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

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

MEN’S CLUB magazine

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

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

 

TM Registration 5858891 – MEN’S CLUB on male cosmetics

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

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

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

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

Article 4(1)(xv)

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

Theoretically, Article 4(1)(xv) is applicable to the case where a mark in question designates remotely associated or dissimilar goods or services with that of a well-known brand business.

IP High Court decision

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

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

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

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

 

 

Trademark battle: OLYMPIC vs Ocalympic

In a TM invalidation appeal filed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) who disputed TM registration no. 5608031 for the mark “Ocalympic” covering services of organization of musical performances played by ocarinas and others in class 41 shall be invalid due to conflict with “OLYMPIC”, an international sports festival organized by IOC, the Appeal Board of JPO  decided in favor of IOC and declared invalidation of the “Ocalympic” mark based on Article 4(1)(vi) of the Trademark Law.
[Case no. 2016-890064,  Decisively  fixed date: September 4, 2017]


Article 4(1)(vi)

Trademark shall not be registered if the trademark 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.

Famous mark to represent public business by NPO

The Board admitted the OLYMPIC marks has acquired substantial degree of popularity and reputation worldwide as a source indicator of the Olympic Games organized by NPO for public interest at the time of application for invalidated mark based on the facts that IOC is an international NPO established on June 23, 1894, an organizer of the Olympic Games, has been using the marks to represent the Games which correspond to an undertaking for public interest.

Assessment of similarity between marks

Since literal configuration of the Invalidated mark, having an initial letter “O” and spellings of “LYMPIC(lympic)” in the latter part, is identical with a coined mark “OLYMPIC”, the mark gives rise to an impression closely associated with “OLYMPIC” from appearance.

A mere verbal difference on second sound “ca” shall not be material as a whole in view of common pronunciation in initial sound “O” and “LYMPIC” in the latter part. Besides, when pronouncing each mark at a breath, relevant audience shall find resemblance in tone and a sense of language. Thus, both marks are deemed similar in phonetical point of view.

Regarding conceptual point of view, even if the Invalidated mark is admittedly a coined term, it still gives rise to a meaning of the Olympic Games.

Therefore, considering every circumstance, both marks are deemed similar.


Provided that Invalidated mark combines “ocarinas” with “Olympic”, I feel above assessment inappropriate. Toward the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, it is anticipated that such sort of mark may appear. Be on high alert for famous mark “OLYMPIC”!

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

JPO : KAPAPA is unlikely to cause confusion with Kappa

In a recent trademark opposition, Opposition Board of the Japan Patent Office (JPO) decided the mark “KAPAPA” is unlikely to cause confusion with “Kappa”, one of the world’s largest sport brands founded in 1960s, Italy even when used on sport wears.[Opposition case no. 2017-900115, decisively concluded on August 17, 2017]


Opponent, a Japanese business entity authorized to distribute “Kappa” goods in Japan, filed a trademark opposition against TM registration no. 5912402 for the “KAPAPA” logo mark (see below).

Opposed mark was applied for registration on April 20, 2016 by designating various goods in class 18 and 25, e.g. bags, clothing, sport wears, sport shoes, caps and socks.


Opponent asserted that the opposed mark violates Article 4(1)(xi) and 4(1)(xix) of the Trademark Law by citing senior registrations for the “Kappa” mark.


Based on substantive evidential materials to show the facts the “Kappa” is ranked as 6th sport brand in annual sale and has been promoted in Japan over three decades, the Opposition Board admitted that “Kappa” has acquired a certain degree of popularity and reputation among relevant consumers as a source indicator of workout clothes, gym clothes, athletic wear and soccer wear.

In the meantime, the Board denied similarity between “KAPAPA” and “Kappa” by taking into consideration a distinctive gap in sound and meaning of respective mark as a whole.

As a conclusion, the opposition is groundless since it shall be unlikely that relevant consumers with an ordinary care would confuse or associate “KAPAPA” wears with “Kappa” and any entity systematically or economically connected with opponent, the Board held.

