Trademark registration for Kikkoman’s Soy sauce 3D Bottle

In October 11, 2016, Kikkoman Corporation, the world’s leading producer of soy sauce, filed an application for trademark registration at the Japan Patent Office (JPO) for the following three-dimensional colored mark for soy sauce in class 30.

Red-capped Kikkoman soy sauce dispenser

Iconic red-capped Kikkoman soy sauce dispenser was introduced in 1961 and has been in continuous production ever since. It was developed by Kenji Ekuan, a Japanese Navy sailor former naval academy student who dedicated his life to design when he left the service. Its unique shape took three years and over a hundred prototypes to perfect, but the teardrop design and dripless spout have become a staple of restaurant condiments all around the world. The bottle’s design hasn’t changed over the past 50 years.

JPO Examination/Acquired distinctiveness

The JPO examiner initially notified her refusal due to a lack of inherent distinctiveness in relation to say sauce.

In a response to the office action, Kikkoman argued acquired distinctiveness of the 3D bottle arising from uniqueness of its shape and substantial use for over five decades.

According to news release from Kikkoman, over 500 million of the bottles have been sold since the design was first introduced and distributed in approximately a hundred countries worldwide. Red-capped Kikkoman soy sauce dispenser has already been registered as 3D mark in US, EU, Ukraine, Norway, Russia, Australia.

In March 30, 2018, the JPO granted trademark registration based on Article 3(2) of the Trademark Law by finding acquired distinctiveness of the 3D color mark as a source indicator of Kikkoman.
[TM Registration No. 6031041]

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

NIKE unsuccessful in registering JUST DO IT on cosmetics

In a recent decision, the Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an appeal filed by NIKE Innovate C.V., who attempted to register a word mark “JUST DO IT” in standard character on cosmetics and other goods classified in class 3 by means of “defensive mark” under Article 64 of the Japan Trademark Law.
[Appeal case No. 2015-23031, Gazette issued date: February 23, 2018]

 

DEFENSIVE MARK

According to Article 64, famous brand owner is entitled to register its brand as “defensive mark” with respect to dissimilar goods/services that are not designated under the basic registration, where the owner shall demonstrate that the mark has acquired remarkable prestige in relation to the goods/services on which the mark has been substantially used, and thus there will be likely to occur confusion with the owner if an identical or similar mark is used on dissimilar or remotely associated goods/services with basic registration.

 

JUST DO IT

NIKE Innovate C.V. owns trademark registration no. 4206837 for the word mark “JUST DO IT” on apparels, shoes and sportswear and other goods in class 25 since 1998.

NIKE sought to register the mark as defensive mark on cosmetics (class 3) on October 22, 2014 (Trademark application no. 2014-88774). Examiner refused the application by stating that it is unclear whether the mark has been used in connection with applicant’s goods of class 25. If so, the mark can be recognized merely as a commercial slogan to represent sports event. Consequently, examiner considers the mark has not become well-known mark as a source indicator of applicant.

To contest the refusal, NIKE filed an appeal on December 15, 2015.

 

BOARD DECISION

The Appeal Board likewise questioned whether “JUST DO IT” has been used as a source indicator of apparel, shoes, or sportswear.

Board admitted a certain degree of popularity and reputation on the term “JUST DO IT” as a corporate message from NIKE, however, upheld the refusal by stating that the produced advertisement and evidences regarding “JUST DO IT” are insufficient and vague to connect the term with goods designated under basic registration.


Apparently, the Board underestimated “JUST DO IT” on the grounds that NIKE failed to advertise the term in a manner closely connected with specific goods.

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

 

No Violation of the US President’s Personality Rights

The Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) admitted registration of a mark consisting of jigsaw puzzles design and “TA TRUMP” (see below), saying that it does not violate personality rights of Mr. Donald John Trump, the President of the United States.

 

MARK IN QUESTION

A Japanese individual filed a trademark application for the mark consisting of jigsaw puzzles design and a word of “TA TRUMP” (see below) on November 23, 2016 by designating “psychology education cards” in class 16.

JPO examiner refused the mark on the grounds that it comprises a famous abbreviation of Mr. Donald John Trump, the President of the United States and presumably the applicant would not obtain consent from him.

 

Article 4(1)(viii)

Article 4(1)(viii) of the Trademark Law prohibits 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. Notwithstanding the provision, the article is not applicable where the applicant of disputed mark produces the written consent of the person.

The Supreme Court of Japan ruled the article has aimed to protect personality rights of a living individual. A diminutive of foreign celebrity falls under the category of “abbreviation” even if his/her full name is not so familiar among Japanese citizen.

 

To contest the refusal, the applicant filed an appeal on August 11, 2017.

