Trademark dispute over Shogun Emblem of the Samurai Era

In a recent appeal trial over trademark dispute, the Trademark Appeal Board within the Japan Patent Office (JPO) overturned the Examiner’s determination and held that a combination mark with Tokugawa crest image and literal elements written in Chinese characters is dissimilar to, and unlikely to cause confusion with a senior trademark registration for the “TOKUGAWA CREST” device mark in connection with pickled plums of class 29.
[Appeal case no. 2018-6893, Gazette issue date: March 29, 2019]

 

TOKUGAWA CREST

The Tokugawa clan was the family that established the Edo shogunate, also known as the Tokugawa shogunate, (1603–1867), the final period of traditional Japan, a time of internal peace, political stability, and economic growth under the shogunate (military dictatorship) founded by Tokugawa Ieyasu. The Tokugawa shogunate continued to rule Japan for a remarkable 250 years and ended in 1868, with the Meiji Restoration when the Emperor regained power.

The Tokugawa crest was a circle in closing three leaves of the awoi (a species of mallow, found in Central Japan) joined at the tips, the stalks touching the circle (see below).

This gilded trefoil is gleaming on the property of the shogun and mausoleum even now in Japan.

 

YUME-AWOI

Kabushiki Kaisha Kiwa-Nouen Products, a Japanese merchant dealing with plums and its products filed a trademark application for a combination mark with Tokugawa crest image and literal elements written in Chinese characters (see below) covering pickled plums in class 29 on June 21, 2016 [TM application no. 2016-72127].

Three Chinese characters “紀州梅” in the upper right of the mark lacks distinctive since the term means plums made in Kishu, the name of a province in feudal Japan (the area corresponds to nowadays Wakayama Prefecture and southern Mie Prefecture), as a whole. Two characters “夢葵” in the center of the mark to be pronounces as “yume-awoi” is obviously a coined word and distinctive in relation to pickled plums.

The mark is actually in use on high-class pickled plums produced by applicant.

Tokugawa Museum

Going through substantive examination by the JPO examiner, applied mark was totally refused registration based on Article 4(1)(vi), (vii), (xv) of the Trademark Law on the ground that the mark contains a device resembling the Tokugawa crest which becomes famous as a source indicator of ‘Public Interest Incorporated Foundation The Tokugawa Museum’.
If so, using the mark on the designated goods by an unauthorized entity may free-ride goodwill vested in the Tokugawa crest and anything but conductive to the public interest. Besides, relevant consumers are likely to confuse or misconceive pickled plums using applied mark with goods from The Tokugawa Museum or any business entity systematically or economically connected with the museum.

Article 4(1)(vi) is a provision to refuse any mark which is identical with, or similar to, a famous mark indicating the State, a local government, an agency thereof, a non-profit organization undertaking a business for public interest, or a non-profit enterprise undertaking a business for public interest.

Article 4(1)(vii) of the Trademark Law prohibits any mark likely to cause damage to public order or morality from registration.

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.

 

Applicant filed an appeal against the refusal on May 21, 2018 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:

It becomes trade practice to print family crest on the packaging of food products. Especially, trefoil awoi crest has been commonly used on the packaging of specialty products or souvenir from Aichi (Owari), Wakayama (Kishu) and Ibaragi (Mito) Prefectures where descendants from clan founder Tokugawa Ieyasu’s three youngest sons governed during the Edo shogunate. Besides, from appearance, Tokugawa crest image in applied mark looks like a background pattern and thus relevant consumers are unlikely to aware that the pattern serves the legally defined role of a trademark because the image is colored washier than literal elements. If so, two Chinese characters “夢葵” of the mark functions primarily as a source indicator.

Based on the foregoing, the Board considered, given the Tokugawa crest image in the applied mark does not play a role of source indicator at all, both marks are dissimilar and unlikely to cause confusion from visual, phonetic and conceptual points of view even if the Tokugawa crest becomes famous as a source indicator of Public Interest Incorporated Foundation The Tokugawa Museum in fact. Likewise, the Board found no specific reason to cause damage to public order or morality from applied mark.


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

Trademark trolls target New Japan era name “REIWA”

Over 1,200 applications filed for Reiwa-related trademarks in China within a month after announcement of the new Imperial era name “REIWA” by the Japanese government on April 1, 2019.

