The Japan IP High Court Finds “EQ” Entitled to Trademark Registration Belonging to Mercedes Benz

On July 3, 2019, the Japan IP High Court reversed a decision of the Japan Patent Office (JPO) finding that the company Daimler AG was entitled to registration of “EQ” for Motor vehicles in class 12, even though the term “EQ” by itself is descriptive for the goods.
[Case no. Heisei31(Gyo-ke)10004, Daimler AG vs the JPO Commissioner]

The EQ Application

The JPO has refused registration to an application for EQ in standard characters (word only, see below) on the basis that the mark was descriptive for the goods “Motor vehicles” in class 12 based on Article 3(1)(v) of the Trademark Law.

The article prohibits an applied mark from registering if it consists solely of a very simple and common mark. Trademark Examination Guidelines (TEG) stipulates that a mark consisting of one or two alphabetical letters is not eligible for registration under the article. Click here.

A mark consisting of two alphabetical letters is not capable of identifying the source of the goods due to a lack of distinctiveness because a combination of two alphabetical letters is limited on quantity and currently used to represent a model name of vehicle, e.g. BMW XS, TOYOTA Carina ED, Ferrari FX, Nissan GT-R.

Descriptive terms falling under the article are only capable for registration based on Article 3(2) if they have “acquired distinctiveness”, which means the term has taken on a meaning in the public view so that people see the term as a trademark identifying the goods rather than simply describing the goods.

In this regard, Daimler AG argued the EQ mark, a coined term originating from “Electric Intelligence” to appeal design, extraordinary driving pleasure, high levels of everyday suitability and maximum safety of electric car by Mercedes-Benz, has acquired distinctiveness since launching the brand at the Paris Motor Show in September 2016.

JPO Decision

However, the JPO dismissed the argument on the grounds that:

  1. Daimler has neither used the EQ mark by itself as a name of electric car nor produced evidences of its plan to sell electric car named “EQ”.
  2. Daimler uses the EQ mark in a stylized design in press releases. If so, it is questionable whether relevant consumers conceive the EQ mark in standard characters as a source indicator of Mercedes-Benz.
  3. According to the produced evidences, Daimler uses the EQ mark in combination with other literal elements, e.g. “Generation EQ Concept”, “Concept EQA”, “EQC”, “smart vision EQ for two”, “EQ POWER”, “EQ POWER+”.
  4. There are no actual domestic sales of the electric car using the applied mark during the past two years from the date Daimler launched the brand in fact.
  5. A combination of two alphabetical letters, “E” and “Q”, has been generally used as a mode name in association with vehicles, e.g. TOYOTA electric car “eQ”, HYUNDAI luxury sedan “EQ900”, Zhengzhou Nissan truck “EQ1060”, Laufenn tyre “S FIT EQ”, ALPINE car navigation “EX11Z-EQ”, SPECIALLIZED bicycle “ALIBI SPORT EQ”. If so, the EQ term shall not be eligible for monopoly by a specific entity any longer.

The Appeal Board of JPO also upheld the refusal.
[Appeal case no. 2018-650016]

To contest the administrative decision, Daimler AG filed an appeal to the IP High Court on January 15, 2019.

IP High Court Ruling

The court first found the EQ mark in standard characters is not eligible for registration under Article 3(1)(v) of the Trademark Law.

In the meantime, the court found Daimler has newly released, promoted, and used the EQ mark with a combination of “POWER” as a new brand concept of electric car by Mercedes-Benz. Given a space for single letter between “EQ” and “POWER”, relevant consumers at the sight of promotional materials, advertisements and car magazines pertinent to Mercedes-Benz’s new electric car brand would perceive “EQ” as a specific source indicator. Taking account of enormous number of circulation of magazines (approx. 230,000) and advertisements for users (170,000 per year), the court held the EQ mark has been well known for a source indicator of Daimler electric car among relevant consumers and traders even if the duration of actual use and sales amount are not sufficient by themselves.

Notably, the court also negated fact-finding by JPO regarding ordinary use of the term EQ in association with vehicles by stating that since competitors use the term in a tight combination with other literal elements, they can be simply perceived as a mode name. If so, such use shall not be construed to negate acquired distinctiveness of the EQ mark by Daimler.

