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]

LEGO lost a trademark battle in Japan over the mark CATTYLEGO

LEGO has lost a trademark battle it lodged against PETSWEET Co., Ltd., a Taiwanese company, over its registration of the mark “CATTYLEGO” in Japan.
[Opposition case no. 2017-900077, Gazette issued date: Feb 23, 2018]

 

OPPOSED MARK “CATTYLEGO”

PETSWEEY Co., Ltd., a Taiwanese company, applied for trademark registration in Japan for the mark consisting of a word “CATTYLEGO” and rectangle device (see below in right) on June 15, 2016 by designating toys for pets in class 28. Apparently, PETSWEET Co., Ltd. promotes various categories of cat toys, e.g. Cat Tree, Cart Playground as you can review by accessing their website.

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) admitted registration of the mark on November 15, 2016 and published the gazette under trademark registration no. 5902786 on January 10, 2017.

 

LEGO Trademark

LEGO Juris A/S, the world’s largest Danish toy manufacturer, filed an opposition against the mark CATTYLEGO on the final day of a two-month duration for opposition.

LEGO argued that the mark CATTYLEGO shall be cancelled due to a conflict with the famous LEGO trademark (see above in left) based on Article 4(1)(viii), (xi), (xv) and (xix) of the Trademark Law.

 

 

BOARD DECISION

The Opposition Board admitted a high degree of reputation and population of the LEGO trademark as a source indicator of opponent in relation to brick toys by taking account of consecutive promotion of LEGO bricks in Japan for more than five decades, annual sales amount over 8 billion yens (Approx. USD 74 million ), its remarkable share in the sector of kids toys, and almost half of preschools in Japan have adopted the bricks for educational purpose.

In the meantime, the Board negated similarity between the CATTYLEGO mark and the LEGO trademark, stating that it is unconvincing to consider “CATTY” descriptive from overall appearance of the opposed mark. If so, opposed mark is unlikely to giver rise to any meaning and pronunciation in association with LEGO bricks or opponent.

Based on the foregoing, the Board concluded opposed mark shall not subject to Article 4(1)(xi) so long as both marks are dissimilar.

Board also found less likelihood of confusions due to a remote association between toys for pets and brick toys (for kids) in view of different manufacturers, consumers, usage, commercial channel for these goods as well as dissimilarity of the marks.

Article 4(1)(viii) is a provision to prohibit registration of trademarks which contain the representation or name of any person, famous pseudonym, professional name or pen name of another person, or famous abbreviation thereof. A term of “Person” is construed to include a legal entity as well as individual. It is obvious that opposed mark contains “LEGO” which corresponds to an abbreviated name of opponent. However, it is noteworthy that the Board, in adopting the article, dismissed opponent’s allegation by stating that opponent failed to demonstrate the use of the LEGO trademark in a manner that relevant consumers would conceive it as an abbreviation of opponent’s name.

No Violation of the US President’s Personality Rights

The Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) admitted registration of a mark consisting of jigsaw puzzles design and “TA TRUMP” (see below), saying that it does not violate personality rights of Mr. Donald John Trump, the President of the United States.

 

MARK IN QUESTION

A Japanese individual filed a trademark application for the mark consisting of jigsaw puzzles design and a word of “TA TRUMP” (see below) on November 23, 2016 by designating “psychology education cards” in class 16.

JPO examiner refused the mark on the grounds that it comprises a famous abbreviation of Mr. Donald John Trump, the President of the United States and presumably the applicant would not obtain consent from him.

 

Article 4(1)(viii)

Article 4(1)(viii) of the Trademark Law prohibits registration of trademarks which contain the representation or name of any person, famous pseudonym, professional name or pen name of another person, or famous abbreviation thereof. Notwithstanding the provision, the article is not applicable where the applicant of disputed mark produces the written consent of the person.

The Supreme Court of Japan ruled the article has aimed to protect personality rights of a living individual. A diminutive of foreign celebrity falls under the category of “abbreviation” even if his/her full name is not so familiar among Japanese citizen.