According to a search site of China’s trademark office, prior to the April 1 announcement of the era name, there was only one trademark application for the name, filed in 2017. However, 238 applications related to REIWA were filed on April 1 alone, when the new era name was announced. The number of such applications further swelled to 1,276 as of April 30.

The applicants seem to be trying to take advantage of the new era name. Those requests are for registration of names such as “Reiwado,” “Reiwaya” and “Reiwa tenka.” The applications were in a variety of fields ranging from cosmetics to food, with examples including “Reiwa beef” and “Reiwa hall.”

It is unclear whether their applications will be approved. Chinese authorities are unlikely to grant any new permission for trademark names related to REIWA.

 

Other neighbor nations (Taiwan, Korea)

According to a search site of Taiwan’s IP office, 8 applications related to REIWA were filed after announcement as of May 1.

In Korea, a search site revealed only 3 applications related to REIWA were filed in April.

Japan

48 applications related to REIWA were filed to the Japan Patent Office in three days after announcement of the new era name.

As mentioned in the previous blog article, the revised trademark guidelines to ensure trademarks do not feature any era name now clearly state that all era names, in principle, cannot be used for trademarks.
It is expected most of the applications are rejected for registration under the latest guidelines.


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

WTR report: The first individual in history to have filed over 100,000 trademark applications

A notorious and incredibly prolific trademark application filer in Japan, Ikuhiro Ueda, is causing headaches for brands in Japan.

As the figures below show, the rate of the filings – both using the applicant name ‘Ikuhiro Ueda’ and his legal entity name ‘Best Licensing Co’ – stepped up in 2016 and 2017, reaching 24,500 and 32,000 applications per year respectively. The sheer number of applications from Ueda accounted for 18.5% of all trademarks to the JPO in 2017, and even reached over 30% in the first two months of this year.

As the graph shows, there was a dip in 2018. This was due to an attempt from the Japanese government to quell the rate of filings from entities like Ueda. A new law, the ‘Trademark Law Revision Act of 2018’, came into force on June 9 last year and introduced stipulations that – in theory – erected a hurdle to the mass filing of trademark applications without paying fees. However, that revision was not enough to permanently slow the number of applications. As the below graph shows, applications from Ueda-related entities did significantly picked up again in December 2018.

According to CompuMark’s Robert Reading, he is now the first individual in history to have filed over 100,000 trademark applications. To put the activity into context, the table below looks at the trademark activity of the world’s largest companies – and shows Ueda comfortably out in front.

While Ueda’s trademark application portfolio is unmatched, so too is his success rate – although presumably not in the way he wants. “Amazingly, Ueda only has three registered trademarks – so just one in every 30,000 applications actually succeeds, which translates to a success rate of 0.0028%”, Reading further reveals.

(Excerpt from WTR online report dated April 11, 2019 by Tim Lance)


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

JPO decision: TESLA is dissimilarly pronounced to Tesla

In a recent appeal decision over trademark dispute, the Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) overturned the Examiner’s refusal and held the stylized TESLA mark is dissimilarly pronounced to a senior trademark registration for the “Tesla” word mark.

[Appeal case no. 2017-650037, Gazette issue date: February 22, 2019]

 

Stylized TESLA mark

U.S. electric automaker Tesla, Inc. (formerly Tesla Motors, Inc.) filed an application with the Japan Patent Office to register stylized TESLA mark as a trademark for “Articles of clothing, namely, t-shirts, shirts, jackets, hats; headgear, namely, sports hats, caps, sun visors.” in class 25 and “Providing financial services relating to automobiles, namely, automobile financing and lease-purchase financing; financing services for the purchase and leasing of motor vehicles; lease-purchase financing; credit services, namely, providing financing for motor vehicles; providing financial advice in the field of motor vehicles.” in class 36.

 

Senior TM registration for “Tesla”

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 a senior trademark registration no. 5533558 for word mark “Tesla” in standard character for clothing, caps and foot wears in class 25 owned by a Korean individual.

There is criterion that the examiner is checking when assessing 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 June 30, 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:

From appearance, both marks are sufficiently distinguishable because the 2nd and last letter of applied mark are too indecipherable to be perceived as a specific term in its entirety.

