The Japan IP High Court Finds “EQ” Entitled to Trademark Registration Belonging to Mercedes Benz

On July 3, 2019, the Japan IP High Court reversed a decision of the Japan Patent Office (JPO) finding that the company Daimler AG was entitled to registration of “EQ” for Motor vehicles in class 12, even though the term “EQ” by itself is descriptive for the goods.
[Case no. Heisei31(Gyo-ke)10004, Daimler AG vs the JPO Commissioner]

The EQ Application

The JPO has refused registration to an application for EQ in standard characters (word only, see below) on the basis that the mark was descriptive for the goods “Motor vehicles” in class 12 based on Article 3(1)(v) of the Trademark Law.

The article prohibits an applied mark from registering if it consists solely of a very simple and common mark. Trademark Examination Guidelines (TEG) stipulates that a mark consisting of one or two alphabetical letters is not eligible for registration under the article. Click here.

A mark consisting of two alphabetical letters is not capable of identifying the source of the goods due to a lack of distinctiveness because a combination of two alphabetical letters is limited on quantity and currently used to represent a model name of vehicle, e.g. BMW XS, TOYOTA Carina ED, Ferrari FX, Nissan GT-R.

Descriptive terms falling under the article are only capable for registration based on Article 3(2) if they have “acquired distinctiveness”, which means the term has taken on a meaning in the public view so that people see the term as a trademark identifying the goods rather than simply describing the goods.

In this regard, Daimler AG argued the EQ mark, a coined term originating from “Electric Intelligence” to appeal design, extraordinary driving pleasure, high levels of everyday suitability and maximum safety of electric car by Mercedes-Benz, has acquired distinctiveness since launching the brand at the Paris Motor Show in September 2016.

JPO Decision

However, the JPO dismissed the argument on the grounds that:

  1. Daimler has neither used the EQ mark by itself as a name of electric car nor produced evidences of its plan to sell electric car named “EQ”.
  2. Daimler uses the EQ mark in a stylized design in press releases. If so, it is questionable whether relevant consumers conceive the EQ mark in standard characters as a source indicator of Mercedes-Benz.
  3. According to the produced evidences, Daimler uses the EQ mark in combination with other literal elements, e.g. “Generation EQ Concept”, “Concept EQA”, “EQC”, “smart vision EQ for two”, “EQ POWER”, “EQ POWER+”.
  4. There are no actual domestic sales of the electric car using the applied mark during the past two years from the date Daimler launched the brand in fact.
  5. A combination of two alphabetical letters, “E” and “Q”, has been generally used as a mode name in association with vehicles, e.g. TOYOTA electric car “eQ”, HYUNDAI luxury sedan “EQ900”, Zhengzhou Nissan truck “EQ1060”, Laufenn tyre “S FIT EQ”, ALPINE car navigation “EX11Z-EQ”, SPECIALLIZED bicycle “ALIBI SPORT EQ”. If so, the EQ term shall not be eligible for monopoly by a specific entity any longer.

The Appeal Board of JPO also upheld the refusal.
[Appeal case no. 2018-650016]

To contest the administrative decision, Daimler AG filed an appeal to the IP High Court on January 15, 2019.

IP High Court Ruling

The court first found the EQ mark in standard characters is not eligible for registration under Article 3(1)(v) of the Trademark Law.

In the meantime, the court found Daimler has newly released, promoted, and used the EQ mark with a combination of “POWER” as a new brand concept of electric car by Mercedes-Benz. Given a space for single letter between “EQ” and “POWER”, relevant consumers at the sight of promotional materials, advertisements and car magazines pertinent to Mercedes-Benz’s new electric car brand would perceive “EQ” as a specific source indicator. Taking account of enormous number of circulation of magazines (approx. 230,000) and advertisements for users (170,000 per year), the court held the EQ mark has been well known for a source indicator of Daimler electric car among relevant consumers and traders even if the duration of actual use and sales amount are not sufficient by themselves.

Notably, the court also negated fact-finding by JPO regarding ordinary use of the term EQ in association with vehicles by stating that since competitors use the term in a tight combination with other literal elements, they can be simply perceived as a mode name. If so, such use shall not be construed to negate acquired distinctiveness of the EQ mark by Daimler.

Based on the foregoing, the court ruled the EQ mark is entitled to trademark registration based on Article 3(2) of the Trademark Law and reversed a decision by the JPO on that account.


