DIOR Failed to Cancel Trademark “DIORLV”

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) did not side with Christian Dior Couture in a trademark opposition against TM Reg no. 6305075 for word mark “DIORLV” in class 25 by finding dissimilarity and unlikelihood of confusion with a world-renowned fashion brand “Dior”.

[Opposition case no. 2020-900352, Gazette issued date: November 26, 2021]

“DIORLV”

The opposed mark, “DIORLV” in standard character, was sought for registration by a Chinese individual to be used on underwear, coats, pajamas, swimsuits, raincoats, footwear, caps and hats, gloves, trousers, skirts, yoga shirts, yoga pants in class 25 on December 25, 2019.

The JPO examiner granted protection of the opposed mark on October 13, 2020, and published for opposition on November 4, 2020.


Opposition by Christian Dior

To contend registration within a statutory period of two months counting from the publication date, Christian Dior Couture filed an opposition on December 25, 2020.

In the opposition, Christian Dior asserted the opposed mark shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(viii), (xi), (xv), (xix) of the Japan Trademark Law on the grounds that the opposed “DIORLV” mark contains the term “Dior”, an abbreviation of a world-renowned fashion brand “Christian Dior” and the opponent. Besides, the opposed mark will be perceived as a combination of abbreviation of two famous brands, “Christian Dior” and “Louis Vuitton.” If so, it is reasonable to consider the term “DIOR” as a prominent portion of the opposed mark that gives rise to the same sound and concept with the senior registered mark “Dior” owned by the opponent.


JPO decision

The Opposition Board of JPO admitted a substantial degree of reputation and popularity of “Dior” as an abbreviation of “Christian Dior” and the opponent in relation to fashion items, e.g., women’s dresses, bags, shoes, jewelry, glasses, watches, fountain pens, lighters.

In the meantime, the Board did not find the term “DIOR” as a prominent portion of the opposed mark. Based on the overall assessment of similarity, the Board held both marks dissimilarity by stating that:

  1. From appearance and pronunciation, “DIORLV” and “Dior” look sufficiently different with or without “LV” in the suffix position.
  2. Both marks are distinguishable in concept since “DIORLV” does not give rise to any specific meaning. “Dior” has a meaning of world-renowned fashion brand “Christian Dior.”

Given a low degree of similarity of the marks, it is unlikely that relevant consumers would recognize a source of goods in question bearing the opposed mark from Christian Dior Couture or any entity systematically or economically connected with the opponent.

Furthermore, the Board has no reason to believe the term “DIOR” of the opposed mark is separable from the term “LV” and independently plays a role in the source indicator. Accordingly, the opposed mark shall not be construed to contain a famous abbreviation of the opponent.

Based on the foregoing, the JPO dismissed the entire opposition and decided the opposed mark shall remain valid as the status quo.

HUGO BOSS Unsuccessful in Blocking “BOSS”

German luxury fashion house Hugo Boss failed in their attempt to block Japanese TM Reg no. 6218609 for word mark “BOSS” on SaaS and order processing services.

[Opposition case no. 2020-900096, Gazette issued date: August 27, 2021]

Opposed mark

Opposed mark, filed on January 22, 2019, by Rakuten, Japanese electronic commerce and online retailing company, consists of the word “BOSS” in standard character (see below).

The services sought for registration are order processing services in class 35 and providing computer programs on e-commerce, software as a service (SaaS), and other related services in class 42. Rakuten is using the opposed mark “BOSS” as an abbreviation of ‘Back Office Support System’ to indicate their service for sales order management and automated shipping system.

The JPO admitted registration on June 22, 2020, and published for post-grant opposition on February 12, 2020.


Opposition by Hugo Boss

HUGO BOSS Trademark Management GmbH & Co KG filed an opposition against the opposed mark on April 3, 2020, and claimed the opposed mark “BOSS” shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) and (xv) of the Japan Trademark Law.

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

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.

HUGO BOSS argued that not only tradename “HOGO BOSS but also their mark “BOSS” has been well known for a luxury fashion brand and source indicators of the opponent by producing Deloitte’s annual list of the world’s largest luxury companies on which HUGO BOSS was ranked No.19(2015), No.21(2016), No.23(2017).

