JPO cancelled “UMBROID” due to a likelihood of confusion with an English sporting goods brand “Umbro”

The Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) decided to cancel trademark registration no. 5861532 for a word mark “UNBROID” written in standard characters covering various goods of class 18 based on a high degree of popularity of “Umbro”, similarity of marks, and close association between goods.

Mark in question

Opposed mark “UMBROID” was filed on January 6, 2016 by designating the goods of “industrial packaging containers of leather; bags and the like; pouches and the like; vanity cases; umbrellas and their parts; handbag frames; purse frames; horseshoes; walking sticks; canes; metal parts of canes and walking-sticks; handles for canes and walking sticks; clothing for domestic pets” in class 18 under the name of YOUM COMPANY CO., Ltd. As a result of substantive examination by the JPO examiner, the mark was registered smoothly without any objections on June 24, 2016 and published for opposition on July 26.

DESCENTE LTD., a Japanese sporting goods trading company, as an assignee of Japanese trademark rights pertinent to “UMBRO” from Umbro International Limited, filed an opposition in violation of Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law.

Article 4(1)(xv)

No trademark shall be registered if the trademark is likely to cause confusion in connection with the goods or services pertaining to a business of another person.

Board decision

The Board admitted a high degree of popularity and reputation of “Umbro” as a source indicator of sportswear, sports shoes and sports bags distributed by the opponent among soccer fans and apparel consumers.

In assessing similarity of marks, the Board considered the opposed mark consists of a combination of two words, “UMBRO” and “ID”. Given “ID” is a commonly used term to mean any means of identification, it is less likely to function as a source indicator nowadays when used in commerce. If so, relevant traders and consumers at the sight of opposed mark would impressively pay attention to a portion of “UMBRO” and associate the mark with a famous sports brand. Therefore, both marks are deemed substantially similar, Board concluded.

Besides, the goods in question are mainly purchased by fashion conscious consumers. Consumers of sportswear, sports shoes and sports bags are also of strong interest to sports and fashion in general. Given both goods are substantially consumed by same entities, it should be considered that they are closely associated.

Based on the foregoing, the Board found a likelihood of confusion between “UMBROID” and “Umbro” when used on the goods in question, and thus the opposed mark was registered in error in violation of Article 4(1)(xv). [Opposition case no. 2016-900307]

 

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

 

 

 

 

“AI inside” is unlikely to be associated with INTEL

In a recent decision, the Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) decided to dismiss the trademark opposition filed by Intel Corporation to mark “AI inside”.

“AI inside”

The mark in dispute, consisting of a word mark “AI inside” in standard characters, was filed on March 28, 2016 in the name of AI inside Kabushiki Kaisha, a Japanese corporation, by designating computer programs and electronic devices in class 9, and providing computer programs on data networks, software as a service [SaaS] in class 42. JPO granted to protect the mark without announcing any refusal ground as a result of substantive examination and published for registration on October 18, 2016.

Intel opposes to trademark registration

Intel Corporation, famous for the world’s largest semiconductor company, filed an opposition to the mark “AI inside” and requested the Board to cancel its registration due to violation of Article 4(1)(xi), (xv) and (xix) of the Japan Trademark Law retroactively.

“Intel inside”

In the opposition, Intel cited following senior trademark registrations containing a term of “inside”.

Series of “INSIDE” marks

Intel claimed the mark “AI inside” should be deemed confusingly similar to “Intel INSIDE” and other “INSIDE” marks cited by opponent since opposed mark allocates the term “inside” subsequent to other word as well. Given the cited marks respectively become famous for source indicator of opponent or its products, relevant traders and consumers are likely to confuse or misconceive both marks are from the same business entity. Besides, presumably applicant must have applied the opposed mark by knowing of Intel Corporation and cited marks in advance. If so, it is undeniable that applicant maliciously aimed to tarnish or free-ride on the reputation and goodwill of the opponent by adopting a similar mark.

