GODZILLA defeated GUZZILLA in IP High Court trademark battle

On June 12, 2018, the Japan IP High Court denied the JPO Trial Board decision and sided with TOHO Co., Ltd., a Japanese filmmaker that unleashed Godzilla on the world, in a trademark dispute between GODZILLA and GUZZILLA.
[Judicial case no. H29(Gyo-ke)10214]

GODZILLA

TOHO Co., Ltd., the top and oldest Japanese filmmaker, is known worldwide for unleashing Godzilla in 1954. Godzilla, known as the King of the Monsters, is a giant irradiated prehistoric amphibious reptile appearing in the films produced by TOHO. TOHO has produced more than 20 Godzilla flicks, including 1999’s Godzilla 2000: Millennium, and 2014’s GODZILLA.

GUZZILLA

Taguchi Industrial Co., Ltd., a Japanese manufacturer of attachments for construction machinery, filed an trademark application for the “GUZZILLA” mark (see below) in November 21, 2011 by designating mining machines, construction machines, loading-unloading machines, agricultural machines, waste compacting machines, waste crushing machines in class 7. JPO registered the mark on April 27, 2012.
The “GUZZILLA” mark has been used on attachments for construction machinery by Taguchi. (see website of Taguchi – http://en.taguchi.co.jp/series/guzzilla/)

 

Invalidation Trial

On February 22, 2017, two months before a lapse of five years from the registration, TOHO requested for invalidation trial based on Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law and asserted relevant consumers or traders are likely to confuse or misconceive a source of the “GUZZILLA” mark with TOHO or a business entity systematically or economically connected with TOHO when used on designated goods in class 7 due to close resemblance between “GUZZILLA” and “GODZILLA”.

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.

The Trial Board admitted a high degree of popularity and reputation of “GODZILLA” as a name of monster appeared in films produced by TOHO, however, the invalidation trial was totally dismissed since the Board found no likelihood of confusion in view of remote association between TOHO’s business and designated goods in class 7 (Trial case no. 2017-890010).

To contest the decision, TOHO appealed to the IP High Court.

 

IP High Court ruling

IP High Court set aside the decision and ruled in favor of TOHO.

In the ruling, the Court pointed out a fact that designated goods in question include pneumatic jacks, electric jacks, chain blocks, winches, mowing machines, and hedge trimmers. These goods have a certain degree of association with toys or groceries of TOHO’s interest in the aspect of use, objective and consumer. Besides, relevant consumers of goods in question rely on not only quality and function of goods but also goodwill in trademark at the time of purchasing such goods. If so, the Court finds that, by taking into consideration famousness and originality of “GODZILLA” as a source indicator of TOHO’s business as well as close resemblance of both marks, relevant consumers of above goods (class 7) designated under the “GUZZILLA” mark are likely to associate the goods with “GODZILLA” and thus confuse its source with TOHO or a business entity systematically or economically connected with TOHO.

Court also held that a well-known “GODZILLA” mark gives rise to a meaning of imaginary giant monster in films and an image of strength by means of the monster’s action devastating city and buildings. Inter alia, purchasers of pneumatic jacks in question are likely to receive an incentive to buy “GODZILLA” in anticipation of strong performance of the jacks as GODZILLA did.

Based on the foregoing, the court decided invalidation of “GUZZILLA” trademark registration based on Article 4(1)(xv).


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

Adidas triumphs over 3-stripe trademark battle

After six years of prolonged dispute, Adidas AG could achieve a victory over trademark battle involving famous 3-stripe design. In a recent trademark invalidation appeal, case no. 2016-890047, the Trial Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) decided in favor of Adidas AG to retroactively null trademark registration no. 5430912 for three lines device mark (see below) due to a likelihood of confusion with Adidas’ famous 3-stripe design.

Disputed mark

Disputed mark was filed on March 2, 2011 by a Japanese business entity, designating shoes in class 25 and registered on August 5, 2011 (Registration no. 5430912).

To oppose the registration, on October 18, 2011, Adidas AG filed an opposition against disputed mark based on Article 43bis of the Trademark. But the Opposition Board of JPO overruled the opposition and decided to admit registration of disputed mark on June 27, 2012. Four years later, Adidas AG filed an invalidation appeal with an attempt to retroactively null disputed mark based on Article 4(1)(xv), 46(1)(i) of the Trademark Law.

The Japan Trademark Law provides where a trademark has been registered for five years or more, an invalidation appeal based on Article 4(1)(xv) shall be dismissed unless the trademark was aimed for registration with a fraudulent purpose.

It is presumed that the provision urged Adidas to take an invalidation action eventually since the appeal date is just one week before a lapse of five years from registration.

 

Invalidation trial

Adidas AG repeatedly argued a likelihood of confusion between Adidas’ famous 3-stripe design and disputed mark because of a high degree of popularity and reputation of 3-stripe design as a source indicator of Adidas sportswear and sports shoes, visual resemblance between the marks.