In view of a high degree of similarity between the opposed mark and the opponent’s mark “BOSS” (see below), relevant consumers are likely to confuse the source of services bearing the opposed mark with HUGO BOSS.


Board Decision

The JPO Opposition Board admitted a certain degree of the reputation of the “HUGO BOSS” mark as a source indicator of the opponent in connection with fashion items, e.g., clothing, watches, sunglasses, fragrances.

In the meantime, the Board questioned if the word “BOSS” has also acquired such popularity, stating that produced materials are insufficient to find the word perse plays the source indicator since the cited mark contains a famous mark “HUGO BOSS” adjacent to it.

Even if there is a high degree of similarity between the marks, the Board has a reasonable ground to believe the services in question, namely, order processing services (cl.35) and SaaS (cl.42) are less associated with fashion items, e.g., clothing, watches, sunglasses, fragrances.

If so, it is unlikely that relevant consumers at the sight of the opposed mark would conceive or associate it with HUGO BOSS or any entity who is systematically or economically connected with the opponent when used on the services in question.

Based on the foregoing, the JPO dismiss the entire allegations of HUGO BOSS and allowed the opposed mark “BOSS” to survive.

Dolce & Gabbana failed in a trademark opposition to block DolceSport

The Japan Patent Office dismissed a trademark opposition claimed by the Italian luxury firm, Dolce & Gabbana against trademark registration no. 6259630 for word mark “DolceSport” in class 18, 20, 22, 25, and 28 by finding a less likelihood of confusion with “Dolce & Gabbana.”

[Opposition case no. 2020-900206, Gazette issued date: July 30, 2021]

“Dolce Sport”

Opposed mark, consisting of the word “Dolce Sport” in standard character, was filed by a Japanese company, SIS Co., Ltd. for use on various goods belonging to class 18,20, 22, 25 and 28 with the JPO on May 30, 2019 (TM Application no. 2019-83931).

The JPO admitted registration on June 15, 2020 and published for registration on July 7, 2020.


Opposition by Dolce & Gabbana

Dolce & Gabbana filed an opposition on August 19, 2020 and argued the opposed mark “Dolce Sport” shall be cancelled in contravention of Article 4(1)(xv) of the Japan Trademark Law since relevant consumes are likely to confuse the source of goods bearing the opposed mark with Dolce & Gabbana because of a close resemblance between “Dolce Sport” and a word “Dolce” that has become famous per se as a source indicator of the opponent.

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.

To apply the article, it is requisite that the mark of other entities has acquired a certain degree of reputation and popularity among relevant consumers in Japan.

Opponent produced evidence to demonstrate the word “Dolce” per se has been used on their goods, e.g. perfume, cosmetics, and bags. See below.


JPO decision

The JPO Opposition Board did not admit the term “Dolce” per se has become famous as a source indicator of Dolce & Gabbana by stating that famous brand “Dolce & Gabbana” is obviously represented adjacent to the term “Dolce” on their goods. If so, the Board has good reason to believe that it would be unclear whether the term has acquired a certain degree of reputation as a source indicator of the opponent from the produced evidence. Besides, the Board questioned whether “Dolce” has been known as an abbreviation of “Dolce & Gabbana” due to the same reason.

Based on the foregoing, the Board decided that, even if the opposed mark “Dolce Sport” has a medium degree of similarity with the “Dolce” and the goods in question are somewhat associated with the opponent business, relevant consumers are unlikely to confuse or misconceive a source of the opposed mark with Dolce & Gabbana by taking account of less originality of the term “Dolce” having a meaning of ‘sweet; dessert’ in Italian language and lack of good-will protectable under Article 4(1)(xv) enough to indicate a source of “Dolce & Gabbana”.

COCO vs COCOMIST – Decision of the Opposition Board of the Japan Patent Office

Chanel handed a loss in its attempt to block Japanese trademark registration no. 6202587 for wordmark “COCOMIST” to be used on cosmetics, perfumery, fragrances, incense, and other goods in class 3.
[Opposition case no. 2020-900047, Gazette issued date: February 26, 2021.]

COCOMIST

The opposed mark consists of the word “COCOMIST” written in standard character (see below). Applicant, a Japanese company, 196+ Inc., filed it for use on ‘cosmetics, perfumery, fragrances, incense, toiletry preparations’ and other goods in Class 3 on January 7, 2019.

