Is GRAND HOME dissimilar or similar to GRAN HOME?

In a recent appeal trial over trademark dispute, the Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) overturned the Examiner’s determination and held that a word mark “GRAND HOME” is dissimilar to, and unlikely to cause confusion with a senior trademark registration for the “GRAN HOME” mark in connection with construction, reform or repair service for residential homes and buildings.

[Appeal case no. 2017-13251, Gazette issue date: November 30, 2018]

GRAND HOME

Kabushiki Kaisha GRAND HOME, a Japanese business entity filed a trademark application for a word mark “GRAND HOME” in standard character covering services of reform, repair, maintenance, cleaning and construction for residential homes and buildings in class 37 on May 17, 2016 [TM application no. 2016-53226].

Going through substantive examination by the JPO examiner, applied mark was completely refused registration based on Article 4(1)(xi) of the Trademark Law due to a conflict with senior trademark registration no. 5534717 for word mark “GRAN HOME” written in Japanese character(katakana) for the same services in class 37.

There are basic rules that the examiner is checking when evaluating the similarity between the marks:

  • visual similarity
  • aural similarity
  • conceptual similarity

and taking into account all these three aspects examiner makes a decision if a mark is similar (at least to some extent) with the earlier mark and if there is a likelihood of confusion for the consumers.

Applicant filed an appeal against the refusal on September 6, 2017 and argued dissimilarity of the marks.

Appeal Board decision

The Board reversed the examiner’s refusal and admitted applied mark to registration by stating that:

  1. From appearance, both marks are distinguishable because of a difference in literal elements. Applied mark consists of alphabetical letters. Meanwhile, the earlier mark consists of Japanese character.
  2. Having compared the sound of applied mark “ɡrænd hoʊm” and earlier mark “ɡræn hoʊm”, there evidently exists a difference in the middle sound. The difference shall not be negligible from overall sound composition as long as the sound “D” in the middle of applied mark is pronounced in a clear and intelligible manner. If so, both marks are aurally distinctive.
  3. Applied mark gives rise to a meaning of ‘large house’. In the meantime, the earlier mark “GRAN HOME” does not give rise to any specific meaning. Hence, both marks are dissimilar from conceptual point of view.
  4. Based on the foregoing, it is unlikely that relevant consumers confuse or misconceive a source of “GRAND HOME” with the earlier mark “GRAN HOME”.

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

POLO BCS defeated in trademark battle with POLO RALPH LAUREN

In a ruling on the merits of whether or not an applied mark “POLO HOME / BRITISH COUNTRY SPIRIT” is likely to cause confusion with a world-famous trademark “POLO” by the fashion house Ralph Lauren, the Japan IP High Court sided with the JPO and ruled in favor of Ralph Lauren on December 10, 2018.

[Court case no. H30(Gyo-ke)10067]

 

“POLO HOME / BRITISH COUNTRY SPIRIT”

POLO BCS Co., Ltd., plaintiff of the case, is a Japanese business entity, promoting apparel products bearing trademarks of “POLO BRITISH COUNTRY SPIRIT”, “POLO BCS”, and “POLO HOME”.

 

POLO BCS filed a trademark registration for the mark “POLO HOME / BRITISH COUNTRY SPIRIT” as shown in below on January 5, 2015 by designating clothing and other goods in class 25. [TM application no. 2015-305]

 

In fact, POLO BCS, a registrant of the word mark “POLO” on class 25 in Japan since 1997 (TM registration no. 1434359 and 2721189), granted trademark license to Ralph Lauren in the year of 1987 and since then continuously allows RL to use the mark “POLO” in Japan.

 

JPO decision

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) rejected the applied mark based on Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law on June 3, 2016. The refusal relies on a prominent portion of the mark “POLO” is likely to cause confusion with RALPH LAUREN when used on apparel products, being that “POLO” becomes remarkably well-known for an abbreviation of POLO RALPH LAUREN among relevant consumers with an ordinary care.

Article 4(1)(xv) is a provision to prohibit any mark from being 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.

POLO BCS filed an appeal against the refusal on August 16, 2016, but its attempt resulted in failure [Appeal case no. 2016-12344].
To contest the JPO decision, POLO BCS appealed to the IP High Court filed immediately.

 

IP High Court decision

The court admitted a high degree of reputation and popularity of Ralph Lauren and “POLO” as an abbreviation of Polo Ralph Lauren in connection with apparel products by taking account of following fact findings.

  1. The first collection for Polo brand was launched in the US by a designer Mr. Ralph Lauren in 1967.
  2. Annual sales of Ralph Lauren exceed 7 billion USD in 2013 around the globe.
  3. In 1976, Ralph Lauren launched Polo brand and shops in Japan.
  4. According to brand perception survey of 900 randomly selected Japanese consumers ages 20 to 69 conducted in 2010, 81.8% of consumers recognize Ralph Lauren.
  5. Annual sales of 26.7 billion JPY in Japan (fiscal year 2008) accounts for 6% of global sales of Ralph Lauren.

Besides, the court found close similarity between applied mark and “POLO” by Ralph Lauren given a tiny font size of “BRITISH COUNTRY SPIRIT” in the configuration of applied mark and less distinctiveness of the word “HOME” in relation to apparel for home use.

