Adidas unsuccessful in an attempt to prevent trademark protection for two-stripes

The Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) held in an opposition filed by Adidas AG that trademark registration no. 6016240 for two-stripes device (Opposed mark) shall remain as valid as ever and entirely dismissed Adidas’ claims based on its famous three stripes.[Opposition case no. 2018-900100, Gazette issued on August 30, 2019]

Opposed mark

Opposed mark (see below) was applied for registration on June 16, 2016 over shoes in class 25 by Marubeni Footwear, a Japanese business entity, and published for registration on February 27, 2018.

Opposition by Adidas

On April 24, 2018, Adidas AG filed an opposition and argued opposed mark is revocable under Article 4(1)(vii) and 4(1)(xv) of the Japan Trademark Law in relation to its famous three stripes (see below).

Article 4(1)(vii)

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

Trademark Examination Guidelines set forth criteria for the article and examples.
Among others, “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.”

Based on a remarkable degree of reputation and popularity to Adidas three stripes, opponent asserted, applicant must have been aware of Adidas three stripes and filed opposed mark with a malicious intention to take advantage of the reputation and credit of opponent’s famous trademark and impair the goodwill embodied on its iconic three stripes.

Article 4(1)(xv)

Article 4(1)(xv) prohibits to register a trademark which is likely to cause confusion with a business of other entity.

Adidas argued that, from appearance, opposed mark evidently gives rise to a same impression with Adidas three stripes since each stripe of the mark is depicted in the same direction, width and shape, besides a space between stripe also has the same width with the stripe.

Given opponent mark has been substantially used in various colors, length, and configurations, average consumers with an ordinary care of shoes who have been quite familiar with Adidas are likely to associate opposed mark with Adidas’ three-stripes. Inter alia, when each stripe of opposed mark is used in different color on side upper sole and a space between the stripes (upper sole fabric) has other color, and thus opposed mark looks like depicting three stripes on shoes, it is highly anticipated that relevant consumers would confuse its source with opponent.

Opposition decision

The Opposition Board admitted a high degree of reputation and popularity to Adidas three stripes in relation to sport shoes, sportswear, sports gear at the time of initial filing and registration of opposed mark.

In the meantime, the Board found a low degree of originality of three stripes and similarity between the marks, from visual, phonetic, and conceptual points of view since opposed mark can be clearly perceived as ‘two-stripes’. Even if Adidas three stripes has acquired remarkable reputation, average consumers of sports shoes would not mistake two stripes for three stripes in purchasing shoes with opposed mark.
If so, the Board believes it is unlikely that relevant consumers confuse or associate opposed mark with Adidas.

The Board also negated opponent’s allegation of a possible ‘three-stripes’ appearance under specific color combination by stating that opposed mark is nothing but a two-stripes design mark. The space in between two stripes does not constitute opposed mark. If so, the allegation shall be irrelevant to the case.

Besides, from the produced evidences, the Board found it was not foreseen a circumstance to offend public order and morals from registering opposed mark and give harmful effect to the international faith.

Based on the foregoing, the Board concluded opposed mark shall not be revocable under Article 4(1)(vii) as well as (xv) and granted registration a status quo.

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