Is “VEGAS” an abbreviation for Las Vegas, or a source indicator?

In a trademark opposition disputing over abbreviation for ‘Las Vegas’, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) decided the term “VEGAS” shall be distinctive in connection with a service of providing amusement facilities (casino facilities, Pachinko parlors) of class 41.
[Opposition case no. 2018-900349, Gazette issue date: August 30, 2019]

VEGAS

Opposed mark is a word mark “VEGAS” in a plain gothic type.

The mark was filed in December 26, 2017 by a Japanese entertainment company, VEGASVEGAS Co., Ltd., headquartered in Tokyo, for various services in class 41 including providing casino (gambling) facilities, Pachinko parlors.

JPO, going through substantive examination, admitted registration (TM Registration no. 6080858) and published for opposition on October 9, 2018.

TRADEMARK OPPOSITION – Article 3(1)(iii)

On November 26, 2018, before the lapse of a two-months opposition period, DAIHACHI Co., Ltd. (d/b/a VEGAS GROUP), an amusement company, operating Pachinko & slot machine parlors in the name of VEGAS, filed an opposition, arguing that the word ‘VEGAS’ has been known among relevant consumers for an abbreviation for Las Vegas, the gamblers’ paradise, a trendy tourist destination, the entertainment capital of the world.

If so, it shall be forbidden to allow exclusive use of famous geographical indication by trademark right. Besides, consumers at the sight of opposed mark would establish a link between the geographical indication Las Vegas and “amusement facilities, casino (gambling) facilities and Pachinko parlors” and just conceive the facilities using opposed mark are connected with or equivalent to services available in Las Vegas Nevada (US).

Therefore, it is evident that opposed mark lacks distinctiveness in connection with the designated service of providing amusement facilities (casino facilities, Pachinko parlors) of class 41 and shall be revocable under Article 3(1)(iii) of the Trademark Law.

Article 3(1) of the Trademark Law is a provision to prohibit descriptive marks from registering.

Section (iii) of the article aims to remove any mark merely or directly suggesting quality of goods and services.

“Article 3(1) Any trademark to be used in connection with goods or services pertaining to the business of an applicant may be registered, unless the trademark:

(iii) consists solely of a mark indicating, in a common manner, in the case of goods, the place of origin, place of sale, quality, raw materials, efficacy, intended purpose, quantity, shape (including shape of packages), price, the method or time of production or use, or, in the case of services, the location of provision, quality, articles to be used in such provision, efficacy, intended purpose, quantity, modes, price or method or time of provision;”

OPPOSITION DECISION

JPO Opposition Board totally dismissed the opposition by stating that:

  1. From the produced evidences, it is unclear whether ‘VEGAS’ becomes ordinary indication for Las Vegas in Nevada, US.
  2. The Board could not find circumstances and business practices related to the service in dispute that ‘VEGAS’ has been used to indicate a specific quality of the service or an association with Las Vegas at all.
  3. A mere fact that ‘VEGAS’ reminds consumers of Las Vegas is insufficient to negate distinctiveness of opposed mark in connection with the service in dispute.

Based on the foregoing, the JPO decided opposed mark shall play a part of source indicator over the service in class 41 and irrevocable under Article 3(1)(iii) of the Trademark Law.


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

Fashion Designer in trademark fight over his name

On August 7, 2019, the Japan IP High Court ruled to dismiss an appeal by Ken Kikuchi, a Japanese jewelry designer, who contested a decision by the Japan Patent Office (JPO) to deny trademark registration for a composite mark consisting of a word “KEN KIKUCHI” with an eagle device under Article 4(1)(viii) of the Trademark Law.
[Judicial case no. Heisei31(Gyo-ke)10037]

KEN KIKUCHI

Disputed mark (see below) was filed by Ken Kikuchi on May 23 ,2017 covering various goods in class 14, 18 and 25 including jewelry and accessories. [TM application no. 2017-69467]

Since 2000, Ken Kikuchi allegedly has been designing and manufacturing affordable elaborate silver jewelry under the brand of his name “KEN KIKUCHI”. As a result of business expansion (14 brick-and-mortar stores in Japan, 4 stores in foreign counties) and advertisements from television, magazines, the designer’s name has acquired better reputation in the industry.

Refusal decision by JPO

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) refused the mark based on Article 4(1)(viii) of the Trademark Law, on the ground that the literal element of disputed mark can be perceived to identify a private individual named “Ken Kikuchi”. According to white pages, evidently there exist several Japanese people with the same name. If so, disputed mark shall not be allowed for registration since it contains a name of living person per se.

Article 4(1)(viii)

Article 4(1)(viii) of the Trademark Law prohibits registration of trademarks which contain the representation or name of any person, famous pseudonym, professional name or pen name of another person, or famous abbreviation thereof. Notwithstanding the provision, the article is not applicable where the applicant of disputed mark produces the written consent of the person.

