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

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

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

Starbucks Trademark Dispute Brewing Over Bull Pulu Tapioca Logo

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) has rejected an opposition from Starbucks to trademark registration no. 5897739 for the green-and white “BULL PULU TAPIOCA” concentric circle logo with a puppy white bull dog in the center.
[Opposition case no. 2017-900048]


Opposed mark (see below) designating goods of tapioca beverages, tapioca fruit juice beverages in class 32 and retail or wholesale services for tapioca beverages, tapioca fruit juice beverages in class 35was applied for registration on May 10, 2016 by a Japanese individual. As a result of substantive examination, JPO granted a registration on October 28, 2016.


Subsequently, Starbucks Incorporated, a US coffee chain, filed an opposition based on a conflict with famous Starbucks trademarks.

In the opposition, Starbucks alleged violation of Article 4(1)(vii), (xi) and (xv) of the Japan Trademark Law.

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

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) excludes a junior mark which is likely to cause confusion with goods or services belonging to another business entity.


The Opposition Board of JPO admitted a high degree of reputation and popularity to the iconic Starbucks logo among relevant consumers at the time of initial filing and registration of the opposed mark.

In the meantime, the Board found that both marks are dissimilar due to a distinctive difference in literal elements and design depicted in the center. Besides, by taking account of severe dissimilarity of both marks, the Board denied a likelihood of confusion between the marks as well.

To bolster the public disorder allegation, Starbucks revealed the facts that applicant of the opposed mark was a former CEO of J.J. Co., Ltd., a tapioca drink parlor, and Opposed mark has been used on shop signs and cups for drink managed by J.J. Co., Ltd. in fact (see below).

The Board held that such facts are insufficient to conclude Opposed mark may offend public order and morals if registered.

Accordingly, JPO rejected an opposition challenged by Starbucks.

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

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.


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

ENRICO COVERI failed to remove “COVERI” from trademark registration

The Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) held in an opposition filed by Enrico Coveri Società a Responsabilità Limitata (Opponent) that trademark registration no. 5874843 for a word mark “COVERI” (Opposed mark) shall remain as valid as ever and dismissed claims in the opposition entirely.
[Opposition case no. 2016-900368]

Opposed mark (see below) was applied for registration on November 27, 2015 by designating various kinds of goods in class 25 including apparels and shoes, and published for registration on September 20, 2016without any office action from the JPO examiner.

Opponent claimed that the opposed mark “COVERI” shall be cancelled on the basis of Article 4(1)(vii), (viii), (x), (xi), (xv) and (xix) of the Japan Trademark Law by citing senior trademark registrations for word mark “ENRICO COVERI”, a name of the late Italian fashion designer, in class 18, 24 and 25.

In the opposition decision, the Board concluded that “ENRICO COVERI” and “COVERI” are both dissimilar in appearance, pronunciation and concept.

Besides, the Board did not admit a high degree of popularity and recognition to “ENRICO COVERI” among relevant public in Japan because of insufficient evidence to demonstrate amount of sales, number of stores and expenditure for promotion and advertisement (Opponent has just produced some photographs or articles appeared in fashion magazines).

Based on the fact finding, the Board concluded that opposed mark was not filed in a malicious intent to do harm to the designer’s fame, and “COVERI” shall not be deemed as an abbreviation of “ENRICO COVERI”. Therefore, there finds less likelihood of confusion between “COVERI” and “ENRICO COVERI” even if both marks are used on apparels or shoes.

It is highly advisable to an owner of high-end or luxurious brand, consisting of two or more alphabetical words, to have each word registered as well for the purpose of preventing free-riding and enjoying a broader scope of protection against use by others.

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

It is just a 3D shape of electronic baccarat shoe, or trademark?

In a lawsuit disputing adequacy of decision by the JPO Appeal Board (Appeal case no. 2015-907) to refuse the applied 3D mark (TM2014-5943, class 28), consisting of a three-dimensional shape of electronic baccarat shoe with the program enabling to reduce the chance of foreign cards and eliminate dealer mistakes, due to lack of  distinctiveness and secondary meaning, the IP High Court sustained the decision being appealed.
[Case no. Heisei28(Gyo-ke)10266,  Decision date: September 27, 2017]

Inherent distinctiveness of the 3D shape

Plaintiff, a Japanese manufacturer and distributor of the ANGEL EYE electronic baccarat shoe, asserted that the 3D shape of ANGEL EYE, being the first products in the industry, is not an essential shape to make it free for public use since no competitors have dealt with same type of product other than plaintiff so far. Besides, a fact that the 3D shape has been registered in the legal gambling countries, e.g. US, EU, AU, RU, Malaysia and NZ, will rather bolster necessity to allow exclusive right on the shape.

However, the Court opposed to plaintiff. “It is inadequate to allow plaintiff to use the 3D shape exclusively. Applied 3D mark can be perceived objectively as a general shape of electronic baccarat shoe aimed to fulfill its original function and produce aesthetic image. If so, it may disorder a fair marketplace to allow exclusive use to plaintiff just because of a first-to-file. A mere fact of trademark registrations in countries where the ANGEL EYE has been distributed is insufficient to admit trademark registration in our nation since the goods is yet to be distributed in Japan.” Accordingly, the Court refused Applied 3D mark based on Article 3(1)(iii).


Secondary meaning of Applied 3D mark

Plaintiff argued Applied 3D mark has already served to function as a source indicator by means of substantial use of the mark sine 2005. Plaintiff exported 11,481 units (sale proceeds: 2.7 billion yen) over the lase decade and has achieved 90 % market share in Macau, the world’s largest casino gambling hub.

In this respect, the Court ruled in favor of the JPO. As plaintiff admits, the shoe has not been manufactured for domestic use. Any evidence suggesting a high degree of recognition to Applied 3D mark in foreign countries is neither relevant nor persuasive. Unless plaintiff demonstrates that domestic consumers have become aware of such recognition, it is groundless to find Applied 3D mark would satisfy requisite of secondary meaning based on Article 3(2) of the Japan Trademark Law.

The case raises a question: What is a role of the Trademark Law where applied mark, being registered in foreign nations,  confronts with an insuperable refusal attributable to legal restrictions on domestic use of the mark?
Unsuccessful domestic registration prevents domestic company from utilizing the Madrid Protocol and protecting his/her vital brands on the global market in an effective and economical manner.  

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

Famous sportswear brand “PUMA” unsuccessful in setting aside registration of “KUMA” mark

In a recent Japan trademark opposition decision, the Opposition Board ruled that famous PUMA logo for sportswear was dissimilar to the “KUMA” mark with bear design for goods in class 25, so as to cause confusion.

In the case, Opposition case no. 2016-900308, the Board was faced with considering whether the KUMA device mark of Applicant for “clothing; headgears; T-shirts; sportswear; sports shoes” in class 25 was confusingly similar to Opponent’s famous PUMA logo for “sportswear”.

In concluding that confusion was unlikely, the Board stated that two “key considerations” in making such a determination were famousness of Opponent’s mark and the similarity between the trademarks. With regard to the former factor, the Board admitted remarkable reputation and famousness of the PUMA logo among relevant public in Japan. The Board nonetheless reached its conclusion of dissimilarity – most likely on the fact that difference in the first letter generates distinctive impression in the mind of consumers since “KUMA” means bears (wild animals) in Japanese.

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