Apple successful in a trademark opposition to block “PriPhone”

Apple Inc. achieved a victory over trademark battle involving famous “iPhone”.
In a recent trademark opposition, case no. 2017-900319, the Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) decided in favor of Apple Inc. to cancel trademark registration no. 5967983 for word mark “PriPhone” due to a likelihood of confusion with Apple’s famous “iPhone”.

“PriPhone”

Opposed mark “PriPhone” was filed by a Japanese business entity on December 26, 2016 by designating the goods of “mobile phones; smart phones; downloadable image and music files; telecommunication machines and apparatus; electronics machines, apparatus and their parts” in class 9.
The JPO admitted registration on July 28, 2017 and published for registration on August 22, 2017.

Apple’s Opposition

To oppose the registration, Apple Inc. filed an opposition against “PriPhone” on October 20, 2017.

In the opposition brief, Apple Inc. asserted the opposed mark shall be cancelled in violation of Article 4(1)(xv) of the Japan Trademark Law given a remarkable reputation of opponent mark “iPhone” since nearly a quarter of Japanese have favorably used iPhone as a personal device to connect with internet.
Apple argued the opposed registrant knowingly included famous “iPhone” trademark on the ground that the company promotes protective cases, covers for iPhone.

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 consumers. Theoretically, Article 4(1)(xv) is applicable to the case where both marks are dissimilar, but likely to cause confusion among relevant consumers because of a related impression attributable to reputation of the well-known mark.

Board Decision

The Opposition Board admitted a remarkable degree of reputation and popularity of opponent trademark “iPhone” among general consumers which occupies the highest share (54.1% in 2012) of the smart phone market for past five years consecutively.

In the assessment of mark similarity, the Board found “PriPhone” would be perceived containing “iPhone” in the mark, provided that “iPhone”, as a coined word, is deemed a unique and famous trademark. Besides, in view of close connection between smart phones and the goods in question, similarity with respect to consumers, it is undeniable that relevant consumers with an ordinary care are likely to conceive “iPhone” from opposed mark when used on goods in question.

Based on the foregoing, the Board decided that relevant consumers are likely to confuse or misconceive a source of the opposed mark with Apple Inc. or any entity systematically or economically connected with the opponent.
If so, opposed mark shall be cancelled in violation Article 4(1)(xv) of the trademark law.


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

Japan IP High Court: Cancellation of trademark right due to inappropriate use by licensee

The IP High Court ruled on September 26, 2018 to totally cancel TM Reg. No. 1809362 for the mark “TOP-SIDER” on the ground that use of the registered mark by licensee is likely to cause confusion with goods from a business entity other than trademark owner.
[Case no. Heisei30(Gyo-ke)10053]

TM Registration – “TOP-SIDER”

Registered mark in question, consisting of the word “TOP-SIDER” written in plain Gothic font (see below), was registered in 1985 over the goods of clothing, coats, shirts and others in class 25 and  has been validly renewed over three decades .

Licensee’s Use

Mizujin  Co., Ltd, a  non-exclusive licensee of the registered mark in question, used “TOP-SIDER” logo on T-shirts (see below).

Sperry Top-Sider

Sperry Top-Sider LLC, a US business entity, famous for “Sperry Top-Sider” deck shoes, filed a cancellation trial against the registration based on Article 53 of the Japan Trademark Law and argued that above use by Mizujin shall be inappropriate since it is likely to cause confusion with “Sperry Top-Sider”.

Cancellation trial based on Article 53

JPO sided with Sperry and decided to entirely cancel the registration. To contend, trademark owner appealed to the IP High Court and alleged cancellation of the decision.

Article 53 of the Trademark Law provides that trademark right is subject to cancellation if use of the mark by licensee causes confusion with respect to another’s business and trademark owner is liable for failure to supervise with an ordinary care.

IP High Court decision

The IP High Court upheld the JPO decision, stating that:

  1. Apparently from totality of the circumstances, trademark owner must have noticed above use by Mizujin.
  2. ”TOP-SIDER” logo contains figurative elements to be seen as cloud and yacht, and looks quite similar to the Sperry mark.
  3. “Sperry Top-Sider” logo has become well-known for Sperry’s deck shoes among traders and general consumers.
  4. Since T-shirts and shoes are offered for sale to wear at same apparel shops, they are closely related with each other in view of sales channel as well as consumers.
  5. Thus, the Court finds that above use by licensee is likely to cause confusion with respect to Sperry business on deck shoes.