Board decision

The Opposition Board admitted that both terms of “Intel” and “intel inside” have become famous to indicate opponent or his products among relevant traders and consumers, however, denied a certain degree of recognition to other cited marks relating to “INSIDE” owned by opponent based on the facts that opponent failed to produce evidences to demonstrate actual use of mark allocating “INSIDE” subsequent to a term other than “intel” and that the term “inside” is a generic term used to mean an inner side.

In the assessment of trademark similarity, the Board concluded opposed mark is evidently dissimilar to the citations from visual, phonetic and conceptual aspect, partly because the term of “AI” is known for an abbreviation of Artificial Intelligence. It is quite unlikely, the Board found, that famous mark “Intel inside” gives rise to a sound of “inside” in the mind of relevant traders and consumers by neglecting prominent mark “Intel”. If so, the same configuration allocating “INSIDE” subsequent to other term is insufficient to take sides with opponent’s allegation that relevant consumers conceive the opposed mark as a series of opponent mark. Given dissimilarity of both marks and unlikelihood of confusion due to a low degree of recognition to the cited “INSIDE” marks other than “Intel inside”, applicant should not be blamed for malicious intention in registering the opposed mark accordingly.

Based on the foregoing, the Board dismissed the opposition entirely and granted trademark registration no. 5881845 for the mark “AI inside” in class 9 and 42.
[Opposition case no. 2016-900399]

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

 

Apple failed to block Swatch’s attempt to acquire the trademark for Steve Jobs’ catchphrase ‘one more thing’

The Swiss watchmaker Swatch’s effort to acquire the trademark for “SWATCH ONE MORE THING” has run in to opposition from Apple, which argues the phrase ‘one more thing’ is closely associated with the software giant’s founder Steve Jobs. During Apple press events, Jobs was known to precede new product announcements and introductions with the phrase “there is one more thing” in his keynote addresses. The “one more thing” prelude became a fixture at Apple events.

SWATCH ONE MORE THING

The watchmaker has taken out an international trademark on the phrase “SWATCH ONE MORE THING”. The trademark was registered under IR no. 1261460 with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in May 22, 2015 by designating more than 40 countries including Japan and various goods in class 9, 14 as follows.

Class09 Apparatus for recording, transmission and reproduction of sound or images; electronic payment processing apparatus, apparatus for processing cashless payment transactions; magnetic recording media, sound recording disks; compact disks, DVDs and other digital recording media; apparatus enabling the playing of compressed sound files (MP3); calculating machines and data processing equipment, software; game software for mobile telephones, for computers and for digital personal stereos; electronic game software for mobile telephones, for computers and for digital personal stereos; computers, portable computers, handheld computers, mobile computers, personal computers, wrist computers, electronic tablets and computerized and mobile devices, digital personal stereos, mobile telephones and new-generation mobile telephones featuring greater functionality (smartphones); telecommunication apparatus and instruments; apparatus for recording, transmission, reproduction of sound or images, particularly mobile telephones and new-generation mobile telephones incorporating greater functionality (smartphones); hand-held electronic apparatus for accessing the Internet and sending, receiving, recording and storing short messages, electronic messages, telephone calls, faxes, video conferences, images, sound, music, text and other digital data; handheld electronic apparatus for wireless receiving, storing and transmitting of data or messages; handheld electronic apparatus for monitoring and organizing personal information; handheld electronic apparatus for global positioning [GPS] and displaying maps and transport information; handheld electronic devices for detecting, monitoring, storing, surveillance and transmitting data relating to the user activity, namely position, itinerary, distance traveled, heart rate; covers for computers, portable and mobile telephones; optical apparatus and instruments, particularly spectacles, sunglasses, magnifying glasses; cases for spectacles, magnifying glasses and sunglasses; batteries and cells for computers and electronic and chronometric apparatus. 