The mark was published for post-grant opposition on December 24, 2019, without confronting any office action from the JPO examiner.

It is apparent that the applicant actually uses the opposed mark on cleaning mist.

Opposition by CHANEL

On February 20, 2020, CHANEL SARL filed an Opposition and argued the opposed mark shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi), (xv), and (xix) of the Trademark Law on the grounds that:

  1. Since 1995, the opponent has owned senior trademark registration no. 2704127 for wordmark “COCO” over cosmetics, perfumery, and fragrances, which has unquestionably acquired a remarkable degree of reputation and popularity as a source indicator of the opponent’s cosmetics as well as a nickname or short name of French fashion designer “Gabrielle COCO CHANEL”, the founder of the Chanel brand.
  2. The term “MIST” lacks distinctiveness in relation to cosmetics. If so, relevant consumers at the sight of the opposed mark would easily conceive “COCO” as a prominent portion when used on goods in question.
  3. In view of the close resemblance between two marks and goods, presumably, the applicant must have applied the opposed mark for use on cosmetics with prior knowledge of the cited mark and fraudulent intention of free-riding on its reputation.

JPO Decision

The JPO Opposition Board admitted a high degree of reputation and popularity of “COCO” as a source indicator of the opponent’s perfumery and fragrances among relevant consumers based on substantial use of the cited mark in Japan but questioned its famousness in relation to other cosmetics except for perfumery and fragrances.

The JPO denied the similarity between the opposed mark and “COCO”, stating that the opposed mark shall be taken as a whole in view of a tight combination of its literal element from appearance. If so, the opposed mark does not give rise to any specific meaning and the Board has no reasonable ground to believe that the opposed mark “COCOMIST” shall be similar to “COCO” from visual, phonetic, and conceptual points of view.

Given a low degree of similarity between the marks, the Board held the opposed mark is unlikely to cause confusion even when used on perfumery and fragrances.

Assuming that both marks are dissimilar, the Board was not convinced that the applicant aimed for free-riding on the goodwill of Chanel.

Based on the foregoing, the JPO dismissed the entire allegations of CHANEL SARL and allowed the opposed mark to register as the status quo.

Ariana Grande Loses Trademark Opposition at Japan Patent Office

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an opposition filed by GrandAri Inc., the owner of a trademark “ARIANA GRANDE”, against TM Reg no. 6202585 for wordmark “Arianna” to be used on cosmetics by finding dissimilarity between “Arianna” and “ARIANA GRANDE.”
[Opposition case no. 2020-900051, Gazette issued date: January 29, 2021.]

Opposed mark

Arianna Co., Ltd. applied for a wordmark “Arianna” registration for use on cosmetics, soaps, and detergents of Class 3 and medical apparatus of Class 10 with the JPO on January 7, 2019 (TM Application no. 2019-000339).

The JPO admitted the registration of the opposed mark on November 29, 2019, and published for opposition on Christmas Eve of the year.

Opposition by GrandAri Inc.

On February 21, 2020, GrandAri Inc. filed an opposition before the JPO and claimed that the opposed mark shall be revocable in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) and (xv) of the Japan Trademark Law by citing International Registration no. 1260129 for wordmark “ARIANA GRANDE” and others over the goods of ‘Perfume; eau de parfum; fragranced body care preparations, namely, body lotions, body scrubs’ in Class 3.

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

GrandAri argued that relevant consumers would easily think of American pop superstar from the cited mark “ARIANA GRANDE”. Besides, because of her celebrity and popularity, she is affectionately called by her first name “ARIANA”. In view of the space between “ARIANA” and “GRANDE”, it is highly likely that the consumers would consider the term “ARIANA” as a dominant source indicator at the sight of the cited mark. It is no doubt that the opposed mark “Arianna” is confusingly similar to “ARIANA” since the mere difference of the letter ‘n’ is negligible in appearance and both terms give rise to the same pronunciation.

Article 4(1)(xv) provides that any 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 owners and users’ benefits.

GrandAri argued the cited mark is used on fragrances developed by Ariana herself, which are also called “ARIANA” in the advertisement.

Given a close resemblance between the opposed mark and the “ARIANA” mark, and a certain degree of popularity of the fragrances, firstly sold in November 2015 in Japan, it is likely to cause confusion with the cited mark when the opposed mark is used on the goods in question.

