MUJI’s “Unit Shelf”.

CAINZ (appellant) contested the early ruling made an error of judgment  in finding that relevant consumers conceive the shape of “Unit Shelf” as a source indicator of Ryohin Keikaku (appellee) based on the research results which showed approx. 98 percent of general consumers were unable to associate the shape with appellee, and 9 merchants out of 10 who daily deals with living ware and furniture could not identify the shape as “Unit Shelf”.

Besides, appellant claimed appellee violated clean hands doctrine and thus abused the right given he pursued the case knowing that his act to promote the “Unit Shelf” constitutes infringement of  design right belonging to a third party.

The IP High Court ruled the research was neither adequate nor persuasive  enough to negate distinctive function of “Unit Shelf” as a source indicator, stating that it just targeted people in their 20s to 40s despite consumers of goods in dispute cover whole generations having an interest in household furniture. The questionnaire to ask a specific name of retail shop was far from the case. Some of the researched merchants have business with appellant. In addition, opinions of 10 merchants are way too insufficient  to bolster appellant’s allegation.

Fact that an entity who suffered damage by unfair misconduct of competitor admittedly infringes design right belonging to third party  does not immediately hinder him from making a legal claim based on the UCPA. Being that appellant’s act to promote  the “Joint System Shelf” is likely to cause confusion with appellee’s “Unit Shelf”, the court finds  higher degree of necessity to put a restriction on appellant’s misconduct. From the foregoing findings, the court ruled in favor of appellee and dismissed the allegations as well as abuse of right.


When you conduct market research pertinent to trademark, you should be more careful to decide questionnaire and respondent. Non-existence of design or trademark registration does not guarantee risk-free transaction of a similarly shaped goods with hot-selling product if the shape functions as source indicator.

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

Tissot Loses Trademark Opposition over the POWERMATIC mark

In a recent decision, the Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an opposition filed by TISSOT S.A., a member of Swatch Group, who contended that trademark registration no. 5950175 for a word mark “PowerMatrix” designating, inter alia, watches in class 14 shall be cancelled in violation of Article 4(1)(xi) and (xv) of the Japan Trademark Law due to a conflict with senior domestic trademark registration and international trademark registration for the “POWERMATIC” mark in class 14.
[Opposition case no. 2017-900258]

PowerMatrix

Opposed mark, consisting of a term “PowerMatrix” written in a plain alphabetical letter, was applied for registration on October 24, 2016 in the name of Kyland Technology Co. Ltd., a Chinese corporation, by covering various goods and services in classes 7,9,11,12,38 and 42 as well as watches in class 14. As a result of substantive examination, JPO granted registration (TM Reg no. 5950175) on May 26, 2017.

Opposition

The Japan Trademark Law provides that anyone is entitled to file an opposition against new trademark registration within two months from the publication date of gazette under Article of 43bis.

Tissot S.A. filed an opposition against opposed mark “PowerMatrix” by citing senior registrations for the word mark “POWERMATIC”, and alleged that opposed mark shall be cancelled based on Article 4(1)(xi) and 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law.

  • Article 4(1)(xi) is a provision to refrain from registering a junior mark which is deemed identical with, or similar to, any senior registered mark.
  • Article 4(1)(xv) prohibits to register a mark which is likely to cause confusion in connection with the goods or services pertaining to a business of another person.

POWERMATIC

Tissot argued POWERMATIC has been used on luxury Tissot watches in Japan as an indication of high-end automatic movement for the watches since 2013.

By taking account of increasing sales amount of approx. 1 million CHF in 2015 and substantial advertisement through newspapers, magazines and web-media, the POWERMATIC mark has acquired a certain degree of popularity and reputation among relevant public in Japan as well as its house mark, Tissot.

In appearance and sound, “PowerMatrix” and “POWERMATIC” are confusingly similar because of coincidence of initial eight alphabetical letters among ten in total. If so, opposed mark is likely to cause confusion with the Tissot luxury watch installing “POWERMATIC” automatic movement when used on watched in class 14.

BOARD DECISION

The Board negated a certain degree of popularity and reputation of the “POWERMATIC” mark, stating that produced materials are insufficient and non-objective to demonstrate famousness of the cited mark. Given that the Tissot POWERMATIC watch was firstly distributed in Japan since 2013, a three-year-duration before the filing of opposed mark seems too short to become popular among relevant consumers in fact.

Besides, the Board concluded that difference in appearance and sound is not negligible in view of overall configuration of both marks. If so, it is unlikely that relevant consumers and traders confuse or misconceive watches using the opposed mark with a product from Tissot and the entity systematically or economically connected with Tissot.

LEGO lost a trademark battle in Japan over the mark CATTYLEGO

LEGO has lost a trademark battle it lodged against PETSWEET Co., Ltd., a Taiwanese company, over its registration of the mark “CATTYLEGO” in Japan.
[Opposition case no. 2017-900077, Gazette issued date: Feb 23, 2018]

 

OPPOSED MARK “CATTYLEGO”

PETSWEEY Co., Ltd., a Taiwanese company, applied for trademark registration in Japan for the mark consisting of a word “CATTYLEGO” and rectangle device (see below in right) on June 15, 2016 by designating toys for pets in class 28. Apparently, PETSWEET Co., Ltd. promotes various categories of cat toys, e.g. Cat Tree, Cart Playground as you can review by accessing their website.

