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

Trademark battle over slogan : Think different vs Tick different

Swiss watch giant Swatch has failed to stop US tech giant Apple from registering “Think Different” as a trademark, which Swatch argued segues too closely to its own “Tick Different” trademark.

THINK DIFFERENT

Apple’s “THINK DIFFERENT” mark was used in its successful Emmy-award winning advertising campaign which ran for five years from 1997. The mark was also used on the box packaging for its iMac computers next to another trademark “Macintosh”.

Its applications to register “THINK DIFFERENT” were filed in Japan on February 24, 2016 for use in relation to various goods and services belonging to 8 classes like watches, clocks (cl.12) as well as online social networking services (cl.45), among other items. JPO admitted registration on September 12, 2017. Subsequently, the mark was published in the Official Gazette for opposition.

Tick different

By citing its own mark, Swatch filed an opposition against Apple’s “THINK DIFFERENT” mark based on Article 4(1)(xi) of the Japan Trademark Law and asserted a likelihood of confusion with Swatch “Tick different” mark when used in connection with all goods designated in class 14.

Swatch’s “Tick Different” mark was filed to JPO through the Madrid Protocol (IR no. 1279757) with priority date of July 16, 2015 and admitted national registration on July 15, 2016 by designating timepieces and chronometric instruments, namely chronometers, chronographs, clocks, watches, wristwatches, wall clocks, alarm clocks, among other items in class 14.

Swatch, having a worldwide presence and its corporate group owns a stable of Swiss watch brands, including Omega, Tissot and Swatch, has allegedly used the mark on mobile payment smart watches since 2015.

 

Opposition decision

Swatch argued that the two marks were highly similar due to the same syllabic structure and number of words. With the same ending and almost the same beginning, they are visually and aurally similar.

However, in decision grounds issued on June 6 2018, the Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) found that when compared as wholes, the marks were more dissimilar than similar.

The Board, after considering all the pleadings, evidence and submissions, concluded because of the conceptual, visual and aural dissimilarities of the marks, the Board was persuaded that the average consumer would conceive they are, overall, more dissimilar than similar.

Consequently, JPO ruled that as Swatch’s opposition failed on all grounds, the “THINK DIFFERENT” mark registration from Apple will remain with the status quo.
[Opposition case no. 2017-900376]


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

Trademark Battle: SPEC vs. SPECK

In a trademark opposition filed by Samsonite IP Holdings S.à.r.l., an owner of IR no. 1024440 for the mark “SPECK”, against Japanese TM Reg. no. 5980195 for the mark “SPEC”, the Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed the opposition.
[Opposition case no. 2017-900373, Gazette issue date: July 27, 2018]

“SPEC”

Opposed mark “SPEC” was filed by SPEC CORPORATION, a Japanese business entity on September 3, 2015 by designating the goods of audio speakers; audio amplifiers; audio players; CD players; audio equipment to be connected with internet” in class 9.
The JPO admitted registration on September 15, 2017 and published for registration on October 10, 2017.

 

“SPECK”

Samsonite IP Holdings S.à.r.l., operating as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Samsonite International S.A., a travel luggage company, owns international TM registration no. 1024440 for the mark “SPECK” over the goods of “Protective carrying cases for portable electronic listening devices and music players, namely, MP3 players, and for global positioning systems (GPS devices), mobile and cellular telephones, and portable media players” in class 9 and it has become effective in Japan since 2012.

As a result of acquisition of Speck Products, a leading U.S. designer and distributor of slim protective cases for personal electronic devices, Samsonite extends its brand portfolio beyond its traditional strength in travel luggage products.

 

Opposition – SPEC vs. SPECK

On December 11, 2017, Samsonite IP Holdings S.à.r.l. filed an opposition and cited senior registered mark “SPECK”.
In the opposition brief, Samsonite asserted opposed mark shall be cancelled in violation of Article 4(1)(xi) of the Japan 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.

 

Board decision

The Opposition Board negated similarity of mark between SPEC and SPECK, stating that:

“From appearance, both marks are distinguishable by means of a fact that opposed mark does not contain “K” in the suffix position since such difference shall not be negligible in the configuration consisting of small number of letters, four or five. Conceptually, opposed mark can be perceived as a word to mean specification. Meanwhile, opponent mark does not give rise to any specific meaning. Hence, both marks are dissimilar in concept.
It is doubtless that both marks give rise to the same sound, however, distinctive gap in appearance and concept may cause consumers to recognize them as a different source indicator. If so, both marks are unlikely to cause confusion and thus deemed dissimilar.”

