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]

BULL PULU TAPIOCA LOGO

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.

OPPOSITION by STARBUCKS

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.

BOARD DECISION

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

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

V&W is unlikely to cause confusion with VW emblem

In a recent trademark opposition involving the circular Volkswagen logo, the Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) decided that famous VW emblem is entirely dissimilar to, or unlikely to cause confusion with, the word mark “V&W” in standard character when used on retail services for automobiles [Opposition Case no. 2017-900009].


Trademark opposition

German car giant Volkswagen AG filed an opposition against TM registration no. 5888513 for word mark “V&W” written in standard character (Opposed mark) on the grounds that Opposed mark violates Article 4(1)(xi), 4(1)(xv) and 8(1) of the Trademark Law based on senior trademark registrations for the VW emblems and a word mark “VW”.
The opposed mark designates retail services or wholesale services for automobiles and various other goods in class 35.

Volkswagen argued Opposed mark gives rise to a pronunciation of “vi: dʌb·l·juː” by omitting “&” since the prevalent symbol representing a word of “AND” is just to connect “V” and “W”, and relevant traders and consumers are prone to omit the symbol in pronouncing the entire mark in light of transactional customs at present. If so, Opposed mark is deemed similar to the VW emblem as well as “VW” in visual, phonetical and conceptual point of view.

Besides, the VW emblem has acquired substantial popularity and reputation as a source indicator of famous automobile maker, Volkswagen. Thus, it is highly likely that relevant traders and consumers confuse the source of retail service for automobiles and its parts using Opposed mark “V&W” with opponent or a business entity systematically or economically connected with the opponent.

 


Board decision

The Board admitted the VW emblem has become famous for a source indicator of opponent by taking into consideration of the facts that opponent’s cars with the VW emblem have been continuously imported to Japan since 1978 at the latest and ranked in the top 3 of new imported automobile registrations for the past three years.

In the meantime, the Board denied high awareness of the word mark “VW” as a source indicator of opponent. A mere definition of VW to indicate the opponent in a dictionary is insufficient since the term is often seen in conjunction with corporation name “Volkswagen” in newspaper, magazines and newsarticle on a website.

In the assessment of trademark similarity, the Board concluded that “V&W” is obviously dissimilar to the VW emblem and “VW” in appearance, pronunciation and meaning. Due to substantial distinction between the marks, relevant traders and consumers are less likely to confuse or associate “V&W” with opponent and any business entity systematically or economically connected with opponent.

Based on the foregoing, the Board dismissed opposition and allowed “V&W” to survive.


It is noteworthy that a mark consisting of two alphabetical letters written in a plain font design is considered less distinctive in Japan. In this respect, IR no. 1272004 for the word mark “VW” did not function to broadly protect the VW emblem in favor of Volkswagen.

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