 

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

Mattel failed in a trademark opposition to block “Salon BARBIES”

JPO dismissed an opposition by Mattel, Inc. – maker of the world-famous Barbie doll – who claimed “Salon BARBIES” is likely to cause confusion or association with famous Barbie doll when used on restaurant and fan club services. [Opposition case no. 2016-900395]


Opposed mark

Opposed mark, TM Registration no. 5881203, was filed on March 10, 2016 by designating various services in class 35 and 43 including restaurant, accommodation club services, business management analysis and others.

JPO granted to register opposed mark with no finding of refusal grounds and published for registration on October 11, 2016.


Opposition

On December 12, 2016, Mattel, Inc., an American multinational toy manufacturing company, opposed an application to register the mark Salon BARBIES (see above).

In the opposition, Mattel cited two senior trademark registrations.

  • TM Registration no. 5383631 for word mark “BARBIE” in standard character (classes 9, 14, 18, 24, 25, 28, 35)
  • TM Registration no. 589632 for the BARBIE logo (classes 9, 15, 20, 21, 25, 28)

Mattel argued that Opposed mark is subject to cancellation in violation of Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law on the grounds that its BARBIE mark had acquired such fame that, upon seeing the opposed mark used on restaurant and fan club service, the average consumer would be led to infer the existence of a connection to the owner of the famous brand.

Besides, Opposed mark is objectionable in violation of Article 4(1)(xix) as well since it would presumably aim to dilute or do harm to remarkable prestige bestowed to BARBIE mark.


Board decision

The Opposition Board admitted BARBIE mark has acquired a high degree of popularity and reputation as a source indicator of dolls among relevant traders and consumers at the time of both the application and the grant of registration of Opposed mark.
In the meantime, the Board denied similarity of both marks in visual, phonetical and conceptual points of view.
Based on dissimilarity of the marks, the Board concluded relevant traders and consumers are unlikely to confuse or associate the services using Opposed mark with opponent or any business entity economically or systematically connected with Mattel.
Therefore, Opposed mark shall not be cancelled due to Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law.

Article 4(1)(xix) is applicable only where both marks are identical or similar.
Besides, from the totality of the circumstances, the Board found no fact and evidence to show or infer that Opposed mark was filed with malicious or fraudulent intent on the part of registrant to hinder the business of opponent. Thus, Opposed mark shall remain valid in light of Article 4(1)(xix) as well.

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

ENRICO COVERI failed to remove “COVERI” from trademark registration

The Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) held in an opposition filed by Enrico Coveri Società a Responsabilità Limitata (Opponent) that trademark registration no. 5874843 for a word mark “COVERI” (Opposed mark) shall remain as valid as ever and dismissed claims in the opposition entirely.
[Opposition case no. 2016-900368]


Opposed mark (see below) was applied for registration on November 27, 2015 by designating various kinds of goods in class 25 including apparels and shoes, and published for registration on September 20, 2016without any office action from the JPO examiner.


Opponent claimed that the opposed mark “COVERI” shall be cancelled on the basis of Article 4(1)(vii), (viii), (x), (xi), (xv) and (xix) of the Japan Trademark Law by citing senior trademark registrations for word mark “ENRICO COVERI”, a name of the late Italian fashion designer, in class 18, 24 and 25.


In the opposition decision, the Board concluded that “ENRICO COVERI” and “COVERI” are both dissimilar in appearance, pronunciation and concept.

Besides, the Board did not admit a high degree of popularity and recognition to “ENRICO COVERI” among relevant public in Japan because of insufficient evidence to demonstrate amount of sales, number of stores and expenditure for promotion and advertisement (Opponent has just produced some photographs or articles appeared in fashion magazines).

Based on the fact finding, the Board concluded that opposed mark was not filed in a malicious intent to do harm to the designer’s fame, and “COVERI” shall not be deemed as an abbreviation of “ENRICO COVERI”. Therefore, there finds less likelihood of confusion between “COVERI” and “ENRICO COVERI” even if both marks are used on apparels or shoes.


It is highly advisable to an owner of high-end or luxurious brand, consisting of two or more alphabetical words, to have each word registered as well for the purpose of preventing free-riding and enjoying a broader scope of protection against use by others.

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

V&W is unlikely to cause confusion with VW emblem

In a recent trademark opposition involving the circular Volkswagen logo, the Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) decided that famous VW emblem is entirely dissimilar to, or unlikely to cause confusion with, the word mark “V&W” in standard character when used on retail services for automobiles [Opposition Case no. 2017-900009].


