SISLEY lose trademark opposition over SOIR DE LUNE

In a recent trademark opposition, the Opposition Board of the Japan Patent Office (JPO) held a junior trademark registration no. 6041076 for word mark “LunaSoir” is dissimilar to a senior IR registration no. 845029 for word mark “SOIR DE LUNE”, one of fragrance brands by SISLEY, a French producer of cosmetics and fragrances, even when used on fragrance in class 3
[Opposition case no. 2018-900194, Gazette issue date: July 26, 2019]

LunaSoir

Opposed mark (see below) was applied for registration on July 31, 2017 by designating soaps, perfumery, cosmetics and others in class, and published for registration on June 5, 2018 without any office action from the JPO examiner.

SISLEY – SOIR DE LUNE

Opponent, SISLEY, a French producer of cosmetics and fragrances, claimed that the opposed mark “LunaSoir” shall be cancelled under Article 4(1)(xi) of the Japan Trademark Law by citing a senior trademark registration for word mark “SOIR DE LUNE”covering soaps, perfumery, essential oils, cosmetics, hair lotions, dentifrices in class 3.

Article 4(1)(xi) is a provision to prohibit from registering a junior mark which is deemed identical with, or similar to, any senior registered mark.

SISLEY argued both marks give rise to a same meaning of “moon night” given “Luna” and “LUNE mean “moon” in Latin and French respectively, “SOIR” means “night” in French, and “DE” corresponds to “of” in English. If so, both marks are likely to cause confusion from a conceptual point of view.

Board Decision

In the decision, the Board decided that “LunaSoir” and “SOIR DE LUNA” are both dissimilar in appearance, pronunciation as well as concept.

The Board assessed, by taking into consideration a relatively low level of knowledge to Latin and French language among relevant consumers with an ordinary care, opposed mark consisting of “Luna” and “Soir” would not give rise to any specific meaning at all.
Based on the fact finding, the Board concluded that opposed mark “LunaSoir” is obviously dissimilar to SISLEY’s fragrance brand “SOIR DE LUNE” from concept, needless to say appearance and pronunciation.

It is noteworthy to a brand owner from non-English speaking nations that conceptual similarity would not play a defensive role to prevent free-riding and enjoy a broader scope of protection against use by others where the brand contains a non-English term unfamiliar to Japanese.


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

Trademark Opposition: “VISA” vs. “V-ISA”

The Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an opposition filed by a global payments technology company, Visa International Service Association (VISA) against trademark registration no. 6077944 for a word mark “V-ISA” due to unlikelihood of confusion with VISA’s famous service mark “VISA”.
[Opposition case no. 2018-900365, Gazette issued date: July 26, 2019]

Opposed mark

Opposed mark, consisting of a word mark “V-ISA” in standard character, was filed in the name of Machine Vision Lighting Inc., a Japanese company deploying in business field of lighting apparatus.

The mark was filed to JPO on November 3, 2017. Going through substantive examination, JPO admitted registration over the goods of “lighting apparatus” in class 11 and published for opposition on October 2, 2018.

Opposition by VISA

To oppose the mark, Visa International Service Association filed an opposition on December 3, 2018.

VISA argued that opponent has use the mark “VISA” since 1976 as a tradename of credit card company and unquestionably it has become famous in Japan as source indicator of opponent business. Besides, opposed mark “V-ISA” gives rise to a pronunciation ‘viː.zə’ just like with “VISA”. Therefore, both marks are identical or similar in phonetic and visual point of view. Nowadays, in the age of global e-commerce, consumers are accustomed to purchase various goods and services by means of credit card payment. Under the circumstance, opponent business gets all the more associated with a wide variety of goods or service traded via e-commerce. If so, relevant consumers and traders of lighting apparatus are likely to confuse opposed mark with famous service mark “VISA”.

Accordingly, VISA alleged that opposed mark “V-ISA” shall be retroactively cancelled in violation of Article 4(1)(xv) of the Japan Trademark Law.

Article 4(1)(xv)

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.

Board decision

The Opposition Board did not question a remarkable degree of popularity and reputation of mark “VISA” in relation to credit card payment as a source indicator of opponent business.

In the meantime, the Board emphasized the term “VISA” is not a coined word, having its original meaning as an official mark, usually made in a passport, that allows you to enter or leave a particular country. Besides, the Board considered both marks are distinctively dissimilar by stating that:

From appearance, even if opposed mark “V-ISA” consists of the same literal elements with opponent mark “VISA”, they are visually distinguishable because of a hyphen (-).

