Failed Opposition against “Zara Sube Mist” by ZARA

On March 25, 2022, 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. 6357258 for word mark “Zara Sube Mist” in class 3 by finding dissimilarity to and less likelihood of confusion with “ZARA”.

[Opposition case no. 2021-900193]

Zara Sube Mist

The opposed mark, consisting of three words, “Zara”, “Sube”, and “Mist” in standard character, was applied for registration by IBI Inc. to be used on cosmetics in class 3 on January 30, 2020.

The JPO granted protection on February 16, 2021, and published for opposition on March 23, 2021.

The applicant is using the opposed mark on skin lotions. Click here.

It should be noted “zara zara” is a usual term to represent the condition of ‘rough skin’ in Japanese. Likewise, “sube sube” is often used to represent the condition of ‘smooth skin’. Because of it, we would conceive of skin conditions from the term “Zara Sube.”


Opposition by Inditex

Opponent, INDITEX, one of the world’s largest fashion retailers and owner of the fashion brand “ZARA”, claimed the opposed mark “Zara Sube Mist” shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi), (xv) and (xix) of the Japan Trademark Law by citing earlier IR no. 973064 for word mark “ZARA” in relation with cosmetics of class 3.

INDITEX argued, that given “ZARA” has acquired a remarkable reputation, relevant consumers of the goods in question are likely to see the literal element “Zara” as a prominent portion of the opposed mark and thus confuse or misconceive the opposed mark with “ZARA”.


JPO Decision

The JPO Opposition Board admitted that “ZARA” has become famous among relevant consumers and traders as a source indicator of the opponent in connection with clothing.

In the meantime, the Board questioned if the opponent mark “ZARA” has acquired a certain degree of reputation and popularity in relation to cosmetics from the produced evidence.

The Board found the consumers would see the opposed mark in its entirety due to a tight combination of three words and a non-redundant sound of ‘zara-sube-mist’. Being that “ZARA” failed to prove a certain degree of reputation and popularity as a source indicator of cosmetics, the Board has a reason to believe that relevant consumers would not consider the term “Zara” as a prominent portion of the opposed mark. If so, the opposed mark just gives rise to a pronunciation of ‘zara-sube-mist’ and no specific meaning.

Based on the above findings, the Board held “Zara Sube Mist” and “ZARA” are obviously dissimilar from visual, phonetic, and conceptual points of view.

If so, the opposed mark “Zara Sube Mist” is unlikely to cause confusion with “ZARA” by virtue of a low degree of similarity and remote association between apparel and cosmetics even though “ZARA” has been famous for apparel brand and coined word.

In a conclusion, the JPO dismissed the entire allegations of INDITEX and allowed “Zara Sube Mist” to survive.

Failed trademark opposition by Disney over a 3-circle silhouette

In a recent decision, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an opposition filed by Disney Enterprises, Inc. against TM Reg no. 6303837 for a composite mark containing a three-round device due to a low degree of similarity to famous Mickey’s 3-circle silhouette.

[Opposition case no. 2021-900006, Gazette issued date: September 24, 2021]

Opposed mark

Aoki shofuan Co., Ltd., a Japanese confectionery maker, applied a composite mark consisting of words “TSUKIGESHO”, “FACTORY”, its Japanese language and a three-round device (see below) for use on retail or wholesales service in relation to confectionery, processed foods and beverage (tea, coffee, cocoa) in class 35 with the JPO on October 21, 2019.

The JPO examiner granted protection of the opposed mark on September 23, 2020, and published for opposition on November 4, 2020.


Opposition by Disney

To oppose against registration within a statutory period of two months counting from the publication date, Disney Enterprises, Inc. filed an opposition against the opposed mark on January 4, 2021.

Disney argued the opposed mark shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(x), (xi), (xv), and (xix) of the Trademark Law because of the remarkable reputation and popularity of Mickey’s 3-circle silhouette (see below) as a source indicator of Disney and a high degree of similarity between the opposed mark and the opponent’s famous mark.


JPO decision

The JPO Opposition Board did not question the famousness of Mickey’s 30-circle silhouette as a source indicator of Disney and their business since most consumers would conceive a world-famous iconic character “Mickey Mouse” at the sight of the silhouette.