Class14 Precious metals and their alloys and goods made of these materials or coated therewith included in this class, namely figurines, trophies; jewelry, namely rings, earrings, cufflinks, bracelets, charms, brooches, chains, necklaces, tie pins, tie clips, jewelry caskets, jewelry cases; precious stones, semi-precious stones; timepieces and chronometric instruments, namely chronometers, chronographs, clocks, watches, wristwatches, wall clocks, alarm clocks as well as parts and accessories for the aforesaid goods, namely hands, anchors, pendulums, barrels, watch cases, watch straps, watch dials, clockworks, watch chains, movements for timepieces, watch springs, watch glasses, presentation cases for timepieces, cases for timepieces.

Apple filed an opposition

Immediately after the JPO admitted granting protection to the trademark, Apple filed an opposition in May 19, 2015 on the grounds that the trademark violates main paragraph of Article 3(1) as well as 4(1)(vii), 4(1)(x), 4(1)(xv), and 4(1)(xix) of the Japan Trademark Law.

Main paragraph of Article 3(1)

Main paragraph of Article 3(1) demands applicant to have used or intend to genuinely use applied mark. Where examiners have “reasonable doubts” about the use of a trademark or intention to use a trademark by the applicant on the designated goods, the examiners shall reject the application based on the ground. Likewise, the trademark is subject to cancellation if opposition board has convinced of such reasonable doubts during opposition procedure.
Apple claimed that Swatch filed the trademark with a malicious intention to hinder the business of opponent since Swatch has been aware of the phrase ‘one more thing’ used by Steve Jobs. Besides, Swatch has not used the trademark. If so, it is obvious that Swatch will not intend to use the mark on designated goods.

Article 4(1)(vii)

Article 4(1)(vii) prohibits a trademark which is likely to cause damage to public order or morality from registering.
Apple claimed that the trademark should be subject to cancellation based on the ground as long as Swatch, having been aware of the phrase ‘one more thing’ used by Steve Jobs, filed the trademark with a malicious intention to hinder the business of opponent.

Article 4(1)(x)

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.
Apple claimed that the dominant portion of trademark “SWATCH ONE MORE THING” is similar to Steve Jobs’ catchphrase ‘one more thing’, since the phrase has become famous among relevant consumers as admitted in administrative decision of the Turkish Patent Office. Besides, designated goods in class 9 are closely related with Apple products.

Article 4(1)(xv)

Article 4(1)(xv) prohibits to register a trademark which is likely to cause confusion with a business of other entity.
Apple cited administrative decision of the Turkish Patent Office on the claim as well and alleged that there exists a likelihood of confusion between the applied trademark and Steve Jobs’ catchphrase ‘one more thing’ in due course.

Article 4(1)(xix)

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.
Apple disputed on Swatch’s unfair purpose to free-ride prestigious fame bestowed on the Steve Jobs’ catchphrase as well as to harm or depreciate the value of goodwill by means of trademark dilution.

Opposition Board decision

Opposition Board dismissed Apple’s arguments.

Firstly, the Board denied famousness of the phrase ‘One more thing’ as a source indicator of Apple partly because the phrase can be commonly used in daily conversation and Apple failed to produce evidences demonstrating the phrase is used as a source indicator other than verbal presentation by Steve Jobs.
Secondly, in the assessment of trademark similarity, the Board considered “SWATCH” plays an important and dominative role as a source indicator by taking into consideration of the facts that SWATCH becomes famous among consumers in connection with goods of class 9 and less distinctiveness of the phrase ‘ONE MORE THING”. If so, it should be concluded that  because of presence or absence of “SWATCH” both marks are distinctively dissimilar from visual, sound and conceptual point of view.

Based on the foregoing, the Board decided the opposed mark is not objectionable under Article 4(1)(x), (xv) and (xix) of the Trademark Law due to less recognized awareness of the phrase ‘One more thing’ as a source indicator of Apple and dissimilarity of both marks. The Board also considered that previous trademark disputes between the parties would not suffice to decide Swatch had a malicious intention to hinder the business of opponent. Therefore, the opposition is groundless to conclude the opposed mark is likely to cause damage to public order or morality under Article 4(1)(vii).
Likewise, it is insufficient to conclude that Swatch lacks an intention to use the opposed mark not-too-distant future given the designated goods in class 9, 14 are related to wristwatches to a certain extent (Main paragraph of Article 3(1)).

