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

Adidas triumphs over 3-stripe trademark battle

After six years of prolonged dispute, Adidas AG could achieve a victory over trademark battle involving famous 3-stripe design. In a recent trademark invalidation appeal, case no. 2016-890047, the Trial Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) decided in favor of Adidas AG to retroactively null trademark registration no. 5430912 for three lines device mark (see below) due to a likelihood of confusion with Adidas’ famous 3-stripe design.

Disputed mark

Disputed mark was filed on March 2, 2011 by a Japanese business entity, designating shoes in class 25 and registered on August 5, 2011 (Registration no. 5430912).

To oppose the registration, on October 18, 2011, Adidas AG filed an opposition against disputed mark based on Article 43bis of the Trademark. But the Opposition Board of JPO overruled the opposition and decided to admit registration of disputed mark on June 27, 2012. Four years later, Adidas AG filed an invalidation appeal with an attempt to retroactively null disputed mark based on Article 4(1)(xv), 46(1)(i) of the Trademark Law.

The Japan Trademark Law provides where a trademark has been registered for five years or more, an invalidation appeal based on Article 4(1)(xv) shall be dismissed unless the trademark was aimed for registration with a fraudulent purpose.

It is presumed that the provision urged Adidas to take an invalidation action eventually since the appeal date is just one week before a lapse of five years from registration.

 

Invalidation trial

Adidas AG repeatedly argued a likelihood of confusion between Adidas’ famous 3-stripe design and disputed mark because of a high degree of popularity and reputation of 3-stripe design as a source indicator of Adidas sportswear and sports shoes, visual resemblance between the marks.

Board decision

The Board found that:

  1. Adidas’ 3-stripe design has acquired a substantial degree of reputation well before the filing date of disputed mark as a result of continuous marketing activities in Japan since 1971.
  2. Occasionally, Adidas promotes shoes depicting various types of 3-stripe design with a slight modification to length, width, angle, outline or color of the stripe.
  3. Disputed mark gives rise to the same visual impression in the mind of consumers with 3-stripe design by taking account of similar graphical representation consisting of three lines in parallel leaning to the left. Difference in detail is negligible since it can be perceived as a variation of Adidas shoes given actual business circumstances.

Based on the above findings, the Board concluded that relevant consumers and traders are likely to confuse shoes using disputed mark with Adidas’ famous 3-stripe design or misconceive a source from any entity systematically or economically connected with Adidas AG. Thus, disputed mark shall be invalidated in violation of Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law.

Appeal Board reversed examiner’s rejection in the BOB trademark dispute

In an administrative appeal disputing trademark similarity between TM registration no. 5719997 for word mark “BOB” and a junior application no. 2016-49394 for the “bob” device mark represented as below, the Appeal Board of the Japan Patent Office decided that both marks are deemed dissimilar and reversed examiner’s rejection.
[Appeal case no. 2017-10420, Gazette issued date: January 26, 2018]

 

TM Registration no. 5719997

The cited mark, consisting of a word “BOB” in standard character, was registered on November 21, 2014 by designating various items of furniture in class 20.

 

Junior Application no. 2016-49394

Applied junior mark consists of the following “bob” device mark.

It was applied for registration on May 5, 2016 by designating furniture in class 20.

As a result of substantive examination by the JPO examiner, applied mark was rejected due to a conflict with the cited mark based on Article 4(1)(xi) of the Trademark Law.
Subsequently, the applicant filed an appeal against the rejection and disputed dissimilarity of both marks.

 

Board decision

In the decision, the Appeal Board held that:

applied mark is a device in dark brown, consisting of two circles protruding upward on the left side, a circle connected with the two circles in line, and wavy lines underneath.

From appearance, even if it may happen the circle design is recognized as a stylized design of “bob”, the Board opines that the design is unlikely to be considered as alphabetical letters due to a remarkable extent of stylization or abstraction. Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that applied mark shall not give rise to any specific pronunciation and meaning.

Based on the foregoing, in the assessment of trademark similarity, the Board decided that:

Obviously, both marks are distinguishable in appearance. As long as applied mark does not give rise to a specific pronunciation and meaning, it is meaningless to compare the pronunciation and meaning of both marks. Consequently, the Board finds no ground to affirm examiner’s rejection from visual, phonetic, and conceptual point of view.


Astonishingly, JPO considered the bob device mark is unreadable.

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

IP High Court admitted high reputation of Red Bull mark in relation to automobiles as well

In a lawsuit disputing similarity of red-colored bull device marks, the IP High Court nullified the JPO decision in favor of Red Bull GmbH known for Red Bull energy drink, and ruled to invalidate TM registration no. 5664585 (Disputed Mark) on the ground that it is likely to cause confusion with the Red Bull Mark.
[Case no. Heisei29(Gyo-ke)10080,  Judgement date: December 25, 2017]

Disputed Mark, filed on October 4, 2013 by designating various goods for automobiles in class 1,3,4 and 5, e.g. detergent additives to gasoline, was registered on April 18, 2014 by a Korean distributor dealing with goods related to automobiles. Prior to the appeal to the IP High Court, Red Bull was unsuccessful to attack Disputed Mark in an opposition and invalidation trial.

