Lee unsuccessful in removing Leeao from trademark registration

The Japan Patent Office dismissed a trademark opposition claimed by the second largest manufacturer of jeans in the United States, The H.D. Lee Company, Inc. (LEE) against trademark registration no. 5990967 for the Leeao logo mark in class 25 by finding less likelihood of confusion with “Lee” because of remarkable dissimilarity between the marks.
[Opposition case no. 2017-900381]

 

Leeao

Opposed mark “Leeao” (see below) was filed by a Japanese business entity on April 28, 2017 by designating clothing and clothes for sports in class 25.

Going through substantive examination, the JPO admitted registration on September 29, 2017 and published for registration on November 21, 2017.

LEE’s Opposition

To oppose against registration, LEE filed an opposition on December 20, 2017.
In the opposition brief, LEE asserted the opposed mark shall be cancelled in violation of Article 4(1)(xi) of the Japan Trademark Law given a high reputation and popularity of opponent mark “Lee” in the business field of jeans having longer history than LEVIS and similarity of opposed mark with its owned senior trademark registration no. 1059991 for the “Lee” logo mark (see below) over clothing in class 25 effective since 1974.

LEE argued opposed mark gives rise to a pronunciation of ‘liː’ from the first three letters, allegedly a prominent portion of opposed mark, since remaining elements are rarely perceived as letters of “ao” from its appearance.

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.

Where opposed mark is considered similar to opponent mark and designated goods of opposed mark is identical with or similar to that of opponent mark, opposed mark shall be retroactively cancelled in violation of Article 4(1)(xi). In this regard, since LEE’s senior registration covers clothing in class 25, similarity of goods is indisputable in the case.

 

Board Decision

The Opposition Board, based on the fact-finding that Lee jeans has been distributed in Japan for five decades and its frequent appearance in media, admitted a high degree of popularity and reputation of “LEE” logo as a source indicator of opponent jeans among general consumers.

In the meantime, the Board completely denied similarity between the marks on the grounds that:

  1. Opposed mark, from appearance, shall not be seen as a combination of “lee” and “ao” unless “ao” does clearly give rise to a descriptive meaning. If so, opposed mark shall constitute one word as a whole and be deemed sufficiently distinctive in concept as well.
  2. In the meantime, relevant consumers of goods in question shall conceive opponent mark as a source indicator of famous “Lee” jeans.
  3. If so, both marks are completely distinguishable from three aspects of appearance, sound, and concept.

Accordingly, JPO sided with opposed mark and decided it shall not be cancelled based on Article 4(1)(xi) in relation to opponent mark.


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

Is GRAND HOME dissimilar or similar to GRAN HOME?

In a recent appeal trial over trademark dispute, the Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) overturned the Examiner’s determination and held that a word mark “GRAND HOME” is dissimilar to, and unlikely to cause confusion with a senior trademark registration for the “GRAN HOME” mark in connection with construction, reform or repair service for residential homes and buildings.

[Appeal case no. 2017-13251, Gazette issue date: November 30, 2018]

GRAND HOME

Kabushiki Kaisha GRAND HOME, a Japanese business entity filed a trademark application for a word mark “GRAND HOME” in standard character covering services of reform, repair, maintenance, cleaning and construction for residential homes and buildings in class 37 on May 17, 2016 [TM application no. 2016-53226].

Going through substantive examination by the JPO examiner, applied mark was completely refused registration based on Article 4(1)(xi) of the Trademark Law due to a conflict with senior trademark registration no. 5534717 for word mark “GRAN HOME” written in Japanese character(katakana) for the same services in class 37.

There are basic rules that the examiner is checking when evaluating the similarity between the marks:

  • visual similarity
  • aural similarity
  • conceptual similarity

and taking into account all these three aspects examiner makes a decision if a mark is similar (at least to some extent) with the earlier mark and if there is a likelihood of confusion for the consumers.

Applicant filed an appeal against the refusal on September 6, 2017 and argued dissimilarity of the marks.