It is noteworthy that trademark owner is entitled to grant a licensee the right to use registered mark, however, by doing so , it enhances a risk to lose trademark right if he is careless to supervise the licensee’s inappropriate use and cause confusion.

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

Apple Inc. Lost Trademark Opposition to “SMAPPLE” in Japan

The Japan Patent Office dismissed a trademark opposition claimed by the U.S. tech giant, Apple Inc. against trademark registration no. 5987344 for word mark “SMAPPLE” in class 9 and 37 by finding less likelihood of confusion with Apple.
[Opposition case no. 2018-900006]

“SMAPPLE”

Opposed mark “SMAPPLE” was filed by a Japanese business entity on March 13, 2017 by designating mobile phones in class 9 and repair or maintenance service of mobile phones in class 37.
Going through substantive examination, the JPO admitted registration on September 15, 2017 and published for registration on November 7, 2017.

Apple’s Opposition

To oppose against registration, Apple Inc. filed an opposition on January 5, 2018.

In the opposition brief, Apple Inc. asserted the opposed mark shall be cancelled in violation of Article 4(1)(xv) of the Japan Trademark Law given a remarkable reputation of opponent mark “APPLE” in the business field of computers, smart phones, tablets, and any related business.
Apple argued the first two letters of “SM” is descriptive in connection with repair and maintenance service since it is conceived as an abbreviation of “service mark”, to my surprise. In addition, as long as the term “SMAPPLE” is not a dictionary word, relevant consumers at the sight of the term are likely to consider that the opposed mark consists of “SM” and “APPLE”.

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 consumers. Theoretically, Article 4(1)(xv) is applicable to the case where both marks are dissimilar, but likely to cause confusion among relevant consumers because of a related impression attributable to reputation of the well-known mark.

Board Decision

The Opposition Board admitted a remarkable degree of reputation and popularity of opponent trademark “Apple” in the business field to manufacture and distribute computers, smart phones, audio devices and mobiles phones etc., however, gave a negative view in relation to repair or maintenance service of mobile phones by taking account of insufficient evidences Apple Inc. produced to the Board.

Besides, in the assessment of mark similarity, the Board found “SMAPPLE” and “Apple” are totally dissimilar since they are sufficiently distinguishable in visual, phonetic, and conceptual point of view. The Board also questioned Apple’s argument the first two letters of “SM” does imply a meaning of service mark. If so, it is not permissible to separate a element of “APPLE” from the opposed mark. The mark shall be compared in its entirety. As long as “APPLE” is a familiar English term among relevant public to mean a round fruit with red or green skin and a whitish inside, the term shall not be deemed a coined word.

Based on the foregoing, the Board decided that relevant consumers are unlikely to confuse or misconceive a source of the opposed mark with Apple Inc. or any entity systematically or economically connected with the opponent.


I feel the opposed mark rather gives rise to a connotation of “smart apple”, than “service mark” and “apple”.
“Service mark” is not commonly used in our daily life unless he or she has a knowledge of IP law (LOL).

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

Trademark race for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games

The Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) refused Trademark Application No. 2016-85559 for a device mark consisting of metallic rings on goods of metallic fishing nets in class 6 on the ground of conflict with Article 4(1)(vi) of the Japan Trademark Law.

Metallic ring device mark

Mark in question ( see below) was filed on August 8, 2016 by designating goods of metallic fishing nets in class 6.

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 Olympism 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 and thus consumers at the sight of the mark are likely to conceive a well-known Olympic symbol from appearance regardless of difference in small rings to connect five symbolic rings.
[Appeal case no. 2018-1590, Gazette issued date : August 31, 2018]


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

ROLEX Unsuccessful in Trademark Battle Over Crown Logo

In a recent trademark decision, the Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an opposition against IR no. 1263679 filed by Rolex SA, Swiss manufacturer of luxurious watches, based on the iconic Rolex crown.

