Apple Inc. Lost Trademark Opposition to “SMAPPLE” in Japan

The Japan Patent Office dismissed a trademark opposition claimed by the U.S. tech giant, Apple Inc. against trademark registration no. 5987344 for word mark “SMAPPLE” in class 9 and 37 by finding less likelihood of confusion with Apple.
[Opposition case no. 2018-900006]


Opposed mark “SMAPPLE” was filed by a Japanese business entity on March 13, 2017 by designating mobile phones in class 9 and repair or maintenance service of mobile phones in class 37.
Going through substantive examination, the JPO admitted registration on September 15, 2017 and published for registration on November 7, 2017.

Apple’s Opposition

To oppose against registration, Apple Inc. filed an opposition on January 5, 2018.

In the opposition brief, Apple Inc. asserted the opposed mark shall be cancelled in violation of Article 4(1)(xv) of the Japan Trademark Law given a remarkable reputation of opponent mark “APPLE” in the business field of computers, smart phones, tablets, and any related business.
Apple argued the first two letters of “SM” is descriptive in connection with repair and maintenance service since it is conceived as an abbreviation of “service mark”, to my surprise. In addition, as long as the term “SMAPPLE” is not a dictionary word, relevant consumers at the sight of the term are likely to consider that the opposed mark consists of “SM” and “APPLE”.

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. Theoretically, Article 4(1)(xv) is applicable to the case where both marks are dissimilar, but likely to cause confusion among relevant consumers because of a related impression attributable to reputation of the well-known mark.

Board Decision

The Opposition Board admitted a remarkable degree of reputation and popularity of opponent trademark “Apple” in the business field to manufacture and distribute computers, smart phones, audio devices and mobiles phones etc., however, gave a negative view in relation to repair or maintenance service of mobile phones by taking account of insufficient evidences Apple Inc. produced to the Board.

Besides, in the assessment of mark similarity, the Board found “SMAPPLE” and “Apple” are totally dissimilar since they are sufficiently distinguishable in visual, phonetic, and conceptual point of view. The Board also questioned Apple’s argument the first two letters of “SM” does imply a meaning of service mark. If so, it is not permissible to separate a element of “APPLE” from the opposed mark. The mark shall be compared in its entirety. As long as “APPLE” is a familiar English term among relevant public to mean a round fruit with red or green skin and a whitish inside, the term shall not be deemed a coined word.

Based on the foregoing, the Board decided that relevant consumers are unlikely to confuse or misconceive a source of the opposed mark with Apple Inc. or any entity systematically or economically connected with the opponent.

I feel the opposed mark rather gives rise to a connotation of “smart apple”, than “service mark” and “apple”.
“Service mark” is not commonly used in our daily life unless he or she has a knowledge of IP law (LOL).

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