Hermes Challenge to Register Packaging Colors

HERMES INTERNATIONAL, a French luxury fashion house, is in a legal battle to register its iconic packaging colors, orange and brown, as a color mark in Japan.


Color mark of Hermes box

On October 25, 2018, HERMES INTERNATIONAL filed a trademark application for its iconic packaging colors, orange and brown (see below), as a color mark to be used on various goods in class 3, 14, 16, 18, and retail services in class 35 with the Japan Patent Office (JPO) [TM application no. 2018-133223].


Article 3(1)(iii) and 3(1)(vi)

The JPO examiner rejected the color mark under Article 3(1)(iii) and 3(1)(vi) of the Japan Trademark Law by stating that colors per se are unlikely to play a role in source indicator because they are frequently aimed to attract consumers in association with function or quality of goods and services. Because of it, relevant consumers at the sight of goods or services bearing the applied color would not see the combination of colors, orange and brown, as a source indicator.


Acquired Distinctiveness

Hermes argued acquired distinctiveness of the color combination as a result of substantial use on Hermes box for the past six decades from the 1960s onward.

A bottleneck is that the Hermes box contains its name “HERMES” and horse and carriage logo as a conspicuous source indicator. Hermes conducted market research to demonstrate the acquired distinctiveness of the packaging color per se. The research targeted high-income men and women in their 30s to 50s with incomes JPY10,000,000 and above. According to the research report, 36.9% of the interviewees answered Hermes when shown three boxes in different shapes with the color mark. 43.1% chose Hermes from ten options.


JPO Rejection

The JPO examiner did not find the research persuasive to support acquired distinctiveness among relevant consumers of the goods and services in question.

The examiner stated the relevant consumers shall not be limited to the high-income class. Besides, even among high-income consumers, more than half of them did not link the color to Hermes. From the research, it is doubtful if relevant consumers would conceive the color per se as a source indicator.

Based on the above findings, the examiner totally rejected the applied color mark under Article 3(1)(iii) and (vi) on July 9, 2021.

HERMES INTERNATIONAL filed an appeal against the rejection on October 8, 2021.

LV Damier pattern is unenforceable TM right against traditional Japanese checkered pattern

In an advisory opinion on trademark dispute over world-famous “Damier’s pattern”, the Japan Patent Office did not side with LOUIS VUITTON MALLETIER.
[Case no. 2020-695001, Gazette issued date: September 24, 2021]


IR 952582 Damier’s pattern

In 1888, a French luggage maker Louis Vuitton began putting a canvas checkerboard print on its travel goods. A “distinctive checkered pattern of light and dark colors” named Damier meant to indicate the source of the products, which has been in use since then and “has been one of the biggest successes of Louis Vuitton,” according to the Paris-based luxury goods giant.

IR no. 952582

LOUIS VUITTON MALLETIER has owned IR no. 952582 for the Damier pattern on ‘Boxes of leather or imitation leather, trunks, suitcases, traveling sets (leather goods), traveling bags, luggage, garment bags for travel, hatboxes, vanity cases not fitted, toilet-cases, rucksacks, satchels, handbags, beach bags, shopping bags, sling bags, carrier bags, shoulder bags, waist bags, purses, cases, of leather or leatherboard: briefcases (leather goods), portfolio satchels, pochettes, wallets, change purses, key cases, card cases and holders (wallets), umbrellas, parasols’ in class 18 since 2008.


Ichimatsu Moyo (Traditional Japanese checkered pattern)

As you may remember, the logos for the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 are based on Japanese checkered patterns. The stylish logo designs feature a popular checkered pattern which during the Edo period (1603-1867) was known as “Ichimatsu Moyo” and used the traditional Japanese color of indigo blue.

Because of its traditional background, the Ichimatsu patterns have been used on various goods even now.

Kanbe Prayer Beads Co., Ltd., a Kyoto-based merchant, has promoted cases and pouches for prayer beads (Juzu) or stamp books to keep seals given at temples and shrines for visitors (Gosyuin-Cho) that depict checkered patterns on the outer material of respective goods.

Screen capture from https://www.kyoto-kanbejuzu.co.jp/productsichimatsu.html

In order to prevent LOUIS VUITTON from alleging trademark infringement and secure incontestable status, Kanbe Prayer Beads asked the JPO for an advisory opinion on September 4, 2020.


Advisory Opinion (Hantei)

The Japan Trademark Law has provision for the Japan Patent Office to give advisory opinions about the scope of trademark right upon request under Article 28.