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) admitted registration of the mark on November 15, 2016 and published the gazette under trademark registration no. 5902786 on January 10, 2017.

 

LEGO Trademark

LEGO Juris A/S, the world’s largest Danish toy manufacturer, filed an opposition against the mark CATTYLEGO on the final day of a two-month duration for opposition.

LEGO argued that the mark CATTYLEGO shall be cancelled due to a conflict with the famous LEGO trademark (see above in left) based on Article 4(1)(viii), (xi), (xv) and (xix) of the Trademark Law.

 

 

BOARD DECISION

The Opposition Board admitted a high degree of reputation and population of the LEGO trademark as a source indicator of opponent in relation to brick toys by taking account of consecutive promotion of LEGO bricks in Japan for more than five decades, annual sales amount over 8 billion yens (Approx. USD 74 million ), its remarkable share in the sector of kids toys, and almost half of preschools in Japan have adopted the bricks for educational purpose.

In the meantime, the Board negated similarity between the CATTYLEGO mark and the LEGO trademark, stating that it is unconvincing to consider “CATTY” descriptive from overall appearance of the opposed mark. If so, opposed mark is unlikely to giver rise to any meaning and pronunciation in association with LEGO bricks or opponent.

Based on the foregoing, the Board concluded opposed mark shall not subject to Article 4(1)(xi) so long as both marks are dissimilar.

Board also found less likelihood of confusions due to a remote association between toys for pets and brick toys (for kids) in view of different manufacturers, consumers, usage, commercial channel for these goods as well as dissimilarity of the marks.

Article 4(1)(viii) is a provision to prohibit registration of trademarks which contain the representation or name of any person, famous pseudonym, professional name or pen name of another person, or famous abbreviation thereof. A term of “Person” is construed to include a legal entity as well as individual. It is obvious that opposed mark contains “LEGO” which corresponds to an abbreviated name of opponent. However, it is noteworthy that the Board, in adopting the article, dismissed opponent’s allegation by stating that opponent failed to demonstrate the use of the LEGO trademark in a manner that relevant consumers would conceive it as an abbreviation of opponent’s name.

Under Armour Lost Trademark Battle Against AGEAS in Japan

The Opposition Board of the Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an opposition filed by Under Armour Incorporated, an American sporting goods manufacturer which supplies athletic and casual apparel, as well as footwear, against trademark registration no. 5924494 for the “H” device mark designating apparels, footwear, headgear, gloves, cycling wears in class 25.
[Opposition case no. 2017-900163, Gazette issue date:  February 23, 2018]

Under Armour logo

In an opposition, Under Armour claimed trademark registration no. 5924494 violates Article 4(1)(x), (xi), (xv) and (xix) of the Japan Trademark Law by citing a senior trademark registration no. 4701254 for the Under Armour logo (see below in left). Cited registration has been effectively registered since 2003 by designating clothing, footwear, sportswear, sports shoes in class 25.

Opposed mark

Opposed mark was applied for trademark registration on August 26, 2016 in the name of AGEAS INC. (USA) covering various goods in class 25 (see above in right).

Without any refusal notice from the JPO, opposed mark was granted for registration on January 16, 2017, and published in gazette for opposition on March 21, 2017.

Subsequently, Under Armour filed an opposition in May.

 

Opposition grounds

Article 4(1)(x) prohibits to register a trademark which is identical with, or similar to, other entity’s well-known mark over goods or services closely related with the entity’s business.
Article 4(1)(xi) is a provision to refrain from registering a junior mark which is deemed identical with, or similar to, any senior registered mark.
Article 4(1)(xv) prohibits to register a trademark which is likely to cause confusion with a business of other entity.
Article 4(1)(xix) prohibits to register a trademark which is identical with, or similar to, other entity’s famous mark, if such trademark is aimed for unfair purposes, e.g. gaining unfair profits, or causing damage to the entity.

To sum up, Under Armour wins if the Under Armour logo is considered confusingly similar to opposed mark. Meanwhile, even if the Under Amour logo obtains a high degree of popularity and reputation among relevant public in Japan, the opposition is overruled as long as both marks are dissimilar and unlikely to cause confusion.

 

Board decision

The Opposition Board admitted a high degree of popularity and reputation of the Under Armour logo as a source indicator of opponent among relevant consumers in the fields of sports.

In the assessment of mark appearance, the Board concluded:

“It is apparent that respective mark gives rise to a diverse visual impression in the mind of consumers because of different configuration. Opposed mark can be perceived as a device deriving from ‘H’. In the meantime, the cited mark as a device consisting of ‘U’ and upside-down ’U’. Besides, from phonetical and conceptual points of view, there exists no element to find similarity of the marks. Based on the foregoing, both marks shall be less likely to cause confusion due to a remarkable degree of visual difference.”

 

As a conclusion, the Board decided opposed mark is not subject to Article 4(1)(x), (xi), (xv) and (xix) of the Trademark Law, and admitted to continue a status quo.


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