As long as applied mark does not give rise to any specific sound and meaning as a whole, applied mark is incomparable with cited mark “Tesla” in the aspects of pronunciation and connotation.

Based on the foregoing and criterion to assess similarity of mark, the Board is of a view that the stylized TESLA mark shall be dissimilar to senior registration for the word mark “Tesla” even if the designated goods are deemed identical or similar in class 25.


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

HISAMITSU unsuccessful in registering a shape of “Salonpas”

The Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) disallowed registration of a shape of famous Japanese pain relief patches in the name of “Salonpas” manufactured by Hisamitsu Pharmaceutical Co., Inc. due to lack of inherent distinctiveness in relation to poultices, class 10. [Appeal case no. 2017-12694]

Salonpas

Hisamitsu Pharmaceutical Co., Inc. filed a trademark application for a shape of Over-The-Counter Topical Pain Patch known for “Salonpas” (see below) by designating pharmaceutical preparations, gauze for dressings, bandages for dressings, adhesive plasters and other goods in class 5 [TM application no. 2015-7479].

Salonpas is a product of Hisamitsu Pharmaceutical, a company whose history dates back to the mid-1800s. Salonpas was introduced in 1934 and was first distributed in Asia. The FDA approved the Salonpas Pain Relief Patch for the US market in 2008. Approximately 20 billion Salonpas transdermal patches have been sold in the last 20 years. Salonpas has been acknowledged as World’s No.1 OTC Topical Analgesics in patch format.

 

JPO Examination

The JPO examiner totally refused the application based on Article 3(1)(iii) of the Japan Trademark Law stating that the applied mark can be easily seen as a shape of poultices and the shape does solely consist of a common configuration to achieve the basic function of poultices. If so, the applied mark lacks distinctiveness as a source indicator.

Article 3(1)(iii) is a provision to prohibit any mark from registering where 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.

 

To dispute the refusal, Hisamitsu filed an appeal on August 28, 2017.

 

Appeal Board’s decision

The Appeal Board, however, upheld the examiner’s decision on the ground and dismissed Hisamitsu’s allegation by stating that relevant consumers and traders shall conceive of a mere qualitative representation to indicate the shape of poultices and plasters at the sight of applied mark given similar indications are depicted on the packages of other supplier’s goods on the market (see below).

 

Based on the foregoing, the Board consequently refused to register the mark based on Article 3(1)(iii) of the Trademark Law.


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

JPO denied registering GRAND CANYON as trademark

In a recent appeal decision, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) upheld examiner’s refusal and decided to reject trademark “GRAND CANYON” in connection with clothing and shoes of class 25 due to lack of distinctiveness. [Appeal case no. 2017-16166]

 

GRAND CANYON

UNITIKA LTD., a Japanese textile company, applied for registration of word mark “GRAND CANYON” in relation to clothing, shoes and other goods of class 25 on September 26, 2016.

JPO examiner totally refused the application due to lack of distinctiveness based on Article 3(1)(iii) of the Trademark Law by stating that THE GRAND CANYON, a steep-sided canyon carved by the Colorado River in Arizona, one of America’s most famous and awe-inspiring natural attractions, recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, has been known for a famous tourist spot. Since relevant traders and consumers in Japan are familiar with circumstances that variety of souvenirs and gifts are on sale at tourist spot, presumably consumers will consider the applied mark just as a geographical indication in connection with the designated goods, not a source indicator.

 

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;”

 

To dispute the refusal, UNITIKA filed an appeal on May 12, 2017.

UNITIKA argued “GRAND CANYON” shall be registrable in connection with clothing by citing several trademark registrations of the name granted by the JPO. In fact, UNITIKA is an owner of trademark registration for the same mark on goods of class 24 and 25 since 2005.

 

Appeal Board’s decision

The Appeal Board, however, upheld the examiner’s decision on the ground and dismissed UNITIKA’s allegation by stating that relevant consumers and traders at the sight of applied mark depicted on clothing shall conceive of a famous World Heritage Site in US.

Existing trademark registrations for the mark “GRAND CANYON” will not affect the decision since distinctiveness of trademark is variable as time goes by – with the lapse of time.