Opposed mark just gives rise to pronunciation of ‘vui-isa’ or ‘vui-ai-esu-ei”. If so, the pronunciations are clearly dissimilar to ‘viː.zə’ of opponent mark.

Given opposed mark does not give rise to any specific meaning, both marks are not comparable in concept.

Since “lighting apparatus” in class 11 is obviously dissimilar to and less associated with opponent business, relevant consumers with an ordinary care would not conceive of opponent mark at the sight of opposed mark.

Based on the foregoing, the Board concluded that relevant consumers and traders are unlikely to confuse opposed mark with VISA or any business entity systematically or economically connected with opponent.

Thus, opposed mark shall not be cancelled based on Article 4(1)(xv), and remains valid as a status quo.


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

Patagonia Victorious in Trademark Battle

The Trial Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) recently upheld an invalidation petition by US outdoor apparel company, Patagonia Inc. against TM Reg. no. 6028801 for the “royalwest” mark in combination with figurative elements due to a likelihood of confusion with Patagonia logo.
[Invalidation case no. 2018-890048, Gazette issue date: June 28, 2019]

TM Registration no.6028801

Disputed mark, consisting of a word “royalwest” and figurative elements (see below left), was applied for registration on April 13, 2017 in respect of apparels and other goods in class 25.

Without confronting with a refusal during substantive examination, disputed mark was registered on March 23, 2018.

Petition for invalidation

Japan Trademark Law provides a provision to retroactively invalidate trademark registration for certain restricted reasons specified under Article 46 (1).

US outdoor apparel company Patagonia Incorporated filed a petition for invalidation against disputed mark on June 29, 2018. Patagonia argued it shall be invalidated due to similarity to an owned senior trademark registration no. 5891980 for the Patagonia mark with figurative elements depicting mountain landscape and sky in blue, purple and orange color (see above right), and a likelihood of confusion with its famous brand when used on designated goods in class 25 based on Article 4(1)(xi) and (xv) of the Trademark Law.

Board decision

At the outset, the Board admitted the Patagonia logo has acquired a high degree of popularity and reputation as a source indicator of Patagonia Inc. among relevant consumers in connection with outdoor goods.

In assessing similarity of both marks, the Board found that a literal element of respective mark is unquestionably dissimilar. However, even if both marks give rise to a different pronunciation and concept, by taking account of similar factors: (1) coloring of the sky, (2) font design and size, (3) rectangular outline, (4) black silhouette with a white border line, (5) configuration and proportion of respective elements, and balancing them comprehensively, relevant consumers with an ordinary care at the sight of both marks would conceive a same impression from appearance and associate disputed mark with Patagonia. If so, it is obvious that visual similarity plays a key role in the assessment. A phonetic and conceptual difference arising from literal element is insufficient to negate similarity between the marks in its entirety.

Based on the foregoing, the Board concluded that, from totality of circumstances and evidences, relevant traders or consumers are likely to confuse or misconceive a source of disputed mark with Patagonia or any entity systematically or economically connected with the opponent when used on apparels and any other designated goods in class 25 and declared invalidation based on Article 4(1)(xi) and (xv).


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

Trademark Opposition: “iPhone” versus “SAIPHONE”

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed a trademark opposition claimed by the U.S. tech giant, Apple Inc. against trademark registration no. 6060316 for word mark “SAIPHONE” in class 9 and 18 by finding less likelihood of confusion with Apple “iPhone”.
[Opposition case no. 2018-900255]

“SAIPHONE”

Opposed mark, a word mark “SAIPHONE” in standard character, was filed by a Japanese business entity, STYLE Corporation, on September 28, 2017 by designating ‘mobile phones, smart phones, and its accessories, namely cases, covers and hands-free holders’ in class 9, and ‘purses and wallets, commutation-ticket holders, business card cases, bags and pouches, umbrellas, industrial packaging containers of leather’ in class 25.

STYLE Corporation promotes the “SAIPHONE” leather cases for iPhone (see below).

The JPO admitted registration on June 22, 2018 and published for registration on July 6, 2018.

APPLE’s Opposition

To oppose against registration within a statutory period of two months counting from the publication date, Apple Inc. with AIPHONE Co., Ltd., as a joint claimant, filed an opposition on September 7, 2018.

In the opposition brief, Apple Inc. asserted the opposed mark shall be cancelled in violation of Article 4(1)(xi) and (xv) of the Japan Trademark Law given a remarkable reputation of opponent mark “iPhone” in the business field of smart phones and similarity to a senior trademark registration no. 5147866 for the word mark “iPhone” in standard character over mobile phones in class 9 effective since 2008.

