Trademark dispute over Shogun Emblem of the Samurai Era

In a recent appeal trial over trademark dispute, the Trademark Appeal Board within the Japan Patent Office (JPO) overturned the Examiner’s determination and held that a combination mark with Tokugawa crest image and literal elements written in Chinese characters is dissimilar to, and unlikely to cause confusion with a senior trademark registration for the “TOKUGAWA CREST” device mark in connection with pickled plums of class 29.
[Appeal case no. 2018-6893, Gazette issue date: March 29, 2019]



The Tokugawa clan was the family that established the Edo shogunate, also known as the Tokugawa shogunate, (1603–1867), the final period of traditional Japan, a time of internal peace, political stability, and economic growth under the shogunate (military dictatorship) founded by Tokugawa Ieyasu. The Tokugawa shogunate continued to rule Japan for a remarkable 250 years and ended in 1868, with the Meiji Restoration when the Emperor regained power.

The Tokugawa crest was a circle in closing three leaves of the awoi (a species of mallow, found in Central Japan) joined at the tips, the stalks touching the circle (see below).

This gilded trefoil is gleaming on the property of the shogun and mausoleum even now in Japan.



Kabushiki Kaisha Kiwa-Nouen Products, a Japanese merchant dealing with plums and its products filed a trademark application for a combination mark with Tokugawa crest image and literal elements written in Chinese characters (see below) covering pickled plums in class 29 on June 21, 2016 [TM application no. 2016-72127].

Three Chinese characters “紀州梅” in the upper right of the mark lacks distinctive since the term means plums made in Kishu, the name of a province in feudal Japan (the area corresponds to nowadays Wakayama Prefecture and southern Mie Prefecture), as a whole. Two characters “夢葵” in the center of the mark to be pronounces as “yume-awoi” is obviously a coined word and distinctive in relation to pickled plums.

The mark is actually in use on high-class pickled plums produced by applicant.

Tokugawa Museum

Going through substantive examination by the JPO examiner, applied mark was totally refused registration based on Article 4(1)(vi), (vii), (xv) of the Trademark Law on the ground that the mark contains a device resembling the Tokugawa crest which becomes famous as a source indicator of ‘Public Interest Incorporated Foundation The Tokugawa Museum’.
If so, using the mark on the designated goods by an unauthorized entity may free-ride goodwill vested in the Tokugawa crest and anything but conductive to the public interest. Besides, relevant consumers are likely to confuse or misconceive pickled plums using applied mark with goods from The Tokugawa Museum or any business entity systematically or economically connected with the museum.

Article 4(1)(vi) is a provision to refuse any mark which is identical with, or similar to, a famous mark indicating the State, a local government, an agency thereof, a non-profit organization undertaking a business for public interest, or a non-profit enterprise undertaking a business for public interest.

Article 4(1)(vii) of the Trademark Law prohibits any mark likely to cause damage to public order or morality from registration.

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.


Applicant filed an appeal against the refusal on May 21, 2018 and argued dissimilarity of the marks.


Appeal Board decision

The Board reversed the examiner’s refusal and admitted applied mark to registration by stating that:

It becomes trade practice to print family crest on the packaging of food products. Especially, trefoil awoi crest has been commonly used on the packaging of specialty products or souvenir from Aichi (Owari), Wakayama (Kishu) and Ibaragi (Mito) Prefectures where descendants from clan founder Tokugawa Ieyasu’s three youngest sons governed during the Edo shogunate. Besides, from appearance, Tokugawa crest image in applied mark looks like a background pattern and thus relevant consumers are unlikely to aware that the pattern serves the legally defined role of a trademark because the image is colored washier than literal elements. If so, two Chinese characters “夢葵” of the mark functions primarily as a source indicator.

Based on the foregoing, the Board considered, given the Tokugawa crest image in the applied mark does not play a role of source indicator at all, both marks are dissimilar and unlikely to cause confusion from visual, phonetic and conceptual points of view even if the Tokugawa crest becomes famous as a source indicator of Public Interest Incorporated Foundation The Tokugawa Museum in fact. Likewise, the Board found no specific reason to cause damage to public order or morality from applied mark.

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


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]



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.



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.



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

Is Marie-Antoinette a name of French Queen consort or a trademark?

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) ordered to dismiss an invalidation trial against IR no. 1238820 for word mark “Marie-Antoinette” by finding the mark shall be irrevocable under Article 4(1)(vii) of the Trademark Law. [case no. 2017-68002]

Tempting Brands Netherlands B.V. (NL), filed an international registration for the mark over goods of “Bleaching preparations [deodorants] for cosmetic purposes; perfumery, essential oils, cosmetics, hair lotions; dentifrices; cosmetic soaps, soaps for personal use; douching preparations for personal sanitary or deodorant purposes [toiletries]” in class 3 and others in class 9, 18 and 25 on Dec. 5, 2014 claiming priority based on Benelux TM application dated Aug. 22, 2014, and designating Japan which granted registration of the mark on Feb. 10, 2017.

To challenge, an invalidation trail was filed against the mark. Claimant, a Japanese business entity asserted the mark shall be invalidated in violation of Article 4(1)(vii) of the Trademark Law on the grounds that the mark “Marie-Antoinette” written in a plain letter represents the late ill-fated queen consort of King Louis XVI of France who has been highly well-known as a symbolic queen of beauty among relevant public not only in France but also Japan and other countries. If so, it is extremely harmful to prestige of “Marie Antoinette” and social affections on the historical figure to admit an exclusive right on the name to any unrelated entity. It may inevitably offend public order and morals

Article 4(1)(vii) of the Trademark Law prohibits any mark likely to cause damage to public order or morality from registration. Trademark Examination Guidelines provides  “Name of a well-known or famous historical personage likely to free-ride on public measures derivative from the personage and damage the public interests in face” as an example to apply the article.

The Invalidation Trial Board decided the mark shall not be subject to the article due to the following reason.

It is unquestionable that “Marie-Antoinette” represents a name of queen consort of King Louis XVI of France and becomes famous in France as well as Japan. In the meantime, the Board could not see a fact that the name has been made use of for revitalization of local communities or tourism industry. If so, it is quite unlikely to happen that the mark could offend public order and morals when used on goods of class 3. Besides, the Board has no reason to believe registration of the mark would cause disrespect for France and French people as well as international fidelity.  Besides, there finds no circumstances to conclude the mark is proscribed to use by other legislation and applicant apparently filed the mark with a malice or fraudulent intent to be blamed.  Based on the foregoing, the international registration shall be deemed valid since the Board was unable to find out any relevant facts to apply the article on the case.

It is not freely allowed to use and register a name of historical personage as trademark. JPO rejected “Darwin” and “Monet” based on Article 4(1)(vii), but allowed registration of “Elvis”.

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