The Japan IP High Court Finds “EQ” Entitled to Trademark Registration Belonging to Mercedes Benz

On July 3, 2019, the Japan IP High Court reversed a decision of the Japan Patent Office (JPO) finding that the company Daimler AG was entitled to registration of “EQ” for Motor vehicles in class 12, even though the term “EQ” by itself is descriptive for the goods.
[Case no. Heisei31(Gyo-ke)10004, Daimler AG vs the JPO Commissioner]

The EQ Application

The JPO has refused registration to an application for EQ in standard characters (word only, see below) on the basis that the mark was descriptive for the goods “Motor vehicles” in class 12 based on Article 3(1)(v) of the Trademark Law.

The article prohibits an applied mark from registering if it consists solely of a very simple and common mark. Trademark Examination Guidelines (TEG) stipulates that a mark consisting of one or two alphabetical letters is not eligible for registration under the article. Click here.

A mark consisting of two alphabetical letters is not capable of identifying the source of the goods due to a lack of distinctiveness because a combination of two alphabetical letters is limited on quantity and currently used to represent a model name of vehicle, e.g. BMW XS, TOYOTA Carina ED, Ferrari FX, Nissan GT-R.

Descriptive terms falling under the article are only capable for registration based on Article 3(2) if they have “acquired distinctiveness”, which means the term has taken on a meaning in the public view so that people see the term as a trademark identifying the goods rather than simply describing the goods.

In this regard, Daimler AG argued the EQ mark, a coined term originating from “Electric Intelligence” to appeal design, extraordinary driving pleasure, high levels of everyday suitability and maximum safety of electric car by Mercedes-Benz, has acquired distinctiveness since launching the brand at the Paris Motor Show in September 2016.

JPO Decision

However, the JPO dismissed the argument on the grounds that:

  1. Daimler has neither used the EQ mark by itself as a name of electric car nor produced evidences of its plan to sell electric car named “EQ”.
  2. Daimler uses the EQ mark in a stylized design in press releases. If so, it is questionable whether relevant consumers conceive the EQ mark in standard characters as a source indicator of Mercedes-Benz.
  3. According to the produced evidences, Daimler uses the EQ mark in combination with other literal elements, e.g. “Generation EQ Concept”, “Concept EQA”, “EQC”, “smart vision EQ for two”, “EQ POWER”, “EQ POWER+”.
  4. There are no actual domestic sales of the electric car using the applied mark during the past two years from the date Daimler launched the brand in fact.
  5. A combination of two alphabetical letters, “E” and “Q”, has been generally used as a mode name in association with vehicles, e.g. TOYOTA electric car “eQ”, HYUNDAI luxury sedan “EQ900”, Zhengzhou Nissan truck “EQ1060”, Laufenn tyre “S FIT EQ”, ALPINE car navigation “EX11Z-EQ”, SPECIALLIZED bicycle “ALIBI SPORT EQ”. If so, the EQ term shall not be eligible for monopoly by a specific entity any longer.

The Appeal Board of JPO also upheld the refusal.
[Appeal case no. 2018-650016]

To contest the administrative decision, Daimler AG filed an appeal to the IP High Court on January 15, 2019.

IP High Court Ruling

The court first found the EQ mark in standard characters is not eligible for registration under Article 3(1)(v) of the Trademark Law.

In the meantime, the court found Daimler has newly released, promoted, and used the EQ mark with a combination of “POWER” as a new brand concept of electric car by Mercedes-Benz. Given a space for single letter between “EQ” and “POWER”, relevant consumers at the sight of promotional materials, advertisements and car magazines pertinent to Mercedes-Benz’s new electric car brand would perceive “EQ” as a specific source indicator. Taking account of enormous number of circulation of magazines (approx. 230,000) and advertisements for users (170,000 per year), the court held the EQ mark has been well known for a source indicator of Daimler electric car among relevant consumers and traders even if the duration of actual use and sales amount are not sufficient by themselves.

Notably, the court also negated fact-finding by JPO regarding ordinary use of the term EQ in association with vehicles by stating that since competitors use the term in a tight combination with other literal elements, they can be simply perceived as a mode name. If so, such use shall not be construed to negate acquired distinctiveness of the EQ mark by Daimler.

Based on the foregoing, the court ruled the EQ mark is entitled to trademark registration based on Article 3(2) of the Trademark Law and reversed a decision by the JPO on that account.


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

AI SCAN ROBO

In a recent administrative decision, the Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) allowed registration for a word mark of “AI SCAN ROBO”, finding that the mark could function as a source indicator.
[Appeal case no. 2018-5433, Gazette issue date: November 30, 2018]

 

AI SCAN ROBO

Disputed mark, consisting of “AI SCAN ROBO” in a standard character, was applied for registration on April 13, 2017 in connection with computer programs of class 9 and data processing in computer files for others of class 42.