 

To contest the refusal, the applicant filed an appeal on August 11, 2017.

 

Appeal Board

In the decision rendered on January 10, 2018, the Appeal Board overruled the refusal and admitted registration of the mark in question by stating that:

  1. “TRUMP” has been known as an English term meaning playing cards among the public in Japan.
  2. In the meantime, “TRUMP” admittedly corresponds to a surname of Mr. Donald John Trump and it becomes evident he is a well-known person as the 45th President of the United States to be called “President Trump”.
  3. Overall appearance of the applied mark easily reminds us of a kind of playing card back designs.
  4. If so, the term of “TRUMP” depicted in the mark shall not be considered to suggest President Trump at all.
  5. Based on the foregoing, accordingly it is groundless to refuse the mark based on Article 4(1)(viii).

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

 

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

OMEGA unsuccessful in cancelling OMEGA mark

The Japan Patent Office dismissed a trademark opposition claimed by a Swiss luxury watchmaker, OMEGA SA against trademark registration no. 5916814 for the OMEGA mark in class 41 by finding less likelihood of confusion due to remote association between watches and services in class 41.
[Opposition case no. 2017-900136]

Opposed OMEGA mark

Opposed mark (see below) was filed by a Japanese business entity on April 28, 2016 by designating the services of “fortune-telling; educational and instruction services relating to arts, crafts, sports or general knowledge; providing electronic publications; Art exhibition services; Reference libraries of literature and documentary records; production of videotape film in the field of education, culture, entertainment or sports; photography etc.” in class 41.


As a result of substantive examination, the JPO admitted registration on January 27, 2017 and published for registration on February 28, 2017.

OMEGA’s Opposition

To oppose against registration, OMEGA SA filed an opposition on April 28, 2017.

In the opposition brief, OMEGA SA asserted the opposed mark shall be cancelled in violation of Article 4(1)(xv) of the Japan Trademark Law by citing the owned luxury watch brand of OMEGA (see below).

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 not applicable to the case where a mark in question is objectionable under Article 4(1)(xi), which prohibit a junior mark from registering if it is deemed identical with or similar to any senior registration. Article 4(1)(xv) plays a key role where a junior mark designates remotely associated or dissimilar goods or services with that of a well-known brand business.

Board Decision

The Opposition Board admitted similarity of both marks and a remarkable degree of reputation and population of opponent OMEGA mark in relation to watches, however, questioned whether such reputation has prevailed even among relevant consumers of designated services in class 41 as long as opponent failed to produce sufficient evidences regarding the issue.

Based on remote association between watched and services designated under the opposed mark, the Board decided that, by addressing less creativity of the OMEGA mark originating from a familiar Greek alphabet even to Japanese with an ordinary care, relevant consumers of designated services in class 41 are unlikely to confuse or misconceive a source of the opposed mark with OMEGA SA or any entity systematically or economically connected with the opponent.

JPO admits “TE’ CON MIEL” is distinctive in relation to tea

In a recent trademark opposition, the Opposition Board of the Japan Patent Office (JPO) decided to overrule the opposition against TM Registration no. 5951823 for word mark “TÉ CON MIEL” designating tea in class 30 due to distinctiveness of the mark among relevant Japanese consumers.
[Opposition case no. 2017-900259, Gazette issued date: January 26,2018]

Opposed mark

Opposed mark consists of a term “TE’ CON MIEL” and its transliteration written in Japanese character (Katakana) as shown below.

Opposition

Opponent argued the mark shall be objectionable based on Article 3(1)(iii) and 4(1)(xiv) of the Trademark Law because of descriptive meaning in relation to tea.

Each Spanish word of the mark means ‘tea’ for “TE”, ‘with’ for “CON”, ‘honey’ for “MIEL” respectively. It is obvious that opposed mark gives rise to a meaning of ‘TEA WITH HONEY’ in English as a whole.

