Apple Inc. failed in a trademark opposition to block “Apple Assist Center”

The Japan Patent Office dismissed a trademark opposition claimed by the U.S. tech giant, Apple Inc. against trademark registration no. 59923763 for word mark “Apple Assist Center” in class 35, 36, and 43 by finding less likelihood of confusion.
[Opposition case no. 2017-900155]

“Apple Assist Center”

Opposed mark “Apple Assist Center” was filed by a Japanese business entity on July 22, 2016 by designating the services of “secretary services; telephone answering and message handling services; reception services for visitors” in class 35, “rental of business and commercial premises; management of buildings; providing information in the field of buildings for business and commercial use” in class 36, “rental of conference room; rental of exhibition room” in class 43.
As a result of substantive examination, the JPO admitted registration on February 17, 2017 and published for registration on March 21, 2017.

Apple’s Opposition

To oppose against registration, Apple Inc. filed an opposition on May 17, 2017.

In the opposition brief, Apple Inc. asserted the opposed mark shall be cancelled in violation of Article 4(1)(xv) of the Japan Trademark Law.

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 designates remotely associated or dissimilar goods or services with that of a well-known brand business.

Board Decision

The Opposition Board admitted a remarkable degree of reputation and population of opponent trademark “Apple” in the field of computers, smart phones, audio devices etc., however, gave a negative view in relation to goods and services remotely associated with Apple products by taking account of arguments and evidences Apple Inc. provided during the trial.

Besides, in the assessment of mark similarity, the Board found “Apple Assist Center” and “Apple” are dissimilar since they are sufficiently distinguishable in visual, phonetic, and conceptual point of view. The Board considered that the word of “Assist Center” does not immediately give rise to a descriptive meaning in relation to the designated service of class 35, 36, and 43. Given that “Assist Center” is deemed a coined word, it is not permissible to separate a element of “Apple” from the opposed mark.

Based on the foregoing, the Board decided that, unless Apple Inc. demonstrates possibility to embark on business related to the designated services and overlapping of consumers between Apple products and the opposed mark, relevant consumers are unlikely to confuse or misconceive a source of the opposed mark with Apple Inc. or any entity systematically or economically connected with the opponent.


It surprises me that the Board considered “Assist Center” does not lack distinctiveness in relation to business support services.

Masaki MIKAMI, Attorney at IP Law – Founder of MARKS IP Law Firm

Apple failed to block Swatch’s attempt to acquire the trademark for Steve Jobs’ catchphrase ‘one more thing’

The Swiss watchmaker Swatch’s effort to acquire the trademark for “SWATCH ONE MORE THING” has run in to opposition from Apple, which argues the phrase ‘one more thing’ is closely associated with the software giant’s founder Steve Jobs. During Apple press events, Jobs was known to precede new product announcements and introductions with the phrase “there is one more thing” in his keynote addresses. The “one more thing” prelude became a fixture at Apple events.

SWATCH ONE MORE THING

The watchmaker has taken out an international trademark on the phrase “SWATCH ONE MORE THING”. The trademark was registered under IR no. 1261460 with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in May 22, 2015 by designating more than 40 countries including Japan and various goods in class 9, 14 as follows.

Class09 Apparatus for recording, transmission and reproduction of sound or images; electronic payment processing apparatus, apparatus for processing cashless payment transactions; magnetic recording media, sound recording disks; compact disks, DVDs and other digital recording media; apparatus enabling the playing of compressed sound files (MP3); calculating machines and data processing equipment, software; game software for mobile telephones, for computers and for digital personal stereos; electronic game software for mobile telephones, for computers and for digital personal stereos; computers, portable computers, handheld computers, mobile computers, personal computers, wrist computers, electronic tablets and computerized and mobile devices, digital personal stereos, mobile telephones and new-generation mobile telephones featuring greater functionality (smartphones); telecommunication apparatus and instruments; apparatus for recording, transmission, reproduction of sound or images, particularly mobile telephones and new-generation mobile telephones incorporating greater functionality (smartphones); hand-held electronic apparatus for accessing the Internet and sending, receiving, recording and storing short messages, electronic messages, telephone calls, faxes, video conferences, images, sound, music, text and other digital data; handheld electronic apparatus for wireless receiving, storing and transmitting of data or messages; handheld electronic apparatus for monitoring and organizing personal information; handheld electronic apparatus for global positioning [GPS] and displaying maps and transport information; handheld electronic devices for detecting, monitoring, storing, surveillance and transmitting data relating to the user activity, namely position, itinerary, distance traveled, heart rate; covers for computers, portable and mobile telephones; optical apparatus and instruments, particularly spectacles, sunglasses, magnifying glasses; cases for spectacles, magnifying glasses and sunglasses; batteries and cells for computers and electronic and chronometric apparatus. 