Proceedings of the advisory opinion system are almost the same as invalidation trials. Upon request from either party, the JPO appoints three examiners and orders the opposite party to answer the request in writing. Board seldom holds an oral hearing to investigate the case. In general, all proceedings are based on written statements and documentary evidence.

The advisory opinion by JPO does not have a binding effect, unlike the judicial decision. Accordingly, less than 10 trademark cases have been lodged with the JPO to seek the advisory opinion annually.


JPO Opinion

On April 21, 2021, the JPO provided its advisory opinion to the case by stating that:

Article 26(1)(vi) of the Japan Trademark Law provides trademark rights shall not be enforceable against any sign that consumers are unable to recognize it as a source indicator of goods or services in question.

It is unquestionable that the checkered pattern in dispute, represented on the disputed goods overall in series, has the same pattern with Ichimatsu Moyo that has been known to the public as one of traditional Japanese patterns and motifs.

Besides, Article 3(1)(vi) of the Japan Trademark Law prohibits the registration of a trademark solely consisting of a pattern in series to be considered as background design due to a lack of distinctiveness.

If so, it is highly likely that relevant consumers at the sight of goods bearing the checkered pattern in question would just conceive of Ichimatsu Moyo, one of the traditional Japanese patterns by taking account of the fact that the goods are promoted with the word “Ichimatsu” on the advertisement.

Based on the foregoing, the Board decided the checkered pattern in dispute would not fall within the scope of LV Damier’s pattern trademark right since consumers are unable to recognize the pattern as a source indicator of the goods in question under Article 26 (1)(vi) of the Trademark Law.

Japan IP High Court Ruling on Distinctiveness of Position Mark

On August 27, 2020, the Japan IP High Court ruled to affirm the Japan Patent Office (JPO) decision and rejected TM application no. 2016-34650 for a position mark consisting of fourteen open ellipses built-in grip section of cutting combs in class 21 due to a lack of inherent distinctiveness. [Court case no. Reiwa1(Gyo-ke)10143]

YS Park Cutting Comb

The YS Park Cutting Comb features a non-slip grip section with fourteen air ellipses spaced in 1cm intervals to allow for great flexibility and sectioning.

Allegedly, the comb has been distributed in many countries and its annual sales increased to 170,000~27,000 pieces for the last five years.

Position Mark

Plaintiff, a Japanese corporation to distribute the YS Park Cutting Comb since 1989, sought for registration for fourteen open ellipses built-in grip section of the Cutting Comb as a Position Mark (see below) on March 28, 2016.

In Japan, by an enactment of the New Trademark Law in 2014, new types of mark, namely, color, sound, position, motion, hologram, was allowed for trademark registration since April 2015.

JPO decision

On September 17, 2019, the JPO refused the position mark under Article 3(1)(vi) of the Trademark Law by finding that there are plenty of competitor’s combs with a design, pattern, hole, or pit in short intervals on the grip section and it gives rise to an impression of the decorative or functional linear pattern as a whole. If so, relevant consumers at the sight of cutting comb bearing the position mark would just conceive it as a pattern for decorative or functional indication, not as a source indicator. Besides, consecutive use on the YS Park Cutting Comb over a decade would be insufficient to acquire secondary meaning from the produced evidence and business practice in relation to cutting comb. [Appeal case no. 2018-8775]

Article 3(1)(vi) is a provision to comprehensively prohibit from registering any mark lacking inherent distinctiveness.

Any trademark to be used in connection with goods or services pertaining to the business of an applicant may be registered, unless the trademark:
(vi) is in addition to those listed in each of the preceding items, a trademark by which consumers are not able to recognize the goods or services as those pertaining to a business of a particular person.

To contend, the applicant filed a lawsuit to the IP High Court on October 29, 2019, and demanded cancellation of the decision.

IP High Court Ruling

This is the 2nd court case for the IP High Court to hear the registrability of Position Mark.

At the outset, the court stated the distinctiveness of Position Mark shall be assessed as a whole by taking account of a constituent of the mark and its position on goods or services.

The court upheld fact-findings by the JPO that plenty of competitors advertise and provide cutting combs with a pattern, pit, or open holes in short intervals on the grip section to enhance its function. In this regard, it is unlikely that relevant consumers (general consumers on the case) would consider the whole pattern as a source indicator of the comb. The court pointed that plaintiff has promoted features of fourteen open ellipses on YS Park Cutting Comb with an advertisement of “Air Suspension Function” in fact. If so, consumers would find the open holes as a functional indication.

