Japan IP High Court: Cancellation of trademark right due to inappropriate use by licensee

The IP High Court ruled on September 26, 2018 to totally cancel TM Reg. No. 1809362 for the mark “TOP-SIDER” on the ground that use of the registered mark by licensee is likely to cause confusion with goods from a business entity other than trademark owner.
[Case no. Heisei30(Gyo-ke)10053]

TM Registration – “TOP-SIDER”

Registered mark in question, consisting of the word “TOP-SIDER” written in plain Gothic font (see below), was registered in 1985 over the goods of clothing, coats, shirts and others in class 25 and  has been validly renewed over three decades .

Licensee’s Use

Mizujin  Co., Ltd, a  non-exclusive licensee of the registered mark in question, used “TOP-SIDER” logo on T-shirts (see below).

Sperry Top-Sider

Sperry Top-Sider LLC, a US business entity, famous for “Sperry Top-Sider” deck shoes, filed a cancellation trial against the registration based on Article 53 of the Japan Trademark Law and argued that above use by Mizujin shall be inappropriate since it is likely to cause confusion with “Sperry Top-Sider”.

Cancellation trial based on Article 53

JPO sided with Sperry and decided to entirely cancel the registration. To contend, trademark owner appealed to the IP High Court and alleged cancellation of the decision.

Article 53 of the Trademark Law provides that trademark right is subject to cancellation if use of the mark by licensee causes confusion with respect to another’s business and trademark owner is liable for failure to supervise with an ordinary care.

IP High Court decision

The IP High Court upheld the JPO decision, stating that:

  1. Apparently from totality of the circumstances, trademark owner must have noticed above use by Mizujin.
  2. ”TOP-SIDER” logo contains figurative elements to be seen as cloud and yacht, and looks quite similar to the Sperry mark.
  3. “Sperry Top-Sider” logo has become well-known for Sperry’s deck shoes among traders and general consumers.
  4. Since T-shirts and shoes are offered for sale to wear at same apparel shops, they are closely related with each other in view of sales channel as well as consumers.
  5. Thus, the Court finds that above use by licensee is likely to cause confusion with respect to Sperry business on deck shoes.

It is noteworthy that trademark owner is entitled to grant a licensee the right to use registered mark, however, by doing so , it enhances a risk to lose trademark right if he is careless to supervise the licensee’s inappropriate use and cause confusion.

IP High Court: “VANSNEAKER” is confusingly similar to famous “VANS” sneakers

The IP High Court ruled on August 29, 2018 to uphold the Japan Patent Office (JPO) decision to cancel TM Reg. No. 5916735 for the mark “VANSNEAKER” over shoes in class 25 due to a conflict with TM Reg. No. 5245474 for famous mark “VANS”.
[Case no. Heisei30(Gyo-ke)10026]

VANSNEAKER

Disputed mark “VANSNEAKER” in the standard character format was filed on July 25, 2016 and registered next January by designating shoes in class 25 in the name of VAN Jacket Inc., a Japanese business entity, who succeeded to apparel business of “VAN” brand all the rage in the 60’S.

Opposition by VANS Incorporated

VANS Incorporated, a US business entity, established in California 1966,  famous for “VANS” sneakers, filed an opposition  by citing its own senior registered mark “VANS” in standard character format over shoes in class 25. The JPO decided to cancel disputed mark in breach of Article 4(1)(xi) of the Trademark Law on the ground that it is confusingly similar to famous “VANS” mark from a conceptual point of view. [Opposition case no. 2017-900135]

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.

Appeal to the IP High Court

To contend, VAN Jacket appealed to the IP High Court and demanded cancellation of the decision.

VAN Jacket alleged in the court that JPO decision was based on an erroneous assumption of fact because it considered the portion of “VANS” plays a dominant role in source indicator. Given disputed mark “VANSNEAKER” consists of one word in its entirety, it is unlikely that consumers perceive the last letter “S” of “VANS” functions to represent an initial letter of “SNEAKER” as well.

Court decision

The IP High Court, however, dismissed the arguments by VAN Jacket, stating that:

  1. Cited mark ”VANS” has become famous among Japanese general consumers in connection with sneakers and shoes both at the time of filing application and registration of disputer mark.
  2. “NEAKER” does not give rise to any specific meaning. In the meantime, “SNEAKER”, combining “S” with “NEAKER” adjacent to it, is an English word familiar among relevant public to mean a type of the designated goods (shoes).
  3. It becomes usual to prevent successive letter in a coined mark consisting of two words where first word ends with a letter and send word starts with the same letter.
  4. Based on the foregoing, consumers at sight of disputed mark shall pay attention to a distinctive portion of “VANS” and are likely to conceive that the mark consists of two words, “VANS” and “SNEAKER” by omitting first or the last letter “S” of respective words.
  5. Consequently, the Court finds that disputed mark is likely to cause confusion with famous “VANS” sneakers when used on shoes.