Article 3(1)(iii)

Article 3(1)(iii) of the Trademark Law prohibits any mark from registering if the mark solely consists 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.

Opponent relied on the article on the assumption that opposed mark just indicates quality or ingredient of designated goods and lacks distinctiveness in relation to ‘tea with honey’ which is undoubtedly included in the designation of tea.

Article 4(1)(xiv)

Article 4(1)(xiv) is a provision to prohibit any mark from registering if the mark is likely to mislead as to the quality of goods or service.

Opponent relied on the article presuming that relevant consumers misconceive the quality of a tea when opposed mark is used on tea other than honey tea.

In order to bolster the argument, opponent produced evidential materials showing tea bags imported from Spain.

Board decision

However, the Opposition Board, by taking into consideration the produced evidences and relevant facts, held as follows.

  1. Each term of “TE”, “CON” and “MIEL” is not familiar among relevant Japanese consumers with an ordinary care. Besides, there exists no circumstance to find a whole term of “TE’ CON MIEL” gets to be known for its descriptive meaning. If so, relevant consumers consider opposed mark as a distinctive source indicator.
  2. A fact that “TE’ CON MIEL” is used on honey tea as a generic term in Spain and other Spanish native countries does not immediately negate a distinctive perception toward opposed mark among relevant Japanese consumers
  3. Obviously, produced evidences are insufficient to demonstrate a certain degree of perception as a generic indication of ‘honey tea’ in Japan.

Based on the foregoing, the Board concluded opposed mark shall not be objectionable under Article 3(1)(iii) and 4(1)(xiv) and dismissed the opposition.


It should be noted that a descriptive term in foreign language can be deemed distinctive and registered in Japan 

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

Apple Inc. failed in a trademark opposition to block “Apple Assist Center”

The Japan Patent Office dismissed a trademark opposition claimed by the U.S. tech giant, Apple Inc. against trademark registration no. 59923763 for word mark “Apple Assist Center” in class 35, 36, and 43 by finding less likelihood of confusion.
[Opposition case no. 2017-900155]

“Apple Assist Center”

Opposed mark “Apple Assist Center” was filed by a Japanese business entity on July 22, 2016 by designating the services of “secretary services; telephone answering and message handling services; reception services for visitors” in class 35, “rental of business and commercial premises; management of buildings; providing information in the field of buildings for business and commercial use” in class 36, “rental of conference room; rental of exhibition room” in class 43.
As a result of substantive examination, the JPO admitted registration on February 17, 2017 and published for registration on March 21, 2017.

Apple’s Opposition

To oppose against registration, Apple Inc. filed an opposition on May 17, 2017.

In the opposition brief, Apple Inc. asserted the opposed mark shall be cancelled in violation of Article 4(1)(xv) of the Japan Trademark Law.

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 designates remotely associated or dissimilar goods or services with that of a well-known brand business.

Board Decision

The Opposition Board admitted a remarkable degree of reputation and population of opponent trademark “Apple” in the field of computers, smart phones, audio devices etc., however, gave a negative view in relation to goods and services remotely associated with Apple products by taking account of arguments and evidences Apple Inc. provided during the trial.

Besides, in the assessment of mark similarity, the Board found “Apple Assist Center” and “Apple” are dissimilar since they are sufficiently distinguishable in visual, phonetic, and conceptual point of view. The Board considered that the word of “Assist Center” does not immediately give rise to a descriptive meaning in relation to the designated service of class 35, 36, and 43. Given that “Assist Center” is deemed a coined word, it is not permissible to separate a element of “Apple” from the opposed mark.

Based on the foregoing, the Board decided that, unless Apple Inc. demonstrates possibility to embark on business related to the designated services and overlapping of consumers between Apple products and the opposed mark, relevant consumers are unlikely to confuse or misconceive a source of the opposed mark with Apple Inc. or any entity systematically or economically connected with the opponent.


It surprises me that the Board considered “Assist Center” does not lack distinctiveness in relation to business support services.