Interestingly, “iPhone” is indeed a registered trademark owned by AIPHONE Co., Ltd. in Japan. Apple Inc. is an exclusive licensee of the mark.

Apple Inc. argued opposed mark “SAIPHONE” gives rise to a confusingly similar pronunciation and appearance to “iPhone”, since opposed mark contains a famous mark “iPhone” entirely and a mere difference on prefix “SA” is insufficient for relevant consumers anything but to conceive “iPhone” from opposed mark.

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) 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 consumers.

Board Decision

The Opposition Board admitted a remarkable degree of reputation and popularity of opponent trademark “Apple” in connection with smart phones based on the produced evidences showing a more than 40% share of the market in Japan.

In the meantime, the Board found “SAIPHONE” and “iPhone” are totally dissimilar since they are sufficiently distinguishable in visual, phonetic, and conceptual point of view.
A fact that opposed mark contains “iPhone” is not persuasive on the case since relevant consumers with an ordinary case would see opposed mark in its entirety.
If so, it is likely that the consumers confuse or misconceive a source of the opposed mark with Apple Inc. or any entity systematically or economically connected with the opponent.

Based on the foregoing, the Board decided the opposed mark shall not be cancelled on the grounds of Article 4(1)(xi) as well as (xv).


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

The Japan IP High Court Finds “EQ” Entitled to Trademark Registration Belonging to Mercedes Benz

On July 3, 2019, the Japan IP High Court reversed a decision of the Japan Patent Office (JPO) finding that the company Daimler AG was entitled to registration of “EQ” for Motor vehicles in class 12, even though the term “EQ” by itself is descriptive for the goods.
[Case no. Heisei31(Gyo-ke)10004, Daimler AG vs the JPO Commissioner]

The EQ Application

The JPO has refused registration to an application for EQ in standard characters (word only, see below) on the basis that the mark was descriptive for the goods “Motor vehicles” in class 12 based on Article 3(1)(v) of the Trademark Law.

The article prohibits an applied mark from registering if it consists solely of a very simple and common mark. Trademark Examination Guidelines (TEG) stipulates that a mark consisting of one or two alphabetical letters is not eligible for registration under the article. Click here.

A mark consisting of two alphabetical letters is not capable of identifying the source of the goods due to a lack of distinctiveness because a combination of two alphabetical letters is limited on quantity and currently used to represent a model name of vehicle, e.g. BMW XS, TOYOTA Carina ED, Ferrari FX, Nissan GT-R.

Descriptive terms falling under the article are only capable for registration based on Article 3(2) if they have “acquired distinctiveness”, which means the term has taken on a meaning in the public view so that people see the term as a trademark identifying the goods rather than simply describing the goods.

In this regard, Daimler AG argued the EQ mark, a coined term originating from “Electric Intelligence” to appeal design, extraordinary driving pleasure, high levels of everyday suitability and maximum safety of electric car by Mercedes-Benz, has acquired distinctiveness since launching the brand at the Paris Motor Show in September 2016.

JPO Decision

However, the JPO dismissed the argument on the grounds that:

  1. Daimler has neither used the EQ mark by itself as a name of electric car nor produced evidences of its plan to sell electric car named “EQ”.
  2. Daimler uses the EQ mark in a stylized design in press releases. If so, it is questionable whether relevant consumers conceive the EQ mark in standard characters as a source indicator of Mercedes-Benz.
  3. According to the produced evidences, Daimler uses the EQ mark in combination with other literal elements, e.g. “Generation EQ Concept”, “Concept EQA”, “EQC”, “smart vision EQ for two”, “EQ POWER”, “EQ POWER+”.
  4. There are no actual domestic sales of the electric car using the applied mark during the past two years from the date Daimler launched the brand in fact.
  5. A combination of two alphabetical letters, “E” and “Q”, has been generally used as a mode name in association with vehicles, e.g. TOYOTA electric car “eQ”, HYUNDAI luxury sedan “EQ900”, Zhengzhou Nissan truck “EQ1060”, Laufenn tyre “S FIT EQ”, ALPINE car navigation “EX11Z-EQ”, SPECIALLIZED bicycle “ALIBI SPORT EQ”. If so, the EQ term shall not be eligible for monopoly by a specific entity any longer.

The Appeal Board of JPO also upheld the refusal.
[Appeal case no. 2018-650016]

To contest the administrative decision, Daimler AG filed an appeal to the IP High Court on January 15, 2019.