[Opposition case number: 2016-685012, Decision date: April 20, 2017]

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

“F1 HEATER” was cancelled due to a likelihood of confusion with “F1” when used on electric heaters

The Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) decided to cancel a trademark registration for word mark “F1 HEATER” in favor of an opponent, Formula One Licensing BV.
[Opposition case no. 2016-900251]

F1 HEATER

Opposed mark “F1 HEATER” was filed on December 4, 2015 by designating electric heaters in class 11 and granted for registration on March 24, 2016.
Upon a payment of statutory registration fee, the opposed mark was published in gazette on June 14, 2016.

Opposition by Formula One

Formula One Licensing BV, managing the trade marks for the FIA Formula One World Championship, filed an opposition based on Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law by complaining that relevant public is likely to confuse or misconceive electric heaters using the opposed mark with goods derived from opponent group or any entity economically or systematically connected with opponent.

Likelihood of confusion

The Opposition Board admitted “F1” has become famous as an indicator of car races and automotive for race managed by the opponent among relevant consumers in Japan.
In the assessment of trademark similarity, the Board considered a word “HEATER” is less distinctive in relation to electric heaters. If so, consumers and traders are likely to conceive that the opposed mark contains the term “F1” from appearance and confuse a source of electric heaters with FIA, opponent or any entity economically or systematically connected with opponent. Accordingly, the opposed mark should be cancelled in violation of Article 4(1)(xv) retroactively.

Opposed mark owner voluntarily waived trademark registration during the opposition trial prior to a decision.

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

 

 

IP High Court ruled trademark “SeaGull-LC” is deemed similar to “SEAGULL”

In a dispute regarding similarity between trademark “SeaGull-LC” and “SEAGULL”, the  IP High Court took the side of original decision rendered by the Japan Patent Office on the following ground.

The term of “SeaGull”, giving rise to a meaning of a gull frequenting the sea and a pronunciation of “siːɡʌl”, is evidently distinctive as a source indicator in relation to the designated goods. In the meantime, a term of “LC” in itself does not have any specific meaning in English or other foreign languages. It becomes common in trade to use two alphabetical letters accompanying a brand name on goods with an intention to represent a model or series of the brand. If so, “LC” lacks inherent distinctiveness as a source indicator of designated goods as long as relevant traders and consumers perceive the term to indicate a model or standards of the goods.

In appearance of the applied mark, “SeaGull” and “LC” can be seen separately by means of hyphen. Hyphen in itself does not serve to fuction as a source indicator. It just connects two words to constitute new term as a whole, or separates a composing element of compound word to make it more visible. Since each connected word is respectively distinguishable in the aspect of linguistics, it should be allowed to extract such word connected by hyphen independently. Thus, it is admissible to consider the term “SeaGull” as the dominant portion of applied mark and compare the portion with senior trademark registration in the assessment of trademark similarity.  Accordingly, applied mark gives rise to a meaning of a gull frequenting the sea and a pronunciation of “siːɡʌl”  from the dominant portion as well as “siːɡʌl-el-siː” from its entirety.

In the assessment of trademark similarity, commercial practice can be duly taken into consideration where it reflects regular and constant circumstances relating to the disputed goods in general. Mere commercial facts involving specific goods with disputed mark are insufficient in this regard. Sales record and publicity of trademark “SeaGull-LC” should not be considered in the assessment of trademark similarity due to the above mentioned reason.

As a conclusion, the Court found a likelihood of confusion between “SeaGull-LC” and “SEAGULL”.
[IP High Court Heisei28(Gyo-Ke)10270, June 28, 2017]

It is worthy to note that the Court considered “hyphen” functions to separate a mark in the assessment of trademark similarity regardless of its actual function to connect words. It is advisable to investigate trademark registration consisting of each word when choosing a trademark including hyphen between word elements.

