JPO refused 3M Company to register “3M” in relation to vehicles regardless of renowned 3M logo

In a recent decision, the Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) did not allow registration of a word mark “3M” written in standard character due to a lack of distinctiveness in relation to vehicles (class 12). [Appeal case no. 2017-3200]

Disputed mark – “3M” in standard character

Disputed mark, a word consisting of “3M” written in standard character, was filed by designating various types of vehicles (class 12) in the name of 3M Company, an American multinational technology company that engages in the manufacture of industrial, safety and consumer goods, and equipment on October 28, 2014 (TM application no. 2014-90835).

Article 3(1)(v)

On December 6, 2016, The JPO examiner totally refused disputed mark based on Article 3(1)(v) of the Trademark Law, stating that sign consisting of a digit and an alphabet is commonly used in transaction to represent article number, model number or standards. If so, disputed mark lacks inherently distinctiveness as a source indicator.

The article prohibits applied mark from registering if the mark consists solely of a very simple and common mark. Trademark Examination Guidelines (TEG) provides that a trademark composed of a numeral followed by one or two Roman characters, e.g. 2A, is subject to the article.

3M Company filed an appeal against the refusal and asserted that “3M” has become famous among public in general as a trade name and source indicator of applicant or its Japanese subsidiary.

Appeal Board decision

The Board, however, dismissed the assertions by finding that:

  1. Evidences just reveal longtime use of “3M” as a trade name of applicant or its subsidiary. But most of them show disputed “3M” mark is used to represent a commercial name in the context of newspapers and web articles. If so, there shall not be seen as a source indicator.
  2. Renowned 3M logo is different from disputed 3M mark in appearance.
  3. Even if “3M” keyword extraction from the web pages demonstrates substantial numbers of articles pertinent to applicant’s business and less possibility to use “3M” by unrelated business entities as article number, model number or standards, these facts are insufficient not to apply Article 3(1)(v).
  4. Precedent administrative decisions and judicial rulings are cases relating to renowned 3M logo. If so, as long as disputed mark consists of “3M” written in standard character, the Board can’t find any reason to bind the case in dispute.

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

Trademark Opposition: “HP” versus “HP MAKER”

In a trademark dispute between “HP” and “HP MAKER”, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an opposition filed by Hewlett-Packard, an American multinational information technology company, holding that there is no likelihood of confusion when the “HP MAKER” mark is used on the service of website creation.
[Opposition case no. 2017-900253, Gazette issued date: March 19, 2018]

HP MAKER

Oppose mark, consisting of “HP MAKER” in standard character, was filed on November 16, 2015 by designating website-related services, e.g. “Creation and maintenance of web sites for others; computer programming” in class 42. JPO permitted registration of the opposed mark on April 25, 2017 [TM registration no. 5948103].

Opponent contended that relevant consumers of the web-related services are likely to cause confusion the opposed mark “HP MAKER” with Hewlett-Packard or any business entity systematically or economically connected with opponent since trademark “HP” has already become famous among not only relevant consumers of computers but also general public in Japan as an abbreviation of Hewlett-Packard. If so, opposed mark shall be cancelled on the basis of Article 4(1)(x) and (xv) of the Japan Trademark Law.

Board decision

The Opposition Board admitted a high degree of reputation and popularity of the “HP” mark in connection with computer-related goods as a source indicator of opponent and its business, however, questioned such reputation prevails in the services of class 42 from totality of the circumstances and evidences provided by opponent.
Besides, finding that “HP” is also known as an abbreviation of homepage, the Board held opposed mark “HP MAKER” rather gives rise to a meaning of “person or tool to create homepage” from its configuration in the minds of relevant consumers with an ordinary care when used on the website-related services in dispute.
Based on the foregoing, the Board concluded that there is no likelihood of confusion between the marks and allowed the “HP MAKER” mark to remain valid.


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

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.

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

 

JPO refused to register word mark “ROMEO GIGLI” due to lack of consent from Italian fashion designer

In a recent decision, the Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) refused to register trademark application no. 2015- 100245 for a red-colored word mark “ROMEO GIGLI” in gothic script (see below) designating goods of Class 24 and 25 on the grounds that applicant failed to obtain a consent from Italian fashion designer, Romeo Gigli, based on Article 4(1)(viii) of the Trademark Law.[Case no. 2017-3558]

Disputed mark was filed on October 16, 2015 in the name of ECCENTRIC SRL, an Italian legal entity, by designating following goods in Class 24 and 25.

Class 24:

“woven fabrics; elastic woven material; bed and table linen; towels of textile; bed blankets; table cloths of textile; bed covers; bed sheets; curtains of textile or plastic; table napkins of textile; quilts”

Class 25:

“clothing; T-shirts; shirts; jumpers; trousers; pants; jackets; skirts; jeans; neckties; overcoats; coats; belts; gloves; mufflers; sweat suits; underwear; swimsuits; headgear; hats; caps; footwear; special footwear for sports”

 

Article 4(1)(viii)

On December 9, 2016, JPO examiner refused the mark based on Article 4(1)(viii) of the Trademark Law.

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. 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 has ruled the article shall be interpreted to protect personal rights of a living individual. In line with the Supreme Court ruling, Trademark Examination Manuals (TEM) set forth that the article is applicable not only to natural persons (including foreigners) and corporations but also associations without capacity. Familiar name of foreigners falls under the category of “abbreviation” if its full name contains middle name(s) unknown to Japanese consumer.

Click here to access TEM on the JPO website.