In the meantime, the Board negated similarity between the marks by stating that:

  1. From appearance, both marks are easily distinguishable because the opposed mark contains distinctive literal elements “TSUKIGESHO” and its Japanese language written in a conspicuous manner, and the figurative element (three round silhouette) is depicted upside down.
  2. Phonetically, both marks are quite dissimilar because the opponent mark does not give rise to a pronunciation contrary to the opposed mark.
  3. Conceptually, although the opposed mark does not give rise to any specific meaning, both marks are dissimilar given the opponent mark is well-known for an indication of Mickey Mouse.
  4. In view of different configuration of the figurative element by depicting three circles upside down, relevant consumers are unlikely to associate the three-round device of the opposed mark with Mickey Mouse. If so, the figurative element would not be considered as a prominent portion to play a source indicator of the opposed mark.

Based on the foregoing, the JPO found both marks are too dissimilar to cause a likelihood of confusion. If so, the Board can’t find reasonable grounds to believe the opposed mark shall be canceled under Article 4(1)(x), (xi), (xv), and (xix) and decided to dismiss the opposition.

JPO found Italian word “Panetteria” distinctive in relation to restaurant service

In a recent administrative decision, the Appeal Board of the Japan Patent Office (JPO) disaffirmed the examiner’s refusal and found “Panetteria ARIETTA” and “ARIETTA” are dissimilar by virtue of distinctiveness of the term “Panetteria.”

[Appeal case no. 2020-9688, Gazette issued date: May 28, 2021]

Panetteria ARIETTA

FOOD ENGINEERING DESIGN INC., a Japanese commercial bakery and restaurant, filed a trademark registration for word mark consisting of the term “Panetteria ARIETTA” in a gothic type and its transliteration written in a Japanese katakana character (see below) for use on confectionery and bread in class 30 and restaurant service in class 43 on January 15, 2019 [TM App no. 2019-8176].

The applicant has used the applied mark as a shop name on bakeries located in Tokyo.


ARIETTA

The JPO examiner raised her objection on the ground that the applied mark is deemed similar to senior trademark registration no. 5106118 for word mark consisting of the term “ARIETTA” and its transliteration written in a Japanese katakana character (see below) on restaurants and other services in class 43.

In the refusal decision dated May 7, 2020, the examiner asserted the term “Panetteria” is an Italian word meaning ‘bakery’ and thus lacks distinctiveness in relation to bread and restaurant service. If so, other term “ARIETTA” of the applied mark would play a dominant role of its source indicator. Accordingly, the examiner rejected the applied mark in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) of the Japan Trademark Law.

The applicant filed an appeal against the refusal on July 10, 2020.


JPO Appeal Board decision

The Appeal Board questioned whether an Italian word “Panetteria” is commonly used as a descriptive indication in relation to restaurant service in Japan. The Board found the term as well as its meaning is not familiar among the general public. Under the circumstance, the examiner errored in assessing distinctiveness of the word. A mere fact that the term “Panetteria” appears in an Italian language dictionary is insufficient to conclude a portion of the term “ARIETTA” per se plays a role of source indicator of the applied mark.

Provided that relevant consumers would not conceive any specific meaning from the term “Panetteria”, the Board held the applied mark “Panetteria ARIETTA” and cited mark “ARIETTA” are obviously dissimilar as a whole from visual, phonetic, and conceptual points of view.

Based on the foregoing, the JPO Appeal Board disaffirmed the examiner’s rejection and decided to register the applied mark accordingly.

Trademark Similarity: APLAY vs applay

In a trademark dispute pertinent to the similarity between “APLAY” and “applay”, the Appeal Board of the Japan Patent Office found both marks dissimilar and reversed the examiner’s rejection.
[Appeal case no. 2020-6380, Gazette issued date: April 30, 2021]

APLAY

A senior mark, consisting of the word “APLAY” in standard character, was registered on April 28, 2017 (TM Reg no. 5943175) over computer programs; application software; game programs for home video game machines; electronic circuits, and CD-ROMS recorded with programs for hand-held games with liquid crystal displays; electronic publications; earphones; headphones in class 9, and software as a service [SaaS]; other related computer services in class 42 by Nain Inc.

Apparently, Nain has used “APLAY” on wireless earphones and connect app for android (see below).

applay

Applied junior mark, consisting of the word “applay”, was sought for registration on August 7, 2019, over toys in class 28 [TM application no. 2019-107218] by Ed. Inter Co., Ltd.

The applicant uses the mark on wooden toys for kids (see below).

The JPO examiner rejected “applay” because of similarity to “APLAY” based on Article 4(1)(xi) of the 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.