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

JPO decided trademark “WHITNEY HOUSTON” is descriptive when used on music recordings

In a recent appeal decision, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) upheld examiner’s refusal and granted to protect trademark “WHITNEY HOUSTON” on the condition that the trademark does delete music recordings from goods designated under the International Registration (IR) no. 1204044. [Appeal case no. 2016-650045]

Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston, an American singer and actress, tragically died on February 9, 2012 in Beverly Hills, was one of the best-selling musical performers of 1980s and ‘90s and one of the most famous singers in the world undoubtedly.

International Registration

IR no. 1204044, registered in the name of The Estate of Whitney Houston on March 24, 2014, designates following goods in class 9, 16 and 25.

International class 9 –      Series of musical sound recordings; series of musical video recordings; downloadable musical sound recordings; downloadable music video recordings featuring music and entertainment; audiovisual recordings featuring music and entertainment; downloadable audiovisual recordings featuring music and entertainment; downloadable ringtones for mobile phones and wireless devices.
International class 16 –    Posters; concert and souvenir programs; calendars; song books.
International class 25 –    T-shirts; shirts; sweatshirts; hooded sweatshirts; hats; headwear.

JPO Initial Examination

At an initial examination proceeding, JPO examiner refused the trademark with respect to all goods in class 9 on the grounds that consumers can easily perceive or conceive the late Whitney Houston, an American famous singer from the applied mark “WHITNEY HOUSTON” written in a common font design. Besides, in a business to deal with music recordings, the title of a song or an album as well as name of performer or player are routinely indicated on goods or packages to show contents of it. Therefore, relevant consumers and traders at a sight of the applied mark used on designated goods in class 9 are just likely to conceive the goods contains music or performance by the late Whitney Houston. If so, IR no. 1204044 is subject to refusal based on Article 3(1)(iii) of the Trademark Law.
Furthermore, when the applied mark is used on music recordings unrelated to Whitney Houston, consumers will surely be in trouble since they expect the goods contains song or performance of the late Whitney Houston. If so, it should be refused for registration based on Article 4(1)(xvi) due to misconception of quality of goods.

Article 3(1)(iii)

Article 3(1) of the Trademark Law is a provision to prohibit descriptive marks from registering.
Section (iii) of the article aims to remove any mark merely or directly suggesting quality of goods and services.

“Article 3(1) Any trademark to be used in connection with goods or services pertaining to the business of an applicant may be registered, unless the trademark:
(iii) consists solely of a mark indicating, in a common manner, in the case of goods, 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, or, in the case of services, the location of provision, quality, articles to be used in such provision, efficacy, intended purpose, quantity, modes, price or method or time of provision;”

New Trademark Examination Guideline

Trademark Examination Guideline (TEG) pertinent to Article 3(1)(iii) provides that where a trademark is widely recognized by consumers as a name of a singer or of a music group in respect of goods “sound recorded magnetic tapes, sound recorded compact disks, phonograph records” or its equivalent, the mark is deemed to indicate the quality of the goods.
http://www.jpo.go.jp/tetuzuki_e/t_tokkyo_e/pdf/tt1302-002/1-5.pdf

Likewise, where a trademark is recognized to clearly indicate specific contents of articles provided for use by a person to which the service is provided (“cine films,” “image recorded magnetic tapes,” “sound recorded magnetic tapes,” “recorded compact disks,” “phonograph records,” etc.) such as their classifications and types in respect of such services as the rental of “cine films” “image recorded magnetic tapes” “sound recorded magnetic tapes,” “recorded compact disks,” “phonograph records,” etc., is deemed to indicate the quality of a service.
(Example)
1.Trademark “Japan Folksong Collection” in respect of a service “Rental of sound recorded compact disks”
2.Trademark “Suspense” in respect of a service “Rental of cine films”

Article 4(1)(xvi)

Article 4(1) of the Trademark Law is a provision to provide unregistrable trademarks.
Section (xvi) of the article aims to prohibit registration of any mark likely to mislead quality of goods or services.