The JPO examiner totally refused the mark due to lack of distinctiveness by stating that:

“AI” is known for an abbreviation of Artificial Intelligence. “SCAN” is a verb to use a machine to make a copy of a document or picture and put it into a computer. “ROBO” is equivalent to “robot”. Besides, the term of “SCAN ROBO” becomes generic in connection with Robotic Process Automation (RPA) robot to capture data and manipulate applications automatically. If so, disputed mark shall fall under Article 3(1)(vi) of the Japan Trademark Law since relevant consumers are likely to conceive disputed mark as a mere description of RPA robot to capture data automatically by making use of Artificial Intelligence.

 

Article 3(1)(vi) is a comprehensive provision to prohibit any mark lacking inherent distinctiveness from being registered.

Any trademark to be used in connection with goods or services pertaining to the business of an applicant may be registered, unless the trademark:
(vi)
 is in addition to those listed in each of the preceding items, a trademark by which consumers are not able to recognize the goods or services as those pertaining to a business of a particular person.

 

Applicant filed an appeal against the refusal and argued inherent distinctiveness of applied mark “AI SCAN ROBO” in its entirety.

 

Appeal Board decision

The Board set aside the refusal, finding that disputed mark shall not fall under Article 3(1)(vi) on following grounds.

  1. “AI” is known for an abbreviation of Artificial Intelligence.
  2. In the meantime, the Board opines the term “SCAN ROBO” per se does not represent a specific meaning. Rather it shall be considered as a coined word.
  3. If so, “AI SCAN ROBO” does not give rise to any descriptive meaning as a whole.
  4. Besides, there found no circumstances in commerce to support the term “AI SCAN ROBO” has been commonly used in connection with designated goods and service.
  5. Based on the foregoing, it shall be concluded that disputed mark is distinctive and relevant consumers and traders recognize it as a source indicator.

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

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]

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

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

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

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

Can shape of musical instruments play a role of trademark?

In a dispute of registrability to a unique three-dimensional shape of electric violins, the Appeal Board admitted protection of the mark based on distinctiveness acquired by means of substantial publicity of the violins [Appeal case no. 2016-1859].

YAMAHA Corporation applied for 3D shape of electric violin promoted under the name of “SILENT Violin” by designating electric violins of class 15 on September 24, 2014 [TM application no. 2014-80685].

 


Initial examination

Examiner rejected the applied mark by stating that;

“Unsymmetrical appearance of the applied mark can still be perceived as a three-dimensional shape of electric or electronic violins in its entirety.According to information retrieved from the websites, unsymmetrical violins have been distributed with an attempt to aesthetic appearance or weight saving.Admittedly, the applied 3D shape contributes to enhance function or aesthetic appeal of electric violins, however, the shape is deemed equivalent to a mark solely consisting of the shape of goods in a common manner to the extent that relevant traders and/or consumers are unlikely to recognize the shape as a source indicator. Hence, the mark is subject to Article 3(1)(iii) of the Trademark Law.”

Article 3(1)(iii) of the Trademark Law

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;


Appeal Trial

In this regard, the Appeal Board also sustained examiner’s decision and dismissed applicant argument of inherent distinctiveness of the applied 3D shape.

In the meantime, the Board granted protection of the 3D shape due to acquired distinctiveness based on Article 3(2) of the Trademark Law.

Article 3(2) of the Trademark Law

Notwithstanding the preceding paragraph, a trademark that falls under any of items (iii) to (v) of the preceding paragraph may be registered if, as a result of the use of the trademark, consumers are able to recognize the goods or services as those pertaining to a business of a particular person.

Acquired distinctiveness

YAMAHA Corporation has distributed electric violins “SILENT Violin” with a configuration of applied mark since 1997.
http://usa.yamaha.com/products/musical-instruments/strings/silentviolins/
The 3D shape has been continuously promoted in musical instruments magazines, a website and catalogues of applicant, and newspapers in a manner that readers can be attracted by its unique design. Winning various design awards and appearing in school textbooks as an example of industrial designs bolster remarkable reputation to the shape as well. Annual sale of “SILENT Violin” exceeding 100 million yen nationwide for last fifteen years is extremely higher than competitors.

Based on the foregoing, the Board stated;

It should be concluded that as a result of continuous and substantive use of the applied 3D mark since 1997, relevant consumers casting a glance at the mark are likely to conceive it as a source indicator of applicant business when used on electric violins.
Thus, the applied mark is eligible for registration in connection with electric violins of class 15 based on Article 3(2) of the Trademark Law.


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

 

 

Chemical Equation can function as a trademark?