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

IP High Court denied registering 3D Shape of Nursing Care Bed

The Japan IP High Court ruled on December 29, 2018 and did not side with Paramount Bed Co., Ltd., a Japanese manufacturer and distributor of medical and nursing care product, who filed an appeal against refusal decision by JPO to TM Application no. 2015-29155 for 3D mark representing the shape of home care bed.
[Heisei 30 (Gyo-ke) 10060, Court ruling date: November 28, 2018]

 

3D shape of home care bed

Disputed mark, representing three-dimensional shape of nursing care bed, was filed on March 31, 2015 by designating nursing care bed and mattress in class 20. The Japan Patent Office (JPO) refused the mark due to a lack of distinctiveness.

  

Paramount Bed argued acquired distinctiveness as a source indicator of Paramount nursing care bed through substantial use of the mark and its unique shape.
According to the argument, Paramount has distributed more than 145,000 sets of nursing care bed and mattress which 3D shape is identical with the applied mark. The company spent USD 2,400,000 to advertise the bed in newspaper and USD 20,000,000 in TV commercial during the past five years. Paramount produced on-line questionnaire results which showed more than 60 % of relevant traders have recognized the shape as a series of Paramount Bed.

 

IP High Court ruling

The IP High Court dismissed the allegation entirely, stating that the produced evidences are unpersuasive to conclude the 3D shape acquired distinctiveness as a source indicator of Paramount Bed’s business because of below-mentioned reasons.

  1. As long as nursing care beds are likely to be used by general public, questionnaire results answered by traders are insufficient to demonstrate acquired distinctiveness among relevant consumers.
  2. Given the shape of applied mark occasionally appears while nursing care bed is in operation and the bed has coverlet on it in ordinary days, it is questionable whether relevant consumers have perceived the shape of applied mark as a source indicator.
  3. Besides, catalogs and advertisements pertinent to Paramount nursing care bed show configurations of the bed other than the shape of applied mark.

Based on the foregoing, the court upheld JPO decision.


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

JPO refused to register 3D shape of Mitsubishi Electric’s spiral escalator

The Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) disallowed registration of 3D shape of Mitsubishi Electric’s spiral escalator due to lack of inherent distinctiveness and secondary meaning in relation to escalators, class 7. [Appeal case no. 2017-6855]

Spiral escalator

Mitsubishi Electric Corporation first developed the spiral escalator in 1985, and has been the world’s first and sole manufacturer of spiral escalators. Spiral escalator is a special design type of escalator in the form of a spiral/helical with curved steps.
On May 3, 2016, Mitsubishi Electric filed a trademark application for 3D shape of spiral escalator (see below) by designating escalators in class 7 to the JPO [TM application no. 2016-23374].

The JPO examiner totally refused the application based on Article 3(1)(iii) of the Japan Trademark Law stating that the applied mark can be easily seen as a 3D shape of escalator and the shape does solely consist of a common configuration to achieve the basic function of escalator. If so, the applied mark lacks distinctiveness as a source indicator.

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

Appeal Board’s decision

The Appeal Board, however, upheld the examiner’s decision on the ground and dismissed Mitsubishi’s allegation by stating that relevant consumers and traders shall conceive of an escalator designed to enhance its function or sensuousness at the sight of applied mark.

Acquired distinctiveness

Mitsubishi Electric also argued that even if the applied mark is deemed descriptive in relation to escalators, it shall be registrable based on Article 3(2) due to acquired distinctiveness of the mark because Mitsubishi Electric Spiral Escalators has achieved 100 % market share in the world and continuously used the 3D shape on escalators for more than three decades.

Article 3(2) is a provision to allow registration of applied mark if, as a result of substantial use of the mark in fact, consumers are able to connect the mark with a source indicator of designated goods or services.

Under the totality of the circumstances, the Appeal Board dismissed the allegation as well.

The Board found that regardless of 100 % market share in the category of spiral escalators, Mitsubishi Electric’s domestic supply record of 24 units in the last thirty years shall be a trivial quantity in comparison with total number of escalators in operation. Besides, questionnaire result rather shows a source of the applied mark is unknown to more than 60% of the questionee.

Based on the foregoing, the Board questioned whether applied mark has acquired distinctiveness through actual use in relation to escalators and consequently refused to register the mark based on Article 3(1)(iii) and 3(2) of the Trademark Law.


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

Trademark registration for Kikkoman’s Soy sauce 3D Bottle

In October 11, 2016, Kikkoman Corporation, the world’s leading producer of soy sauce, filed an application for trademark registration at the Japan Patent Office (JPO) for the following three-dimensional colored mark for soy sauce in class 30.

