Who shall be a legitimate owner of smiley face mark?

In a lawsuit disputing adequacy of decision by the JPO Appeal Board (Appeal case no. 2016-15097) to refuse the applied mark composed of a name of the earliest known designer of the smiley, “Harvey Ball”, and the Smiley Face (TM2015-74154, class 25) due to a conflict with cited senior registrations no.1 to 3, the IP High Court sustained the decision being appealed.[Case no. Heisei 29 (Gyo-ke) 10034, Court decision date: August 8, 2017]

The applicant, a Japanese legal entity authorized to manage intellectual property of The Harvey Ball World Smile Foundation, argued dissimilarity of the smiley design and alleged that the design becomes less distinctive as a source indicator, but just a stylized representation of a smiling humanoid face on the grounds that similar designs have been used for many years and 7,000 marks containing the design are/were registered.
Besides, taking account of a high degree of popularity as the earliest known designer, the word element of “Harvey Ball” shall function dominantly as a source indicator in applied mark. If so, applied mark shall be dissimilar to cited registrations.

But the Court denied them entirely based on following reasons.

  • Court found the smiley design representing a smiling human face in a simple and symbolic manner is sufficiently distinctive. No adverse evidence is produced.
  • Given the word element of “Harvey Ball” depicted slightly over the Smiley Face is written in a common font design and a small font size, most impressive portion of the applied mark shall be the Smiley Face from appearance.
  • In view of visual impression, both the Smiley Face of applied mark and cited registrations can be easily seen to depict a smiling human face in a simple and symbolic manner. Accordingly, both marks are deemed similar.
  • Even if cited registrations happened to be associated with the Smiley Face created by Harvey Ball, it would not affect the decision. Likewise, the word element of “Harvey Ball” in applied mark has less influence to the decision as well.

The Court decision gives us a lesson that high popularity of the Smiley Face designer will not guarantee the position of a trademark owner to the design if it becomes a generic symbol as a result of widespread, common use in the marketplace.

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

 

SKY ROVER is unlikely to cause confusion with LAND ROVER when used on wallets, school bags, handbags and trunks

The Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office decided to dismiss an opposition claimed by Jaguar Land Rover Limited who alleged trademark registration no. 5844561 for the mark “SKY ROVER” with figurative elements (see below) designating goods of “wallets, school bags, handbags, and trunks” in class 18 owned by a Taiwanese is confusingly similar to “ROVER”, “LAND ROVER”, “RANGE ROVER” famous for four-wheel-drive vehicles produced by the opponent.

Jaguar Land Rover Limited cited ten trademark registrations for “LAND ROVER” or “RANDE ROVER” and produced evidences to demonstrate substantial use in Japan since 1990’s. However, the Board did not approve high levels of consumer recognition to the marks in association with cars due to a failure to disclose sales amount, advertisement or promotional activity and annual car sales in connection with the cited marks. If so, it is unlikely that consumers consider a term of “ROVER” independently from the configuration of cited marks. In the assessment of trademark similarity, both marks are apparently dissimilar as a whole from visual, sound and conceptual point of view even if they contain a term “ROVER” in common.

Besides, by taking into consideration of remoteness of cars and opposed goods (wallets, school bags, handbags and trunks), it is less likely that consumes misconceive or associate the opposed mark with “LAND ROVER” or “RANDE ROVER” nor confuse goods with the opposed mark from any business entity connected with opponent.

Based on the foregoing, the Board decided to sustain registration of the opposed mark since the opposition was totally groundless. [Opposition case no. 2016-900200]

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 permits registration of trademark “Re+Cell” by denying similarity to a word mark “ReCell”

In a dispute over trademark similarity between “Re+Cell” and “ReCell”, the Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) determined both marks are dissimilar in visual, phonetical, and conceptual point of view.

Re+Cell vs. ReCell

The mark in dispute, consisting of the letters “Re” and “Cell” locating “+” in between, was applied for registration on July 22, 2015 by designating goods of cosmetics (class 3) in the end.

JPO examiner refused the applied mark on the grounds of conflict with a senior trademark registration no. 5661464 for word mark “ReCell” in standard character covering goods of cosmetics, soaps, flagrances (class 3) and dietary supplements (class 5), effectively registered since April 4, 2014.Applicant filed an appeal against the refusal and contended dissimilarity of the marks.

Appeal

Appeal Board ruled in favor of applicant based on the following factual findings.

  1. Applied mark gives rise to a pronunciation of “ri-purasu-seru” or “re-puresu-seru” from appearance, but no specific meaning in its entirety.
  2. Cited mark gives rise to a pronunciation of “ri-seru” or “re-seru”. Respective term composing the mark means “microscopic structure containing nuclear and cytoplasmic material” and “a prefix used with the meaning ‘again’”, however, concept of the mark is unspecified as a whole.
  3. From appearance, both marks are sufficiently distinguishable due to presence or absence of “+”.
  4. Sound of both marks is clearly dissimilar in view of nature and number of the tone.
  5. As long as no specific meaning is conceived from both marks, the marks are conceptually dissimilar.