Plaintiff argued to consider the fact that RL has used the “POLO” mark in Japan under license from plaintiff. But the court negated the argument stating that such fact would not mean consumers recognize the mark as a source indicator of plaintiff. In addition, plaintiff argued originality and fame of the word “POLO” as a source indicator of Ralph Lauren by citing Polo Game, organizations for the game, e.g. US POLO ASSOCIATION, HURLINGHAM POLO, and a generic name of Polo shirts. Court considered such circumstances would mean less originality of the mark “POLO”, but never deny fame of the mark as a source indicator of Ralph Lauren as long as consumers doubtlessly connect it with Ralph Lauren.

Based on the foregoing, the IP High Court concluded it is obvious that relevant consumers are likely to confuse or misconceive a source of the applied mark with Ralph Lauren or any entity systematically or economically connected with RL when used on clothing in class 25.


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

AI SCAN ROBO

In a recent administrative decision, the Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) allowed registration for a word mark of “AI SCAN ROBO”, finding that the mark could function as a source indicator.
[Appeal case no. 2018-5433, Gazette issue date: November 30, 2018]

 

AI SCAN ROBO

Disputed mark, consisting of “AI SCAN ROBO” in a standard character, was applied for registration on April 13, 2017 in connection with computer programs of class 9 and data processing in computer files for others of class 42.

The JPO examiner totally refused the mark due to lack of distinctiveness by stating that:

“AI” is known for an abbreviation of Artificial Intelligence. “SCAN” is a verb to use a machine to make a copy of a document or picture and put it into a computer. “ROBO” is equivalent to “robot”. Besides, the term of “SCAN ROBO” becomes generic in connection with Robotic Process Automation (RPA) robot to capture data and manipulate applications automatically. If so, disputed mark shall fall under Article 3(1)(vi) of the Japan Trademark Law since relevant consumers are likely to conceive disputed mark as a mere description of RPA robot to capture data automatically by making use of Artificial Intelligence.

 

Article 3(1)(vi) is a comprehensive provision to prohibit any mark lacking inherent distinctiveness from being registered.

Any trademark to be used in connection with goods or services pertaining to the business of an applicant may be registered, unless the trademark:
(vi)
 is in addition to those listed in each of the preceding items, a trademark by which consumers are not able to recognize the goods or services as those pertaining to a business of a particular person.

 

Applicant filed an appeal against the refusal and argued inherent distinctiveness of applied mark “AI SCAN ROBO” in its entirety.

 

Appeal Board decision

The Board set aside the refusal, finding that disputed mark shall not fall under Article 3(1)(vi) on following grounds.

  1. “AI” is known for an abbreviation of Artificial Intelligence.
  2. In the meantime, the Board opines the term “SCAN ROBO” per se does not represent a specific meaning. Rather it shall be considered as a coined word.
  3. If so, “AI SCAN ROBO” does not give rise to any descriptive meaning as a whole.
  4. Besides, there found no circumstances in commerce to support the term “AI SCAN ROBO” has been commonly used in connection with designated goods and service.
  5. Based on the foregoing, it shall be concluded that disputed mark is distinctive and relevant consumers and traders recognize it as a source indicator.

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

IP High Court denied registering 3D Shape of Nursing Care Bed

The Japan IP High Court ruled on December 29, 2018 and did not side with Paramount Bed Co., Ltd., a Japanese manufacturer and distributor of medical and nursing care product, who filed an appeal against refusal decision by JPO to TM Application no. 2015-29155 for 3D mark representing the shape of home care bed.
[Heisei 30 (Gyo-ke) 10060, Court ruling date: November 28, 2018]

 

3D shape of home care bed

Disputed mark, representing three-dimensional shape of nursing care bed, was filed on March 31, 2015 by designating nursing care bed and mattress in class 20. The Japan Patent Office (JPO) refused the mark due to a lack of distinctiveness.

  

Paramount Bed argued acquired distinctiveness as a source indicator of Paramount nursing care bed through substantial use of the mark and its unique shape.
According to the argument, Paramount has distributed more than 145,000 sets of nursing care bed and mattress which 3D shape is identical with the applied mark. The company spent USD 2,400,000 to advertise the bed in newspaper and USD 20,000,000 in TV commercial during the past five years. Paramount produced on-line questionnaire results which showed more than 60 % of relevant traders have recognized the shape as a series of Paramount Bed.

 

IP High Court ruling

The IP High Court dismissed the allegation entirely, stating that the produced evidences are unpersuasive to conclude the 3D shape acquired distinctiveness as a source indicator of Paramount Bed’s business because of below-mentioned reasons.

  1. As long as nursing care beds are likely to be used by general public, questionnaire results answered by traders are insufficient to demonstrate acquired distinctiveness among relevant consumers.
  2. Given the shape of applied mark occasionally appears while nursing care bed is in operation and the bed has coverlet on it in ordinary days, it is questionable whether relevant consumers have perceived the shape of applied mark as a source indicator.
  3. Besides, catalogs and advertisements pertinent to Paramount nursing care bed show configurations of the bed other than the shape of applied mark.

Based on the foregoing, the court upheld JPO decision.


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