Appeal Board decision

The Board reversed the examiner’s refusal and admitted applied mark to registration by stating that:

  1. From appearance, both marks are distinguishable because of a difference in literal elements. Applied mark consists of alphabetical letters. Meanwhile, the earlier mark consists of Japanese character.
  2. Having compared the sound of applied mark “ɡrænd hoʊm” and earlier mark “ɡræn hoʊm”, there evidently exists a difference in the middle sound. The difference shall not be negligible from overall sound composition as long as the sound “D” in the middle of applied mark is pronounced in a clear and intelligible manner. If so, both marks are aurally distinctive.
  3. Applied mark gives rise to a meaning of ‘large house’. In the meantime, the earlier mark “GRAN HOME” does not give rise to any specific meaning. Hence, both marks are dissimilar from conceptual point of view.
  4. Based on the foregoing, it is unlikely that relevant consumers confuse or misconceive a source of “GRAND HOME” with the earlier mark “GRAN HOME”.

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

JPO decision over POWER TECH trademark

In an administrative appeal disputing trademark similarity between TM registration no. 4015750 for word mark “POWERTECH” and a junior application no. 2016-137853 for the “AC POWERTECH” device mark represented as below, the Appeal Board of the Japan Patent Office decided that both marks are deemed dissimilar and reversed examiner’s rejection.
[Appeal case no. 2018-6124, Gazette issued date: October 26, 2018]

 

TM Registration no. 4015750

The cited mark, consisting of a word “POWERTECH” colored in red (see below), was registered on June 20, 1997 by designating various vehicles in class 12.

Junior Application no. 2016-137853

Applied junior mark consists of the following “AC POWERTECH” device mark (see below).

It was applied for registration on December 7, 2016 by designating vehicles in class 12.

The JPO examiner refused the applied mark due to a conflict with senior TM registration no. 4015750 based on Article 4(1)(xi) 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.

 

Subsequently, the applicant filed an appeal against the rejection and disputed dissimilarity of both marks.

 

Board decision

In the decision, the Appeal Board held that:

Applied mark is a composite mark mainly consisting of two words of “AC” and “POWERTECH” written in two lines and a black hexagon.

Even if the term “AC” is likely to be used as an indication of type and mode of vehicles in commerce, from appearance of applied mark as a whole, the Board opines that relevant consumers would not conceive the term as indication of type or model. If so, it is questionable whether consumers ignore “AC” in the applied mark and pay considerable attention to the term “POWERTECH”. Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that applied mark shall give rise to a pronunciation nothing but “AC POWERTECH” and no specific meaning.

Based on the foregoing, in the assessment of trademark similarity, the Board decided that:

Obviously, both marks are distinguishable in appearance. Given applied mark does give rise to a pronunciation of “AC POWERTECH” and no meaning, the Board finds no ground to affirm examiner’s rejection from visual, phonetic, and conceptual point of view.


Astonishingly, JPO viewed the applied mark “AC POWERTECH” in its entirety irrespective of significant difference in font size between “AC” and “POWERTECH”.

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

“Teddy Bear” versus “Rose Teddy Bear”

The Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) ruled that senior trademark registrations for the mark “Teddy Bear” in standard character over goods of trees, flowers, dried flowers, plants, seedlings, saplings in class 21 is unlikely to cause confusion with a junior mark “Rose Teddy Bear” in plain letters even if the mark is used on rose and rose bushes in class 21. [Appeal case no. 2017-18006, Gazette issue date: October 26, 2018]

Senior registrations for the “Teddy Bear” mark

“TEDDY BEAR”, a children’s toy, made from soft or furry material, which looks like a friendly bear, has its origin after Teddy, nickname for Theodore Roosevelt who was well known as a hunter of bears.

In Japan, name of the toy bear has been registered in the name of Nisshin OilliO Group. Ltd. on various goods in class 29, 30, 31 and 32 since 1986.

Junior application for “Rose Teddy Bear”

Junior mark for “Rose Teddy Bear” was applied for registration by a French company on August 10, 2016 over goods of rose, rose trees and other items relating to rose in class 31.

JPO examiner rejected junior mark due to a conflict with the “Teddy Bear” mark based on Article 4(1)(xi) of the Trademark Law on September 5. 2017.

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.

To seek for registration, applicant filed an appeal against the refusal on December 5, 2017.