Red-capped Kikkoman soy sauce dispenser

Iconic red-capped Kikkoman soy sauce dispenser was introduced in 1961 and has been in continuous production ever since. It was developed by Kenji Ekuan, a Japanese Navy sailor former naval academy student who dedicated his life to design when he left the service. Its unique shape took three years and over a hundred prototypes to perfect, but the teardrop design and dripless spout have become a staple of restaurant condiments all around the world. The bottle’s design hasn’t changed over the past 50 years.

JPO Examination/Acquired distinctiveness

The JPO examiner initially notified her refusal due to a lack of inherent distinctiveness in relation to say sauce.

In a response to the office action, Kikkoman argued acquired distinctiveness of the 3D bottle arising from uniqueness of its shape and substantial use for over five decades.

According to news release from Kikkoman, over 500 million of the bottles have been sold since the design was first introduced and distributed in approximately a hundred countries worldwide. Red-capped Kikkoman soy sauce dispenser has already been registered as 3D mark in US, EU, Ukraine, Norway, Russia, Australia.

In March 30, 2018, the JPO granted trademark registration based on Article 3(2) of the Trademark Law by finding acquired distinctiveness of the 3D color mark as a source indicator of Kikkoman.
[TM Registration No. 6031041]

It is just a 3D shape of electronic baccarat shoe, or trademark?

In a lawsuit disputing adequacy of decision by the JPO Appeal Board (Appeal case no. 2015-907) to refuse the applied 3D mark (TM2014-5943, class 28), consisting of a three-dimensional shape of electronic baccarat shoe with the program enabling to reduce the chance of foreign cards and eliminate dealer mistakes, due to lack of  distinctiveness and secondary meaning, the IP High Court sustained the decision being appealed.
[Case no. Heisei28(Gyo-ke)10266,  Decision date: September 27, 2017]

Inherent distinctiveness of the 3D shape

Plaintiff, a Japanese manufacturer and distributor of the ANGEL EYE electronic baccarat shoe, asserted that the 3D shape of ANGEL EYE, being the first products in the industry, is not an essential shape to make it free for public use since no competitors have dealt with same type of product other than plaintiff so far. Besides, a fact that the 3D shape has been registered in the legal gambling countries, e.g. US, EU, AU, RU, Malaysia and NZ, will rather bolster necessity to allow exclusive right on the shape.

However, the Court opposed to plaintiff. “It is inadequate to allow plaintiff to use the 3D shape exclusively. Applied 3D mark can be perceived objectively as a general shape of electronic baccarat shoe aimed to fulfill its original function and produce aesthetic image. If so, it may disorder a fair marketplace to allow exclusive use to plaintiff just because of a first-to-file. A mere fact of trademark registrations in countries where the ANGEL EYE has been distributed is insufficient to admit trademark registration in our nation since the goods is yet to be distributed in Japan.” Accordingly, the Court refused Applied 3D mark based on Article 3(1)(iii).

 

Secondary meaning of Applied 3D mark

Plaintiff argued Applied 3D mark has already served to function as a source indicator by means of substantial use of the mark sine 2005. Plaintiff exported 11,481 units (sale proceeds: 2.7 billion yen) over the lase decade and has achieved 90 % market share in Macau, the world’s largest casino gambling hub.

In this respect, the Court ruled in favor of the JPO. As plaintiff admits, the shoe has not been manufactured for domestic use. Any evidence suggesting a high degree of recognition to Applied 3D mark in foreign countries is neither relevant nor persuasive. Unless plaintiff demonstrates that domestic consumers have become aware of such recognition, it is groundless to find Applied 3D mark would satisfy requisite of secondary meaning based on Article 3(2) of the Japan Trademark Law.


The case raises a question: What is a role of the Trademark Law where applied mark, being registered in foreign nations,  confronts with an insuperable refusal attributable to legal restrictions on domestic use of the mark?
Unsuccessful domestic registration prevents domestic company from utilizing the Madrid Protocol and protecting his/her vital brands on the global market in an effective and economical manner.  

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

3D shape of plastic clip bag closure is registrable due to acquired distinctiveness

Appeal Board of the JPO admitted to register a three-dimensional mark in the shape of plastic clip bag closure with respect to the goods of “Plastic clips for closing bags of bread products or packages of bread products; plastic bag opening stoppers for packages of bread products; plastic opening stoppers for bags of bread products” in class 20 [Appeal No. 2015-15882].

pcbc

INITIAL EXAMINATION

At an initial examination, the applied mark was totally refused under Article 3(1)(iii) of the Trademark Law since examiner considered the mark is deemed descriptive in relation to the designated goods and it has yet to acquire distinctiveness.