JPO Decision

The JPO admitted a high level of reputation and popularity of American pop singer, “ARIANA GRANDE” in Japan. In the meantime, the JPO questioned, from the produced evidence, whether the term “ARIANA” per se plays a role of the source indicator of Ariana Grande fragrances since it is constantly adjacent to the cited mark “ARIANA GRANDE.”
Consequently, the JPO negated the famousness of the term “ARIANA” as a source indicator of the opponent’s goods.

As for the similarity of the marks, the JPO assessed that relevant consumers would see the cited mark “ARIANA GRANDE” in its entirety because she is known and called by her full name. If so, both marks are distinctively dissimilar since the opposed mark does neither give rise to a pronunciation of “ARIANA GRANDE” nor a concept of American pop superstar.

The JPO dared to assess the similarity between the opposed mark “Arianna” and “ARIANA” and held that “Arianna” is not confusingly similar to “ARIANA” from a phonetical point of view. Due to a low level of similarity of the marks, the JPO does not have any reason to believe that the opposed mark would cause confusion with the cited mark “ARIANA GRANDE” as well as “ARIANA” when used on cosmetics, soaps, and detergents of Class 3.

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

The University of Oxford Failed in Opposition Against “OXFORD” mark

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an opposition filed by Oxford Limited against trademark registration no. 6164941 for composite mark comprised of term “OXFORD” and a square X symbol in class 25, 35,40 by questioning whether the term per se has been known as a source indicator of the University.
[Opposition case no. 2019-900303, Gazette issued date: October 13, 2020]

Opposed mark

Japanese trademark registration no. 6164941 for composite mark comprised of term “OXFORD” and a square X symbol colored in dark blue (see below), was filed on October 26, 2018, by Oxford Corporation Co., Ltd., a Japanese business entity tailoring custom-made suits, over clothing, footwear made in England in class 25, retail or wholesale services for clothing, footwear and other goods in class 35, and dressmaking, treatment or processing of cloth, clothing or fur, custom tailoring services, and others in class 40.

JPO granted to protect the opposed mark and published for registration on August 20, 2019.

Opposition

On October 18, 2019, Oxford Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the University of Oxford, filed an opposition and claimed the Opposed mark shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(vii), (viii), (xi), (xv) and (xix) of the Trademark Law by citing its own marks (see below).

Oxford Limited argued that the University of Oxford is an extremely well-known university worldwide. It has been ranked in 5th and 3rd places in tables of top international higher education institutes. Besides, Oxford Limited has promoted and licensed commercial goods bearing trademarks of the University. In Japan, various licensed goods e.g. apparel, accessories, interiors, stationery, educational toys are distributed via Ingram Co., Ltd., an authorized broker.

Under the circumstances, there is no doubt that relevant consumers at the sight of the term “OXFORD” would conceive the University when used on goods and services in question. If so, the opposed mark shall be deemed similar to and likely to cause confusion with the cited mark since the term “OXFORD” per se plays a dominant role in identifying a source.

JPO Decision

The JPO Opposition Board admitted a high degree of the reputation of “University of Oxford” among the general public. In the meantime, the Board opined that it is questionable if the term “OXFORD” has acquired a substantial degree of popularity as a source indicator of the University from the produced evidence and totality of the circumstances in view of the fact that the term is also a geographical indication, namely, the capital of the county of Oxfordshire.

Based on the foregoing, the Board found relevant consumers would recognize the term “OXFORD” of the Opposed mark just to indicate ‘the capital of the county of Oxfordshire’. Meanwhile, the cited marks give rise to a sound and concept pertinent to the University. The figurative element of both marks is sufficiently distinguishable from appearance. There was a low level of visual, aural, and conceptual similarity between the marks to the extent that relevant consumers would be unlikely to confuse the Opposed mark with the University of Oxford. Therefore, the allegations are groundless and the Opposed mark shall remain valid as the status quo.


I am not convinced with the JPO’s finding of “the term OXFORD of the Opposed mark just to indicate ‘the capital of the county of Oxfordshire”. I firmly believe the term immediately reminds us of the University rather than the name of the capital of Oxfordshire.