Based on the foregoing, the court ruled the EQ mark is entitled to trademark registration based on Article 3(2) of the Trademark Law and reversed a decision by the JPO on that account.


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

LUIS POULSEN Victory over trademark infringement lawsuit for Pendant Lamp Shade

On December 27, 2018, the Tokyo District Court sided with Luis Poulsen A/S, a Danish company, in a lawsuit for trademark infringement against R&M Japan Co., Ltd. who imported into Japan and sold lighting apparatus allegedly identical with or confusingly similar to a registered 3D mark in the shape of unique pendant lamp shade well-known for “PH5” and awarded damages of 4.4 million JPY. [Case no. Heisei 29(Wa)22543]

 

Luis Poulsen “PH-5”

Luis Poulsen A/S has manufactured and sold lighting apparatus with a unique lamp shape well-known for “PH-5” in Japan past four decades. The shape was successfully registered as a 3D mark by the JPO in 2016 as a result of demonstrating acquired distinctiveness of the shape as a source indicator in connection with goods of ramp shade in class 11 (see below) [Trademark registration no. 5825191].

 

Infringing product

R&M Japan, Defendant, imported into Japan and sold lighting apparatus which apparently looks identical with the shape of PH-5 (see below).

Defendant argued that the Court should dismiss the complaint in its entirely.

According to the court decision, defendant admitted to reproducing a design which has terminated its exclusive right after the lapse of statutory period and thus became public domain.

Defendant also disputed there happened no damages to plaintiff on the grounds that the company put consumers on notice to offer replica designer lighting or free generic design items in the marketplace. There exists a remarkable price gap between genuine PH-5 and defendant product. If so, claimed damages shall not be linked to defendant’s act.

 

Court decision

The Tokyo District Court ruled in favor of Luis Poulsen by stating that:

  1. It is unquestionable that infringing product constitutes trademark infringement given the same shape with registered 3D mark representing “PH-5” owned by plaintiff.
  2. Provided that the 3D shape of “PH-5” has been successfully registered as a trademark in Japan, expiration of design right shall not prevent the owner from enforcing trademark right against the shape once registered as design right.
  3. Even if infringing product was offered to sell on notice of replica designer lighting or free generic design items at a lower price than genuine PH-5, it shall not deny a fact that infringing product is likely to compete with plaintiff.

Based on the foregoing, the Court ruled that R&M Japan committed a trademark infringement and awarded Luis Poulsen 4.4 million JPYen for damages.

R&M Japan once challenged validity of trademark registration for the 3D mark of PH-5, but resulted in vain. click here.


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

Trademark Dispute over Pendant Lamp Shade

In a decision to the invalidation trial claimed by LUIS POULSEN A/S, a Danish company, the Trial Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) upheld the petition and invalidated TM registration no. 5643726 for a combination mark containing the pendant lamp shade design (see below) in violation of Article 4(1)(xix) of the Trademark Law.
[Invalidation case no. 2017-890003, Gazette issue date: September 28, 2018]

 

Disputed mark

Disputed mark, consisting of a literal element “R&M Interior Store”, “R&M” logo in the shape of shield and the pendant lamp shade design (see below), was filed on June 14, 2013 by a Japanese business entity, designating wholesale or retail services for lighting apparatus and others in class 35.

Going through substantive examination, the JPO admitted registration on January 17, 2014. Three years after the registration, LUIS POULSEN A/S filed an invalidation action against disputed mark on January 4, 2017.

 

Invalidation trial

During the invalidation trial, LUIS POULSEN A/S argued disputed mark shall be invalidation based on Article 4(1)(xix) since the applicant filed the mark, confusingly similar to trademark registration no. 5825191 for 3D mark in the shape of unique pendant lamp shade (see below) well-known for “PH5” created by a Danish designer Poul Henningsen, with a malicious intention to damage claimant.

According to supporting evidence produced to the trial, “PH5” lamp was originally designed in 1958. It has been promoted for sale in the marketplace of Japan since 1976. More than 500,000 lamps have been produced and sold around the globe. To bolster its reputation, LUIS POULSEN submitted a written declaration by Danish Ambassador to Japan. Besides, 3D shape of “PH5” lamp shade is successfully registered by finding acquired distinctiveness as a result of substantial use and uniqueness finally to serve as a source indicator (TM Registration no. 5825191).