GODZILLA defeated GUZZILLA in IP High Court trademark battle

On June 12, 2018, the Japan IP High Court denied the JPO Trial Board decision and sided with TOHO Co., Ltd., a Japanese filmmaker that unleashed Godzilla on the world, in a trademark dispute between GODZILLA and GUZZILLA.
[Judicial case no. H29(Gyo-ke)10214]

GODZILLA

TOHO Co., Ltd., the top and oldest Japanese filmmaker, is known worldwide for unleashing Godzilla in 1954. Godzilla, known as the King of the Monsters, is a giant irradiated prehistoric amphibious reptile appearing in the films produced by TOHO. TOHO has produced more than 20 Godzilla flicks, including 1999’s Godzilla 2000: Millennium, and 2014’s GODZILLA.

GUZZILLA

Taguchi Industrial Co., Ltd., a Japanese manufacturer of attachments for construction machinery, filed an trademark application for the “GUZZILLA” mark (see below) in November 21, 2011 by designating mining machines, construction machines, loading-unloading machines, agricultural machines, waste compacting machines, waste crushing machines in class 7. JPO registered the mark on April 27, 2012.
The “GUZZILLA” mark has been used on attachments for construction machinery by Taguchi. (see website of Taguchi – http://en.taguchi.co.jp/series/guzzilla/)

 

Invalidation Trial

On February 22, 2017, two months before a lapse of five years from the registration, TOHO requested for invalidation trial based on Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law and asserted relevant consumers or traders are likely to confuse or misconceive a source of the “GUZZILLA” mark with TOHO or a business entity systematically or economically connected with TOHO when used on designated goods in class 7 due to close resemblance between “GUZZILLA” and “GODZILLA”.

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.

The Trial Board admitted a high degree of popularity and reputation of “GODZILLA” as a name of monster appeared in films produced by TOHO, however, the invalidation trial was totally dismissed since the Board found no likelihood of confusion in view of remote association between TOHO’s business and designated goods in class 7 (Trial case no. 2017-890010).

To contest the decision, TOHO appealed to the IP High Court.

 

IP High Court ruling

IP High Court set aside the decision and ruled in favor of TOHO.

In the ruling, the Court pointed out a fact that designated goods in question include pneumatic jacks, electric jacks, chain blocks, winches, mowing machines, and hedge trimmers. These goods have a certain degree of association with toys or groceries of TOHO’s interest in the aspect of use, objective and consumer. Besides, relevant consumers of goods in question rely on not only quality and function of goods but also goodwill in trademark at the time of purchasing such goods. If so, the Court finds that, by taking into consideration famousness and originality of “GODZILLA” as a source indicator of TOHO’s business as well as close resemblance of both marks, relevant consumers of above goods (class 7) designated under the “GUZZILLA” mark are likely to associate the goods with “GODZILLA” and thus confuse its source with TOHO or a business entity systematically or economically connected with TOHO.

Court also held that a well-known “GODZILLA” mark gives rise to a meaning of imaginary giant monster in films and an image of strength by means of the monster’s action devastating city and buildings. Inter alia, purchasers of pneumatic jacks in question are likely to receive an incentive to buy “GODZILLA” in anticipation of strong performance of the jacks as GODZILLA did.

Based on the foregoing, the court decided invalidation of “GUZZILLA” trademark registration based on Article 4(1)(xv).

Japan IP High Court Ruling – Shape of “Unit Shelf” functions as a source indicator of Ryohin Keikaku

The Japan IP High Court has affirmed an earlier ruling by the Tokyo District Court, and sided with Ryohin Keikaku Co., Ltd, an operator of the MUJI retail chain, in a lawsuit accusing CAINZ Corporation, the second largest DIY store chain in Japan, of violating the Unfair Competition Prevention Act (UCPA) by distributing ready-to-assemble storage rack “Joint System Shelf” which is allegedly an imitation of MUJI’s “Unit Shelf”.

CAINZ (appellant) contested the early ruling made an error of judgment  in finding that relevant consumers conceive the shape of “Unit Shelf” as a source indicator of Ryohin Keikaku (appellee) based on the research results which showed approx. 98 percent of general consumers were unable to associate the shape with appellee, and 9 merchants out of 10 who daily deals with living ware and furniture could not identify the shape as “Unit Shelf”.