“Article 4(1) Notwithstanding the preceding Article, no trademark shall be registered if the trademark:
(xvi) is likely to mislead as to the quality of the goods or services”

Appeal Decision

Since The Estate of Whitney Houston deleted all goods classified in class 9 from Japan, a designation country of IR no.1204044, after the initial refusal, the Appeal Board admitted registration of trademark “WHITNEY HOUSTON” with respect to remaining goods, namely, “Posters; concert and souvenir programs; calendars; song books” in class 16, “T-shirts; shirts; sweatshirts; hooded sweatshirts; hats; headwear” in class 25.

Comments from author

Result seems a bit of trick. It means the name of Whitney Houston functions as a source indicator when used on song books and apparel, but a mere descriptive indication when used on music recordings though her fame never changes depend on goods.
Having reviewed examination result of IR no. 1204044 at other designation countries by means of ROMARIN , the trademark confronted with the same refusal in Singapore.
Apparently, registrability of a famous singer name as trademark varies depend on jurisdiction, goods or services and whether he/she is alive or not.

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

“MAMAS & PAPAS” failed in an opposition to invalidate trademark registration for the mark “PAPA’S&MAMA’S”.

The Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office issued a decision denying the opposition filed by MAMAS & PAPAS HOLDINGS LIMITED, a UK-based retailer and manufacturer supplying prams, pushchairs, baby products, furniture and maternity wear, and declared to sustain trademark registration no. 5853559 for the mark “PAPA’S&MAMA’S” in Class 18 and 44. [Opposition case no. 2016-900270]


Opposed mark

Opposed mark was filed by PAPA’S&MAMA’S Co. Ltd., designating goods of bags and pouches in class 18 and services of aesthetician services, beauty care and hairdressing in class 44 on March 15, 2016 and granted for protection on May 27 of the year.


 Opponent

MAMAS & PAPAS HOLDINGS LIMITED alleged to cancel the registration due to violation of Article 4(1)(xi) and 4(1)(xv) of the Japan Trademark Law in an opposition by citing his senior registered marks of “MAMAS & PAPAS”.


Opposition

The Opposition Board dismissed an opposition based on Article 4(1)(xi) by stating the ground as follows.

 Sound

Five sounds of opposed mark among 9 sounds in total are identical with opponent mark, however, overall pronunciations are clearly distinguishable due to reverse order of “PAPA” and “MAMA” so that both marks are deemed dissimilar in verbal point of view.

Meaning

Admittedly, both marks may give rise to a meaning of father and mother from word of “PAPA” and “MAMA” respectively. But difference coming from possessive form and plural form inevitably causes non-negligible gap in connotation as a whole.

Appearance

Likewise, both marks are deemed comparatively dissimilar in visual point of view by taking into consideration of reverse order of “PAPA” and “MAMA”, possessive form and plural form.

Conclusion

Taking account of fact that opponent mark has not acquired remarkable reputation as well, the Board decided to conclude both marks are unlikely to cause confusion in the mind of consumers and thus entirely dissimilar.


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

Consumers are unlikely to confuse or associate the mark “GOTHAM CITY” with Batman’s place of residence and DC Comics when used on apparels, bags and fashion accessories

The Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) has cancelled an initial decision by JPO examiner to refuse the mark “GOTHAM CITY” with a logo, and ordered to grant protection for the mark by decision of March 14, 2017 [Appeal case no. 2016-9140].


Trademark in dispute

The mark in dispute consists of “GOTHAM CITY” written in alphabetical letters and Japanese characters as shown below.

Applicant filed the mark on April 17, 2015 to the JPO by covering goods of “key holders; fashion accessories” in class 14, “bags; pouches; vanity cases” in class 18, and “clothing; waistbands; belts” in class 25 [TM application no. 2015-37755].