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.

 

Board decision

The Board found that:

  1. 3D shape of “PH5” lamp has become famous as a source indicator of LUIS POULSEN among relevant domestic consumers well before the filing date of disputed mark as a result of continuous marketing activities in Japan since 1976.
  2. In the assessment of trademark similarity, it is unquestionable that the pendant lamp shade design depicted in disputed mark closely resembles “PH5”. From overall appearance, relevant consumers and traders will conceive the portion of the pendant lamp shade design plays a dominant role in disputed mark.
  3. The fact that applicant promoted similar lamp shade as “reproduct” or “generic product” of “PH5” convinces us that applicant has been aware of prospective controversy and causing damage to business interest of LUIS POULSEN.

Based on the above findings, the Board concluded that applicant filed a similar mark to “PH5” well-known for a pendant lamp shade of LUIS POULSEN with a malicious intention to gain unfair profits or cause damage to claimant. Thus, disputed mark shall be invalidated in violation of Article 4(1)(xix) of the Trademark Law.


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

JPO refused to register 3D shape of Mitsubishi Electric’s spiral escalator

The Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) disallowed registration of 3D shape of Mitsubishi Electric’s spiral escalator due to lack of inherent distinctiveness and secondary meaning in relation to escalators, class 7. [Appeal case no. 2017-6855]

Spiral escalator

Mitsubishi Electric Corporation first developed the spiral escalator in 1985, and has been the world’s first and sole manufacturer of spiral escalators. Spiral escalator is a special design type of escalator in the form of a spiral/helical with curved steps.
On May 3, 2016, Mitsubishi Electric filed a trademark application for 3D shape of spiral escalator (see below) by designating escalators in class 7 to the JPO [TM application no. 2016-23374].

The JPO examiner totally refused the application based on Article 3(1)(iii) of the Japan Trademark Law stating that the applied mark can be easily seen as a 3D shape of escalator and the shape does solely consist of a common configuration to achieve the basic function of escalator. If so, the applied mark lacks distinctiveness as a source indicator.

To dispute the refusal, Mitsubishi Electric filed an appeal on May 12, 2017.

Appeal Board’s decision

The Appeal Board, however, upheld the examiner’s decision on the ground and dismissed Mitsubishi’s allegation by stating that relevant consumers and traders shall conceive of an escalator designed to enhance its function or sensuousness at the sight of applied mark.

Acquired distinctiveness

Mitsubishi Electric also argued that even if the applied mark is deemed descriptive in relation to escalators, it shall be registrable based on Article 3(2) due to acquired distinctiveness of the mark because Mitsubishi Electric Spiral Escalators has achieved 100 % market share in the world and continuously used the 3D shape on escalators for more than three decades.

Article 3(2) is a provision to allow registration of applied mark if, as a result of substantial use of the mark in fact, consumers are able to connect the mark with a source indicator of designated goods or services.

Under the totality of the circumstances, the Appeal Board dismissed the allegation as well.

The Board found that regardless of 100 % market share in the category of spiral escalators, Mitsubishi Electric’s domestic supply record of 24 units in the last thirty years shall be a trivial quantity in comparison with total number of escalators in operation. Besides, questionnaire result rather shows a source of the applied mark is unknown to more than 60% of the questionee.

Based on the foregoing, the Board questioned whether applied mark has acquired distinctiveness through actual use in relation to escalators and consequently refused to register the mark based on Article 3(1)(iii) and 3(2) of the Trademark Law.


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

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

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]

It is just a 3D shape of electronic baccarat shoe, or trademark?

In a lawsuit disputing adequacy of decision by the JPO Appeal Board (Appeal case no. 2015-907) to refuse the applied 3D mark (TM2014-5943, class 28), consisting of a three-dimensional shape of electronic baccarat shoe with the program enabling to reduce the chance of foreign cards and eliminate dealer mistakes, due to lack of  distinctiveness and secondary meaning, the IP High Court sustained the decision being appealed.
[Case no. Heisei28(Gyo-ke)10266,  Decision date: September 27, 2017]

Inherent distinctiveness of the 3D shape

Plaintiff, a Japanese manufacturer and distributor of the ANGEL EYE electronic baccarat shoe, asserted that the 3D shape of ANGEL EYE, being the first products in the industry, is not an essential shape to make it free for public use since no competitors have dealt with same type of product other than plaintiff so far. Besides, a fact that the 3D shape has been registered in the legal gambling countries, e.g. US, EU, AU, RU, Malaysia and NZ, will rather bolster necessity to allow exclusive right on the shape.

