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

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 dispute for XXXX

In a recent trademark appeal trial to seek dismissal of examiner’s refusal, the Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) set aside the refusal and allowed registration of TM Application no. 2017-21396 for the XXXX mark because of dissimilarity to a senior registration for “XXXX” mark.
[Appeal case no. 2018-5881, Gazette issue date: October 26, 2018]

 

Applied mark

The mark in dispute (see below left) was applied for registration in the name of Mitsukoshi Isetan, Japan’s largest department store group, on February 22, 2017 by designating goods of clothing; belts in class 25 and retail or wholesale services for clothing, bags and pouches, handkerchief and hair ornaments in class 35.

 

Cited TM registration for “XXXX”

The JPO examiner refused the applied mark due to a conflict with senior TM registration no. 4147840 for the mark “XXXX” (see above right) 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.

Cited mark has been registered since 1998 over goods of clothing, garters, sock suspenders, suspenders [braces], waistbands, belts for clothing, footwear, clothes for sports, special footwear for sports in class 25.

Applicant filed an appeal against the decision on April 27, 2018 and disputed dissimilarity of the marks.

 

Appeal Board decision

The Appeal Board sided with the applicant and negated similarity of both marks by stating that:

Applied mark shall be seen to represent a certain geometric figure. It appears that cited mark represents four alphabetical letters of “X” in line. It means there finds distinguishable gap between geometric figure and alphabetical letters from appearance.
Applied mark does not give rise to any specific pronunciation. In the meantime, cited mark shall have pronunciations of “eks eks eks eks” and “four eks”. Likewise, both marks are sufficiently distinguishable in pronunciation.
Besides, as long as both marks do not give rise to any specific meaning, it is not feasible to compare them in concept.
In view of above aspects, it unlikely happens confusion between the marks and thus deemed dissimilar.

Based on the foregoing, the Board decided applied mark is not subject to Article 4(1)(xi), and admitted registration.


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

JPO refused to register 3D shape of Mitsubishi Electric’s spiral escalator

The Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) disallowed registration of 3D shape of Mitsubishi Electric’s spiral escalator due to lack of inherent distinctiveness and secondary meaning in relation to escalators, class 7. [Appeal case no. 2017-6855]

Spiral escalator

Mitsubishi Electric Corporation first developed the spiral escalator in 1985, and has been the world’s first and sole manufacturer of spiral escalators. Spiral escalator is a special design type of escalator in the form of a spiral/helical with curved steps.
On May 3, 2016, Mitsubishi Electric filed a trademark application for 3D shape of spiral escalator (see below) by designating escalators in class 7 to the JPO [TM application no. 2016-23374].

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 3D shape of escalator and the shape does solely consist of a common configuration to achieve the basic function of escalator. If so, the applied mark lacks distinctiveness as a source indicator.

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

Appeal Board’s decision

The Appeal Board, however, upheld the examiner’s decision on the ground and dismissed Mitsubishi’s allegation by stating that relevant consumers and traders shall conceive of an escalator designed to enhance its function or sensuousness at the sight of applied mark.

Acquired distinctiveness

Mitsubishi Electric also argued that even if the applied mark is deemed descriptive in relation to escalators, it shall be registrable based on Article 3(2) due to acquired distinctiveness of the mark because Mitsubishi Electric Spiral Escalators has achieved 100 % market share in the world and continuously used the 3D shape on escalators for more than three decades.

Article 3(2) is a provision to allow registration of applied mark if, as a result of substantial use of the mark in fact, consumers are able to connect the mark with a source indicator of designated goods or services.

Under the totality of the circumstances, the Appeal Board dismissed the allegation as well.

The Board found that regardless of 100 % market share in the category of spiral escalators, Mitsubishi Electric’s domestic supply record of 24 units in the last thirty years shall be a trivial quantity in comparison with total number of escalators in operation. Besides, questionnaire result rather shows a source of the applied mark is unknown to more than 60% of the questionee.

Based on the foregoing, the Board questioned whether applied mark has acquired distinctiveness through actual use in relation to escalators and consequently refused to register the mark based on Article 3(1)(iii) and 3(2) of the Trademark Law.