Masaki MIKAMI, Attorney at IP Law – Founder of MARKS IP Law Firm

How can a combination of descriptive words become a source indicator?

In a recent decision, the Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) granted to protect a word mark “TOUGH CARRY” in relation to carts and trolleys of class 12.
[Appeal case no. 2017-7976]

“TOUGH CARRY”

As a result of substantive examination, the JPO examiner refused trademark application no. 2016-28871 for a mark “TOUGH CARRY” composed of descriptive words combination in relation to carts, trolleys, sleighs and sleds[vehicles], rickshaws, horse drawn carriages, bicycle trailers [Riyakah], and casting carriages of class 12 on the ground that the mark lacks distinctiveness under Article 3(1)(iii) of the Trademark Law. Examiner raised her objection based on the facts that a word of “TOUGH” means “strong and durable; not easily broken or cut”. “CARRY” means “to take or support from one place to another; convey; transport”. Besides, it is obvious that relevant consumers are familiar with both words. If so, consumers with an ordinary care will surely conceive the meaning of “being able to transport items with strong and durable capability” at the sight of trademark “TOUGH CARRY” when used on designated goods.

Appeal Board decision

In the meantime, the Appeal Board cancelled the examiner’s rejection and admitted registration of “TOUGH CARRY”.

The Board decided that, even if respective word, highly known among consumers, inherently lacks distinctiveness in relation to goods of class 12 and the entire mark gives rise to the meaning as examiner asserted, it does not mean the mark as a whole is just a direct and clear qualitative indication of specific goods.

On the case, the Board found, as a result of ex officio examination, no evidence to demonstrate the descriptive words combination of “TOUGH CARRY” is ordinarily used in transaction of carts and trolleys. Besides, there exists no circumstance to use the combination as a qualitative indication in relation to any other goods.

Consequently, it is groundless to reject the trademark “TOUGH CARRY” based on Article 3(1)(iii) since it does not give rise to any descriptive meaning in relation to the goods in question.


Occasionally, a trademark composed of descriptive words combination becomes controversial. Such disputes mostly focus on distinctiveness of the entire mark. In case the JPO found that combination of respective word is unique and remains suggestive in relation to disputed goods/service by taking account of transactional circumstance, the mark is eligible for registration regardless of descriptive meaning of each word.
In other words, it depends on competitor’s behavior and perception of relevant consumers whether a combination of descriptive words can be protected as a source indicator.

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

How do you pronounce “Q-revo” mark?

In an administrative appeal disputing trademark similarity between TM registration no. 2705284 for word mark “REVO” and a junior trademark represented as below, the Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) decided that both marks are deemed dissimilar and allowed to register the junior trademark accordingly.
[Appeal case no. 2017-8341]

Disputed mark

Disputed mark (see above) was applied for trademark registration on October 30, 2015 by designating goods of telecommunication machines, electronic machines and others belonging to class 9.

As a result of substantive examination by the JPO, examiner refused the disputed mark by citing a senior TM registration “REVO” based on Article 4(1)(xi) of the Trademark Law to find that the citation has also covered telecommunication machines, electronic machines in the designation which are deemed identical with disputed mark.

Subsequently, the applicant of disputed mark filed an appeal to the case.

TRADEMARK APPEAL

Main issue at the appeal rested on how disputed mark should be pronounced in the assessment of trademark similarity.

In this respect, the Board held that disputed mark gives rise to a sole pronunciation of “kju- riːvo” in view of overall configuration fully consolidated from appearance.

Based on the finding, the Board compared the disputed mark and the citation in the aspect of visual appearance, sound and concept, and concluded, inter alia, both sounds, “kju- riːvo” and “ riːvo”, are distinctively dissimilar.


It has been recognized in Japan that hyphen (-) serves as a separator of words at fore-and-aft position. To see a graphical distinction between the “Q” logo and “revo”, I believe the decision isn’t quite persuasive enough.

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