The Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an opposition filed by Industria de Diseño Textil, SA (INDITEX), owner of the fashion brand “ZARA”, against trademark registration no. 6638156 for word mark “AZRA” in classes 11, 20, 21, 24 and 27 by finding dissimilarity to and less likelihood of confusion with “ZARA”.[Opposition case no. 2023-900013, decided on September 1, 2023]

Opposed mark

Opposed mark, consisting of a wordmark “AZRA” in standard character, was applied for registration in the name of STREAK Co., Ltd., a Japanese company offering bedding, pillows, pillow covers, cushions [furniture], mattresses, curtains and sleeping pads, on August 9, 2022, by designating various goods in classes 11, 20, 21, 24 and 27, and published for post-grant opposition on November 16, 2022, without confronting with office action from the JPO.

Screen capture from Rakuten

Opposition by Inditex

Opponent, INDITEX, one of the world’s largest fashion retailers and owner of the fashion brand “ZARA”, filed an opposition on January 14, 2023 before the lapse of a two-month statutory period and claimed opposed mark “AZRA” shall be cancelled in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi), (xv) and (xix) of the Japan Trademark Law by citing earlier trademark registrations for word mark “ZARA”.

Article 4(1)(xi) is a provision to prohibit from registering a junior mark that is deemed identical with, or similar to, any senior registered mark.

INDITEX argued “AZRA” is similar to its own trademark “ZARA”, a worldwide famous fast-fashion brand, from visual, phonetic and conceptual points of view. Besides, the goods in question are identical.

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

INDITEX argued that “ZARA” has acquired a remarkable reputation among relevant consumers and the close resemblance between the marks and goods, and thus relevant consumers are likely to confuse or misconceive the goods bearing the opposed mark “AZRA” with “ZARA”.

Article 4(1)(xix) prohibits registering a trademark that is identical with, or similar to, other entity’s famous mark, if such trademark is aimed for unfair purposes, e.g. gaining unfair profits, or causing damage to the entity.

INDITEX argued the applicant must have filed the opposed mark aiming to gain unfair profits by the free-riding opponent famous trademark “ZARA”.

JPO decision

To my surprise, the JPO Opposition Board had a view that “ZARA” has not acquired a high degree of reputation and popularity among general consumers even though widely recognized among fashion conscious consumers by taking into consideration the produced evidence. The Board pointed a high number of followers on Facebook (31millions), Instagram (57millions) by itself would be insufficient and irrelevant to demonstrate a high degree of recognition among general consumers of the goods in question.

Besides, the Board found “AZRA” and “ZARA” are obviously dissimilar in appearance and pronunciation by stating that difference on the first and second letter and sound would be sufficiently distinguishable given both marks visually consist of four alphabets and aurally just two or three sounds. As for the concept, it is incomparable since either mark does not give rise to any specific meaning. Therefore, both marks are unlikely to cause confusion due to dissimilarity between the marks.

Since no evidence was shown by Inditex to support that the applicant filed the opposed mark for unfair purposes or causing damage to the opponent.

Based on the foregoing, the JPO dismissed the entire allegations of INDITEX and allowed “AZRA” to survive.

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