The Supreme Court of Japan has ruled the article shall be interpreted to protect personal rights of a living individual. In line with the Supreme Court ruling, Trademark Examination Manuals (TEM) set forth that the article is applicable not only to natural persons (including foreigners) and corporations but also associations without capacity.

The Appeal Board of JPO also sided with the examiner’s refusal on the same ground. [Appeal case no. 2018-7529]

To contest the administrative decision, the designer filed an appeal to the IP High Court on March 25, 2019

IP High Court Ruling

The court dismissed the allegation entirely, by stating that:

  1. “KEN” and “KIKUCHI” are both commonly used names to Japanese people.
  2. Literal elements of disputed mark shall be perceived as a name of person even if the name is written in alphabet, given it has become popular to write a full name on the passport, credit card and others in alphabet.
  3. Article 4(1)(viii) shall be construed to comprehend a name of person written in alphabet.
  4. It is not relevant to consider reputation of disputed mark in applying the article since it aims to protect personal rights of a living individual.
  5. Irrespective of the fact that a person named “Ken Kikuchi” surely exists, applicant failed to prove consent from the person.

Based on the foregoing, the IP High Court sided with the JPO and upheld the refusal decision.


 

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

Trademark trolls target New Japan era name “REIWA”

Over 1,200 applications filed for Reiwa-related trademarks in China within a month after announcement of the new Imperial era name “REIWA” by the Japanese government on April 1, 2019.

According to a search site of China’s trademark office, prior to the April 1 announcement of the era name, there was only one trademark application for the name, filed in 2017. However, 238 applications related to REIWA were filed on April 1 alone, when the new era name was announced. The number of such applications further swelled to 1,276 as of April 30.

The applicants seem to be trying to take advantage of the new era name. Those requests are for registration of names such as “Reiwado,” “Reiwaya” and “Reiwa tenka.” The applications were in a variety of fields ranging from cosmetics to food, with examples including “Reiwa beef” and “Reiwa hall.”

It is unclear whether their applications will be approved. Chinese authorities are unlikely to grant any new permission for trademark names related to REIWA.

 

Other neighbor nations (Taiwan, Korea)

According to a search site of Taiwan’s IP office, 8 applications related to REIWA were filed after announcement as of May 1.

In Korea, a search site revealed only 3 applications related to REIWA were filed in April.

Japan

48 applications related to REIWA were filed to the Japan Patent Office in three days after announcement of the new era name.

As mentioned in the previous blog article, the revised trademark guidelines to ensure trademarks do not feature any era name now clearly state that all era names, in principle, cannot be used for trademarks.
It is expected most of the applications are rejected for registration under the latest guidelines.


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

GEOGRAPHICAL INDICATION BOURBON LOSES TRADEMARK OPPOSITION

In a recent decision, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) has dismissed the opposition filed by Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), a US non-profit organization which represents the interests of producers and traders of spirit drinks, including Bourbon whiskey, against trademark registration no. 5927252 for the word mark “ROYCE’ BOURBON” for bourbon whiskey in class 33.

[Opposition case no. 2017-900181, Gazette issued on March 29, 2019]

 

ROYCE’ BOURBON

Opposed mark (see below) is a combination of “ROYCE” with apostrophe and “BOURBON” written in a plain roman type.

ROYCE’ BOURBON was filed in January 25, 2016 by a Japanese confectionery company, ROYCE’ Confect Co., Ltd., headquartered in Hokkaido, for bourbon whiskey in class 33.

JPO, going through substantive examination, admitted registration and published for opposition on April 4, 2017.

 

TRADEMARK OPPOSITION

On June 2, 2019, before the lapse of a two-months opposition period, DISCUS filed an opposition, arguing that the word ‘BOURBON’ in the mark applied for would allow consumers to establish a link between the geographical indication Bourbon and “bourbon whiskey”. Therefore, the use and registration of the mark by unrelated entity to Bourbon County, Kentucky (USA) would dilute and exploit the reputation of the geographical indication [Bourbon]. Opposed mark shall be prohibited from registration based on Article 4(1)(vii) of the Trademark Law as well as Article 4(1)(xvi) since the mark is likely to offend public order and cause misconception in quality.

 

BOARD DECISION

The Board admitted Bourbon is an indication of origin/geographical indication from the United States to represent an American Whiskey produced mainly in the southern part of Kentucky State. However, the Board considered opposed mark shall neither offend public order nor cause misconception in quality, stating that:

To the extent opposed mark just covers “bourbon whiskey”, appropriate use of the mark would not disorder fair deal and international trade practice. If so, the Board finds no clue to conclude the applicant adopted the mark with intentions to free ride the reputation of the geographical indication [Bourbon].

Likewise, as long as the Bourbon denomination may be used only for products manufactured in Kentucky by regulations, the designated goods “bourbon whisky” is unquestionably from the US. If so, opposed mark ROYCE’ BOURBON would not cause qualitative misconception in the minds of relevant consumers in relation to “bourbon whiskey” at all.