Appeal Board decision

The Appeal Board set aside a refusal on the grounds that:

(1) From appearance and pronunciation, the term of “Rose Teddy Bear” shall be recognized as one mark in its entirety.
(2) Relevant consumers and traders are likely to conceive the term as a coined word since it does not give rise to any specific meaning as a whole.
(3) Therefore, the refusal based on the assumption that literal portions of “Teddy Bear” in junior mark plays a dominant role made a factual mistake and shall be cancelled consequently.

It seems that the Board decision is not consistent with the Trademark Examination Guidelines (TEG) criteria.

[Chapter III, Part 10 of TEG]
A composite trademark having characters representing an adjective (characters indicating the quality, raw materials, etc. of goods or characters indicating the quality of services, the location of its provision, quality, etc.) is judged as similar to a trademark without the adjective as a general rule.

In this respect, as long as the junior mark designates rose in class 21 and the term “Rose” in the mark further impresses the concept of rose in mind of consumers, the portion of “Rose” should be considered descriptive in relation to designated goods. Otherwise, any combined mark composed of registered mark and a generic term pertinent to the designated goods is deemed dissimilar to the registered mark.


I suppose the Board signaled a narrower scope of right where trademark has evidently its origin from other entity or meaning unrelated to senior registrant.

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

Trademark battle over slogan : Think different vs Tick different

Swiss watch giant Swatch has failed to stop US tech giant Apple from registering “Think Different” as a trademark, which Swatch argued segues too closely to its own “Tick Different” trademark.

THINK DIFFERENT

Apple’s “THINK DIFFERENT” mark was used in its successful Emmy-award winning advertising campaign which ran for five years from 1997. The mark was also used on the box packaging for its iMac computers next to another trademark “Macintosh”.

Its applications to register “THINK DIFFERENT” were filed in Japan on February 24, 2016 for use in relation to various goods and services belonging to 8 classes like watches, clocks (cl.12) as well as online social networking services (cl.45), among other items. JPO admitted registration on September 12, 2017. Subsequently, the mark was published in the Official Gazette for opposition.

Tick different

By citing its own mark, Swatch filed an opposition against Apple’s “THINK DIFFERENT” mark based on Article 4(1)(xi) of the Japan Trademark Law and asserted a likelihood of confusion with Swatch “Tick different” mark when used in connection with all goods designated in class 14.

Swatch’s “Tick Different” mark was filed to JPO through the Madrid Protocol (IR no. 1279757) with priority date of July 16, 2015 and admitted national registration on July 15, 2016 by designating timepieces and chronometric instruments, namely chronometers, chronographs, clocks, watches, wristwatches, wall clocks, alarm clocks, among other items in class 14.

Swatch, having a worldwide presence and its corporate group owns a stable of Swiss watch brands, including Omega, Tissot and Swatch, has allegedly used the mark on mobile payment smart watches since 2015.

 

Opposition decision

Swatch argued that the two marks were highly similar due to the same syllabic structure and number of words. With the same ending and almost the same beginning, they are visually and aurally similar.

However, in decision grounds issued on June 6 2018, the Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) found that when compared as wholes, the marks were more dissimilar than similar.

The Board, after considering all the pleadings, evidence and submissions, concluded because of the conceptual, visual and aural dissimilarities of the marks, the Board was persuaded that the average consumer would conceive they are, overall, more dissimilar than similar.

Consequently, JPO ruled that as Swatch’s opposition failed on all grounds, the “THINK DIFFERENT” mark registration from Apple will remain with the status quo.
[Opposition case no. 2017-900376]


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

Straight Wings Emblem Trademark Battle

In a recent trademark decision regarding straight wings emblem on automobiles, the Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an opposition filed by BENTLEY MOTORS LIMITED and ASTON MARTIN LAGONDA LIMITED against trademark registration no. 5962270 for a combined mark consisting of “M78 86” and straight wings device due to unlikelihood of confusion.
[Opposition case no. 2017-900293, Gazette issued date: May 17, 2018]

TM registration no. 5962270

Disputed mark (see below) was applied for registration on December 8, 2016 by designating automobiles and other goods in class 12.

Tsubuyara Productions CO., Ltd, a Japanese company, famous for the creator of Ultraman (Japanese Superhero) is a co-applicant of disputed mark.

