IP High Court: “VANSNEAKER” is confusingly similar to famous “VANS” sneakers

The IP High Court ruled on August 29, 2018 to uphold the Japan Patent Office (JPO) decision to cancel TM Reg. No. 5916735 for the mark “VANSNEAKER” over shoes in class 25 due to a conflict with TM Reg. No. 5245474 for famous mark “VANS”.
[Case no. Heisei30(Gyo-ke)10026]

VANSNEAKER

Disputed mark “VANSNEAKER” in the standard character format was filed on July 25, 2016 and registered next January by designating shoes in class 25 in the name of VAN Jacket Inc., a Japanese business entity, who succeeded to apparel business of “VAN” brand all the rage in the 60’S.

Opposition by VANS Incorporated

VANS Incorporated, a US business entity, established in California 1966,  famous for “VANS” sneakers, filed an opposition  by citing its own senior registered mark “VANS” in standard character format over shoes in class 25. The JPO decided to cancel disputed mark in breach of Article 4(1)(xi) of the Trademark Law on the ground that it is confusingly similar to famous “VANS” mark from a conceptual point of view. [Opposition case no. 2017-900135]

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.

Appeal to the IP High Court

To contend, VAN Jacket appealed to the IP High Court and demanded cancellation of the decision.

VAN Jacket alleged in the court that JPO decision was based on an erroneous assumption of fact because it considered the portion of “VANS” plays a dominant role in source indicator. Given disputed mark “VANSNEAKER” consists of one word in its entirety, it is unlikely that consumers perceive the last letter “S” of “VANS” functions to represent an initial letter of “SNEAKER” as well.

Court decision

The IP High Court, however, dismissed the arguments by VAN Jacket, stating that:

  1. Cited mark ”VANS” has become famous among Japanese general consumers in connection with sneakers and shoes both at the time of filing application and registration of disputer mark.
  2. “NEAKER” does not give rise to any specific meaning. In the meantime, “SNEAKER”, combining “S” with “NEAKER” adjacent to it, is an English word familiar among relevant public to mean a type of the designated goods (shoes).
  3. It becomes usual to prevent successive letter in a coined mark consisting of two words where first word ends with a letter and send word starts with the same letter.
  4. Based on the foregoing, consumers at sight of disputed mark shall pay attention to a distinctive portion of “VANS” and are likely to conceive that the mark consists of two words, “VANS” and “SNEAKER” by omitting first or the last letter “S” of respective words.
  5. Consequently, the Court finds that disputed mark is likely to cause confusion with famous “VANS” sneakers when used on shoes.

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

Trademark Battle: SPEC vs. SPECK

In a trademark opposition filed by Samsonite IP Holdings S.à.r.l., an owner of IR no. 1024440 for the mark “SPECK”, against Japanese TM Reg. no. 5980195 for the mark “SPEC”, the Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed the opposition.
[Opposition case no. 2017-900373, Gazette issue date: July 27, 2018]

“SPEC”

Opposed mark “SPEC” was filed by SPEC CORPORATION, a Japanese business entity on September 3, 2015 by designating the goods of audio speakers; audio amplifiers; audio players; CD players; audio equipment to be connected with internet” in class 9.
The JPO admitted registration on September 15, 2017 and published for registration on October 10, 2017.

 

“SPECK”

Samsonite IP Holdings S.à.r.l., operating as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Samsonite International S.A., a travel luggage company, owns international TM registration no. 1024440 for the mark “SPECK” over the goods of “Protective carrying cases for portable electronic listening devices and music players, namely, MP3 players, and for global positioning systems (GPS devices), mobile and cellular telephones, and portable media players” in class 9 and it has become effective in Japan since 2012.

As a result of acquisition of Speck Products, a leading U.S. designer and distributor of slim protective cases for personal electronic devices, Samsonite extends its brand portfolio beyond its traditional strength in travel luggage products.

 

Opposition – SPEC vs. SPECK

On December 11, 2017, Samsonite IP Holdings S.à.r.l. filed an opposition and cited senior registered mark “SPECK”.
In the opposition brief, Samsonite asserted opposed mark shall be cancelled in violation of Article 4(1)(xi) of the Japan 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.