 

Criteria for Trademark Examination Guideline

Trademark Examination Guideline (TEG) pertinent to Article 3(1)(iii) provides that where a trademark is composed of a geographical name in foreign country or sightseeing area, the mark is deemed as “the place of origin” of goods or “the place of their sale”, provided that consumers or traders generally recognize that the designated goods will be produced or sold at the place indicated by the geographical name.

Trademark Examination Manual, 413.103.01 sets forth criteria to examine trademarks related to foreign geographical name.

In the cases of (a) the name of a capital, (b) the name of a state, (c) the name of a prefecture, (d) the name of a state capital, (e) the name of a province, (f) the name of the capital of a province, (g) the name of a county, (h) the name of the capital of a prefecture, (i) a former country name, (j) an old regional name, (k) the name of a district, (l) the name of a city, or special district, (m) the name of a busy downtown street, and (n) the name of a sightseeing area, even though these names may not be directly described in a dictionary or other documents/material as the place of origin, the place of sales (location of transaction) of the goods, or the location of provision of services (location of transaction), if a factor exists that establishes a connection between the goods and the name as the place of sales (location of transaction), or the location of the provision of services (location of transaction), in principle, the trademark will be refused on the grounds that it indicates the location where the goods are sold (location of transaction) or the location of provision of services (location of transaction)


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

Japan: trademark registration of era names will be banned

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) revised its screening criteria to prevent all era names from being registered as trademarks.

The amendment came as the country prepares for the change in May of the current era name following the abdication of Emperor Akihito on April 30, 2019. Japan will start using the new name from May 1 when Crown Prince Naruhito ascends to the throne. The government announced to unveil the new era name on April 1, a month before the Imperial succession, to mitigate the impact of the change on people’s lives.

There was concern that the JPO might be flooded with requests to register the new era name for trademarks during the last month of the Heisei Era, which commenced on Jan. 8, 1989.


According to the JPO, more than 100 trademark registration applications for merchandise and company names using “Heisei” were filed in January of that year.

Under previous criteria, there was room for era names, except Heisei, to be registered as trademarks.
The revised guidelines to ensure trademarks do not feature any era name now clearly state that all era names, in principle, cannot be used for trademarks.

However, even after the revision, familiar product and corporate names already using old era names, such as Meiji Holdings Co. and Taisho Pharmaceutical Co., will continue to be treated as exceptions.


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

Trademark race for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games – Episode 2

The Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) refused Trademark Application No. 2017-11978 for a device mark consisting of five interlaced heart shape logos for goods of clothing and footwear in class 25 because of similarity to Olympic rings based on Article 4(1)(vi) of the Japan Trademark Law.

Heart shape device mark

Mark in question ( see below) was filed on February 6, 2017 by designating goods of clothing, footwear, masquerade costumes, clothes for sports in class 25.

Article 4(1)(vi) of the Trademark Law

The JPO examiner refused the mark by citing the Olympic Rings based on Article 4(1)(vi) of the Trademark Law.
Article 4(1)(vi) is a provision to refuse any mark which is identical with, or similar to, a famous mark indicating the State, a local government, an agency thereof, a non-profit organization undertaking a business for public interest, or a non-profit enterprise undertaking a business for public interest.

JPO trademark examination guidelines clearly refer to the Olympic Symbol as an example of the mark to indicate a non-profit business for public interest.

Olympic Rings

The Olympic symbol, widely known throughout the world as the Olympic Rings, is the visual ambassador of Olympic for billions of people.

The Olympic symbol is defined in Olympic Charter, Rule 8 as

“The Olympic symbol consists of five interlaced rings of equal dimensions (the Olympic rings), used alone, in one or in five different colours. When used in its five-colour version, these colours shall be, from left to right, blue, yellow, black, green and red. The rings are interlaced from left to right; the blue, black and red rings are situated at the top, the yellow and green rings at the bottom.”

The Olympic Rings, publicly presented for the first time in 1913, remain a global representation of the Olympic movement and its activity.

 

Appeal Board decision

In an appeal, the Board sustained examiner’s refusal and decided the mark in question shall be refused on the same ground.
The Board stated that mark in question has same configuration with the Olympic Rings, inter alia, depicting horizontally three heart shape logos on an upper row and two on a lower row, and thus consumers at the sight of the mark are likely to conceive or connect it with a well-known Olympic symbol from appearance.
[Appeal case no. 2018-3425, Gazette issued date : December 28, 2018]


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

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