A month after the filing, during the Press Conference held at Tokyo Auto Salon 2017, Toyota’s new M78 x 86 concept car was unveiled. Toyota, as a car supplier collaborating with Ultraman, aimed to make people “feel like Ultraman”.

“86” is a name for Toyota sports coupe. “M78” comes from Nebula M78, a home world of Ultraman, thirteen million light years away from the earth.

Disputed mark was created to represent the collaboration between Toyota and Tsuburaya.

Opposition

JPO granted registration of the mark on July 7, 2017.

To oppose the mark, Bentley, the most sought after luxury car brand in the world, and Aston Martin, iconic luxury British sports car manufacturer, filed an opposition on the grounds that disputed mark is likely to cause confusion with opponents’ business due to close resemblance and famousness of opponent mark based on Article 4(1)(x), (xi), (xv), (xix) of the Trademark Law.

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.
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 trademark which is likely to cause confusion with a business of other entity.
Article 4(1)(xix) prohibits to register a trademark which is identical with, or similar to, other entity’s famous mark, if such trademark is aimed for unfair purposes, e.g. gaining unfair profits, or causing damage to the entity.

Board decision

The Opposition Board admitted a certain degree of popularity and reputation of Opponent emblem as a source indicator of opponent’s business among relevant consumers in the fields of automobiles, however, totally negated similarity of both marks from the perspective of appearance, pronunciation, and concept. Besides, finding that relevant consumers with an ordinary care would pay particular attention to the mark in procuring expensive goods, such as cars, the Board held that a mere graphical resemblance of straight wings is insufficient to find a likelihood of confusion since even opponents are co-existing in peace regardless of the similar straight wings.
Based on the foregoing, the Board concluded that there is no likelihood of confusion between the marks and allowed the “M78 86” straight wings mark valid.


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

IP High Court reversed JPO decision pertinent to a likelihood of confusion between men’s fashion magazines and male cosmetics

In a judgement pronounced on November 14, 2017, the IP High Court of Japan ruled to reverse JPO decision which negated a likelihood of confusion between MEN’S CLUB brand men’s fashion magazine and the same brand male cosmetics.[Court case no. H29(Gyo-ke)10109]

MEN’S CLUB magazine

The lawsuit was filed by a publisher of the MEN’S CLUB magazine who unsuccessfully challenged to invalidate TM registration no. 5858891 for a word mark “MEN’S CLUB” in standard character covering goods of male cosmetics in class 3 (hereinafter referred to as “Disputed mark”).

MEN’S CLUB magazine has been continuously published past six decades since 1965 in Japan.

 

TM Registration 5858891 – MEN’S CLUB on male cosmetics

Disputed mark was applied for registration on January 7, 2016, registered on June 17, 2016 without receiving any office action from the Japan Patent Office (JPO) examiner.

On April 5, 2017, plaintiff demanded for a trial to invalidate disputed mark in violation of Article 4(1)(xv) and (xix) of the Trademark Law by citing MEN’S CLUB brand men’s fashion magazines used by plaintiff.

The Trial Board of JPO decided that disputed mark shall neither fall under Article 4(1)(xv) nor 4(1)(xix), and dismissed the invalidation petition entirely [case no. 2016-890063].

In the lawsuit, plaintiff argued the Board misconstrued Article 4(1)(xv), thus erred in judgment to apply the article on the case.

Article 4(1)(xv)

Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law provides that a mark shall not be registered where it is likely to cause confusion with the goods or services pertaining to a business of another entity.

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.

IP High Court decision

The IP High Court ruled that the Board erred in applying Article 4(1)(xv) based on following reasons.

  • Both marks, consisting of MEN’S CLUB, are almost identical
  • MEN’S CLUB brand men’s fashion magazine has acquired a high degree of popularity and reputation among relevant consumers as a result of substantial use over decades, notwithstanding lack of creativity in the mark
  • Male cosmetics are considerably associated with men’s fashion magazines since they are often featured in men’s fashion magazines
  • Consumers of men’s fashion magazines are likely to consume male cosmetics

Based on the foregoing and the degree of ordinary care taken by relevant consumers, the court concluded that consumers of male cosmetics would conceive the MEN’S CLUB brand men’s fashion magazine and then associate the cosmetics with goods produced by plaintiff or a business entity who has systematical or economical connection with plaintiff in error.

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

 

 

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