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

Tissot Loses Trademark Opposition over the POWERMATIC mark

In a recent decision, the Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an opposition filed by TISSOT S.A., a member of Swatch Group, who contended that trademark registration no. 5950175 for a word mark “PowerMatrix” designating, inter alia, watches in class 14 shall be cancelled in violation of Article 4(1)(xi) and (xv) of the Japan Trademark Law due to a conflict with senior domestic trademark registration and international trademark registration for the “POWERMATIC” mark in class 14.
[Opposition case no. 2017-900258]

PowerMatrix

Opposed mark, consisting of a term “PowerMatrix” written in a plain alphabetical letter, was applied for registration on October 24, 2016 in the name of Kyland Technology Co. Ltd., a Chinese corporation, by covering various goods and services in classes 7,9,11,12,38 and 42 as well as watches in class 14. As a result of substantive examination, JPO granted registration (TM Reg no. 5950175) on May 26, 2017.

Opposition

The Japan Trademark Law provides that anyone is entitled to file an opposition against new trademark registration within two months from the publication date of gazette under Article of 43bis.

Tissot S.A. filed an opposition against opposed mark “PowerMatrix” by citing senior registrations for the word mark “POWERMATIC”, and alleged that opposed mark shall be cancelled based on Article 4(1)(xi) and 4(1)(xv) of the 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.
  • Article 4(1)(xv) prohibits to register a mark which is likely to cause confusion in connection with the goods or services pertaining to a business of another person.

POWERMATIC

Tissot argued POWERMATIC has been used on luxury Tissot watches in Japan as an indication of high-end automatic movement for the watches since 2013.

By taking account of increasing sales amount of approx. 1 million CHF in 2015 and substantial advertisement through newspapers, magazines and web-media, the POWERMATIC mark has acquired a certain degree of popularity and reputation among relevant public in Japan as well as its house mark, Tissot.

In appearance and sound, “PowerMatrix” and “POWERMATIC” are confusingly similar because of coincidence of initial eight alphabetical letters among ten in total. If so, opposed mark is likely to cause confusion with the Tissot luxury watch installing “POWERMATIC” automatic movement when used on watched in class 14.

BOARD DECISION

The Board negated a certain degree of popularity and reputation of the “POWERMATIC” mark, stating that produced materials are insufficient and non-objective to demonstrate famousness of the cited mark. Given that the Tissot POWERMATIC watch was firstly distributed in Japan since 2013, a three-year-duration before the filing of opposed mark seems too short to become popular among relevant consumers in fact.

Besides, the Board concluded that difference in appearance and sound is not negligible in view of overall configuration of both marks. If so, it is unlikely that relevant consumers and traders confuse or misconceive watches using the opposed mark with a product from Tissot and the entity systematically or economically connected with Tissot.

Appeal Board reversed examiner’s rejection in the BOB trademark dispute

In an administrative appeal disputing trademark similarity between TM registration no. 5719997 for word mark “BOB” and a junior application no. 2016-49394 for the “bob” device mark represented as below, the Appeal Board of the Japan Patent Office decided that both marks are deemed dissimilar and reversed examiner’s rejection.
[Appeal case no. 2017-10420, Gazette issued date: January 26, 2018]

 

TM Registration no. 5719997

The cited mark, consisting of a word “BOB” in standard character, was registered on November 21, 2014 by designating various items of furniture in class 20.

 

Junior Application no. 2016-49394

Applied junior mark consists of the following “bob” device mark.

It was applied for registration on May 5, 2016 by designating furniture in class 20.

As a result of substantive examination by the JPO examiner, applied mark was rejected due to a conflict with the cited mark based on Article 4(1)(xi) of the Trademark Law.
Subsequently, the applicant filed an appeal against the rejection and disputed dissimilarity of both marks.

 

Board decision

In the decision, the Appeal Board held that:

applied mark is a device in dark brown, consisting of two circles protruding upward on the left side, a circle connected with the two circles in line, and wavy lines underneath.

From appearance, even if it may happen the circle design is recognized as a stylized design of “bob”, the Board opines that the design is unlikely to be considered as alphabetical letters due to a remarkable extent of stylization or abstraction. Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that applied mark shall not give rise to any specific pronunciation and meaning.

Based on the foregoing, in the assessment of trademark similarity, the Board decided that:

Obviously, both marks are distinguishable in appearance. As long as applied mark does not give rise to a specific pronunciation and meaning, it is meaningless to compare the pronunciation and meaning of both marks. Consequently, the Board finds no ground to affirm examiner’s rejection from visual, phonetic, and conceptual point of view.


Astonishingly, JPO considered the bob device mark is unreadable.

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

First to file rule – How to solve a conflict filed on the same date

The Japan Trademark Law follows “first to file” rule under which a registration is granted to the person who is first to file a trademark application, whether or not he or she began to use the mark before others.

 

Article 4 (1)(Xi) of the Trademark Law

“No trademark shall be registered if the trademark is identical with, or similar to, another person’s registered trademark which has been filed prior to the filing date of an application for registration of the said trademark, if such a trademark is used in connection with the designated goods or designated services relating to the said registered trademark, or goods or services similar thereto.”

 

Provided that a senior mark has yet to be registered at the time of a junior application, but expected in due course, Article 8(1) is applicable.

 

Article 8(1)

“Where two or more applications for trademark registration relating to identical or similar trademarks which are to be used in connection with identical or similar goods or services have been filed on different dates, only the applicant who filed the application for trademark registration on the earlier date shall be entitled to register the trademark in question.”

 

Article 4(1)(xi) and 8(1) provides a decisive solution to deal with conflicting marks filed in different dates based on the “first to file” rule.

 

What happens when conflicting marks are filed on the same date?

 

Article 8(2), (4) of the Trademark law stipulates that the JPO requests applicants to negotiate voluntarily to determine which party is entitled to be a registrant.

 

Article 8(2)

“Where two or more applications for trademark registration relating to identical or similar trademarks which are to be used in connection with identical or similar goods or services have been filed on the same date, only one applicant who is to be determined by consultations among the applicants who filed such applications shall be entitled to register the trademark in question.”

 

Given applicants failed to reach an agreement, the JPO conducts a lotteryto select either applicant for registration in accordance with Article 8(5).

The lottery is conducted using a lottery machine.

 

Article 8(5)

“Where no agreement is reached in the consultations held pursuant to paragraph (2) or no report is submitted within the designated time limit set forth in the preceding paragraph, only one applicant, selected by a lottery in a fair and just manner conducted by the Commissioner of the Patent Office, shall be entitled to register the trademark in question.”

 

This can offer us a valuable lesson.

Get good luck on your side to win a trademark registration in addition to complying with “first to file” rule!

 

Procedures for the public lottery can be seen at Trademark Examination Manual.

https://www.jpo.go.jp/tetuzuki_e/t_tokkyo_e/pdf/44-01.pdf

1187hirai%e4%bf%ae%e6%ad%a3003_2 Masaki MIKAMI – Attorney at IP Law (Japan)