[Opposition case no. 2017-685031, Gazette issue date: August 31, 2018]

Opposed mark – Crown device

Opposed mark, consisting of a crown device (see below), was filed in the name of PWT A/S, a Danish retailer of clothing, furnishings, and accessories for men, women, and children.
The mark was filed to JPO through the Madrid Protocol (IR no. 1263679) with priority date of June 25, 2014 and admitted national registration on July 28, 2017 over the goods of “Toilet soaps, perfumery, essential oils, cosmetics, perfumed toilet preparations, preparations for cleaning, care and beauty cosmetics of the skin, scalp and hair, deodorizing preparations for personal use” in class 3, “Leather, boxes of leather or leather board, bags of leather for packaging” in class 18, and “Clothing, headgear” in class 25.
During substantive examination, JPO examiner initially issued a refusal due to a conflict with senior registrations for the Rolex crown. However, the JPO withdrew the refusal as a result of PWT’s response to partially delete goods and argue dissimilarity of mark.

Opposition by Rolex

During a two-months opposition period after registration, Rolex SA filed an opposition, stating that relevant consumers are likely to confuse or misconceive opposed mark with Rolex or any business entity systematically or economically connected with Rolex because of high similarity to the iconic Rolex crown (see above) and close association between “watches” and the designated goods in class 3 and 25.

Article 4(1)(xv)

Rolex SA sought to retroactively cancel opposed mark in relation to cosmetics and other goods designated under class 3 and clothing, headgear in class 25 based on Article 4(1)(xv) of the Japan Trademark Law.
Article 4(1)(xv) provides that a mark shall not be registered where it is likely to cause confusion with other business entity’s well-known goods or services, to the benefit of brand owner and users’ benefits.

Board decision

The Opposition Board did not question a remarkable degree of popularity and reputation of the ROLEX crown as a source indicator of opponent business.
In the meantime, the Board considered both marks give rise to a different impression in the minds of relevant consumers from overall appearance and found that the degree of similarity of marks is relatively low irrespective of a common crown design with five points and its circle-shaped ends. Besides, the Board negated close association between watches and cosmetics, apparel to the extent that watches, a sort of precision instrument, are not ordinarily manufactured or distributed by same business entity with cosmetics and apparel.

Based on the foregoing, the Board concluded that relevant consumers of goods in question are unlikely to confuse opposed mark with Rolex or any business entity systematically or economically connected with opponent.
Thus, opposed mark is not subject to Article 4(1)(x), and valid as a status quo.


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

IP High Court: “VANSNEAKER” is confusingly similar to famous “VANS” sneakers

The IP High Court ruled on August 29, 2018 to uphold the Japan Patent Office (JPO) decision to cancel TM Reg. No. 5916735 for the mark “VANSNEAKER” over shoes in class 25 due to a conflict with TM Reg. No. 5245474 for famous mark “VANS”.
[Case no. Heisei30(Gyo-ke)10026]

VANSNEAKER

Disputed mark “VANSNEAKER” in the standard character format was filed on July 25, 2016 and registered next January by designating shoes in class 25 in the name of VAN Jacket Inc., a Japanese business entity, who succeeded to apparel business of “VAN” brand all the rage in the 60’S.

Opposition by VANS Incorporated

VANS Incorporated, a US business entity, established in California 1966,  famous for “VANS” sneakers, filed an opposition  by citing its own senior registered mark “VANS” in standard character format over shoes in class 25. The JPO decided to cancel disputed mark in breach of Article 4(1)(xi) of the Trademark Law on the ground that it is confusingly similar to famous “VANS” mark from a conceptual point of view. [Opposition case no. 2017-900135]

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.

Appeal to the IP High Court

To contend, VAN Jacket appealed to the IP High Court and demanded cancellation of the decision.

VAN Jacket alleged in the court that JPO decision was based on an erroneous assumption of fact because it considered the portion of “VANS” plays a dominant role in source indicator. Given disputed mark “VANSNEAKER” consists of one word in its entirety, it is unlikely that consumers perceive the last letter “S” of “VANS” functions to represent an initial letter of “SNEAKER” as well.

Court decision

The IP High Court, however, dismissed the arguments by VAN Jacket, stating that:

  1. Cited mark ”VANS” has become famous among Japanese general consumers in connection with sneakers and shoes both at the time of filing application and registration of disputer mark.
  2. “NEAKER” does not give rise to any specific meaning. In the meantime, “SNEAKER”, combining “S” with “NEAKER” adjacent to it, is an English word familiar among relevant public to mean a type of the designated goods (shoes).
  3. It becomes usual to prevent successive letter in a coined mark consisting of two words where first word ends with a letter and send word starts with the same letter.
  4. Based on the foregoing, consumers at sight of disputed mark shall pay attention to a distinctive portion of “VANS” and are likely to conceive that the mark consists of two words, “VANS” and “SNEAKER” by omitting first or the last letter “S” of respective words.
  5. Consequently, the Court finds that disputed mark is likely to cause confusion with famous “VANS” sneakers when used on shoes.