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

JPO refused 3M Company to register “3M” in relation to vehicles regardless of renowned 3M logo

In a recent decision, the Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) did not allow registration of a word mark “3M” written in standard character due to a lack of distinctiveness in relation to vehicles (class 12). [Appeal case no. 2017-3200]

Disputed mark – “3M” in standard character

Disputed mark, a word consisting of “3M” written in standard character, was filed by designating various types of vehicles (class 12) in the name of 3M Company, an American multinational technology company that engages in the manufacture of industrial, safety and consumer goods, and equipment on October 28, 2014 (TM application no. 2014-90835).

Article 3(1)(v)

On December 6, 2016, The JPO examiner totally refused disputed mark based on Article 3(1)(v) of the Trademark Law, stating that sign consisting of a digit and an alphabet is commonly used in transaction to represent article number, model number or standards. If so, disputed mark lacks inherently distinctiveness as a source indicator.

The article prohibits applied mark from registering if the mark consists solely of a very simple and common mark. Trademark Examination Guidelines (TEG) provides that a trademark composed of a numeral followed by one or two Roman characters, e.g. 2A, is subject to the article.

3M Company filed an appeal against the refusal and asserted that “3M” has become famous among public in general as a trade name and source indicator of applicant or its Japanese subsidiary.

Appeal Board decision

The Board, however, dismissed the assertions by finding that:

  1. Evidences just reveal longtime use of “3M” as a trade name of applicant or its subsidiary. But most of them show disputed “3M” mark is used to represent a commercial name in the context of newspapers and web articles. If so, there shall not be seen as a source indicator.
  2. Renowned 3M logo is different from disputed 3M mark in appearance.
  3. Even if “3M” keyword extraction from the web pages demonstrates substantial numbers of articles pertinent to applicant’s business and less possibility to use “3M” by unrelated business entities as article number, model number or standards, these facts are insufficient not to apply Article 3(1)(v).
  4. Precedent administrative decisions and judicial rulings are cases relating to renowned 3M logo. If so, as long as disputed mark consists of “3M” written in standard character, the Board can’t find any reason to bind the case in dispute.

    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]

Under Armour Lost Trademark Battle Against AGEAS in Japan

The Opposition Board of the Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an opposition filed by Under Armour Incorporated, an American sporting goods manufacturer which supplies athletic and casual apparel, as well as footwear, against trademark registration no. 5924494 for the “H” device mark designating apparels, footwear, headgear, gloves, cycling wears in class 25.
[Opposition case no. 2017-900163, Gazette issue date:  February 23, 2018]

Under Armour logo

In an opposition, Under Armour claimed trademark registration no. 5924494 violates Article 4(1)(x), (xi), (xv) and (xix) of the Japan Trademark Law by citing a senior trademark registration no. 4701254 for the Under Armour logo (see below in left). Cited registration has been effectively registered since 2003 by designating clothing, footwear, sportswear, sports shoes in class 25.

Opposed mark

Opposed mark was applied for trademark registration on August 26, 2016 in the name of AGEAS INC. (USA) covering various goods in class 25 (see above in right).

Without any refusal notice from the JPO, opposed mark was granted for registration on January 16, 2017, and published in gazette for opposition on March 21, 2017.

Subsequently, Under Armour filed an opposition in May.

 

Opposition grounds

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.

To sum up, Under Armour wins if the Under Armour logo is considered confusingly similar to opposed mark. Meanwhile, even if the Under Amour logo obtains a high degree of popularity and reputation among relevant public in Japan, the opposition is overruled as long as both marks are dissimilar and unlikely to cause confusion.

 

Board decision

The Opposition Board admitted a high degree of popularity and reputation of the Under Armour logo as a source indicator of opponent among relevant consumers in the fields of sports.

In the assessment of mark appearance, the Board concluded:

“It is apparent that respective mark gives rise to a diverse visual impression in the mind of consumers because of different configuration. Opposed mark can be perceived as a device deriving from ‘H’. In the meantime, the cited mark as a device consisting of ‘U’ and upside-down ’U’. Besides, from phonetical and conceptual points of view, there exists no element to find similarity of the marks. Based on the foregoing, both marks shall be less likely to cause confusion due to a remarkable degree of visual difference.”

 

As a conclusion, the Board decided opposed mark is not subject to Article 4(1)(x), (xi), (xv) and (xix) of the Trademark Law, and admitted to continue a status quo.


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