Board decision

The Board found that:

  1. Adidas’ 3-stripe design has acquired a substantial degree of reputation well before the filing date of disputed mark as a result of continuous marketing activities in Japan since 1971.
  2. Occasionally, Adidas promotes shoes depicting various types of 3-stripe design with a slight modification to length, width, angle, outline or color of the stripe.
  3. Disputed mark gives rise to the same visual impression in the mind of consumers with 3-stripe design by taking account of similar graphical representation consisting of three lines in parallel leaning to the left. Difference in detail is negligible since it can be perceived as a variation of Adidas shoes given actual business circumstances.

Based on the above findings, the Board concluded that relevant consumers and traders are likely to confuse shoes using disputed mark with Adidas’ famous 3-stripe design or misconceive a source from any entity systematically or economically connected with Adidas AG. Thus, disputed mark shall be invalidated in violation of Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law.

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

IP High Court reversed JPO decision pertinent to a likelihood of confusion between men’s fashion magazines and male cosmetics

In a judgement pronounced on November 14, 2017, the IP High Court of Japan ruled to reverse JPO decision which negated a likelihood of confusion between MEN’S CLUB brand men’s fashion magazine and the same brand male cosmetics.[Court case no. H29(Gyo-ke)10109]

MEN’S CLUB magazine

The lawsuit was filed by a publisher of the MEN’S CLUB magazine who unsuccessfully challenged to invalidate TM registration no. 5858891 for a word mark “MEN’S CLUB” in standard character covering goods of male cosmetics in class 3 (hereinafter referred to as “Disputed mark”).

MEN’S CLUB magazine has been continuously published past six decades since 1965 in Japan.

 

TM Registration 5858891 – MEN’S CLUB on male cosmetics

Disputed mark was applied for registration on January 7, 2016, registered on June 17, 2016 without receiving any office action from the Japan Patent Office (JPO) examiner.

On April 5, 2017, plaintiff demanded for a trial to invalidate disputed mark in violation of Article 4(1)(xv) and (xix) of the Trademark Law by citing MEN’S CLUB brand men’s fashion magazines used by plaintiff.

The Trial Board of JPO decided that disputed mark shall neither fall under Article 4(1)(xv) nor 4(1)(xix), and dismissed the invalidation petition entirely [case no. 2016-890063].

In the lawsuit, plaintiff argued the Board misconstrued Article 4(1)(xv), thus erred in judgment to apply the article on the case.

Article 4(1)(xv)

Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law provides that a mark shall not be registered where it is likely to cause confusion with the goods or services pertaining to a business of another entity.

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.

IP High Court decision

The IP High Court ruled that the Board erred in applying Article 4(1)(xv) based on following reasons.

  • Both marks, consisting of MEN’S CLUB, are almost identical
  • MEN’S CLUB brand men’s fashion magazine has acquired a high degree of popularity and reputation among relevant consumers as a result of substantial use over decades, notwithstanding lack of creativity in the mark
  • Male cosmetics are considerably associated with men’s fashion magazines since they are often featured in men’s fashion magazines
  • Consumers of men’s fashion magazines are likely to consume male cosmetics

Based on the foregoing and the degree of ordinary care taken by relevant consumers, the court concluded that consumers of male cosmetics would conceive the MEN’S CLUB brand men’s fashion magazine and then associate the cosmetics with goods produced by plaintiff or a business entity who has systematical or economical connection with plaintiff in error.

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

 

 

Trademark battle: OLYMPIC vs Ocalympic

In a TM invalidation appeal filed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) who disputed TM registration no. 5608031 for the mark “Ocalympic” covering services of organization of musical performances played by ocarinas and others in class 41 shall be invalid due to conflict with “OLYMPIC”, an international sports festival organized by IOC, the Appeal Board of JPO  decided in favor of IOC and declared invalidation of the “Ocalympic” mark based on Article 4(1)(vi) of the Trademark Law.
[Case no. 2016-890064,  Decisively  fixed date: September 4, 2017]


Article 4(1)(vi)

Trademark shall not be registered if the trademark 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.

Famous mark to represent public business by NPO

The Board admitted the OLYMPIC marks has acquired substantial degree of popularity and reputation worldwide as a source indicator of the Olympic Games organized by NPO for public interest at the time of application for invalidated mark based on the facts that IOC is an international NPO established on June 23, 1894, an organizer of the Olympic Games, has been using the marks to represent the Games which correspond to an undertaking for public interest.

Assessment of similarity between marks

Since literal configuration of the Invalidated mark, having an initial letter “O” and spellings of “LYMPIC(lympic)” in the latter part, is identical with a coined mark “OLYMPIC”, the mark gives rise to an impression closely associated with “OLYMPIC” from appearance.

A mere verbal difference on second sound “ca” shall not be material as a whole in view of common pronunciation in initial sound “O” and “LYMPIC” in the latter part. Besides, when pronouncing each mark at a breath, relevant audience shall find resemblance in tone and a sense of language. Thus, both marks are deemed similar in phonetical point of view.

Regarding conceptual point of view, even if the Invalidated mark is admittedly a coined term, it still gives rise to a meaning of the Olympic Games.

Therefore, considering every circumstance, both marks are deemed similar.


Provided that Invalidated mark combines “ocarinas” with “Olympic”, I feel above assessment inappropriate. Toward the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, it is anticipated that such sort of mark may appear. Be on high alert for famous mark “OLYMPIC”!

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