“the trademark in the application consists of a three-dimensional shape, and cannot be recognized as being equipped with a unique form which is hard to expect from the purpose and function of the designated goods or a decorative shape giving a special impression and the like, and traders and consumers just recognize shapes themselves of ‘plastic clips for closing bags of food; plastic bag opening stoppers for packages of food; plastic opening stoppers for bags of food’ which are the designated goods, and the shapes themselves cannot be recognized to have force for distinguishing relevant products from others, so that it is recognized as a trademark consisting solely of a mark indicating the shape of the designated goods in a common way.  Therefore, the trademark in the application falls under Article 3(1)(iii) of the Trademark Act. Furthermore, with the evidences submitted by the applicant, as a result of the use of the trademark in the application generally in the designated goods, it cannot be said that the trademark enables consumers to recognize the goods as being connected with a certain person’s business, so that the trademark does not meet requirements stipulated in Article 3(2) of the Trademark Act.”

 

APPEAL

Applicant, KWIK LOK CORPORATION, a US corporation immediately filed an appeal against the refusal and argued inherent distinctiveness as well as acquired distinctiveness.

The Appeal Board upheld examiner’s finding that the mark just indicates the shape of designated goods in a common way.

In the meantime, the Board denied examiner’s decision regrding acquired distinctiveness of the mark in relation to the goods in question by taking into consideration of 100% market share and 90% brand awareness among relevant consumers.

“goods in the shape of the applied 3-D mark have been continuously manufactured by the Japanese subsidiary of KWIK LOK CORPORATION for about 9 years since 2007 until now, and about 2,600 million pieces of that are sold over the country every year, and it is recognized that the almost 100% of the share is possessed in the opening stoppers for bags of loaves of bread. Furthermore, the promotional advertising of goods in the shape of the applied 3-D mark has been continuously carried out by setting up a booth at the exhibitions for the industry and the like, and the awareness in the makers for manufacturing and selling the bread products, which are the main consumers, reaches 90%. Then, it is reasonable that the applied mark came to enable consumers to recognize the goods in relation to business of the applicant, as a result of continuous use for a long period by Japanese subsidiary of the applicant, concerning “plastic clips for closing bags of bread products or packages of bread products; plastic bag opening stopper for packages of bread products; plastic opening stopper for bags of bread products” which just correspond to the designated goods in class 20.”

 img_1028-002

Article 2(4) of the Trademark Law

Article 2(4) of the Trademark Law stipulates that goods in the shape of a mark satisfies requirement to affix the mark to goods provided for in Article 2(3).


Article 2(3)

(3) “Use” with respect to a mark as used in this Act means any of the following acts:

 (i) to affix a mark to goods or packages of goods;

 (ii) to assign, deliver, display for the purpose of assignment or delivery, export, import or provide through an electric telecommunication line, goods or packages of goods to which a mark is affixed;

 (iii) in the course of the provision of services, to affix a mark to articles to be used by a person who receives the said services (including articles to be assigned or loaned; the same shall apply hereinafter);

 (iv) in the course of the provision of services, to provide the said services by using articles to which a mark is affixed and which are to be used by a person who receives the said services;

 (v) for the purpose of providing services, to display articles to be used for the provision of the services (including articles to be used by a person who receives the services in the course of the provision of services; the same shall apply hereinafter) to which a mark is affixed;

 (vi) in the course of the provision of services, to affix a mark to articles pertaining to the provision of the said services belonging to a person who receives the services;

 (vii) in the course of the provision of services through an image viewer, by using an electromagnetic device (an electromagnetic device shall refer to any electronic, magnetic or other method that is not recognizable by human perception; the same shall apply in the following item), to provide the said services by displaying a mark on the image viewer; or
(viii) to display or distribute advertisement materials, price lists or transaction documents relating to goods or services to which a mark is affixed, or to provide information on such content, to which a mark is affixed by an electromagnetic device.

 Article 2(4)


(4) To affix a mark to goods or other articles provided for in the preceding paragraph shall include to form in the shape of the mark goods, packages of goods, articles to be used for the provision of services, or advertisement materials relating to goods or services.