Plaintiff produced interviews and statements by beauticians, hairstylists, school officials/staff of Cosmetology and Beauty school and argued the secondary meaning of the Position mark, however, the court negated the allegation on the ground that such evidence is insufficient and irrelevant to demonstrate acquired distinctiveness since the goods in question shall be broadly targeted to general consumers. Thus, the court decided the JPO did not error in finding secondary meaning in the case.

Japan IP High Court ruling: “I♡JAPAN” lacks distinctiveness as a trademark

On June 17, 2020, the Japan IP High Court affirmed the JPO’s rejection of the “I♡JAPAN” mark in relation to various goods of class 14,16,18 and 24 due to a lack of distinctiveness.
[Judicial case no. Reiwa 1(Gyo-ke)10164]

I♡JAPAN

The disputed mark consists of the capital letter “I”, followed by a red heart symbol, below which are the capital letters “JAPAN” (see below). The mark filed by CREWZ COMPANY, a Japanese merchant on April 17, 2018, over various goods in class 14, 16, 18, and 24 [TM application no. 2018-049161].

Noticeably, the JPO already allowed trademark registration for the same mark on apparels in class 25 on March 27, 2015, filed by the applicant [TM Registration no. 5752985]. Regardless of it, the examiner refused disputed mark in contravention of Article 3(1)(vi) of the Trademark Law.

Article 3(1)(vi) is a provision to comprehensively prohibit from registering any mark lacking inherent distinctiveness.

Any trademark to be used in connection with goods or services pertaining to the business of an applicant may be registered, unless the trademark:
(vi) is in addition to those listed in each of the preceding items, a trademark by which consumers are not able to recognize the goods or services as those pertaining to a business of a particular person.

JPO decision

The JPO Appeal Board sustained the examiner’s refusal and decided to reject disputed mark by stating that we are nowadays accustomed to finding goods bearing the “I♡” logo followed by a geographical indication, which represents a strong devotion or attachment to the area/city in its entirety. In fact, the “I♡JAPAN” design is commonly used on several goods as a symbol to support the Japanese sports team or souvenirs for tourists. If so, the design shall not be exclusively occupied by a specific entity. Under the circumstances, relevant consumers are unlikely to conceive the disputed mark as a source indicator of the applicant. Thus, the mark shall be rejected in contravention of Article 3(1)(vi) and the examiner did not error. [Appeal case no. 2018-16957]

To contend against the decision, the applicant filed an appeal to the IP High Court.

IP High Court ruling

The IP High Court dismissed the applicant’s allegation entirely, stating that the disputed mark gives rise to the meaning of “I love JAPAN”. The court found the “I♡” logo followed by a geographical indication is commonly used to appeal a strong devotion or attachment to the area/city. Inter alia, various merchants promote goods bearing the “I♡JAPAN” design as a sign of their support to Japan or the Japanese sports team. If so, relevant consumers and traders would not conceive disputed mark as a source indicator of goods in question, but merely a symbol to represent their devotion and support to Japan. Therefore, the disputed mark shall not be registrable under n contravention of Article 3(1)(vi).

Besides, the court found the fact of a precedent registration for the same mark in a different class would not affect the distinctiveness of disputed mark since it does not have a legal effect to bind subsequent examination in assessing registrability of a junior mark under Article 3(1)(vi).

SWATCH Defeated in SWATCH vs iWATCH Trademark Dispute

The Trial Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an invalidation petition by Swiss watch giant, Swatch against TM Reg. no. 5849925 for word mark “iWATCH” owned by U.S. tech giant, Apple Inc.
[Invalidation case no. 2017-890071, Gazette issue date: January 31,2020]

iWATCH

Disputed mark, consisting of a word “iWATCH” in plain block letters (see below), was applied for registration in the name of Apple Inc. on April 25, 2014 in respect of watches, clocks and other goods in class 14.

Immediately after registration on May 13, 2016, Swatch filed an opposition to challenge registrability of disputed mark based on Article 3(1)(iii), 3(1)(vi), 4(1)(xi), 4(1)(xv), 4(1)(xvi) of the Japan Trademark Law, but in vain. [Opposition case no. 2016-900234]

Article 3(1)(iii) is a provision to prohibit any mark from registering where the mark solely consists of elements just to indicate, in a common manner, the place of origin, place of sale, quality, materials, efficacy, intended purpose, quantity, shape (including shape of packages), price, the method or time of production or use.