IP High Court Ruling

The court first found the EQ mark in standard characters is not eligible for registration under Article 3(1)(v) of the Trademark Law.

In the meantime, the court found Daimler has newly released, promoted, and used the EQ mark with a combination of “POWER” as a new brand concept of electric car by Mercedes-Benz. Given a space for single letter between “EQ” and “POWER”, relevant consumers at the sight of promotional materials, advertisements and car magazines pertinent to Mercedes-Benz’s new electric car brand would perceive “EQ” as a specific source indicator. Taking account of enormous number of circulation of magazines (approx. 230,000) and advertisements for users (170,000 per year), the court held the EQ mark has been well known for a source indicator of Daimler electric car among relevant consumers and traders even if the duration of actual use and sales amount are not sufficient by themselves.

Notably, the court also negated fact-finding by JPO regarding ordinary use of the term EQ in association with vehicles by stating that since competitors use the term in a tight combination with other literal elements, they can be simply perceived as a mode name. If so, such use shall not be construed to negate acquired distinctiveness of the EQ mark by Daimler.

Based on the foregoing, the court ruled the EQ mark is entitled to trademark registration based on Article 3(2) of the Trademark Law and reversed a decision by the JPO on that account.


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

Nintendo loses trademark fight over “Switch” name in Japan

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) rendered advisory opinion in a trademark fight over “Switch” name unfavorable to Japanese video game giant Nintendo.
[Case no. 2018-600008, Gazette issue date: May 31, 2019]

Nintendo Switch

Nintendo released The Switch, a home video game system that can also be used as a handheld, in March 2017. The Switchhas become the fastest-selling home game console ever in the United States. By the end of 2017, more than 14 million consoles were sold worldwide.

Nintendo owned trademark registration no. 3274643 for the SWITCH mark (see below) on home games in class 9 since 1997.

Japan TM Registration no. 3274643 for SWITCH by Nintendo

Switch Carrying Case (Hard Pouch Bag)

On November 22, 2017, Nintendo found ALLONE CO., Ltd., a Japanese merchant for game accessories, distributes hard pouch bag for home games (see below) via websites and electronics retail stores.

It is obvious that a word “SWITCH” is indicated in prominent manner with a larger font size on package of the pouch bag, however, pictures of the Nintendo Switch and the console in the bag are printed on the package.

In order to settle the trademark dispute, Nintendo requested advisory opinion to the JPO on March 15, 2018.

Advisory Opinion (Hantei)

The Japan Trademark Law allows the Japan Patent Office to provide advisory opinions with respect to the scope of trademark right upon request under Article 28.

Proceedings of the advisory opinion system is almost the same as invalidation trial. Upon a request of advisory opinion from either party, the JPO appoints three examiners to constitute a trial board and orders other party to answer the request for subsequent trial. Board seldomly holds an oral hearing to investigate the case. In general, all proceedings are based on written statements and documentary evidences.

From a legal point of view, the advisory opinion by JPO does not have a binding effect, unlike the judicial decision. Accordingly, less than 10 trademark cases have been lodged with the JPO to seek the advisory opinion annually.

JPO Opinion

On April 11, 2019, the JPO released its advisory opinion to the case by stating that:

  • As an undisputed fact, the Nintendo Switch has acquired a certain degree of reputation and popularity as a source indicator of Nintendo’s home video games among relevant consumers by the time ALLONE started to promote Switch pouch bag.
  • It has become common practices to provide game accessories by unrelated entities to the game maker with an explicit indication of its usage, “FOR” or “(専)用” on package.
  • ALLONE indicates “FOR SWITCH” with a smaller font size on upper right of the package.
  • Based on the foregoing, the board considers that relevant consumers with an ordinary care would perceive “SWITCH” on the package as a mere indication to suggest its usage, suitable pouch bag for the Nintendo Switch. If so, it is unlikely that the “SWITCH” mark in dispute on the package would not play a role of source indicator, but rather a mere description to indicate quality or usage of the goods.

Consequently, the Board decided the “SWITCH” mark in dispute would not be within the scope of Nintendo’s trademark right since Article 26 (1)(ii) of the Trademark Law provides trademark right shall not be effective against a mark indicating quality or usage of goods to the extent that the mark is used in an ordinary manner.


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

Apple Inc. Defeated in Trademark case over the name ‘MAC’ in Japan

The Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an opposition filed by the U.S. tech giant, Apple Inc. against trademark registration no. 5986073 for a word mark “Face2Mac” due to unlikelihood of confusion with Apple’s famous trademark “Mac”.
[Opposition case no. 2018-900002, Gazette issued date: May 31, 2019]

Opposed mark

Opposed mark, consisting of a word mark “Face2MAC” in standard character, was filed in the name of Allied Telesis Holdings K.K., a Japanese company deploying in business field of network devices and cyber securities.