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

Google victorious in trademark dispute for YouTube icon

The Trial Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) recently upheld Google’s invalidation petition against TM Reg. no. 5665763 for the “Video Blog” mark in combination with figurative element (see below) due to similarity to YouTube icon and a likelihood of confusion with Google business.
[Invalidation case no. 2017-890005, Gazette issue date: July 27, 2018]

TM Registration no.5665763

Opposed mark, consisting of two words “Video Blog” in English and Japanese in two lines, and figurative elements depicted in between the words, was applied for registration on August 13, 2013 in respect of broadcasting services for internet in class 38.

Without confronting with a refusal during substantive examination, opposed mark was registered on April 25, 2014.

Petition for invalidation

Japan Trademark Law provides a provision to retroactively invalidate trademark registration for certain restricted reasons specified under Article 46 (1).

Google Incorporated filed a petition for invalidation against opposed mark on January 25, 2017. Google argued it shall be invalidated due to a conflict with famous YouTube icon (see below) and a likelihood of confusion with Google business when used on internet broadcasting services in class 38 based on Article 4(1)(x) and (xv) of the Trademark Law.

Board decision

The Board admitted that YouTube icon has acquired a high degree of popularity and reputation as a sign to play movies and TV shows on YouTube or an icon to start up YouTube application among relevant consumers of broadcasting service for internet.

In assessment of the similarity between two marks, at the outset the Board found that the words “Video Blog” of opposed mark in itself lack distinctiveness as a source indicator in relation to the designated service. If so, the figurative element of opposed mark plays key role as a source indicator. It is unquestionable that the figurative element is highly similar to Youtube icon. Besides, in view of Google’s business portfolio, it is highly predictable that Google launches broadcasting or news distributing business.

Users of Google services are also likely to receive internet broadcasting services.

Based on the foregoing, the Board concluded that, from totality of circumstances and evidences, relevant traders or consumers are likely to confuse or misconceive a source of opposed mark with Google or any entity systematically or economically connected with the opponent and declared invalidation based on Article 4(1)(x) and (xv).


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

Toyota vs. Renault: Battle of the Brands

In a trademark opposition between Toyota Motor Corporation (JAPAN) and Renault SAS (FRANCE), the Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed the opposition against trademark registration no. 5932825 for word mark “WIGO”.

WIGO vs. TWINGO

Renault opposed to register the word mark “WIGO” designating automobiles in class 12 by Toyota based on Article 4(1)(xi), (xv) of the Trademark Law by citing his senior trademark registration no. 2710075 for Renault’s car brand “TWINGO”.

TOYOTA WIGO is mini hatchback from Toyota.

RENAULT TWINGO is small city car from Renault.

Assessment of trademark similarity

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.

In assessing trademark similarity under Article 4(1)(xi), the Board considered opposed mark “WIGO” is deemed a coined word since it does not give rise to any specific meaning as well as “TWINGO”. Besides, both marks are evidently distinguishable in appearance and pronunciation. If so, the Board found that it is groundless to conclude “WIGO” is similar to “TWINGO” from visual, phonetic and conceptual aspect.

Likelihood of confusion

Article 4(1)(xv) provides that a mark shall not be registered where it is likely to cause confusion with other business entity’s well-known goods or services, to the benefit of brand owner and users’ benefits.
Theoretically, Article 4(1)(xv) is applicable to the case where a mark in question is deemed dissimilar to well-known brand, but is still likely to cause confusion because of a high degree of popularity and reputation of the brand.

The Board concluded it remains unclear whether Renault TWINGO has become famous in automobiles from totality of the circumstances and evidence.
Provided that TWINGO does not obtain remarkable reputation in relation to automobiles as a source indicator of Renault car, WIGO is unlikely to cause confusion with Renault TWINGO because both marks are considerably dissimilar.
[Opposition case no. 2017-900193]


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