The Court concluded that relevant traders and consumers at the sight of designated goods using Disputed Mark would likely connect it with famous Red Bull Mark, and consequently misbelieve the source of the goods from Red Bull, an entity economically related to Red Bull, or a paerner authorized to use Red Bull Mark in business based on the following findings.

Trademark similarity

Both marks are visually confusing irrespective of differences in detail since the marks share basic configuration of depicting a left-pointing horned red bull in a vibrant motion over yellow and warm color of background. Besides, Disputed Mark gives rise to a meaning of a red-colored jumping bull and Red Bull Mark does a meaning of a red-colored rushing bull. If so, it is obvious that both marks are almost identical or similar in concept. Therefore, Disputed Mark is deemed substantially similar to Red Bull Mark.

High reputation of Red Bull Mark

Red Bull Mark, as a source indicator of plaintiff, becomes well-known not only in the field of energy drinks but also among traders and consumers of goods related to automobiles. Admittedly, it has acquired a high degree of reputation.

Consumers

Consumes of automobile goods are not limited to car enthusiast. They can be purchased by the general consuming public. Plaintiff has distributed various types of goods relating to automobiles and car race with Red Bull Mark for promotional purpose under the scheme of trademark license. It is undeniable that most of the public with an ordinary care are neither precisely familiar with trademark and brand in detail, nor always mindful to manufacturer and source indicators in the selection of goods.


It is noteworthy that the Court admitted high reputation of Red Bull Mark in the field of automobiles as well even if it evidently represents one of sponsors for car racing team

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

Starbucks Trademark Dispute Brewing Over Bull Pulu Tapioca Logo

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) has rejected an opposition from Starbucks to trademark registration no. 5897739 for the green-and white “BULL PULU TAPIOCA” concentric circle logo with a puppy white bull dog in the center.
[Opposition case no. 2017-900048]

BULL PULU TAPIOCA LOGO

Opposed mark (see below) designating goods of tapioca beverages, tapioca fruit juice beverages in class 32 and retail or wholesale services for tapioca beverages, tapioca fruit juice beverages in class 35was applied for registration on May 10, 2016 by a Japanese individual. As a result of substantive examination, JPO granted a registration on October 28, 2016.

OPPOSITION by STARBUCKS

Subsequently, Starbucks Incorporated, a US coffee chain, filed an opposition based on a conflict with famous Starbucks trademarks.

In the opposition, Starbucks alleged violation of Article 4(1)(vii), (xi) and (xv) of the Japan Trademark Law.

Article 4(1)(vii) prohibits any mark likely to offend public order and morals from registering.

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) excludes a junior mark which is likely to cause confusion with goods or services belonging to another business entity.

BOARD DECISION

The Opposition Board of JPO admitted a high degree of reputation and popularity to the iconic Starbucks logo among relevant consumers at the time of initial filing and registration of the opposed mark.

In the meantime, the Board found that both marks are dissimilar due to a distinctive difference in literal elements and design depicted in the center. Besides, by taking account of severe dissimilarity of both marks, the Board denied a likelihood of confusion between the marks as well.

To bolster the public disorder allegation, Starbucks revealed the facts that applicant of the opposed mark was a former CEO of J.J. Co., Ltd., a tapioca drink parlor, and Opposed mark has been used on shop signs and cups for drink managed by J.J. Co., Ltd. in fact (see below).

The Board held that such facts are insufficient to conclude Opposed mark may offend public order and morals if registered.

Accordingly, JPO rejected an opposition challenged by Starbucks.


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

How do you pronounce “Q-revo” mark?

In an administrative appeal disputing trademark similarity between TM registration no. 2705284 for word mark “REVO” and a junior trademark represented as below, the Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) decided that both marks are deemed dissimilar and allowed to register the junior trademark accordingly.
[Appeal case no. 2017-8341]

Disputed mark

Disputed mark (see above) was applied for trademark registration on October 30, 2015 by designating goods of telecommunication machines, electronic machines and others belonging to class 9.

As a result of substantive examination by the JPO, examiner refused the disputed mark by citing a senior TM registration “REVO” based on Article 4(1)(xi) of the Trademark Law to find that the citation has also covered telecommunication machines, electronic machines in the designation which are deemed identical with disputed mark.

Subsequently, the applicant of disputed mark filed an appeal to the case.

TRADEMARK APPEAL

Main issue at the appeal rested on how disputed mark should be pronounced in the assessment of trademark similarity.

In this respect, the Board held that disputed mark gives rise to a sole pronunciation of “kju- riːvo” in view of overall configuration fully consolidated from appearance.

Based on the finding, the Board compared the disputed mark and the citation in the aspect of visual appearance, sound and concept, and concluded, inter alia, both sounds, “kju- riːvo” and “ riːvo”, are distinctively dissimilar.