Article 3(1)(vi) is a comprehensive provision to prohibit any mark lacking inherent distinctiveness from being registered.

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

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 users’ benefits.

Article 4(1)(xvi) is a provision to prohibit registration of any mark likely to mislead quality of goods or services.

Invalidation Trial

Japan Trademark Law provides a provision to retroactively invalidate trademark registration for specific grounds under Article 46 (1).

In an effort to argue against the opposition decision, Swatch filed a petition for invalidation against disputed mark on October 23, 2017. Swatch argued disputed mark “iWATCH” shall be invalid because of following reasons:

  1. Given disputed mark consists of an alphabet letter “i” and a generic term in relation to a designated goods ‘watch’, the mark can be merely perceived to indicate a value, code, type, mode or standard of ‘watch’. If so, disputed mark shall be lack of distinctiveness and revocable under Article 3(1)(vi) in relation to the goods.
  2. Likewise, relevant consumers would misconceive quality of goods when disputed mark is used on goods other than ‘watch’ in class 14, e.g. jewelry, key holders, jewelry boxes, accessories. If so, disputed mark shall be revocable under Article 4(1)(xvi) in relation to goods other than ‘watch’.
  3. Disputed mark “iWATCH” resembles “SWATCH” from visual and phonetic points of view. It is unquestionable SWATCH has become remarkably famous for watches and fashion items of Swatch Group. If so, a likelihood of confusion will arise between “iWATCH” and “SWATCH” when disputed mark is used on goods in class 14. Thus, disputed mark is revocable under Article 4(1)(xi).

Board Decision

In the decision, the Board sided with Apple Inc. and found that:

  • The Board considers the term “iWATCH” is a coined word in its entirety which does not give rise to any specific meaning at all. Therefore, it is unlikely that relevant consumers conceive disputed mark just as a qualitative indication of goods in question.
  • The Board admits “SWATCH” has been acquired a high degree of reputation and popularity among relevant consumers and traders as famous watch of Swatch Group. In the meantime, the term appears less unique and creative since it is a dictionary word meaning ‘a sample piece (as of fabric) or a collection of samples’.
  • Difference on initial letter of both marks shall not be negligible on the case. The Board has no good reason to believe both marks are deemed similar from visual, phonetic and conceptual points of view.
  • If so, it is unlikely to happen that relevant consumers with an ordinary care would associate or misconceive disputed mark with Swatch or any entity systematically or economically connected with claimant even when used on ‘watch’.

Based on the foregoing, the Board concluded “iWATCH” shall be irrevocable in relation to “SWATCH” and dismissed Swatch’s invalidation petition wholly.

Trademark race for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games – Episode 2

The Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) refused Trademark Application No. 2017-11978 for a device mark consisting of five interlaced heart shape logos for goods of clothing and footwear in class 25 because of similarity to Olympic rings based on Article 4(1)(vi) of the Japan Trademark Law.

Heart shape device mark

Mark in question ( see below) was filed on February 6, 2017 by designating goods of clothing, footwear, masquerade costumes, clothes for sports in class 25.

Article 4(1)(vi) of the Trademark Law

The JPO examiner refused the mark by citing the Olympic Rings based on Article 4(1)(vi) of the Trademark Law.
Article 4(1)(vi) is a provision to refuse any mark which is identical with, or similar to, a famous mark indicating the State, a local government, an agency thereof, a non-profit organization undertaking a business for public interest, or a non-profit enterprise undertaking a business for public interest.

JPO trademark examination guidelines clearly refer to the Olympic Symbol as an example of the mark to indicate a non-profit business for public interest.

Olympic Rings

The Olympic symbol, widely known throughout the world as the Olympic Rings, is the visual ambassador of Olympic for billions of people.

The Olympic symbol is defined in Olympic Charter, Rule 8 as

“The Olympic symbol consists of five interlaced rings of equal dimensions (the Olympic rings), used alone, in one or in five different colours. When used in its five-colour version, these colours shall be, from left to right, blue, yellow, black, green and red. The rings are interlaced from left to right; the blue, black and red rings are situated at the top, the yellow and green rings at the bottom.”

The Olympic Rings, publicly presented for the first time in 1913, remain a global representation of the Olympic movement and its activity.

