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

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