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

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

JPO decided to invalidate the word mark “Bord’or” in relation to wines

In a decision to the invalidation trial jointly claimed by INSTITUT NATIONAL DE L’ORIGINE ET DE LA QUALITE and CONSEIL INTERPROFESSIONNEL DU VIN DE BORDEAUX, the Invalidation Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) ordered to invalidate TM registration no. 5737079 for a word mark “Bord’or” in script fonts (see below) in violation of Article 4(1)(vii) of the Trademark Law.
[Invalidation case no. 2016-890075]

TM Registration no. 5737079

Mark in dispute (see above), owned by a Japanese legal entity, was filed on October 9, 2014 by designating various types of alcoholic beverages including wines in class 33. After an initial application, applicant requested the JPO to expedite substantive examination. In accordance with the request, JPO examiner put a priority on the mark and admitted to grant registration in three months subsequent to substantive examination.

Accelerated Examination

JPO applies the accelerated examination system to trademark application on the condition that the application meets the following condition.

  1. Applicant/licensee uses or will use applied mark on one of designated goods/services at least, and there exists an urgency to registration, e.g. unauthorized use by third parties, basic application to international registration,
  2. All designated goods/services are actually or shortly used by applicant/licensee, or
  3. Applicant/licensee uses or will use applied mark on one of designated goods/services at least, and all the goods/services are designated in accordance with a standard description based on Examination Guidelines for Similar Goods and Services.

Accelerated examination system enables applicant to obtain examination results in less than two months on average, which is four months shorter than regular examination.

Claimants’ allegation

Claimants argued disputed mark gives rise to the same pronunciation with BORDEAUX, “ bɔːˈdəʊ”. If so, relevant consumers shall conceive BORDEAUX, a world-famous geographical name known for an origin of French wine. Besides, according to the document produced by applicant to demonstrate actual use of disputed mark on designated goods in requesting accelerated examination, it evidently reveals intention to free-ride or dilute fame of prestigious wine.
Thus, if disputed mark is used on wines originated from areas other than BORDEAUX, it severely does harm to fame and aura of prestigious wine constituted under the strict control of domicile of origin. Then, inevitably it causes disorder to a world of global commerce in a manner inconsistent with international fidelity.

To bolster the allegation, claimants cited precedent trademark decisions involving famous French wine, e.g. ROMANEE-CONTI, BEAUJOLAIS NOUVEAU, CHABLIS. Inter alia, IP High Court ruled a word mark “CHAMPAGNE TOWER” invalid in relation to “CHAMPAGNE” based on Article 4(1)(vii).

Article 4(1)(vii) of the Japan Trademark Law

Article 4(1)(vii) prohibits any mark likely to offend public order and morals from registering.

Trademark Examination Guidelines sets forth criteria for the article and samples.

  1. Trademarks that are “likely to cause damage to public order or morality” are, for example, the trademarks that fall under the cases prescribed in (1) to (5) below.

(1) Trademarks which are, in composition per se, characters or figures, signs, three-dimensional shapes or colors or any combination thereof, or sounds that are unethical, obscene, discriminative, outrageous, or unpleasant to people. It is judged whether characters, figures, signs, three-dimensional shapes or colors or any combination thereof, or sounds are unethical, discriminative or unpleasant to people, with consideration given to their historical backgrounds, social impacts, etc. from a comprehensive viewpoint.

(2) Trademarks which do not have the composition per se as prescribed in (1) above but are liable to conflict with the public interests of the society or contravene the generally-accepted sense of morality if used for the designated goods or designated services.

(3) Trademarks with their use prohibited by other laws.

(4) Trademarks liable to dishonor a specific country or its people or trademarks generally considered contrary to the international faith.

(5) Trademarks whose registration is contrary to the order predetermined under the Trademark Act and is utterly unacceptable for lack of social reasonableness in the background to the filing of an application for trademark registration.

 

  1. Examples that fall under this item

(i) Trademarks that contain characters such as “university” and are likely to be mistaken for the name of universities, etc. under the School Education Act.

(ii) Trademarks that contain characters such as “士(shi)” which are likely to mislead that they represent national qualifications.

(iii) Trademarks of the name of a well-known or famous historical personage which are determined to have the risk of taking a free ride on public measures related to that personage and damage the public interests by inhibiting the performance of such measures.

(iv) Trademarks with figures indicated in a manner that may impair the dignity and honor of national flags (including foreign national flags)

(v) A sound mark related to the services of “medical treatment” which causes people to recognize siren sounds generated by ambulances that are well known in Japan.

(vi) A sound mark which causes people to recognize national anthems of Japan and other countries.

Board decision

Board found in favor of claimants that “BORDEAUX” has acquired a high degree of popularity and reputation among Japanese consumers as a source indicator of wines originated from the Bordeaux district. As long as disputed mark gives rise to the same pronunciation with BORDEAUX, it is undeniable that consumers are likely to connect the disputed mark with BORDEAUX wine or its district. If so, disputed mark free-rides or dilutes lure and image of BORDEAUX wine, and adversely affects domicile of origin strictly controlled by French government.
Consequently, Board decided to invalidate Bord’or in violation to Article 4(1)(vii).


Protection of geographical indication

The Japan Trademark Law contains provisions to protect geographical indication.
In principle, a mark merely consisting of geographical name or location is deemed descriptive and falls under Article 3(1)(iii). Even if a mark is combined geographical indication with other distinctive elements, it is subject to Article 4(1)(xvi) since the mark may mislead the quality when used on goods from other areas.
Regarding a mark indicating a place of origin off wine, Article 4(1)(xvii) plays a significant role.

Article 4(1)(xvii)

No trademark shall be registered if the trademark is comprised of a mark indicating a place of origin of wines or spirits of Japan which has been designated by the Commissioner of the Patent Office, or a mark indicating a place of origin of wines or spirits of a member of the World Trade Organization which is prohibited by the said member from being used on wines or spirits not originating from the region of the said member, if such a trademark is used in connection with wines or spirits not originating from the region in Japan or of the said member.

Geographical indications to be protected under the article can be reviewed by accessing http://www.jpo.go.jp/tetuzuki_e/t_tokkyo_e/pdf/appendix2.pdf

In this regard, it should be noted that Article 4(1)(xvii) is applicable to any mark containing a term to represent protected GI in itself. In other words, Article 4(1)(xvii) can’t block “Bord’or” since disputed mark does not contain “BORDEAUX” or its transliteration.


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