Securely Protecting Trademark Abbreviations

Japanese is prone to abbreviate trademarks. Occasionally, the abbreviation has no resemblance to its original name. A brand owner should be mindful of how the public perceives and uses its trademarks in Japan. Abbreviations or nicknames used by the public are not protected under the respective registrations given that they have no resemblance to the original names.

“Family Mart”, Japan’s second-largest convenience store franchiser since 1973, with more than 15,000 locations, is commonly called “Fa-mi-ma” among consumers. It is true that Family Mark has used only “Family Mart” in the ordinary course of their business for more than three decades. But, eventually, Family Mart decided to adopt the name on their store opened in urban office or commercial buildings.

I suppose it aims at avoiding risks of the “Famima” mark registration by a third party in view of high recognition for the name among relevant consumers and dissimilarity to “Family Mart”. Now, the mark is securely registered in the name of Family Mart.

Trademark abbreviations may serve as a barometer for well-recognition of the mark among the general public in Japan. In this respect, trademark abbreviations would not be a matter only for the Japanese company, but also for foreign brand owners. Where a trademark is composed of five sounds or more, you should mind that the general public in Japan gets to call the mark in abbreviation contrary to the brand owner’s intention. A combination mark is an easy target for abbreviation as well. BOTTEGA VENETA is called “BOTTEGA”. LUIS VUITTON is known as “VITON”. DOLCE & GABBANA is popularly called “DOLU-GABA”. STARBUCKS COFFEE is known as “SUTABA”. TOMMY HILFIGER is called “TOMI-HIRU”. Undoubtedly, the most popular name recognized in the abbreviation is “McDonald”. We seldom call it in the full name. One of the most popular fast-food chains and one of the top franchises in the world has always been called “MAKUDO” or “MAC”.

Using abbreviations, nicknames, and acronyms as trademarks may be appealing from a marketing perspective, however, trademark protection for an abbreviation has to be sought independently from the trademark protection that its extensive version might be already enjoying, and vice versa.

It came to my notice that ABERCROMBIE & FITCH, known for its shortened name “ABA-KURO”, sought Japanese trademark registration of “ABACRO” in English and its Japanese transliteration, but ended in vain due to a conflict with a senior trademark registration “ABERCRO”. A&F was unsuccessfully challenging the senior trademark registration based on non-use grounds.

PGA

In a recent administrative decision, the Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) disaffirmed the examiner’s refusal and held a composite mark, consisting of words “PERFECT GEAR AGENCY” and a monogram “PGA”, is dissimilar to the senior registered word mark “PGA” owned by Professional Golf Association.
[Appeal case no. 2019-10638, Gazette issued date: September 25, 2020]

“PGA/ PERFECT GEAR AGENCY”

Disputed mark, see below, was applied for registration in relation to retail or wholesale services for various goods, e.g. foods and beverages, footwear, bags, automobiles in class 35 on January 24, 2018.

The disputed mark consists of the “PGA” monogram and the words “PERFECT GEAR AGENCY” on the right. The initial letter of the respective term is colored in red. Apparently, the monogram comes from an initial letter of each word “PERFECT”, “GEAR” and “AGENCY”.

JPO Examiner rejected the disputed mark by citing several senior trademark registrations for a wordmark “PGA” in various classes owned by Professional Golf Association.

In Japan, retail or wholesale service in respect of specific goods is deemed similar to the goods or its equivalent. For example, retail service in respect of sporting goods (class 35) and sporting goods (class 28) is deemed similar.

That being the case, the applicant filed an appeal against the refusal and contended dissimilarity of the mark.

JPO decision

The Appeal Board found that the “PGA” monogram and words “PERFECT GEAR AGENCY” can be separably seen from a visual point of view. Besides, the “PGA” monogram per se does not give rise to any specific meaning. It is unknown whether relevant Japanese consumers have been familiar with the words “PERFECT GEAR AGENCY” as a whole. If so, the words do not give rise to a specific meaning as well.

By taking account of the above, the Board pointed out the disputed mark shall be pronounced as “PERFECT GEAR AGENCY”, but has no meaning.

Based on the foregoing, the Board concluded the refusal shall be disaffirmed since the examiner erroneously found that the disputed mark gives rise to a pronunciation of “PGA” from the “PGA” monogram.

