Trademark registration for Kikkoman’s Soy sauce 3D Bottle

In October 11, 2016, Kikkoman Corporation, the world’s leading producer of soy sauce, filed an application for trademark registration at the Japan Patent Office (JPO) for the following three-dimensional colored mark for soy sauce in class 30.

Red-capped Kikkoman soy sauce dispenser

Iconic red-capped Kikkoman soy sauce dispenser was introduced in 1961 and has been in continuous production ever since. It was developed by Kenji Ekuan, a Japanese Navy sailor former naval academy student who dedicated his life to design when he left the service. Its unique shape took three years and over a hundred prototypes to perfect, but the teardrop design and dripless spout have become a staple of restaurant condiments all around the world. The bottle’s design hasn’t changed over the past 50 years.

JPO Examination/Acquired distinctiveness

The JPO examiner initially notified her refusal due to a lack of inherent distinctiveness in relation to say sauce.

In a response to the office action, Kikkoman argued acquired distinctiveness of the 3D bottle arising from uniqueness of its shape and substantial use for over five decades.

According to news release from Kikkoman, over 500 million of the bottles have been sold since the design was first introduced and distributed in approximately a hundred countries worldwide. Red-capped Kikkoman soy sauce dispenser has already been registered as 3D mark in US, EU, Ukraine, Norway, Russia, Australia.

In March 30, 2018, the JPO granted trademark registration based on Article 3(2) of the Trademark Law by finding acquired distinctiveness of the 3D color mark as a source indicator of Kikkoman.
[TM Registration No. 6031041]

Mattel failed in a trademark opposition to block “Salon BARBIES”

JPO dismissed an opposition by Mattel, Inc. – maker of the world-famous Barbie doll – who claimed “Salon BARBIES” is likely to cause confusion or association with famous Barbie doll when used on restaurant and fan club services. [Opposition case no. 2016-900395]


Opposed mark

Opposed mark, TM Registration no. 5881203, was filed on March 10, 2016 by designating various services in class 35 and 43 including restaurant, accommodation club services, business management analysis and others.

JPO granted to register opposed mark with no finding of refusal grounds and published for registration on October 11, 2016.


Opposition

On December 12, 2016, Mattel, Inc., an American multinational toy manufacturing company, opposed an application to register the mark Salon BARBIES (see above).

In the opposition, Mattel cited two senior trademark registrations.

  • TM Registration no. 5383631 for word mark “BARBIE” in standard character (classes 9, 14, 18, 24, 25, 28, 35)
  • TM Registration no. 589632 for the BARBIE logo (classes 9, 15, 20, 21, 25, 28)

Mattel argued that Opposed mark is subject to cancellation in violation of Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law on the grounds that its BARBIE mark had acquired such fame that, upon seeing the opposed mark used on restaurant and fan club service, the average consumer would be led to infer the existence of a connection to the owner of the famous brand.

Besides, Opposed mark is objectionable in violation of Article 4(1)(xix) as well since it would presumably aim to dilute or do harm to remarkable prestige bestowed to BARBIE mark.


Board decision

The Opposition Board admitted BARBIE mark has acquired a high degree of popularity and reputation as a source indicator of dolls among relevant traders and consumers at the time of both the application and the grant of registration of Opposed mark.
In the meantime, the Board denied similarity of both marks in visual, phonetical and conceptual points of view.
Based on dissimilarity of the marks, the Board concluded relevant traders and consumers are unlikely to confuse or associate the services using Opposed mark with opponent or any business entity economically or systematically connected with Mattel.
Therefore, Opposed mark shall not be cancelled due to Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law.

Article 4(1)(xix) is applicable only where both marks are identical or similar.
Besides, from the totality of the circumstances, the Board found no fact and evidence to show or infer that Opposed mark was filed with malicious or fraudulent intent on the part of registrant to hinder the business of opponent. Thus, Opposed mark shall remain valid in light of Article 4(1)(xix) as well.

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

How to search for well-known marks in Japan

In Japan, the trademark law allows for registration of defensive marks under Article 64. The proprietor of a well-known registered trademark (original registration) which has been applied for in respect of certain goods/services can obtain defensive registration for the identical mark on goods/services unrelated to those designated under the original registration if he feels that there causes a likelihood of confusion when unauthorized entity uses the identical mark in respect of those goods/services.

Trademarks in Japan are declared well-known via judicial or administrative processes. Under the judicial process, the appeal/trial board or courts recognize trademarks as well-known in their decisions. Under the administrative process, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) recognizes a mark as well-known when the proprietor registers a mark as a defensive mark or proves substantial good will bestowed on the mark through cancellation, opposition, and invalidation procedures.

Further, JPO maintains a database of well-known trademarks, recognized either through judicial process or administrative process, which is accessible to the public at large.
If you are in need to search Japanese well-known trademarks, please access the following URL.
https://www2.j-platpat.inpit.go.jp/chomei/search_e.cgi?login&1503051142973


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

IP High Court ruled trademark “SeaGull-LC” is deemed similar to “SEAGULL”

In a dispute regarding similarity between trademark “SeaGull-LC” and “SEAGULL”, the  IP High Court took the side of original decision rendered by the Japan Patent Office on the following ground.

The term of “SeaGull”, giving rise to a meaning of a gull frequenting the sea and a pronunciation of “siːɡʌl”, is evidently distinctive as a source indicator in relation to the designated goods. In the meantime, a term of “LC” in itself does not have any specific meaning in English or other foreign languages. It becomes common in trade to use two alphabetical letters accompanying a brand name on goods with an intention to represent a model or series of the brand. If so, “LC” lacks inherent distinctiveness as a source indicator of designated goods as long as relevant traders and consumers perceive the term to indicate a model or standards of the goods.

In appearance of the applied mark, “SeaGull” and “LC” can be seen separately by means of hyphen. Hyphen in itself does not serve to fuction as a source indicator. It just connects two words to constitute new term as a whole, or separates a composing element of compound word to make it more visible. Since each connected word is respectively distinguishable in the aspect of linguistics, it should be allowed to extract such word connected by hyphen independently. Thus, it is admissible to consider the term “SeaGull” as the dominant portion of applied mark and compare the portion with senior trademark registration in the assessment of trademark similarity.  Accordingly, applied mark gives rise to a meaning of a gull frequenting the sea and a pronunciation of “siːɡʌl”  from the dominant portion as well as “siːɡʌl-el-siː” from its entirety.

In the assessment of trademark similarity, commercial practice can be duly taken into consideration where it reflects regular and constant circumstances relating to the disputed goods in general. Mere commercial facts involving specific goods with disputed mark are insufficient in this regard. Sales record and publicity of trademark “SeaGull-LC” should not be considered in the assessment of trademark similarity due to the above mentioned reason.

As a conclusion, the Court found a likelihood of confusion between “SeaGull-LC” and “SEAGULL”.
[IP High Court Heisei28(Gyo-Ke)10270, June 28, 2017]

It is worthy to note that the Court considered “hyphen” functions to separate a mark in the assessment of trademark similarity regardless of its actual function to connect words. It is advisable to investigate trademark registration consisting of each word when choosing a trademark including hyphen between word elements.

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