 

Appeal Board

In the decision rendered on January 10, 2018, the Appeal Board overruled the refusal and admitted registration of the mark in question by stating that:

  1. “TRUMP” has been known as an English term meaning playing cards among the public in Japan.
  2. In the meantime, “TRUMP” admittedly corresponds to a surname of Mr. Donald John Trump and it becomes evident he is a well-known person as the 45th President of the United States to be called “President Trump”.
  3. Overall appearance of the applied mark easily reminds us of a kind of playing card back designs.
  4. If so, the term of “TRUMP” depicted in the mark shall not be considered to suggest President Trump at all.
  5. Based on the foregoing, accordingly it is groundless to refuse the mark based on Article 4(1)(viii).

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

 

Never trademark “BON GOÛT” in food-service business

The Appeal Board of the Japan Patent Office (JPO) decided to register a term of “bon goût” in relation to various foods of class 30 and restaurant service of class 43 by finding that the term is deemed a coined word in Japan.
[Appeal case no. 2017-7985]

“BON GOÛT”

Disputed mark (see below), written in a common font design, was filed in December 14 by designating various foods of class 30, e.g. buns and breads, confectioneries, hamburgers, pizza, hot dogs, spices, noodles, pasta, coffee, tea, and restaurant service, rental of cooking apparatus and microwave ovens and others of class 43 in the ultimate.

Lack of distinctiveness

JPO examiner entirely refused the mark due to lack of distinctiveness based on Article 3(1)(iii) of the Trademark Law. In refusal decision, examiner asserted the term of “bon goût” is a French term to mean “good taste” in English.

If so, relevant consumers and traders are likely to conceive the term in association with quality of goods and services.

Besides, given the mark is written in a common font design, it shall be objectionable under Article 3(1)(iii) since the mark is solely composed 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.

 

Appeal Board decision

In the meantime, the Appeal Board overruled examiner’s rejection and granted registration of “bon goût”.

The Board admitted the terms of “bon” and “goût” are French words meaning good and taste respectively by referring to French dictionary, but, in contrast, considered a combined word of “bon goût” is unfamiliar to Japanese public with an ordinary care.
If so, disputed mark shall be deemed a coined word in its entirety and relevant consumers are unlikely to conceive any specific meaning from the mark.

Besides, the Board held, as a result of ex officio examination, there found no circumstance to convince “bon goût” is ordinarily used as a mere descriptive indication in food-service business.

Consequently, it is groundless to reject the trademark “bon goût” based on Article 3(1)(iii) since it does not give rise to any descriptive meaning in relation to the goods and services in question.


This case gives us a lesson.
Descriptive term in foreign language has a potential risk to be registered in Japan if we are unfamiliar to the term.

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

OMEGA unsuccessful in cancelling OMEGA mark

The Japan Patent Office dismissed a trademark opposition claimed by a Swiss luxury watchmaker, OMEGA SA against trademark registration no. 5916814 for the OMEGA mark in class 41 by finding less likelihood of confusion due to remote association between watches and services in class 41.
[Opposition case no. 2017-900136]

Opposed OMEGA mark

Opposed mark (see below) was filed by a Japanese business entity on April 28, 2016 by designating the services of “fortune-telling; educational and instruction services relating to arts, crafts, sports or general knowledge; providing electronic publications; Art exhibition services; Reference libraries of literature and documentary records; production of videotape film in the field of education, culture, entertainment or sports; photography etc.” in class 41.


As a result of substantive examination, the JPO admitted registration on January 27, 2017 and published for registration on February 28, 2017.

OMEGA’s Opposition

To oppose against registration, OMEGA SA filed an opposition on April 28, 2017.

In the opposition brief, OMEGA SA asserted the opposed mark shall be cancelled in violation of Article 4(1)(xv) of the Japan Trademark Law by citing the owned luxury watch brand of OMEGA (see below).

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 not applicable to the case where a mark in question is objectionable under Article 4(1)(xi), which prohibit a junior mark from registering if it is deemed identical with or similar to any senior registration. Article 4(1)(xv) plays a key role where a junior mark designates remotely associated or dissimilar goods or services with that of a well-known brand business.

Board Decision

The Opposition Board admitted similarity of both marks and a remarkable degree of reputation and population of opponent OMEGA mark in relation to watches, however, questioned whether such reputation has prevailed even among relevant consumers of designated services in class 41 as long as opponent failed to produce sufficient evidences regarding the issue.

Based on remote association between watched and services designated under the opposed mark, the Board decided that, by addressing less creativity of the OMEGA mark originating from a familiar Greek alphabet even to Japanese with an ordinary care, relevant consumers of designated services in class 41 are unlikely to confuse or misconceive a source of the opposed mark with OMEGA SA or any entity systematically or economically connected with the opponent.