Trademark opposition

German car giant Volkswagen AG filed an opposition against TM registration no. 5888513 for word mark “V&W” written in standard character (Opposed mark) on the grounds that Opposed mark violates Article 4(1)(xi), 4(1)(xv) and 8(1) of the Trademark Law based on senior trademark registrations for the VW emblems and a word mark “VW”.
The opposed mark designates retail services or wholesale services for automobiles and various other goods in class 35.

Volkswagen argued Opposed mark gives rise to a pronunciation of “vi: dʌb·l·juː” by omitting “&” since the prevalent symbol representing a word of “AND” is just to connect “V” and “W”, and relevant traders and consumers are prone to omit the symbol in pronouncing the entire mark in light of transactional customs at present. If so, Opposed mark is deemed similar to the VW emblem as well as “VW” in visual, phonetical and conceptual point of view.

Besides, the VW emblem has acquired substantial popularity and reputation as a source indicator of famous automobile maker, Volkswagen. Thus, it is highly likely that relevant traders and consumers confuse the source of retail service for automobiles and its parts using Opposed mark “V&W” with opponent or a business entity systematically or economically connected with the opponent.

 


Board decision

The Board admitted the VW emblem has become famous for a source indicator of opponent by taking into consideration of the facts that opponent’s cars with the VW emblem have been continuously imported to Japan since 1978 at the latest and ranked in the top 3 of new imported automobile registrations for the past three years.

In the meantime, the Board denied high awareness of the word mark “VW” as a source indicator of opponent. A mere definition of VW to indicate the opponent in a dictionary is insufficient since the term is often seen in conjunction with corporation name “Volkswagen” in newspaper, magazines and newsarticle on a website.

In the assessment of trademark similarity, the Board concluded that “V&W” is obviously dissimilar to the VW emblem and “VW” in appearance, pronunciation and meaning. Due to substantial distinction between the marks, relevant traders and consumers are less likely to confuse or associate “V&W” with opponent and any business entity systematically or economically connected with opponent.

Based on the foregoing, the Board dismissed opposition and allowed “V&W” to survive.


It is noteworthy that a mark consisting of two alphabetical letters written in a plain font design is considered less distinctive in Japan. In this respect, IR no. 1272004 for the word mark “VW” did not function to broadly protect the VW emblem in favor of Volkswagen.

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

SISLEY, French luxury beauty brand, failed in a trademark opposition against the mark “SISLOY”

In a recent decision, the Opposition Board of the Japan Patent Office dismissed an opposition filed by CFUB Sisley, a French producer of cosmetics and fragrances, founded in 1976 against the word mark “SISLOY” written in a standard character.
[Opposition case no. 2016-900379]

Opposed mark

Mark in dispute, consisting of a word “SISLOY” written in a standard character, TM Registration no. 5878006, was applied for registration in March 11, 2016 in the name of U STYLE Co., Ltd., a Japanese legal entity, by designating goods of cosmetics, perfumes, creams, soaps etc. in class 3. Based on the results of substantive examination by the JPO, the mark was granted for protection without any refusal or oppositions on August 4, 2016 and subsequently published for opposition on October 4, 2016.

 

Trademark opposition claim by Sisley

Sisley filed an opposition and demanded the JPO to cancel the oppose mark in violation of Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law.

Article 4(1)(xv) is a provision to prohibit any trademark which is likely to cause confusion with a third party or its business from being registered for protection.

Sisley cited a registered “SISLEY” trademark (TM Registration no. 1873095) which consists of alphabetical letters and Japanese katakana letters to pronounce Sisley, as well as a non-registered “sisley” trademark solely written in lower-case alphabetical letters (herein after collectively referred to as “SISLEY trademarks”).

Sisley alleged that SISLEY trademarks has acquired a high degree of popularity and reputation among relevant traders and consumers of cosmetics worldwide.

According to the evidence, annual sales in Japan amounts to about 2 billion yen continuously. Sisley occupies 1% market share in Japan

To bolster the argument, Sisley referred to the past favorable decision in an opposition against a word mark of “SYSLEY” in which the JPO admitted famousness of “SISLEY” as a source indicator of skin care cosmetics.