The mark was filed to JPO on January 31, 2017 and admitted registration on October 6, 2017 over the goods of “computer software; telecommunication machines and apparatus; electronic machines and apparatus; network cameras” in class 9, and other services in class 37, 42 and 45.

Opposition by Apple Inc.

During a two-months opposition period after registration, Apple Inc. filed an opposition.

Apple argued that opposed mark “Face2Mac” shall be retroactively cancelled in violation of Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law since opposed mark contains (i) a famous trademark “Mac” of Apple Inc. and (ii) a term “Face” which reminds consumers of Apple’s well-known mark “FaceID” and “FACETIME”. If so, relevant consumers and traders are likely to confuse or misconceive opposed mark with Apple or any business entity systematically or economically connected with opponent.

Article 4(1)(xv)

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.

Board decision

The Opposition Board did not question a remarkable degree of popularity and reputation of trademark “Mac” as an abbreviated source indicator of opponent’s personal computers ‘Macintosh’.

In the meantime, the Board considered both marks distinctively give rise to a different impression in the minds of relevant consumers from visual, phonetical and conceptual points of view. Besides, the Board emphasized the term “MAC” is commonly used as an abbreviation to indicate ‘Media Access Control’ in business field of computers and telecommunications. According to produced evidences by opponent, Apple Inc. has continuously used the mark “Mac” with a big ‘M’ and small letters ‘ac’, but not in a configuration of “MAC” at all. Therefore, it is rather presumed that relevant consumers at the sight of opposed mark shall conceive of media access control from “Face2MAC”, than Apple’s famous trademark.

Based on the foregoing, the Board concluded that relevant consumers of goods in question are unlikely to confuse opposed mark with Apple Inc. or any business entity systematically or economically connected with opponent.

Thus, opposed mark is not subject to Article 4(1)(x), and valid as a status quo.


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

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]

 

TOKUGAWA CREST

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.

 

YUME-AWOI

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

GEOGRAPHICAL INDICATION BOURBON LOSES TRADEMARK OPPOSITION

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]

 

ROYCE’ BOURBON

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.

 

TRADEMARK OPPOSITION

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.

 

BOARD DECISION

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

JPO decision: TESLA is dissimilarly pronounced to Tesla

In a recent appeal decision over trademark dispute, the Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) overturned the Examiner’s refusal and held the stylized TESLA mark is dissimilarly pronounced to a senior trademark registration for the “Tesla” word mark.

[Appeal case no. 2017-650037, Gazette issue date: February 22, 2019]

 

Stylized TESLA mark

U.S. electric automaker Tesla, Inc. (formerly Tesla Motors, Inc.) filed an application with the Japan Patent Office to register stylized TESLA mark as a trademark for “Articles of clothing, namely, t-shirts, shirts, jackets, hats; headgear, namely, sports hats, caps, sun visors.” in class 25 and “Providing financial services relating to automobiles, namely, automobile financing and lease-purchase financing; financing services for the purchase and leasing of motor vehicles; lease-purchase financing; credit services, namely, providing financing for motor vehicles; providing financial advice in the field of motor vehicles.” in class 36.

 

Senior TM registration for “Tesla”

Going through substantive examination by the JPO examiner, applied mark was completely refused registration based on Article 4(1)(xi) of the Trademark Law due to a conflict with a senior trademark registration no. 5533558 for word mark “Tesla” in standard character for clothing, caps and foot wears in class 25 owned by a Korean individual.

There is criterion that the examiner is checking when assessing the similarity between the marks:

  • visual similarity
  • aural similarity
  • conceptual similarity

and taking into account all these three aspects examiner makes a decision if a mark is similar (at least to some extent) with the earlier mark and if there is a likelihood of confusion for the consumers.

Applicant filed an appeal against the refusal on June 30, 2017 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:

From appearance, both marks are sufficiently distinguishable because the 2nd and last letter of applied mark are too indecipherable to be perceived as a specific term in its entirety.

As long as applied mark does not give rise to any specific sound and meaning as a whole, applied mark is incomparable with cited mark “Tesla” in the aspects of pronunciation and connotation.

Based on the foregoing and criterion to assess similarity of mark, the Board is of a view that the stylized TESLA mark shall be dissimilar to senior registration for the word mark “Tesla” even if the designated goods are deemed identical or similar in class 25.


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