As a consequence, applied mark is deemed dissimilar to the cited mark and the Board withdrew the refusal. [Appeal case no. 2016-16102]

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

“WORLD SERIES OF FIGHTING” is less likely to cause confusion with “WORLD SERIES” owned by Major League Baseball Properties, Inc.

The Opposition Board of JPO (Japan Patent Office) dismissed an opposition claimed by Major League Baseball Properties, Inc., a US corporation managing trademark portfolio pertinent to US major league baseball, and determined to sustain trademark registration no. 5858151 for word mark “WORLD SERIES OF FIGHTING” [Opposition case no. 2016-900288].

WORLD SERIES OF FIGHTING

The mark in question consists of a standard character mark “WORLD SERIES OF FIGHTING” covering the goods of apparels, shoes, caps, underwear, uniforms and sportswear (class 25) and the service of entertainment or events relating to Mixed Martial Arts (class 41).

OPPOSITION by Major League Baseball Properties, Inc.

Major League Baseball Properties, Inc. filed an opposition based on the grounds that (i)WORLD SERIES OF FIGHTING” conflicts with senior trademark registrations for the mark “WORLD SERIES” owned by the opponent due to similarity between marks, (ii) there finds a likelihood of confusion with the source between marks because of high recognition of “WORLD SERIES” to indicate the annual championship of baseball games between the champions of the two major baseball leagues in the United States, the American League and the National League.

Similarity between marks

In evaluating the similarities between marks, the Board analyzed the similarity in the sight, sound and meaning of the marks.
The Board concluded “WORLD SERIES OF FIGHTING” is easily distinguishable from “WORLD SERIES” in appearance and pronunciation as a consequence of “FIGHTING” at the end of the mark in question. Besides, “WORLD SERIES OF FIGHTING” gives rise to meaning of a series of global events pertinent to martial art match. In the meantime, “WORLD SERIES” can be conceived to mean the championship games between major baseball leagues in the United States. Evidently, both marks are dissimilar from a conceptual point of view.
Accordingly, both marks are deemed dissimilar.

Likelihood of confusion

As long as both marks are distinctively dissimilar in the sight, sound and meaning as mentioned supra, relevant consumers at an ordinary care are unlikely to confuse or associate the source of the mark in question with the opponent when used on goods and services in dispute even if “WORLD SERIES” has become well-known for a source indicator of the opponent among consumers in Japan.

Accordingly, the Board concluded the opposition should be denied since it lacks grounds to be sustained.


I have no idea why the Board denied a likelihood of confusion between marks despite admitting a widespread reputation of “WORLD SERIES”.
As long as opposed mark contains a famous mark “WORLD SERIES” entirely, it should be cancelled on the goods of class 25 at least in view of similarity between goods in dispute.

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

 

Famous hotel brand “RITZ” successful in invalidating “RITZ MARCHE”

Invalidation trial

The Japan Trademark Law contains provision for invalidation of trademark registration by means of inter partes trial in Article 46 as a remedy to questionable ex-officio examination of the Japan Patent Office (JPO).
Statistically, approximately 100 invalidation petitions were filed to the JPO in each of the past five years. Nearly 40 percentages of them ended successfully in an invalidation of registered mark in question on average.

[Trademark invalidation trial]

Year Number of cases Disposition of trial
Invalidation Dismissal Withdrawal
2015 100 37 58 19
2014 115 38 32 15
2013 96 37 53 10
2012 118 44 76 16
2011 112 38 57 9

RITZ v. RITZMARCHE

Ritz Hotel Ltd., a world famous hotel management company, petitioned for invalidation of trademark registration no. 5594878 for a word mark “RITZMARCHE” (written in Katakana letter) covering “retail services or wholesale services for foods and beverages” in class 35 pursuant to Article 46 of the Trademark Law on the following grounds.

  1. Consumers are likely to confuse or associate the mark in dispute with Ritz Hotel due to remarkable reputation bestowed on famous hotel brand, “RITZ”.
  2. “RITZMARCHE” is deemed confusingly similar to senior trademark registrations owned by Ritz Hotel Ltd.

[Marks in dispute]

Ground 1 corresponds to on Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law to prohibit any mark likely to cause confusion with a business of another entity from being registered.

Ground 2 rests on Article 4(1)(xi) to bar registration of a junior mark which conflicts with any senior trademark registration due to similarity of both marks and goods/services.

It becomes a common practice to raise several grounds in an invalidation petition. Combination of Article 4(1)(xv) and 4(1)(xi) is a standard tactic in trademark dispute involving a famous brand. Theoretically, Article 4(1)(xv) can’t be applied unless Article 4(1)(x) is inapplicable to the case. Article 4(1)(xi) is useful to the extent the marks as well as goods/services in question are identical or similar. In the meantime, Article 4(1)(xv)   targets a wider territory where consumers are likely to confuse the source of origin between marks. In other words, Article 4(1)(xv) becomes helpful only where both marks are dissimilar, or goods/services in question are deemed dissimilar. Due to a wider protection to Article 4(1)(xv), a petitioner who claims the article is required to prove high recognition and substantial use of an opposing mark accordingly.