Based on the foregoing, the Board decided opposed mark shall not be objectionable under Article 4(1)(vii) and (xvi), and granted registration a status quo.


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

JPO denied registering GRAND CANYON as trademark

In a recent appeal decision, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) upheld examiner’s refusal and decided to reject trademark “GRAND CANYON” in connection with clothing and shoes of class 25 due to lack of distinctiveness. [Appeal case no. 2017-16166]

 

GRAND CANYON

UNITIKA LTD., a Japanese textile company, applied for registration of word mark “GRAND CANYON” in relation to clothing, shoes and other goods of class 25 on September 26, 2016.

JPO examiner totally refused the application due to lack of distinctiveness based on Article 3(1)(iii) of the Trademark Law by stating that THE GRAND CANYON, a steep-sided canyon carved by the Colorado River in Arizona, one of America’s most famous and awe-inspiring natural attractions, recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, has been known for a famous tourist spot. Since relevant traders and consumers in Japan are familiar with circumstances that variety of souvenirs and gifts are on sale at tourist spot, presumably consumers will consider the applied mark just as a geographical indication in connection with the designated goods, not a source indicator.

 

Article 3(1)(iii)

Article 3(1) of the Trademark Law is a provision to prohibit descriptive marks from registering.

Section (iii) of the article aims to remove any mark merely or directly suggesting quality of goods and services.

“Article 3(1) Any trademark to be used in connection with goods or services pertaining to the business of an applicant may be registered, unless the trademark:

(iii) consists solely of a mark indicating, in a common manner, in the case of goods, the place of origin, place of sale, quality, raw materials, efficacy, intended purpose, quantity, shape (including shape of packages), price, the method or time of production or use, or, in the case of services, the location of provision, quality, articles to be used in such provision, efficacy, intended purpose, quantity, modes, price or method or time of provision;”

 

To dispute the refusal, UNITIKA filed an appeal on May 12, 2017.

UNITIKA argued “GRAND CANYON” shall be registrable in connection with clothing by citing several trademark registrations of the name granted by the JPO. In fact, UNITIKA is an owner of trademark registration for the same mark on goods of class 24 and 25 since 2005.

 

Appeal Board’s decision

The Appeal Board, however, upheld the examiner’s decision on the ground and dismissed UNITIKA’s allegation by stating that relevant consumers and traders at the sight of applied mark depicted on clothing shall conceive of a famous World Heritage Site in US.

Existing trademark registrations for the mark “GRAND CANYON” will not affect the decision since distinctiveness of trademark is variable as time goes by – with the lapse of time.

 

Criteria for Trademark Examination Guideline

Trademark Examination Guideline (TEG) pertinent to Article 3(1)(iii) provides that where a trademark is composed of a geographical name in foreign country or sightseeing area, the mark is deemed as “the place of origin” of goods or “the place of their sale”, provided that consumers or traders generally recognize that the designated goods will be produced or sold at the place indicated by the geographical name.

Trademark Examination Manual, 413.103.01 sets forth criteria to examine trademarks related to foreign geographical name.

In the cases of (a) the name of a capital, (b) the name of a state, (c) the name of a prefecture, (d) the name of a state capital, (e) the name of a province, (f) the name of the capital of a province, (g) the name of a county, (h) the name of the capital of a prefecture, (i) a former country name, (j) an old regional name, (k) the name of a district, (l) the name of a city, or special district, (m) the name of a busy downtown street, and (n) the name of a sightseeing area, even though these names may not be directly described in a dictionary or other documents/material as the place of origin, the place of sales (location of transaction) of the goods, or the location of provision of services (location of transaction), if a factor exists that establishes a connection between the goods and the name as the place of sales (location of transaction), or the location of the provision of services (location of transaction), in principle, the trademark will be refused on the grounds that it indicates the location where the goods are sold (location of transaction) or the location of provision of services (location of transaction)


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

Japan: trademark registration of era names will be banned

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) revised its screening criteria to prevent all era names from being registered as trademarks.

The amendment came as the country prepares for the change in May of the current era name following the abdication of Emperor Akihito on April 30, 2019. Japan will start using the new name from May 1 when Crown Prince Naruhito ascends to the throne. The government announced to unveil the new era name on April 1, a month before the Imperial succession, to mitigate the impact of the change on people’s lives.

There was concern that the JPO might be flooded with requests to register the new era name for trademarks during the last month of the Heisei Era, which commenced on Jan. 8, 1989.


According to the JPO, more than 100 trademark registration applications for merchandise and company names using “Heisei” were filed in January of that year.

Under previous criteria, there was room for era names, except Heisei, to be registered as trademarks.
The revised guidelines to ensure trademarks do not feature any era name now clearly state that all era names, in principle, cannot be used for trademarks.

However, even after the revision, familiar product and corporate names already using old era names, such as Meiji Holdings Co. and Taisho Pharmaceutical Co., will continue to be treated as exceptions.


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