 

Appeal Board decision

In an appeal, the Board sustained examiner’s refusal and decided the mark in question shall be refused on the same ground.
The Board stated that mark in question has same configuration with the Olympic Rings, inter alia, depicting horizontally three heart shape logos on an upper row and two on a lower row, and thus consumers at the sight of the mark are likely to conceive or connect it with a well-known Olympic symbol from appearance.
[Appeal case no. 2018-3425, Gazette issued date : December 28, 2018]

AI SCAN ROBO

In a recent administrative decision, the Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) allowed registration for a word mark of “AI SCAN ROBO”, finding that the mark could function as a source indicator.
[Appeal case no. 2018-5433, Gazette issue date: November 30, 2018]

 

AI SCAN ROBO

Disputed mark, consisting of “AI SCAN ROBO” in a standard character, was applied for registration on April 13, 2017 in connection with computer programs of class 9 and data processing in computer files for others of class 42.

The JPO examiner totally refused the mark due to lack of distinctiveness by stating that:

“AI” is known for an abbreviation of Artificial Intelligence. “SCAN” is a verb to use a machine to make a copy of a document or picture and put it into a computer. “ROBO” is equivalent to “robot”. Besides, the term of “SCAN ROBO” becomes generic in connection with Robotic Process Automation (RPA) robot to capture data and manipulate applications automatically. If so, disputed mark shall fall under Article 3(1)(vi) of the Japan Trademark Law since relevant consumers are likely to conceive disputed mark as a mere description of RPA robot to capture data automatically by making use of Artificial Intelligence.

 

Article 3(1)(vi) is a comprehensive provision to prohibit any mark lacking inherent distinctiveness from being registered.

Any trademark to be used in connection with goods or services pertaining to the business of an applicant may be registered, unless the trademark:
(vi)
 is in addition to those listed in each of the preceding items, a trademark by which consumers are not able to recognize the goods or services as those pertaining to a business of a particular person.

 

Applicant filed an appeal against the refusal and argued inherent distinctiveness of applied mark “AI SCAN ROBO” in its entirety.

 

Appeal Board decision

The Board set aside the refusal, finding that disputed mark shall not fall under Article 3(1)(vi) on following grounds.

  1. “AI” is known for an abbreviation of Artificial Intelligence.
  2. In the meantime, the Board opines the term “SCAN ROBO” per se does not represent a specific meaning. Rather it shall be considered as a coined word.
  3. If so, “AI SCAN ROBO” does not give rise to any descriptive meaning as a whole.
  4. Besides, there found no circumstances in commerce to support the term “AI SCAN ROBO” has been commonly used in connection with designated goods and service.
  5. Based on the foregoing, it shall be concluded that disputed mark is distinctive and relevant consumers and traders recognize it as a source indicator.

Is Polaroid Photo Frame trademarked?

In a recent decision, the Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) admitted trademark registration for the Polaroid Photo Frame design mark (see below) in relation to services of photo printing, digital on-demand printing, processing of photographic films, photographic retouching (class 40).
[Appeal case no. 2017-9599, Gazette issue date: June 28, 2018]

 

Polaroid Photo Frame

Disputed mark (see below), apparently looking like Polaroid Photo Frame, was filed in the name of PLR IP Holdings, LLC, the ex-owner of the Polaroid brand and related intellectual property, by covering services of photo printing, digital on-demand printing, processing of photographic films, photographic retouching under class 40 on June 24, 2015.

As a result of substantive examination by the JPO examiner, disputed mark was refused due to a lack of inherent distinctiveness based on Article 3(1)(vi) of the Trademark Law.

Article 3(1)(vi) is a comprehensive provision to prohibit any mark lacking inherent distinctiveness from being registered.

Any trademark to be used in connection with goods or services pertaining to the business of an applicant may be registered, unless the trademark:
(vi)
 is in addition to those listed in each of the preceding items, a trademark by which consumers are not able to recognize the goods or services as those pertaining to a business of a particular person.

 

Appeal Board decision

The Appeal Board sided with applicant and overruled examiner’s refusal decision by stating that the Board could not detect actual use of the applied design as a representation of shape or quality in connection with the designated services.

Besides, it is questionable to conclude that disputed mark, a combination of White Square and black rectangle, solely consists of a very simple and common sign. If so, the Board considers disputed mark is capable of serving as a source indicator so that consumers may distinguish the source with the clue of disputed mark.

Based on the foregoing, the Board admitted trademark registration of the Polaroid Photo Frame device mark in class 40.