Finding that disputed mark just consists of an individual name of famous fashion designer, Romeo Gigli, the examiner raised an objection based on Article 4(1)(viii) unless ECCENTRIC SRL obtains a consent from the designer.

 

APPEAL

The applicant filed a notice of appeal with the Appeal Board, a body within JPO responsible for hearing and deciding certain kinds of cases including appeals from decisions by JPO Examiners denying registration of marks, on March 9, 2017 and contended against the refusal decision by examiner.

During the appeal trial, ECCENTRIC SRL argued inadequacy of the decision by demonstrating following facts.

  • ECCENTRIC SRL is a legitimate successor of trademark rights owned by Romeo Gigli as a consequence of mandatory handover resulting from bankruptcy of company managed by Romeo Gigli irrespective of his intention. Under the circumstance, it is almost impossible to obtain a written consent from him.
  • In the meantime, ECCENTRIC SRL has already obtained trademark registrations for the word mark “ROMEO GIGLI” in several jurisdictions.
  • Besides, ECCENTRIC SRL is a current registrant of Japanese TM registration no. 2061302 for identical wordmark in Class 4,18,21 and 26.
  • There has been no single complaint from consumers, traders or Romeo Gigli in person.

ECCENTRIC SRL alleged that the above facts shall amount to having obtained an implicit consent from Romeo Gigli in fact. Thus, disputed mark shall be allowed for registration even without a written consent in the context of purpose of the article.

The Appeal Board dismissed the appeal, however, and sustained the examiner’s decision by saying that trademark registrations in foreign countries shall not be a decisive factor in determining registrability of disputed mark under Article 4(1)(viii) in Japan. Absence of complaint from Romeo Gigli shall not be construed that he has consented to register his name in the territory of Japan explicitly or implicitly.

Unless applicant produces evidence regarding a consent from Romeo Gigli otherwise, disputed mark shall be refused to register based on Article 4(1)(viii) of the Trademark Law.

According to the JPO database, ECCENTRIC SRL filed an appeal against the Board decision to the IP High Court in November 2017. The Court decision will be rendered within a couple of months.


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

Nintendo sues go-kart company over copyright infringement and disputes over “MariCar” trademark

 

Copyright infringement lawsuit

On February 24, 2017, Nintendo Co., the Kyoto-based video game giant filed a lawsuit with the Tokyo District Court against a Tokyo-based go-kart service operator, MariCar, for alleged copyright violations.

MariCar rents out go-karts that have been modified to run on public roads.

The go-kart service is exceedingly popular with foreign tourists, with many of the participants donning costumes that look similar to Nintendo game characters such as Super Mario.
http://maricar.com/


In the suit, Nintendo claims MariCar violated copyright by renting unauthorized costumes of Nintendo game characters such as Super Mario to its customers and using pictures of them to promote its business.

Nintendo is seeking ¥10 million in damages from the company and an end to the alleged copyright infringement.


Dispute over the MariCar trademark  

Nintendo also alleged in an opposition over the MariCar trademark registration No. 5860284 covering goods and services in class 12 ,35 and 39 that MariCar is an abbreviation of “Mario Kart,” one of its blockbuster game titles, however, the JPO rules against Nintendo to admit go-kart company keep MariCar trademark in a decision dated Jan. 26, 2017 [Opposition No. 2016-900309].

In the opposition, Nintendo claimed that MariCar was widely interpreted by the public as short for “Mario Kart,” citing other examples of popular video games that go by abbreviated nicknames in Japanese, such as “Pokemon” for “Pocket Monsters,” “Pazudora” for “Puzzle & Dragons” and “Sumabura” for “Super Smash Bros.”
Consequently, the Opposition Board of JPO denied it and held the trademark MariCar was neither widely used nor recognized by game users as an abbreviation of Nintendo’s blockbuster video game title “Mario Kart,” adding that it was “an unassociated trademark.”

 


 

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

Trademark Abbreviations

A company should be mindful of how the public perceives and uses its trademarks in Japan.

Japanese is prone to abbreviate trademarks. Occasionally, the abbreviation has no resemblance to its original name.

For example, ABERCROMBIE & FITCH is popularly called “ABA-KURO” among general public in Japan. Likewise, DOLCE & GABBANA can be called “DOLU-GABA”. STARBUCKS COFFEE is known as “SUTABA”. TOMMY HILFIGER is called “TOMI-HIRU”.

Where a trademark is composed of five sounds or more, you should mind that general public in Japan gets to call the mark in abbreviation contrary to brand owner’s intention.

BMW is even called as “BI-EMU”.

Most popular name recognized in abbreviation is McDonald without doubt. We seldom call “McDonald” as it is. One of the most popular fast-food chains and one of the top franchises in the world has always been called “MAKUDO” or “MAC”.

A combination mark is an easy target for abbreviation as well.

BOTTEGA VENETA is call “BOTTEGA”. LUIS VUITTON is known as “VUITTON”.

Trademark abbreviations may serve as a barometer for well-recognition of the mark among general public in Japan. In the meantime, abbreviations or nicknames used by the public are not protected under the respective registrations given that they have no resemblance to the original names e.g., “ABA-KURO” and “DOLU-GABA”.

Using abbreviations, nicknames, and acronyms as trademarks may be appealing from a marketing perspective, however, trademark protection for an abbreviation has to be sought independently from the trademark protection that its extensive version might be already enjoying, and vice versa.

A company that seeks trademark protection for an abbreviation should abide by the standard trademark requirements.