Initial examination

JPO examiner initially refused the mark for confusion with DC comics, a US comic book publisher, or its affiliate pursuant to Article 4(1)(xv) of the Japanese Trademark Law since “GOTHAM CITY” is widely known as a fictitious city out of Batman from DC Comics.

Article 4(1)(xv) is a provision to prohibit any applied mark from being registered where relevant consumers or traders are likely to confuse or associate the mark with renowned sources other than applicant. It would suffice to apply the provision where consumers conceive goods or services with the mark derive from entities systematically or economically connected with the source even if relevant consumers believe the goods or services are not from the source.

It is not conditioned that renowned source indicator should be registered in advance, however, the indicator must obtain high degree of trademark awareness from the nature of things.

Article 4(1)(xv)

Article 4 Notwithstanding the preceding Article, no trademark shall be registered if the trademark:
(xv) is likely to cause confusion in connection with the goods or services pertaining to a business of another person


Appeal

Applicant filed an appeal against the refusal decision by examiner on June 21, 2016 and argued for registration of the mark in dispute.

Consequently, the Appeal Board decided in favor of applicant by stating its grounds as follows.

Distinctiveness/Awareness of GOTHAM CITY

The Board considers that the word “GOTHAM” is an unfamiliar or rarely known word in our society. Thus, the applied mark with a combination of “GOTHAM” and “CITY” and its pronunciation in Japanese characters is deemed an invented word in its entirety and does not give rise to any specific meaning at all.

In the meantime, ex-officio examination during the appeal trial revealed that the term of “GOTHAM CITY” corresponds to a fictitious city out of Batman which has been published by a US publisher, DC Comics, since 1939 as a work of comic book, movies, television programs in series worldwide. In view of high movie box office ranking to Batman movies and DVD series in Japan, it is no doubt that Batman becomes famous among the general public. But, when it comes to “GOTHAM CITY”, it just appears in texts to introduce contents of these movies and DVDs. Board could not find any fact to demonstrate the term is used at advertisement or promotional materials in a manner to attract attention to the public.

If so, the Board may admit a certain degree of awareness of the term “GOTHAM CITY” to represent a fictitious city out of Batman among movie fans. But it must be insufficient to admit the term is widely known among the public in general.

Remoteness with goods in dispute

Apparels, fashion accessories and bags. These goods in dispute for general consumers with an ordinary care are distinctively different from goods or services in the field of entertainment, movie and comics in light of remoteness of manufacturers/suppliers, location of transaction, distribution channels and usage/applications.

Conclusion

Based on the foregoing, the Board held that it is inadmissible to find the term “GOTHAM CITY” has obtained high degree of awareness among ordinary consumers in connection with apparels, bags and fashion accessories at the time of initial application as well as the time of the trial decision.

If so, relevant consumers and traders are less likely to conceive a source of goods with the mark in dispute from entities systematically or economically connected with DC Comics. Accordingly, the Board finds that it is quite unlikely to cause confusion between applicant and DC Comics.

Therefore, the refusal decision errored in applying Article 4(1)(xv) on the case and should be cancelled.


Trademark registration of Geographical names

The Trademark Examination Manual (TEM), official criteria released by JPO, sets forth issues relating to foreign geographical names (TEM 41.103.01).
TEM 41.103.01 provides that name of a city, sightseeing spot will be refused in principle on the grounds that it indicates the location where the goods are manufactured and sold (location of transaction) or the location of service, even though these names may not be directly perceived as the location of transaction in the mind of consumers.

It is noteworthy that TEP has no reference to a name of fictitious city.

Board decision implies name of fictitious city can be registered by unrelated entity to original work of art unless the city gets popular among the public in general as well.