However, the Court opposed to plaintiff. “It is inadequate to allow plaintiff to use the 3D shape exclusively. Applied 3D mark can be perceived objectively as a general shape of electronic baccarat shoe aimed to fulfill its original function and produce aesthetic image. If so, it may disorder a fair marketplace to allow exclusive use to plaintiff just because of a first-to-file. A mere fact of trademark registrations in countries where the ANGEL EYE has been distributed is insufficient to admit trademark registration in our nation since the goods is yet to be distributed in Japan.” Accordingly, the Court refused Applied 3D mark based on Article 3(1)(iii).

 

Secondary meaning of Applied 3D mark

Plaintiff argued Applied 3D mark has already served to function as a source indicator by means of substantial use of the mark sine 2005. Plaintiff exported 11,481 units (sale proceeds: 2.7 billion yen) over the lase decade and has achieved 90 % market share in Macau, the world’s largest casino gambling hub.

In this respect, the Court ruled in favor of the JPO. As plaintiff admits, the shoe has not been manufactured for domestic use. Any evidence suggesting a high degree of recognition to Applied 3D mark in foreign countries is neither relevant nor persuasive. Unless plaintiff demonstrates that domestic consumers have become aware of such recognition, it is groundless to find Applied 3D mark would satisfy requisite of secondary meaning based on Article 3(2) of the Japan Trademark Law.


The case raises a question: What is a role of the Trademark Law where applied mark, being registered in foreign nations,  confronts with an insuperable refusal attributable to legal restrictions on domestic use of the mark?
Unsuccessful domestic registration prevents domestic company from utilizing the Madrid Protocol and protecting his/her vital brands on the global market in an effective and economical manner.  

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

3D shape of Zippo lighters registrable when a lighter lid open, but unregistrable when closed

In an appeal to the refusal decision against trademark application no. 2014-8964 for a three dimensional shape of box-type lighter in connection with lighters of class 34 filed by ZIPPO Manufacturing Company (US), the Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO), after stating the application impermissibly contains two 3D marks, namely Shape A with a lighter lid closed and Shape B with a lighter lid open, ruled as follows.

Shape A
Shape A can be easily perceived as a shape of box-type lighter with the lid closed in connection with the goods in dispute. Besides, as a matter of fact, similar lighters are commercially produced and distributed in general. If so, relevant traders and consumers at the sight of Shape A  are likely to conceive the shape as a mere indication of the lighter.  Thus, Shape A is objectionable based on Article 3(1)(iii) of the Trademark Law since the shape solely consists of a shape commonly used on lighters.

Even if Shape A corresponds to the 3D shape of “ZIPPO Brushed Chrome 200” substantially produced and promoted by applicant, it is questioned whether Shape A serves to function as a source indicator since presumably traders and consumers distinguish applicant’s lighters by the “ZIPPO” letter marked at the bottom of the lighter where the lid remains closed. Accordingly, Shape A is unregistrable based on Article 3(2) as well.

Shape B
Three dimensional shapes cited for refusal during initial examination are all related to box-type lighters with a lid closed. As long as there shows no reference to lighters with a lid open in the refusal decision, it should be construed that the initial examination just questioned Shape A, not B.

Since applicant amended to delete Shape A from the application, the initial decision lacks legal ground to refusal the applied mark of Shape B based on Article 3(1)(iii) accordingly.

As a conclusion, the Board admits to register the applied 3D mark consisting of Shape B in connection with lighters.
[Appeal case no. 2016-2368]


It is worthy to note that in an attempt to register 3D shape of goods, a hidden shape is considered an independent mark from the shape perceivable from appearance of the goods.
Besides, the JPO allowed to delete one of 3D marks depicted in the application document without detrimental effect to the applicant despite that the Trademark Law prohibits amendment of mark amounting to change its gist.

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