There is the criterion that the examiner is checking when assessing the similarity between the marks:

  • visual similarity
  • aural similarity
  • conceptual similarity

and taking into account all these three aspects, the examiner would decide if a mark is similar (at least to some extent) to the earlier mark and if there is a likelihood of confusion for the consumers.

Applicant filed an appeal against the rejection on May 12, 2020, and argued dissimilarity of the marks.

Appeal Board decision

In the decision, the Appeal Board held that:

In appearance, there are differences in the third letter ‘p’, and lower case or upper-case letters. These would give rise to a distinctive impression visually in the mind of relevant consumers where the respective mark consists of five or six-letter words, anything but long.

Next, assessing the pronunciation between applied mark [ˈæpleɪ] and the cited mark [əˈpleɪ], the difference in the first sound would be anything but negligible in view of a few phonetic compositions of four sounds in total. Relevant consumers would be unlikely to confuse each sound when pronounced because of phonetical distinction in overall nuance and tone as a whole

Thirdly, the respective mark does not give rise to any specific meaning at all. If so, both marks are incomparable from the concept.

Based on the foregoing, the Board found no reasonable reason to affirm the JPO examiner’s rejection from visual, phonetic, and conceptual points of view as well as consumer perception and decided to reverse the examiner’s rejection.

“MACSELL” for use on PC value estimation service is unlikely to cause confusion with Apple “Mac”

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an opposition claimed by Apple Inc. against trademark registration no. 6223514 for word mark “MACSELL” on used mobile phone, Smartphone, PC and tablet computer value estimation service in class 36 by finding less likelihood of confusion with Apple “Mac” series.
 [Opposition case no. 2020-900114, Gazette issued date: Jan 29, 2021]

MACSELL

Opposed word mark “MACSELL” in standard character was filed on March 22, 2019, for the service of used mobile phone, Smartphone, PC and tablet computer value estimation, and others in class 36. Going through the substantive examination, the JPO admitted registration on February 6, 2020.

Apparently, the opposed mark is used as a tradename of used Mac and Surface recycle shop managed by the applicant.

Capture from “MACSELL” website
Capture from Google “Street View”

Apple’s Opposition

Apple Inc. argued the opposed mark “MACSELL” shall be canceled in violation of Article 4(1)(xv) of the Japan Trademark Law.

“Mac” has become famous as a source indicator of Apple’s PC by virtue of substantial use with various trademarks, e.g. “MacBook Air” and “MacBook Pro” on laptops, “iMac” and “iMac Pro” on desktops, “Mac Pro” and “Mac mini” on computer hardware.

The opposed mark, consisting of “MAC” and “SELL”, would easily give rise to a meaning of offering Apple’s PC for sale.

If so, relevant consumers at the sight of the opposed mark when used on the service in question are likely to associate and confuse the origin of the opposed mark with Apple Inc. or any entity related to the opponent.

JPO decision

The JPO Opposition Board admitted a remarkable degree of reputation and popularity of “Mac” as a source indicator of Apple Inc. and a close association between Apple’s goods and the service in question.

However, the Board found a low level of similarity between “MACSELL” and “Mac” by stating that the term “SELL” would severely cause a distinctive impression between both marks from visual, phonetical, and conceptual points of view, even if the marks share the word “MAC.”

Besides, taking into account a low level of originality of the opponent mark “Mac,” the Board questioned if relevant consumers and traders are likely to associate or connect the opposed mark with the opponent when used on the service in question.

Consequently, the Board held that relevant consumers would be unlikely to confuse the source of the opposed mark with Apple Inc. and any entity economically or systematically connected with the opponent.

Based on the foregoing, the Board decided to dismiss the opposition entirely and allowed registration of the opposed mark as 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.

“COSTA COFFEE” vs “Caffè la Costa”

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed a trademark opposition claimed by Costa Limited, operating the UK’s largest and the World’s second-largest International chain of coffee shops “COSTA COFFEE”, against trademark registration no. 6230027 for the “Caffè la Costa” mark for use on coffee, coffee beans in class 30 and restaurant services in class 43 by finding both marks are dissimilar and less likely to cause confusion.
[Opposition case no. 2020-900137, Gazette issued date: December 25, 2020]

Opposed mark

The mark “Caffè la Costa” (see below) was filed by a Japanese individual on March 11, 2019, for use on tea; coffee; cocoa; coffee beans; confectionery, and bread in class 30 and restaurant service in class 43, and published for opposition on May 17, 2020, after registration on February 27, 2020.