Based on SISLEY trademarks known for French luxury beauty brand, Sisley argued that relevant traders and consumers are likely to conceive Sisley at the sight of goods with opposed mark, or confuse the goods comes from any business entity economically or systematically associated with Sisley in error by taking into consideration of close similarity between “SISLEY” and “SISLOY”.

 

Board decision

The Opposition Board considered the evidence is insufficient and less objective to convince the Board of the fame of SISLEY trademarks in the marketplace of Japan.

Due to the lack of objective evidence, the Board denied a high degree of popularity and reputation of SISLEY trademarks as a source indicator of skin care cosmetics in view of a trivial market share.

Regarding the past opposition decision to admit famousness of the mark “SISLEY”, the Board held the decision was irrelevant on the case because it never made things clear whether SISLEY trademarks still maintained such famousness at the time of application filing of the opposed mark, given eight years already passed since then.

Besides, the Board concluded that finding the difference of “O” and “E” at fifth letter is not negligible, the oppose mark and SISLEY trademarks are distinctively dissimilar in the aspect of appearance, pronunciation and meaning.

Based on the foregoing, it should decide that the relevant traders and consumers are unlikely to confuse or misconceive the opposed mark with SISLEY trademarks even when used on cosmetics and other designated goods

 

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

Who shall be a legitimate owner of smiley face mark?

In a lawsuit disputing adequacy of decision by the JPO Appeal Board (Appeal case no. 2016-15097) to refuse the applied mark composed of a name of the earliest known designer of the smiley, “Harvey Ball”, and the Smiley Face (TM2015-74154, class 25) due to a conflict with cited senior registrations no.1 to 3, the IP High Court sustained the decision being appealed.[Case no. Heisei 29 (Gyo-ke) 10034, Court decision date: August 8, 2017]

The applicant, a Japanese legal entity authorized to manage intellectual property of The Harvey Ball World Smile Foundation, argued dissimilarity of the smiley design and alleged that the design becomes less distinctive as a source indicator, but just a stylized representation of a smiling humanoid face on the grounds that similar designs have been used for many years and 7,000 marks containing the design are/were registered.
Besides, taking account of a high degree of popularity as the earliest known designer, the word element of “Harvey Ball” shall function dominantly as a source indicator in applied mark. If so, applied mark shall be dissimilar to cited registrations.

But the Court denied them entirely based on following reasons.

  • Court found the smiley design representing a smiling human face in a simple and symbolic manner is sufficiently distinctive. No adverse evidence is produced.
  • Given the word element of “Harvey Ball” depicted slightly over the Smiley Face is written in a common font design and a small font size, most impressive portion of the applied mark shall be the Smiley Face from appearance.
  • In view of visual impression, both the Smiley Face of applied mark and cited registrations can be easily seen to depict a smiling human face in a simple and symbolic manner. Accordingly, both marks are deemed similar.
  • Even if cited registrations happened to be associated with the Smiley Face created by Harvey Ball, it would not affect the decision. Likewise, the word element of “Harvey Ball” in applied mark has less influence to the decision as well.

The Court decision gives us a lesson that high popularity of the Smiley Face designer will not guarantee the position of a trademark owner to the design if it becomes a generic symbol as a result of widespread, common use in the marketplace.

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

JPO cancelled “UMBROID” due to a likelihood of confusion with an English sporting goods brand “Umbro”

The Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) decided to cancel trademark registration no. 5861532 for a word mark “UNBROID” written in standard characters covering various goods of class 18 based on a high degree of popularity of “Umbro”, similarity of marks, and close association between goods.

Mark in question

Opposed mark “UMBROID” was filed on January 6, 2016 by designating the goods of “industrial packaging containers of leather; bags and the like; pouches and the like; vanity cases; umbrellas and their parts; handbag frames; purse frames; horseshoes; walking sticks; canes; metal parts of canes and walking-sticks; handles for canes and walking sticks; clothing for domestic pets” in class 18 under the name of YOUM COMPANY CO., Ltd. As a result of substantive examination by the JPO examiner, the mark was registered smoothly without any objections on June 24, 2016 and published for opposition on July 26.

DESCENTE LTD., a Japanese sporting goods trading company, as an assignee of Japanese trademark rights pertinent to “UMBRO” from Umbro International Limited, filed an opposition in violation of Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law.