1187hirai%e4%bf%ae%e6%ad%a3003_2

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

How to avoid a descriptive mark from being refused by JPO

The trademark law prohibits any mark incapable of serving as a source indicator from being registered under Article 3 (1).

Article 3(1) of the trademark law

Any trademark to be used in connection with goods or services pertaining to the business of an applicant may be registered, unless the trademark:

(i) consists solely of a mark indicating, in a common manner, the common name of the goods or services;

(ii) is customarily used in connection with the goods or services;

(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;

(iv) consists solely of a mark indicating, in a common manner, a common surname or name of a juridical person;

(v) consists solely of a very simple and common mark; or

(vi) is in addition to those listed in each of the preceding items, a trademark by which consumers are not able to recognize the goods or services as those pertaining to a business of a particular person.

How to overcome refusal under Article 3(1)

We have three options to overcome the refusal under Article 3(1).

Option 1: Opposing to examiner’s assertion and dispute inherent distinctiveness.

Examiner often withdraws a refusal if we could convince the examiner of inherent distinctiveness in a response. Mostly, where applied mark is composed of two or three words, it is worthy of arguing distinctiveness of the mark in its entirety even though respective word is deemed descriptive.

 

Option 2: Arguing acquired distinctiveness of applied mark if applicant has substantial used of the mark.

A mark having functioned as a source indicator resulting from extensive and substantial use can be exceptionally registered under Article 3(2) of the trademark law regardless of descriptive meaning of the mark.

Article 3(2)
Notwithstanding the preceding paragraph, a trademark that falls under any of items (iii) to (v) of the preceding paragraph may be registered if, as a result of the use of thetrademark, consumers are able to recognize the goods or services as those pertaining to a business of a particular person.

 

Option 3: Asserting a unique appearance of the mark even if admittedly the mark itself is descriptive without such appearance.

If applied mark contains figurative elements or depicts word(s) with an unfamiliar font design, it is still possible to overcome the refusal since Article 3(1) is applicable to a mark depicted “in a common manner”.

In other words, descriptive term(s) written in an uncommon manner can be registered regardless of original meaning of the mark.

Needless to say, it is not allowed to amend font design of applied mark during examination based on Article 16-2. Therefore, third option should be taken into consideration prior to filing an application.

Article 16-2(1)
Where an amendment made to the designated goods or designated services, or to the trademark for which registration is sought as stated in the application, is considered to cause any change of the gist thereof, the examiner shall dismiss the amendment by a ruling.

 

1187hirai%e4%bf%ae%e6%ad%a3003_2Masaki MIKAMI – Attorney at IP Law, Japan
MARKS IP LAW FIRM

“AQUA COLLAGEN GEL” is not a descriptive term, but a source indicator by means of acquired distinctiveness.

On October 27, 2016, the IP High Court ruled to uphold a decision by JPO declaring cancellation of opposed mark “ Dr.Coo / AQUA COLLAGEN GEL” due to conflict with senior registrations containing a term of “Aqua-Collagen-Gel” (Case no. Heisei 28 (Gyo-ke) 10090).

JPO declared cancellation of the opposed mark “Dr.Coo / AQUA COLLAGEN GEL” (see below) covering goods of “Collagen gel cosmetics; collagen gel soaps” in class 3 on the grounds that the mark is confusingly similar to senior trademark registrations cited by an opponent, an owner of Dr. Ci:Labo brand.

 aqua-collagen-gel

Applicant of the opposed mark filed a lawsuit against the decision to the IP High Court. In the lawsuit, applicant alleged that it was JPO’s error to have considered “AUQ COLLAGEN GEL” as a distinctive term in relation to the designated goods of class 3 since the term merely describes quality or material of goods in dispute and thus it can’t even take a role of source indicator.

 

In view of material facts that an opponent has consecutively used the term “Aqua-Collagen-Gel” on cosmetics since 1999, cumulative quantity of the cosmetics amounts to 30 million by the year 2015, recent annual sale of the cosmetics exceeds 12 billion JP Yen and frequent TV advertisement and publications, the IP High Court admitted the term “Aqua-Collagen-Gel” has independently served function as a source indicator of the opponent even if opponent’s cosmetics depict so-called house mark “Dr. Ci:Labo” adjacent to Aqua-Collagen-Gel”.

Based on above findings, the Court dismissed applicant’s argument to insist dissimilarity of both marks on the grounds that average consumers are likely to pay attention to a term “AQUA COLLAGEN GEL” in configuration of the opposed mark and consequently associate the term with opponent products irrespective of existence of “Dr.Coo”.