Opposition by Costa Limited

On May 14, 2020, Costa Limited filed an opposition and alleged the opposed mark shall be revocable in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) of the Japan Trademark Law due to close resemblance to senior trademark registration for a wordmark “COSTA” and the “COSTA COFFEE” logo (see below) in class 30 and 43.

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

Costa Limited argued that relevant consumers are accustomed to discriminating coffee shops by means of a distinctive literal element contained in their name. As a universal habit of shortening the full name, “Starbucks Coffee” is referred to as “Starbucks.” Likewise, “Doutor Coffee” as “Doutor”, “Excelsior Caffè” as “Excelsior”, “Tully’s Coffee” as “Tully’s”. Because the term “Coffee” and “Caffè” lack distinctiveness as a source indicator in relation to coffee; coffee beans and restaurant services.

In this respect, the consumers would consider the term “Costa” to be a dominant portion of the opposed mark when used on the goods and services in question. Therefore, “Caffè la Costa” shall be deemed confusingly similar to a wordmark “COSTA” and the “COSTA COFFEE” logo mark owned by Costa Limited.

Board Decision

The Opposition Board found the opposed mark does not give rise to any particular meaning as a whole. The mere fact that the respective word of the opposed mark (“Caffè”, “la”, “Costa”), is in the Italian dictionary would not change the finding since relevant consumers are unfamiliar with these Italian words. If so, the consumers would perceive the opposed mark as a coined word in its entirety and pronounce the entire mark as it sounds. In this regard, the Board doubted whether the term “Costa” is considered the dominant portion of the opposed mark by stating the facts show no evidence.

Based on the findings, the Board assessed the similarity of both marks as follows.

It looks obvious that the opposed mark is distinguishable from the cited marks, “COSTA” and the “COSTA COFFEE” logo, in appearance and sound, on account of different term and position of “Caffè la” and “COFFEE” combined with “Costa” and other distinction of figurative elements.
Provided that “COSTA” is an Italian word unfamiliar to relevant consumers with ordinary care, the Board believes both marks are incomparable in concept.
Even if both marks are incomparable in concept, the low level of similarity in appearance and sound would suffice to conclude that the consumers are unlikely to associate, connect the opposed mark with “COSTA COFFEE” when used on the goods and services in question.

Accordingly, the Board decided the opposed mark wasn’t revocable in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) of the Trademark Law.

Starbucks defeated in trademark battle to defend the logo

On September 16, 2020, the Japan IP High Court dismissed an appeal by the American multinational coffee house chain, Starbucks Corporation, challenging the unfavorable decision made by the Japan Patent Office (JPO) that did not find a likelihood of confusion with the previous Starbucks logo. [Court case no. Reiwa1(Gyo-ke)10170]

BULL PULU TAPIOCA LOGO

Starbucks has been eagerly struggling to invalidate trademark registration for BULL PULU TAPIOKA logo (see below) because it contains a green circular frame with white lettering inside.

Disputed mark was applied for registration over tapioca-based milk products in class 29, tapioca-flavored coffee, cocoa, confectionery; tapioca powder for foods in class 30, and restaurant service in class 43 on March 9, 2016, by a Japanese Company who operates tapioca drink parlors bearing the disputed mark in Japan. JPO registered the mark on December 9, 2016.

Invalidation action to JPO

On September 15, 2017, Starbucks Corporation filed a petition for invalidation and alleged among others the disputed mark shall be invalidated in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) and (xv) of the Trademark Law due to similarity to, or a likelihood of confusion with senior trademark registration no. 4806987 for the previous Starbucks logo.

The third version of the Starbucks logo design, used from 1992 to 2010, consists of a black and white two-tailed siren wearing a starred crown and framed around a green circle in which the words “Starbucks Coffee” are written.

The JPO Invalidation Board questioned given five years have already passed since Starbucks redesigned its iconic emblem to the new logo whether the previous logo has continuously retained a substantial degree of reputation and popularity in Japan at the time of filing the disputed mark. Besides, the Board did see both marks are totally dissimilar and the configuration of a green circular frame with white lettering inside per se would never be known for a source indicator of Starbucks. If so, the Board found that relevant consumers are unlikely to confuse the source of goods and services in question bearing the disputed mark with Starbucks and decided to dismiss the invalidation action on August 21, 2019. [Invalidation case no. 2017-890065]

On December 19, 2019, Starbucks brought the case to the IP High Court and demanded the cancellation of the JPO decision.