Article 4(1)(xv)

No trademark shall be registered if the trademark is likely to cause confusion in connection with the goods or services pertaining to a business of another person.

Board decision

The Board admitted a high degree of popularity and reputation of “Umbro” as a source indicator of sportswear, sports shoes and sports bags distributed by the opponent among soccer fans and apparel consumers.

In assessing similarity of marks, the Board considered the opposed mark consists of a combination of two words, “UMBRO” and “ID”. Given “ID” is a commonly used term to mean any means of identification, it is less likely to function as a source indicator nowadays when used in commerce. If so, relevant traders and consumers at the sight of opposed mark would impressively pay attention to a portion of “UMBRO” and associate the mark with a famous sports brand. Therefore, both marks are deemed substantially similar, Board concluded.

Besides, the goods in question are mainly purchased by fashion conscious consumers. Consumers of sportswear, sports shoes and sports bags are also of strong interest to sports and fashion in general. Given both goods are substantially consumed by same entities, it should be considered that they are closely associated.

Based on the foregoing, the Board found a likelihood of confusion between “UMBROID” and “Umbro” when used on the goods in question, and thus the opposed mark was registered in error in violation of Article 4(1)(xv). [Opposition case no. 2016-900307]

 

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

 

 

 

 

“AI inside” is unlikely to be associated with INTEL

In a recent decision, the Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) decided to dismiss the trademark opposition filed by Intel Corporation to mark “AI inside”.

“AI inside”

The mark in dispute, consisting of a word mark “AI inside” in standard characters, was filed on March 28, 2016 in the name of AI inside Kabushiki Kaisha, a Japanese corporation, by designating computer programs and electronic devices in class 9, and providing computer programs on data networks, software as a service [SaaS] in class 42. JPO granted to protect the mark without announcing any refusal ground as a result of substantive examination and published for registration on October 18, 2016.

Intel opposes to trademark registration

Intel Corporation, famous for the world’s largest semiconductor company, filed an opposition to the mark “AI inside” and requested the Board to cancel its registration due to violation of Article 4(1)(xi), (xv) and (xix) of the Japan Trademark Law retroactively.

“Intel inside”

In the opposition, Intel cited following senior trademark registrations containing a term of “inside”.

Series of “INSIDE” marks

Intel claimed the mark “AI inside” should be deemed confusingly similar to “Intel INSIDE” and other “INSIDE” marks cited by opponent since opposed mark allocates the term “inside” subsequent to other word as well. Given the cited marks respectively become famous for source indicator of opponent or its products, relevant traders and consumers are likely to confuse or misconceive both marks are from the same business entity. Besides, presumably applicant must have applied the opposed mark by knowing of Intel Corporation and cited marks in advance. If so, it is undeniable that applicant maliciously aimed to tarnish or free-ride on the reputation and goodwill of the opponent by adopting a similar mark.

Board decision

The Opposition Board admitted that both terms of “Intel” and “intel inside” have become famous to indicate opponent or his products among relevant traders and consumers, however, denied a certain degree of recognition to other cited marks relating to “INSIDE” owned by opponent based on the facts that opponent failed to produce evidences to demonstrate actual use of mark allocating “INSIDE” subsequent to a term other than “intel” and that the term “inside” is a generic term used to mean an inner side.

In the assessment of trademark similarity, the Board concluded opposed mark is evidently dissimilar to the citations from visual, phonetic and conceptual aspect, partly because the term of “AI” is known for an abbreviation of Artificial Intelligence. It is quite unlikely, the Board found, that famous mark “Intel inside” gives rise to a sound of “inside” in the mind of relevant traders and consumers by neglecting prominent mark “Intel”. If so, the same configuration allocating “INSIDE” subsequent to other term is insufficient to take sides with opponent’s allegation that relevant consumers conceive the opposed mark as a series of opponent mark. Given dissimilarity of both marks and unlikelihood of confusion due to a low degree of recognition to the cited “INSIDE” marks other than “Intel inside”, applicant should not be blamed for malicious intention in registering the opposed mark accordingly.

Based on the foregoing, the Board dismissed the opposition entirely and granted trademark registration no. 5881845 for the mark “AI inside” in class 9 and 42.
[Opposition case no. 2016-900399]

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