Based on the foregoing, the Board decided opposed mark is not subject to Article 4(1)(xi), and admitted registration as a status quo.


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

Aston Villa lost trademark battle over rampant lion emblem

In a trademark battle over rampant lion emblem, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an opposition filed by Aston Villa Football Club Limited, one of the oldest and most successful football clubs in English football, holding that relevant consumers are unlikely to consider the opposed rampant lion device mark (see below) confusingly similar to Aston Villa’s club badge.
[Opposition case no. 2017-900318, Gazette issued date: June 29, 2018]

Rampant lion device mark

Opposed mark, consisting of a rampant lion device facing left, thrusting out its tongue, and extending its tail vertically, was filed on February 7, 2017 by designating clothing, shoes, sportswear and sports shoes in class 25 and other two classes (12 and 35).
JPO admitted trademark registration on July 28, 2017 [TM registration no. 5966695] and published it for opposition on August 22, 2017.

Trademark Opposition

Aston Villa Football Club Limited opposed registration based on Article 4(1)(xi) of the Trademark Law, asserting that opposed mark is confusingly similar to Aston Villa’s senior IR registration no. 1296488 effective in Japan for the mark of opponent’s club badge (see below).

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 IR no. 1296488 covers clothing, footwear, replica shirts, football boots, polo shirts, shoes for sports etc. in class 25, similarity of goods is undisputable in the case.

Board decision

The Opposition Board denied similarity between the marks on the grounds that:

  1. Regardless of similarity in basic configuration of a rampant lion facing left, there exist some distinctive features in depiction of head, tongue, ear, and tail as well as length of the legs.
  2. Rampant lion has been frequently used in heraldry. Therefore, relatively the lion design will not be a material factor in the assessment of mark similarity.
  3. Opponent mark can be perceived as a crest combining “AVFC” and rampant lion design.
  4. In the meantime, opposed mark shall not give rise to a meaning of crest, and relevant consumers with an ordinary care can easily discriminate both marks from appearance due to such distinctive features and overall impression.

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

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

Trademark Dispute ROOT vs ROOTS

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) decided in a trademark opposition that ROOT is dissimilar to ROOTS in appearance, pronunciation and meaning.
[Opposition case no. 2017-900326, Gazette issue date: June 29, 2018]

Opposed mark

Opposed mark consists of the square root design and a word “ROOT” (see below). It was applied for registration on February 9, 2017 by designating bags in class 18 and retail or whole sale services in relation to bags and clothing in class 35.
JPO granted registration in August 4, 2017 (TM registration no. 5969604).

Opposition

Opponent, Roots Corporation, a Canadian business entity, filed an opposition against opposed mark based on a self-owned senior trademark registration no. 5947860 for the work mark “ROOTS” (see above) in class 35 for on-line retail or wholesale services in relation to bags and clothing.

Opponent argued opposed mark shall be canceled in violation of Article 4(1)(xi) of the Trademark Law because “ROOT” and “ROOTS” are confusingly similar.

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.

Board decision

The Opposition Board of JPO negated similarity between the ROOT mark and ROOTS, stating that:

“From appearance, both marks are distinguishable since opponent mark does not contain the square root device and “S” in the suffix position. Besides there exist differences in font design and case sensitivity. 
Regarding pronunciation of the marks, opposed mark gives rise to a sound of “ruːt”. In the meantime, opponent mark sounds “ruːts”. Given the short sound of three syllables, a different pronunciation in the suffix position is not in any way ignorable. If so, both marks can be phonetically distinctive. 
Conceptually, opposed mark gives rise to a meaning of the square root. Meanwhile, opponent mark can be perceived as a word to mean the parts of plant that grow under the ground or ancestor. Hence, both marks are distinctive in concept as well.”

Based on the foregoing, the Board concluded that it is unlikely to consider relevant consumers at the sight of opposed mark would connect a word “Root” adjacent to the square root device with opponent mark. Therefore, the Board dismissed opposition and allowed opposed mark to survive.


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