IP High Court ruling

Starbucks argued the JPO erred in finding a likelihood of confusion based on the interview report which indicated more than 70% of the interviewees (total of 552 people ranging in age from 20 to 69) associated the following image of a green circular frame with white lettering inside with Starbucks.

The IP High Court held the previous logo has become remarkably famous as a source indicator of Starbucks in 2011 when it was replaced with the new logo. The Court also found the portion of a green circular frame with white lettering inside shall be impressive to consumers at the sight of the previous Starbucks logo. However, the court raised the same question if relevant consumers conceive Starbucks even when different words other than “STARBUCKS” and “COFFEE” appear inside the frame. If so, there is no reasonable ground to believe a mere image of a green circular frame with white lettering inside has played a significant role in the source indicator of Starbucks by taking account of the fact that the disputed mark was filed four years after the redesign to the new logo.

As for the interview report, the court strictly viewed that the image was not precisely identical to the previous Starbucks logo. It just focused on extracting the generic concept of the frame with lettering. In addition, interviewees were notified in advance that the image originally contained a design in the center and words to represent a company inside the frame. Such information shall be misleading and biased. If so, the report would be anything but appropriate and relevant to assess the high recognition of the frame as well as a likelihood of confusion on the case.

Based on the foregoing, the IP High Court upheld the JPO decision.

Fashion Designer Lost Trademark Dispute Over His Name

On July 29, 2020, the Japan IP High Court ruled to dismiss an appeal by Kabushiki Kaisha Soloist, founded by Takahiro Miyashita, a Japanese fashion designer, who contested a decision by the Japan Patent Office (JPO) to deny trademark registration for a compound mark consisting of “TAKAHIROMIYASHITA” and “TheSoloist.” under Article 4(1)(viii) of the Trademark Law.
[Judicial case no. Reiwa2(Gyo-ke)10006]

TAKAHIROMIYASHITATheSoloist.

Disputed mark (see below) was filed by Kabushiki Kaisha Soloist, founded by Takahiro Miyashita, on September 21, 2017, covering various fashion items in class 14, 18, and 25. [TM application no. 2017-126259]

In 2010, immediately after starting a company ‘Kabushiki Kaisha Soloist’, Takahiro Miyashita allegedly has launched his new brand “TAKAHIROMIYASHITATheSoloist.” and used the disputed mark on clothing, sandals, sunglass, eyewear, accessories designed by him since then and the disputed mark has become famous for his fashion brand. Consequently, relevant consumers and traders would not associate the disputed mark with any individual other than him.

Refusal decision by JPO

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) refused the mark in contravention of Article 4(1)(viii) of the Trademark Law, on the ground that the disputed mark contains a full name of private individual named “Takahiro Miyashita”. It is obvious that there are several Japanese people with the same name.

Article 4(1)(viii)

Article 4(1)(viii) of the Trademark Law prohibits registration of trademarks which contain the representation or name of any person, famous pseudonym, professional name or pen name of another person, or famous abbreviation thereof for the purpose of protecting personal rights of a living individual. Notwithstanding the provision, the article is not applicable where the applicant of the disputed mark produces the written consent of the person.

The Supreme Court of Japan has ruled the article shall be interpreted to protect the personal rights of a living individual. In line with the Supreme Court ruling, Trademark Examination Manuals (TEM) set forth that the article is applicable not only to natural persons (including foreigners) and corporations but also associations without capacity.

On January 29, 2019, the Appeal Board of JPO decided to affirm the examiner’s refusal on the same ground. [Appeal case no. 2019-1138]

To contest the administrative decision, the applicant filed an appeal to the IP High Court.

IP High Court Ruling

The court dismissed the allegation entirely, by stating that:

  1. Even though the disputed mark contains literal elements unrelated to the name of a living person, Article 4(1)(viii) is still applicable since relevant consumers would conceive the literal portions of “TAKAHIROMIYASHITA” as a name of a Japanese person.
  2. It is indisputable that there are several Japanese with the same name as Takahiro Miyashita and some of their names are written in different Chinese characters.
  3. The applicant failed to prove that he obtained consent from them.
  4. Alleged facts that the founder of the applicant has become famous as a fashion designer and because of it, relevant consumers and traders are unlikely to connect the disputed mark with any individual other than the designer would be construed irrelevant in applying Article 4(1)(viii).

Based on the foregoing, the IP High Court sided with the JPO and upheld the refusal decision.

Click here to see the Court’s official ruling (Japanese only)

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).