 

Board decision

The Opposition Board negated similarity of mark between SPEC and SPECK, stating that:

“From appearance, both marks are distinguishable by means of a fact that opposed mark does not contain “K” in the suffix position since such difference shall not be negligible in the configuration consisting of small number of letters, four or five. Conceptually, opposed mark can be perceived as a word to mean specification. Meanwhile, opponent mark does not give rise to any specific meaning. Hence, both marks are dissimilar in concept.
It is doubtless that both marks give rise to the same sound, however, distinctive gap in appearance and concept may cause consumers to recognize them as a different source indicator. If so, both marks are unlikely to cause confusion and thus deemed dissimilar.”

Based on the foregoing, the Board decided opposed mark is not subject to Article 4(1)(xi), and admitted registration as a status quo.


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

Toyota vs. Renault: Battle of the Brands

In a trademark opposition between Toyota Motor Corporation (JAPAN) and Renault SAS (FRANCE), the Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed the opposition against trademark registration no. 5932825 for word mark “WIGO”.

WIGO vs. TWINGO

Renault opposed to register the word mark “WIGO” designating automobiles in class 12 by Toyota based on Article 4(1)(xi), (xv) of the Trademark Law by citing his senior trademark registration no. 2710075 for Renault’s car brand “TWINGO”.

TOYOTA WIGO is mini hatchback from Toyota.

RENAULT TWINGO is small city car from Renault.

Assessment of trademark similarity

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.

In assessing trademark similarity under Article 4(1)(xi), the Board considered opposed mark “WIGO” is deemed a coined word since it does not give rise to any specific meaning as well as “TWINGO”. Besides, both marks are evidently distinguishable in appearance and pronunciation. If so, the Board found that it is groundless to conclude “WIGO” is similar to “TWINGO” from visual, phonetic and conceptual aspect.

Likelihood of confusion

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 applicable to the case where a mark in question is deemed dissimilar to well-known brand, but is still likely to cause confusion because of a high degree of popularity and reputation of the brand.

The Board concluded it remains unclear whether Renault TWINGO has become famous in automobiles from totality of the circumstances and evidence.
Provided that TWINGO does not obtain remarkable reputation in relation to automobiles as a source indicator of Renault car, WIGO is unlikely to cause confusion with Renault TWINGO because both marks are considerably dissimilar.
[Opposition case no. 2017-900193]


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

JPO sided with Apple Inc. over trademark battle between Mac and MacEdge

Apple Inc. has won a trademark opposition it lodged against GIGAZONE INTERNATIONAL CO., LTD., a Taiwanese company, over Japanese trademark registration no. 5877027 for word mark “MacEdge”.
[Opposition case no. 2016-900375, Gazette issued date: April 27, 2018]

OPPOSED MARK “MacEdge”

Opposed mark “MacEdge” (see below) was applied for trademark registration in Japan on March 10, 2016 by designating several accessories of computers in class 9.

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) admitted registration of the mark on August 8, 2016 and published the gazette under trademark registration no. 5877027 on September 27, 2016.

Apple “Mac” Computer and Operating system

In an opposition, Apple Inc. argued opposed mark violates Article 4(1)(xi) of the Japan Trademark Law based on famous Apple “Mac” computer and operating system which have been continuously distributed under various trademarks, e.g. MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, iMac, Mac Pro, Mac mini, mac OS, Mac OS X, since 1984.

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.

Apple Inc. pointed that MacEdge website operated by the opposed party (see below) is likely to cause confusion with opponent since the front page looks similar to that of Apple’s website and it refers to opponent products.

 

Board decision

The Opposition Board admitted a high degree of reputation and popularity of opponent trademark “Mac” in the field of personal computers. In the assessment of mark similarity, the Board found “MacEdge” could be perceived as a combination of “Mac” and “Edge” because of two capital letters of “M” and “E”. As long as the “Mac” trademark becomes famous as a source indicator of Apple Inc. in the field of personal computers, relevant consumers are likely to connect opposed mark with opponent since the term “Mac” in opposed mark is almost identical with Apple “Mac” trademark. In the meantime, the term “Edge”, a common English word, is less distinctive and does not give rise to any specific meaning in combination with “Mac”.

Based on the foregoing, the Board decided that relevant consumers who purchase accessories of computers are likely to confuse or misconceive a source of the opposed mark with Apple Inc. or any entity systematically or economically connected with the opponent.
If so, opposed mark shall be cancelled in violation Article 4(1)(xv) of the trademark law.


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

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.

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