It is of no matter that JPO renders an invalidation decision simply based on Article 4(1)(xi) without reference to Article 4(1)(xv).

On the Ritz case, the JPO Trial Board held to invalidate registered mark “RITZMARCHE” on the grounds of Article 4(1)(xi).


Board decision

In the assessment of similarity, the Board considered a term “MARCHE” is less distinctive or inherently descriptive in connection with “retail services or wholesale services for foods and beverages” of class 35 since the term itself means “market” in French. Besides it can be seen often as a sign to indicate a place where merchants provide foods or beverages directly to consumers in Japan. Meanwhile, average consumers with an ordinary care are unlikely to perceive any descriptive meaning from the term of “RITZ”. Therefore, in the configuration of disputed mark “RITZMARCHE”, it should be allowed to extract the term “RITZ” as a prominent part of the mark.

In comparing the Katakana letter of “Ritz” with alphabetical term “RITZ” of cited marks, both have same sound. Their meaning is incomparable since both don’t give rise to specific meaning. Both terms are different in appearance, however, it becomes commercially routine to write alphabetical names in Katakana letters for purpose of representing pronunciation of the terms in fact. Based on the foregoing, the Board concluded that “RITZMARCHE” and Ritz Hotel registered marks containing a term of “RITZ” are confusingly similar as a whole, by taking into consideration of relevant factors in commerce relevant to disputed goods/services. The Board also held that “retail services or wholesale services for foods and beverages” in class 35 is considered similar to food products in class 30 designated under the citations.
[Invalidation case no. 2016-890033]

The Board didn’t refer to Article 4(1)(xv) although Ritz Hotel argued famousness of cited mark “RITZ” with enormous amount of evidential materials as mentioned reason.
If Ritz Hotel has filed the invalidation action solely based on Article 4(1)(xv), the JPO must have admitted famousness of the mark “RITZ” and invalidated “RITZMARCHE” likewise.


NEW TRADEMARK EXAMINATION GUIDELINE

In April 2017, the JPO announced new trademark examination guideline [Revision 13].
The guideline aims to reflect recent judicial decisions and non-traditional trademarks. Inter alia, Article 4(1)(xi) is hot topic due to its significance as a key provision pertinent to assessment of mark similarity. From now on, it is more likely that the JPO admits an argument of prominent part of trademark than before, even if the mark consists of other words or figurative elements.
I suppose, the RITZ case is timely ruled in line with New Guideline.

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

The IP High Court ruled a trademark “TOMATO SYSTEM” is deemed similar to “TOMATO” in connection with the service of computer programming

On March 23, 2017, in a lawsuit disputing registrability of an applied word mark “TOMATO SYSTEM” in standard character designating goods of electronic machines, apparatus and parts thereof (Class 9), and services of computer software design, computer programing, or maintenance of computer software; technological advice relating to computers, automobiles and industrial machines; testing or research on machines, apparatus and instruments; providing computer programs on data networks (Class 42), the IP High Court upheld the original refusal decision rendered by the JPO Appeal Board and dismissed the lawsuit filed by applicant, Ishiguro Medical System Co., Ltd. [Case No. Heisei 28 (Gyo-Ke) 10208].

 


 

JPO decision

Initially, JPO examiner rejected to register the applied mark “TOMATO SYSTEM” due to conflict with senior registration no. 4394923 for word mark “TOMATO” in standard character designating services of technological advice relating to computers; computer software design in Class 42 (Citation 1) and no. 5238348 for “tomato” with a device mark designating retail/wholesale services for electrical machinery and apparatus in Class 35 (Citation 2). Applicant sought to file an appeal against the rejection by arguing dissimilarity of both marks, however, the Appeal Board decided to refuse the applied mark on the basis of Article 4 (1) (xi) of the Trademark Law in a decision dated July 28, 2016 [Appeal Case No. 2016-2278].

In the decision, the Board concluded “TOMATO”, an English term meaning red edible fruit, does not imply any descriptive meaning in association with the designated goods and services. In the meantime, a term “SYSTEM” easily reminds consumers of meanings to suggest organized, purposeful structure that consists of interrelated and interdependent elements when used on machines, apparatus and computer software. Unless we find conceptual connection between two terms, it is allowed to segregate the applied mark into each element in the assessment of mark comparison. If so, relevant consumers at an ordinary care are likely to consider the term “TOMATO” as a predominant portion of the applied mark. Based on the foregoing, the Board judged the applied mark is deemed similar to Citation 1 and 2.


IP High Court 

In the lawsuit, plaintiff claimed the Board decision was defectively inappropriate since it is not allowed to segregate each term composing the applied mark in light of tight combination of both terms and ambiguous meaning of the term “SYSTEM” in relating to designated goods and services.

The Court upheld the Board decision by declaring “SYSTEM” is less distinctive in connection with goods or services relating to information processing. Therefore, it is permissible to segregate the applied mark into each element and to judge similarity of mark based on a predominant element of the mark in dispute.



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