Coffee Trademark Battle

Colombian Coffee Federation (FNC) failed a fight for invalidation of Japanese TM Registration no. 5901554 for word mark “EMERALD” in class 30 owned by The Coca-Cola Company, one of the world’s largest beverage company in the US.
[Invalidation case no. 2018-890017, Gazette issued date: August 28, 2020]

EMERALD MOUNTAIN

Emerald Mountain is a top brand name of Colombian coffee approved by FNC (NGO organization, the union of coffee producer established in 1927 joining over 560,000 members for enhancing quality, production, and export) guaranteed hand-picked and hand-screened beans of which quantity is only 3 –1% of the total production of Colombia coffee beans.

The FNC owns several trademark registrations for “EMERALD MOUNTAIN” in Japan.

In the early 90s, Emerald Mountain began to be sold by Coca-Cola as canned liquid coffee under the Georgia brand in thousands of vending machines across Japan. Since 1997 it has become the most sold coffee in Japanese history as well as the #1 beverage sold by Coca-Cola in Japan. Every can of Georgia Emerald Mountain coffee has an explanation of the Colombian origin of the coffee as well as the high-quality certification of the FNCS. With annual sales of more than 630 million cans, Georgia Emerald Mountain Blend is undoubtedly Emerald Mountain’s leading product within the Japanese market.

EMERALD

Irrespective of a long-standing relationship, The Coca Cola Company, in 2011, sought registration for a wordmark “EMERALD” over artificial coffee, coffee-based beverages, prepared coffee and cocoa, tea, ice in class 30 which confronted with a severe objection from FNC.

FNC was successful in removing the registration by means of a non-use cancellation in 2017. However, The Coca Cola Company deliberately filed a new trademark application for the same mark in 2015 immediately when the registered mark was vulnerable for cancellation on grounds of non-use. The JPO allowed registration of the new application in December 2016.

To contend, FNC filed an invalidation action against the EMERALD mark in March 2018.

Invalidation petition by FNC

FNC argued the EMERALD mark shall be invalidated in contravention of Article 4(1)(vii), (x), (xi), (xv), and (xix) of the Trademark Law by stating that “EMERALD MOUNTAIN” has acquired substantial reputation and popularity as an indicator of high-quality Columbian coffee as a result of continuous sales promotion in Japan since 1970. In the coffee industry, coffee beans grown in highland are often named with the term “MOUNTAIN”, e.g. “BLUE MOUNTAIN”, “CRYSTAL MOUNTAIN”, “CARRIBERAN MOUNTAIN”, “CORAL MOUNTAIN”. In this respect, “EMERALD” shall play a prominent role in “EMERALD MOUNTAIN”. If so, both marks are deemed similar and it is likely that relevant consumers confuse or associate artificial coffee, coffee-based beverages, prepared coffee and cocoa, tea, ice bearing the EMERALD mark with “EMERALD MOUNTAIN”.

Besides, The Coca Cola Company has been using “EMERALD MOUNTAIN” on canned-liquid coffee under license from FNC. Presumably, the disputed mark was filed in anticipation of non-use cancellation claimed by FNC. In the cancellation proceeding, The Coca-Cola Company did neither answer nor respond. These facts clearly show the disputed mark was filed just to avoid cancellation even if The Coca-Cola Company had no intention to use it. It is really annoyance and free-riding on the famous marks with a fraudulent intention.

JPO decision

From the totality of evidence and circumstances, the JPO admitted a high degree of reputation and popularity of EMERALD MOUNTAIN as a source indicator of FNC’s high-quality Columbian coffee beans. In the meantime, the JPO questioned if relevant consumers connect the term “EMERALD” with FNC when used on coffee since the evidence did not disclose EMERALD MOUNTAIN is actually abbreviated to “EMERALD” in commerce. Likewise, it is suspicious whether “BLUE MOUNTAIN”, “CRYSTAL MOUNTAIN”, “CARRIBERAN MOUNTAIN”, “CORAL MOUNTAIN” are recognized with its short name, namely, “BLUE”, “CRYSTAL”, “CARRIBEAN”, “CORAL”.

In assessing the similarity of the mark, the JPO found “EMERALD MOUNTAIN” and “EMERALD” are dissimilar from visual, phonetic, and conceptual points of view. Given both marks are distinctively dissimilar, it is unlikely to find a likelihood of confusion in connection with the goods in dispute.