Besides, appellant claimed appellee violated clean hands doctrine and thus abused the right given he pursued the case knowing that his act to promote the “Unit Shelf” constitutes infringement of  design right belonging to a third party.

The IP High Court ruled the research was neither adequate nor persuasive  enough to negate distinctive function of “Unit Shelf” as a source indicator, stating that it just targeted people in their 20s to 40s despite consumers of goods in dispute cover whole generations having an interest in household furniture. The questionnaire to ask a specific name of retail shop was far from the case. Some of the researched merchants have business with appellant. In addition, opinions of 10 merchants are way too insufficient  to bolster appellant’s allegation.

Fact that an entity who suffered damage by unfair misconduct of competitor admittedly infringes design right belonging to third party  does not immediately hinder him from making a legal claim based on the UCPA. Being that appellant’s act to promote  the “Joint System Shelf” is likely to cause confusion with appellee’s “Unit Shelf”, the court finds  higher degree of necessity to put a restriction on appellant’s misconduct. From the foregoing findings, the court ruled in favor of appellee and dismissed the allegations as well as abuse of right.

 

When you conduct market research pertinent to trademark, you should be more careful to decide questionnaire and respondent. Non-existence of design or trademark registration does not guarantee risk-free transaction of a similarly shaped goods with hot-selling product if the shape functions as source indicator.

JPO refused to register word mark “ROMEO GIGLI” due to lack of consent from Italian fashion designer

In a recent decision, the Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) refused to register trademark application no. 2015- 100245 for a red-colored word mark “ROMEO GIGLI” in gothic script (see below) designating goods of Class 24 and 25 on the grounds that applicant failed to obtain a consent from Italian fashion designer, Romeo Gigli, based on Article 4(1)(viii) of the Trademark Law.[Case no. 2017-3558]

Disputed mark was filed on October 16, 2015 in the name of ECCENTRIC SRL, an Italian legal entity, by designating following goods in Class 24 and 25.

Class 24:

“woven fabrics; elastic woven material; bed and table linen; towels of textile; bed blankets; table cloths of textile; bed covers; bed sheets; curtains of textile or plastic; table napkins of textile; quilts”

Class 25:

“clothing; T-shirts; shirts; jumpers; trousers; pants; jackets; skirts; jeans; neckties; overcoats; coats; belts; gloves; mufflers; sweat suits; underwear; swimsuits; headgear; hats; caps; footwear; special footwear for sports”

 

Article 4(1)(viii)

On December 9, 2016, JPO examiner refused the mark based on Article 4(1)(viii) of the Trademark Law.

Article 4(1)(viii) is a provision to prohibit 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. Notwithstanding the provision, the article is not applicable where the applicant of disputed mark produces the written consent of the person.

The Supreme Court of Japan has ruled the article shall be interpreted to protect 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. Familiar name of foreigners falls under the category of “abbreviation” if its full name contains middle name(s) unknown to Japanese consumer.

Click here to access TEM on the JPO website.

Finding that disputed mark just consists of an individual name of famous fashion designer, Romeo Gigli, the examiner raised an objection based on Article 4(1)(viii) unless ECCENTRIC SRL obtains a consent from the designer.

 

APPEAL

The applicant filed a notice of appeal with the Appeal Board, a body within JPO responsible for hearing and deciding certain kinds of cases including appeals from decisions by JPO Examiners denying registration of marks, on March 9, 2017 and contended against the refusal decision by examiner.

During the appeal trial, ECCENTRIC SRL argued inadequacy of the decision by demonstrating following facts.

  • ECCENTRIC SRL is a legitimate successor of trademark rights owned by Romeo Gigli as a consequence of mandatory handover resulting from bankruptcy of company managed by Romeo Gigli irrespective of his intention. Under the circumstance, it is almost impossible to obtain a written consent from him.
  • In the meantime, ECCENTRIC SRL has already obtained trademark registrations for the word mark “ROMEO GIGLI” in several jurisdictions.
  • Besides, ECCENTRIC SRL is a current registrant of Japanese TM registration no. 2061302 for identical wordmark in Class 4,18,21 and 26.
  • There has been no single complaint from consumers, traders or Romeo Gigli in person.

ECCENTRIC SRL alleged that the above facts shall amount to having obtained an implicit consent from Romeo Gigli in fact. Thus, disputed mark shall be allowed for registration even without a written consent in the context of purpose of the article.

The Appeal Board dismissed the appeal, however, and sustained the examiner’s decision by saying that trademark registrations in foreign countries shall not be a decisive factor in determining registrability of disputed mark under Article 4(1)(viii) in Japan. Absence of complaint from Romeo Gigli shall not be construed that he has consented to register his name in the territory of Japan explicitly or implicitly.