Class14 Precious metals and their alloys and goods made of these materials or coated therewith included in this class, namely figurines, trophies; jewelry, namely rings, earrings, cufflinks, bracelets, charms, brooches, chains, necklaces, tie pins, tie clips, jewelry caskets, jewelry cases; precious stones, semi-precious stones; timepieces and chronometric instruments, namely chronometers, chronographs, clocks, watches, wristwatches, wall clocks, alarm clocks as well as parts and accessories for the aforesaid goods, namely hands, anchors, pendulums, barrels, watch cases, watch straps, watch dials, clockworks, watch chains, movements for timepieces, watch springs, watch glasses, presentation cases for timepieces, cases for timepieces.

Apple filed an opposition

Immediately after the JPO admitted granting protection to the trademark, Apple filed an opposition in May 19, 2015 on the grounds that the trademark violates main paragraph of Article 3(1) as well as 4(1)(vii), 4(1)(x), 4(1)(xv), and 4(1)(xix) of the Japan Trademark Law.

Main paragraph of Article 3(1)

Main paragraph of Article 3(1) demands applicant to have used or intend to genuinely use applied mark. Where examiners have “reasonable doubts” about the use of a trademark or intention to use a trademark by the applicant on the designated goods, the examiners shall reject the application based on the ground. Likewise, the trademark is subject to cancellation if opposition board has convinced of such reasonable doubts during opposition procedure.
Apple claimed that Swatch filed the trademark with a malicious intention to hinder the business of opponent since Swatch has been aware of the phrase ‘one more thing’ used by Steve Jobs. Besides, Swatch has not used the trademark. If so, it is obvious that Swatch will not intend to use the mark on designated goods.

Article 4(1)(vii)

Article 4(1)(vii) prohibits a trademark which is likely to cause damage to public order or morality from registering.
Apple claimed that the trademark should be subject to cancellation based on the ground as long as Swatch, having been aware of the phrase ‘one more thing’ used by Steve Jobs, filed the trademark with a malicious intention to hinder the business of opponent.

Article 4(1)(x)

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.
Apple claimed that the dominant portion of trademark “SWATCH ONE MORE THING” is similar to Steve Jobs’ catchphrase ‘one more thing’, since the phrase has become famous among relevant consumers as admitted in administrative decision of the Turkish Patent Office. Besides, designated goods in class 9 are closely related with Apple products.

Article 4(1)(xv)

Article 4(1)(xv) prohibits to register a trademark which is likely to cause confusion with a business of other entity.
Apple cited administrative decision of the Turkish Patent Office on the claim as well and alleged that there exists a likelihood of confusion between the applied trademark and Steve Jobs’ catchphrase ‘one more thing’ in due course.

Article 4(1)(xix)

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.
Apple disputed on Swatch’s unfair purpose to free-ride prestigious fame bestowed on the Steve Jobs’ catchphrase as well as to harm or depreciate the value of goodwill by means of trademark dilution.

Opposition Board decision

Opposition Board dismissed Apple’s arguments.

Firstly, the Board denied famousness of the phrase ‘One more thing’ as a source indicator of Apple partly because the phrase can be commonly used in daily conversation and Apple failed to produce evidences demonstrating the phrase is used as a source indicator other than verbal presentation by Steve Jobs.
Secondly, in the assessment of trademark similarity, the Board considered “SWATCH” plays an important and dominative role as a source indicator by taking into consideration of the facts that SWATCH becomes famous among consumers in connection with goods of class 9 and less distinctiveness of the phrase ‘ONE MORE THING”. If so, it should be concluded that  because of presence or absence of “SWATCH” both marks are distinctively dissimilar from visual, sound and conceptual point of view.

Based on the foregoing, the Board decided the opposed mark is not objectionable under Article 4(1)(x), (xv) and (xix) of the Trademark Law due to less recognized awareness of the phrase ‘One more thing’ as a source indicator of Apple and dissimilarity of both marks. The Board also considered that previous trademark disputes between the parties would not suffice to decide Swatch had a malicious intention to hinder the business of opponent. Therefore, the opposition is groundless to conclude the opposed mark is likely to cause damage to public order or morality under Article 4(1)(vii).
Likewise, it is insufficient to conclude that Swatch lacks an intention to use the opposed mark not-too-distant future given the designated goods in class 9, 14 are related to wristwatches to a certain extent (Main paragraph of Article 3(1)).

[Opposition case number: 2016-685012, Decision date: April 20, 2017]

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