It has been recognized in Japan that hyphen (-) serves as a separator of words at fore-and-aft position. To see a graphical distinction between the “Q” logo and “revo”, I believe the decision isn’t quite persuasive enough.

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

Famous hotel brand “RITZ” successful in invalidating “RITZ MARCHE”

Invalidation trial

The Japan Trademark Law contains provision for invalidation of trademark registration by means of inter partes trial in Article 46 as a remedy to questionable ex-officio examination of the Japan Patent Office (JPO).
Statistically, approximately 100 invalidation petitions were filed to the JPO in each of the past five years. Nearly 40 percentages of them ended successfully in an invalidation of registered mark in question on average.

[Trademark invalidation trial]

Year Number of cases Disposition of trial
Invalidation Dismissal Withdrawal
2015 100 37 58 19
2014 115 38 32 15
2013 96 37 53 10
2012 118 44 76 16
2011 112 38 57 9

RITZ v. RITZMARCHE

Ritz Hotel Ltd., a world famous hotel management company, petitioned for invalidation of trademark registration no. 5594878 for a word mark “RITZMARCHE” (written in Katakana letter) covering “retail services or wholesale services for foods and beverages” in class 35 pursuant to Article 46 of the Trademark Law on the following grounds.

  1. Consumers are likely to confuse or associate the mark in dispute with Ritz Hotel due to remarkable reputation bestowed on famous hotel brand, “RITZ”.
  2. “RITZMARCHE” is deemed confusingly similar to senior trademark registrations owned by Ritz Hotel Ltd.

[Marks in dispute]

Ground 1 corresponds to on Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law to prohibit any mark likely to cause confusion with a business of another entity from being registered.

Ground 2 rests on Article 4(1)(xi) to bar registration of a junior mark which conflicts with any senior trademark registration due to similarity of both marks and goods/services.

It becomes a common practice to raise several grounds in an invalidation petition. Combination of Article 4(1)(xv) and 4(1)(xi) is a standard tactic in trademark dispute involving a famous brand. Theoretically, Article 4(1)(xv) can’t be applied unless Article 4(1)(x) is inapplicable to the case. Article 4(1)(xi) is useful to the extent the marks as well as goods/services in question are identical or similar. In the meantime, Article 4(1)(xv)   targets a wider territory where consumers are likely to confuse the source of origin between marks. In other words, Article 4(1)(xv) becomes helpful only where both marks are dissimilar, or goods/services in question are deemed dissimilar. Due to a wider protection to Article 4(1)(xv), a petitioner who claims the article is required to prove high recognition and substantial use of an opposing mark accordingly.

It is of no matter that JPO renders an invalidation decision simply based on Article 4(1)(xi) without reference to Article 4(1)(xv).

On the Ritz case, the JPO Trial Board held to invalidate registered mark “RITZMARCHE” on the grounds of Article 4(1)(xi).


Board decision

In the assessment of similarity, the Board considered a term “MARCHE” is less distinctive or inherently descriptive in connection with “retail services or wholesale services for foods and beverages” of class 35 since the term itself means “market” in French. Besides it can be seen often as a sign to indicate a place where merchants provide foods or beverages directly to consumers in Japan. Meanwhile, average consumers with an ordinary care are unlikely to perceive any descriptive meaning from the term of “RITZ”. Therefore, in the configuration of disputed mark “RITZMARCHE”, it should be allowed to extract the term “RITZ” as a prominent part of the mark.

In comparing the Katakana letter of “Ritz” with alphabetical term “RITZ” of cited marks, both have same sound. Their meaning is incomparable since both don’t give rise to specific meaning. Both terms are different in appearance, however, it becomes commercially routine to write alphabetical names in Katakana letters for purpose of representing pronunciation of the terms in fact. Based on the foregoing, the Board concluded that “RITZMARCHE” and Ritz Hotel registered marks containing a term of “RITZ” are confusingly similar as a whole, by taking into consideration of relevant factors in commerce relevant to disputed goods/services. The Board also held that “retail services or wholesale services for foods and beverages” in class 35 is considered similar to food products in class 30 designated under the citations.
[Invalidation case no. 2016-890033]

The Board didn’t refer to Article 4(1)(xv) although Ritz Hotel argued famousness of cited mark “RITZ” with enormous amount of evidential materials as mentioned reason.
If Ritz Hotel has filed the invalidation action solely based on Article 4(1)(xv), the JPO must have admitted famousness of the mark “RITZ” and invalidated “RITZMARCHE” likewise.


NEW TRADEMARK EXAMINATION GUIDELINE

In April 2017, the JPO announced new trademark examination guideline [Revision 13].
The guideline aims to reflect recent judicial decisions and non-traditional trademarks. Inter alia, Article 4(1)(xi) is hot topic due to its significance as a key provision pertinent to assessment of mark similarity. From now on, it is more likely that the JPO admits an argument of prominent part of trademark than before, even if the mark consists of other words or figurative elements.
I suppose, the RITZ case is timely ruled in line with New Guideline.

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