The Appeal Board of JPO dismissed examiner’s rejection and admitted registration of a below mark appearing to be a chemical equation in association with the goods of alcoholic beverages, namely, distilled rice spirits, fruit wines, sake substitute, Japanese white liquor, Sake, Chinese liquors, Japanese Shochu-based beverages, Naoshi [Japanese liquor], Flavored tonic liquors, Japanese sweet rice-based mixed liquor, and western liquors in class 33. [Appeal case no. 2016-17500]

[Mark in question]


Initial examination

At an initial examination, the JPO examiner refused the mark [TM application no. 2015-111054] based on Article 3(1)(vi) of the Trademark Law by concluding that the mark, representing a chemical equation to generate ethyl alcohol(C2H5OH) and carbon dioxide(CO2) from glucose(C6H12O6) as a whole, can be perceived as a mere indication to appeal the goods produced by alcoholic fermentation in the mind of consumers with an ordinary care when used on alcoholic beverages in class 33.


Article 3(1)(vi) of the Trademark Law

Article 3(1)(vi) is a comprehensive provision aiming to prohibit any mark lacking inherent distinctiveness from being registered.

Any trademark to be used in connection with goods or services pertaining to the business of an applicant may be registered, unless the trademark:
(vi) is in addition to those listed in each of the preceding items, a trademark by which consumers are not able to recognize the goods or services as those pertaining to a business of a particular person.


Baord decision

In the meantime, the Appeal Board stated that ordinary consumers were unlikely to perceive the mark as chemical equation to represent alcoholic fermentation generated from glucose. Besides, there find no circumstance to show the chemical equation has been used frequently as a result of ex officio investigation. Thus, it is groundless to conclude the chemical equation lacks inherent distinctiveness in association with goods of class 33. Provided that the mark does not fall under Article 3(1)(vi), the initial examination loses its ground to refuse and should be dismissed accordingly.


Apparently, the Board paid an excessive attention to circumstance whether chemical equation or chemical formula are commonly used on alcoholic beverages. Even if ordinary consumers are not accustomed to such chemical expressions, I suppose, the JPO should refrain from admitting inherent distinctiveness of the expressions since nobody will consider it as a source indicator in fact.

 

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

How to avoid a descriptive mark from being refused by JPO

The trademark law prohibits any mark incapable of serving as a source indicator from being registered under Article 3 (1).

Article 3(1) of the trademark law

Any trademark to be used in connection with goods or services pertaining to the business of an applicant may be registered, unless the trademark:

(i) consists solely of a mark indicating, in a common manner, the common name of the goods or services;

(ii) is customarily used in connection with the goods or services;

(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;

(iv) consists solely of a mark indicating, in a common manner, a common surname or name of a juridical person;

(v) consists solely of a very simple and common mark; or

(vi) is in addition to those listed in each of the preceding items, a trademark by which consumers are not able to recognize the goods or services as those pertaining to a business of a particular person.

How to overcome refusal under Article 3(1)

We have three options to overcome the refusal under Article 3(1).

Option 1: Opposing to examiner’s assertion and dispute inherent distinctiveness.

Examiner often withdraws a refusal if we could convince the examiner of inherent distinctiveness in a response. Mostly, where applied mark is composed of two or three words, it is worthy of arguing distinctiveness of the mark in its entirety even though respective word is deemed descriptive.

 

Option 2: Arguing acquired distinctiveness of applied mark if applicant has substantial used of the mark.

A mark having functioned as a source indicator resulting from extensive and substantial use can be exceptionally registered under Article 3(2) of the trademark law regardless of descriptive meaning of the mark.

Article 3(2)
Notwithstanding the preceding paragraph, a trademark that falls under any of items (iii) to (v) of the preceding paragraph may be registered if, as a result of the use of thetrademark, consumers are able to recognize the goods or services as those pertaining to a business of a particular person.

 

Option 3: Asserting a unique appearance of the mark even if admittedly the mark itself is descriptive without such appearance.

If applied mark contains figurative elements or depicts word(s) with an unfamiliar font design, it is still possible to overcome the refusal since Article 3(1) is applicable to a mark depicted “in a common manner”.

In other words, descriptive term(s) written in an uncommon manner can be registered regardless of original meaning of the mark.

Needless to say, it is not allowed to amend font design of applied mark during examination based on Article 16-2. Therefore, third option should be taken into consideration prior to filing an application.

Article 16-2(1)
Where an amendment made to the designated goods or designated services, or to the trademark for which registration is sought as stated in the application, is considered to cause any change of the gist thereof, the examiner shall dismiss the amendment by a ruling.

 

1187hirai%e4%bf%ae%e6%ad%a3003_2Masaki MIKAMI – Attorney at IP Law, Japan
MARKS IP LAW FIRM