Even if The Coca-Cola Company filed the disputed mark with an intention to avoid the non-use cancellation, it would be anything but punishable in view of dissimilarity between marks. Besides, from the produced evidence, the JPO was unable to find fraudulent intention by Coca Cola to be blamed for invalidation.

Based on the foregoing, the JPO decided to dismiss the invalidation action.

POLO RALPH LAUREN vs. US POLO ASSN

The Appeal Board of the Japan Patent Office (JPO) affirmed Examiner’s refusal to register the wordmark “U.S. POLO ASSN.” due to similarity to and a likelihood of confusion with earlier registered mark “POLO” owned by The Polo/Lauren Company, L.P.
[Appeal case no. 2018-5222, Gazette issued date: July 31, 2020]

“U.S. POLO ASSN.”

United States POLO Association filed a trademark registration for wordmark “U.S. POLO ASSN.” in standard character on January 13, 2016, over various kinds of bags, leather products, and other goods in class 18. [TM application no. 2016-3277]

On January 12, 2018, the JPO Examiner rejected the applied mark in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) and (xv) of the Japan Trademark Law on the grounds that “U.S. POLO ASSN.” contains a term “POLO” which has become famous as a source indicator of The Polo/Lauren Company, L.P in connection with clothing and home décor. Relevant consumers with ordinary care would conceive the term as a prominent portion of the applied mark. If so, both marks shall be deemed similar or likely to cause confusion when used on the goods in question.

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.

Article 4(1)(xv) is a provision to prohibit any mark from being 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 users’ benefits.

U.S. POLO ASSN filed an appeal against Examiner’s refusal on April 16, 2018.

JPO decision

JPO admitted a high degree of reputation and popularity of “POLO” as a source indicator of The Polo/Lauren Company, L.P in connection with clothing as well as bags based on following fact-findings.

  1. American company Polo Ralph Lauren was founded in 1967 in New-York by fashion designer Ralph Lauren. The 1980s and 90s saw massive expansion for the Ralph Lauren brand and it became a worldwide phenomenon.
  2. “POLO” appears with definitions of ‘trademark of US designer, Ralph Lauren’ and ‘leather products designed by Ralph Lauren’ in some dictionaries which clearly demonstrate “POLO” is known as an abbreviation of ‘POLO RALPH LAUREN’.
  3. “POLO” has been substantially used adjacent to “RAPLH LAUREN” on various goods and frequently advertised as a famous brand of RALPH LAUREN in the media.
  4. A customer survey conducted in January 2010 from 900 adults age 20 years and older revealed that RALPH LAUREN has ranked 3rd-most popular brand in clothing after Burberry and UNIQLO.
  5. Annual sales exceed USD4,800 million in 2008, USD7,450 in 2013.

The Board found the applied mark “U.S. POLO ASSN.” shall be seen as a composite mark consisting of “U.S.”, “POLO” and “ASSN.” Since the last word “ASSN.” is too unfamiliar to average Japanese consumers to see it as an abbreviation of ‘association’, the applied mark would not give rise to any specific meaning as a whole. Besides, its pronunciation ‘ˌjuː.es poʊ.loʊ eɪeɪesén’ sounds redundant. Even if the second word “POLO” means ‘a game played on horseback by two teams of four players each’, given a high reputation of the word as a source indicator or an abbreviation of ‘POLO RALPH LAUREN’ the Board can’t overlook the fact that it has the same spelling as RALPH LAUREN’s famous apparel brand.

If so, relevant consumers would consider “POLO” as a prominent portion of the applied mark and it shall be permissible to compare the portion with the cited mark in assessing similarity of mark.

In this viewpoint, the applied mark would give rise to a sound of ‘poʊ.loʊ’ and the meaning of “RALPH LAUREN’s famous apparel brand”. Therefore, the applied mark shall be deemed confusingly similar to senior registered mark “POLO” owned by The Polo/Lauren Company, L.P in class 18, and others (TM Registration no. 4040052, 4931614, and 4931615).

Based on the foregoing, the Board found that Examiner didn’t error in fact-finding nor applying Article 4(1)(xi) and (xv) of the Trademark Law and decided to refuse the applied mark accordingly.