“AlphaGo” AI system, developed by Google-owned artificial intelligence company DeepMind, has gained the world’s attention after defeating the top human players of the world in a game of go in the year 2016. But, in a recent opposition decision, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) did not admit the famousness of the trademark “AlphaGo”.
[Opposition case no. 2020-900207, Gazette issued date: March 26, 2021]
Opposed mark “AlphaMini” (see below) was filed with the JPO by UBTECH Robotics, Inc., Chinese artificial intelligence and humanoid robotic company on July 26, 2019, and designated ‘computer programs; AI-powered humanoid robots; application software for smartphones; security surveillance robots; sensors; teaching robots; navigational instruments; mobile phones; facial recognition software; cameras’ in class 9 and ‘games; toy robots; toys; board games; balls for games; body-building apparatus; fishing tackle; archery implements’ in class 28.
According to the website of URTECH Robotics, Inc., the mark is used as a name of their humanoid educational robot.
Opposition by DeepMind “AlphaGo”
DeepMind Technologies Limited filed an opposition against “AlphaMini” and argued the opposed mark shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(xv) of the Japan Trademark Law because relevant consumes would confuse the source of goods bearing the opposed mark “AlphaMini” with DeepMind due to a close resemblance between two marks and famousness of “AlphaGo”.
Article 4(1)(xv) is a provision to prohibit registration of a trademark which is likely to cause confusion with the business of other entities.
Besides, DeepMind owns several trademarks that begin with the term “ALPHA”, namely, “ALPHACHESS”, “ALPHAZERO”, “ALPHAFOLD”, “ALPHASHOGI”. Taking into consideration a highly renowned computer program “AlphaGo” as the very first AI program that was able to beat one of the highest-ranked human players in the world in 2016, as well as a naming strategy for “ALPHA” AI system series, relevant consumers are likely to associate the opposed mark “AlphaMini” with DeepMind when used on its designated goods in class 9 and 28.
The Opposition Board of the JPO had concluded that insufficient evidence had been submitted to support the assumption of a well-known mark that is protectable under Article 4(1)(xv).
The Board pointed out that most of the produced newspapers and magazines did not prove the use of the mark “AlphaGo” as a source indicator of the computer program for Go developed by DeepMind. Instead, they just revealed the term “アルファ碁” has been used to represent the AI system by DeepMind. “アルファ碁” is precisely a translation and transliteration of “AlphaGo” written in Japanese character.
The JPO held the mere fact that the first word of both marks is identical would be insufficient. Overall impression of “AlphaGo” and “AlphaMini” is remarkably different from visual, phonetic, and conceptual points of view. Thus, the Board found a low level of similarity between the two marks.
Even if the goods in dispute are closely associated with DeepMind’s business, given a low level of similarity and insufficient evidence to assume the famousness of “AlphaGo”, the Board had no reason to believe the opposed mark would cause confusion with DeepMind when used on the disputed goods in class 9 and 28.
Based on the foregoing, the Board decided the opposed mark would not be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(x) of the Trademark Law and dismissed the opposition entirely.
Masaki MIKAMI, Attorney at IP LAW – Founder of MARKS IP LAW FIRM