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

A word mark consisting of “Perfect” is deemed dissimilar to Spanish term “PERFECTO”

The Appeal Board of JPO (Japan Patent Office), in an appeal disputing adequacy of examiner’s decision to refuse trademark application for a word mark “Perfect” on the grounds of conflict with a senior registration for word mark “PERFECTO”, overturned examiner’s decision and admitted to grant protection of the mark “Perfect”. [Fufuku 2016-13360]

The mark in dispute was filed on June 8, 2015 designating computer program and other goods in class 9. As a result of ex-officio examination, the JPO examiner refused the mark due to conflict with senior trademark registration no. 5019378 for word mark “PERFECTO” in standard character. Cited registration has been effective since January 19, 2007 covering identical goods in class 9.

In the decision, the Appeal Board held the term “PERFECTO” is unfamiliar to relevant consumers in Japan unlike an English word “Perfect”. Besides, there finds no circumstance to suggest the term is commonly used in connection with the goods in dispute. Thus, the consumers are likely to conceive the term as a coined word.

In the assessment of mark, the Board admitted both marks give rise to same sound, however, concluded it is unlikely to happen that consumers confuse or misconceive a source of origin between the marks in view of distinction in appearance, meaning and overall impression.


Apparently, the Board considered a mere difference arising from alphabetical letter “O” at the ending of both terms is non-negligible in visual and conceptual assessment of the marks by taking into consideration of a fact that “Perfect” is much familiar English word among the public in Japan.

In my personal opinion, the decision paid less attention to Spanish language to my surprise.

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

How to avoid mispronounced marks

Unique writing system of the Japanese language consists of three different character sets: Kanji (several thousands of Chinese characters), and Hiragana and Katakana (two syllabaries of 46 characters each).

Specifically, Katakana gets used for writing foreign loanwords phonetically.

By virtue of Katakana, we get a clue to learn proper pronunciation of unpronounceable alphabetical words. In this regard, Katakana is obviously of great help to avoid phonetic slip-ups and mispronouncing high-profile brand names in Japan.

For instance,

When we come across a word “YVES SAINT LAURENT” for the first time, we most likely call it “i-bes-sein-to-lo-ren-to”.

Likewise, we may call “L’OCCITANE” as “lo-sshi-ta-ne”, “PEUGEOT” as “pe-u-ge-o-to”, “RENAULT” as “re-na-u-ru-to”, “agnès b” as “a-gu-ne-su-bi”, “MONC BLANC” as “mon-to-bu-ran-ku”, “T-fal” as “tei-fa-lu”.

 

In other words, less attention to Katakana in promoting alphabetical brand names is likely to result in mispronunciation among the relevant public in Japan as you can see from the examples.

What’s worse, it may give rise to tragedy that trademark registration for the alphabetical name is insufficient to force unauthorized entity to cease his use of a mark consisting of Katakana to represent correct pronunciation of the name due to dissimilarity of the marks.

Provided that trademark registration is solely composed of alphabetical words, pronunciation of the mark is construed based on the most natural, logical way to pronounce it.

In this regard, it was a bit surprise that the Supreme Court judged a word mark written in Katakana pronounced as “reeru-dyu-tan” is phonetically identical with a registered mark “L’Air du Temps” in Case 1998 (Gyo-Hi) 85. Undoubtedly the judgement was based on the facts that “L’Air du Temps” had become well-known as a brand of perfume and the registered mark had been advertised accompanying a Katanaka “reeru-dyu-tan” as well.

http://www.courts.go.jp/app/hanrei_en/detail?id=493

When we come across a word “L’Air du Temps” for the first time, little thought is given to call it “reeru-dyu-tan”. The most natural way to pronounce it is “lu-ear-dyu-ten-po-su” indeed.Thus, the Supreme Court judgement should not be considered to negate necessity of Katakana in avoiding mispronounced marks.

 

It is advisable to use and register a Katakana word representing correct pronunciation of brand name as well as the alphabetical letters, especially where the letters are unpronounceable to the Japanese and thus natural pronunciation is not what a brand owner expects the Japanese to call it.