Unless applicant produces evidence regarding a consent from Romeo Gigli otherwise, disputed mark shall be refused to register based on Article 4(1)(viii) of the Trademark Law.

 

According to the JPO database, ECCENTRIC SRL filed an appeal against the Board decision to the IP High Court in November 2017. The Court decision will be rendered within a couple of months.

 

 

IP High Court admitted high reputation of Red Bull mark in relation to automobiles as well

In a lawsuit disputing similarity of red-colored bull device marks, the IP High Court nullified the JPO decision in favor of Red Bull GmbH known for Red Bull energy drink, and ruled to invalidate TM registration no. 5664585 (Disputed Mark) on the ground that it is likely to cause confusion with the Red Bull Mark.
[Case no. Heisei29(Gyo-ke)10080,  Judgement date: December 25, 2017]

Disputed Mark, filed on October 4, 2013 by designating various goods for automobiles in class 1,3,4 and 5, e.g. detergent additives to gasoline, was registered on April 18, 2014 by a Korean distributor dealing with goods related to automobiles. Prior to the appeal to the IP High Court, Red Bull was unsuccessful to attack Disputed Mark in an opposition and invalidation trial.

The Court concluded that relevant traders and consumers at the sight of designated goods using Disputed Mark would likely connect it with famous Red Bull Mark, and consequently misbelieve the source of the goods from Red Bull, an entity economically related to Red Bull, or a paerner authorized to use Red Bull Mark in business based on the following findings.

Trademark similarity

Both marks are visually confusing irrespective of differences in detail since the marks share basic configuration of depicting a left-pointing horned red bull in a vibrant motion over yellow and warm color of background. Besides, Disputed Mark gives rise to a meaning of a red-colored jumping bull and Red Bull Mark does a meaning of a red-colored rushing bull. If so, it is obvious that both marks are almost identical or similar in concept. Therefore, Disputed Mark is deemed substantially similar to Red Bull Mark.

High reputation of Red Bull Mark

Red Bull Mark, as a source indicator of plaintiff, becomes well-known not only in the field of energy drinks but also among traders and consumers of goods related to automobiles. Admittedly, it has acquired a high degree of reputation.

Consumers

Consumes of automobile goods are not limited to car enthusiast. They can be purchased by the general consuming public. Plaintiff has distributed various types of goods relating to automobiles and car race with Red Bull Mark for promotional purpose under the scheme of trademark license. It is undeniable that most of the public with an ordinary care are neither precisely familiar with trademark and brand in detail, nor always mindful to manufacturer and source indicators in the selection of goods.


It is noteworthy that the Court admitted high reputation of Red Bull Mark in the field of automobiles as well even if it evidently represents one of sponsors for car racing team

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

IP High Court reversed JPO decision pertinent to a likelihood of confusion between men’s fashion magazines and male cosmetics

In a judgement pronounced on November 14, 2017, the IP High Court of Japan ruled to reverse JPO decision which negated a likelihood of confusion between MEN’S CLUB brand men’s fashion magazine and the same brand male cosmetics.[Court case no. H29(Gyo-ke)10109]

MEN’S CLUB magazine

The lawsuit was filed by a publisher of the MEN’S CLUB magazine who unsuccessfully challenged to invalidate TM registration no. 5858891 for a word mark “MEN’S CLUB” in standard character covering goods of male cosmetics in class 3 (hereinafter referred to as “Disputed mark”).

MEN’S CLUB magazine has been continuously published past six decades since 1965 in Japan.

 

TM Registration 5858891 – MEN’S CLUB on male cosmetics

Disputed mark was applied for registration on January 7, 2016, registered on June 17, 2016 without receiving any office action from the Japan Patent Office (JPO) examiner.

On April 5, 2017, plaintiff demanded for a trial to invalidate disputed mark in violation of Article 4(1)(xv) and (xix) of the Trademark Law by citing MEN’S CLUB brand men’s fashion magazines used by plaintiff.

The Trial Board of JPO decided that disputed mark shall neither fall under Article 4(1)(xv) nor 4(1)(xix), and dismissed the invalidation petition entirely [case no. 2016-890063].

In the lawsuit, plaintiff argued the Board misconstrued Article 4(1)(xv), thus erred in judgment to apply the article on the case.

Article 4(1)(xv)

Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law provides that a mark shall not be registered where it is likely to cause confusion with the goods or services pertaining to a business of another entity.

Theoretically, Article 4(1)(xv) is applicable to the case where a mark in question designates remotely associated or dissimilar goods or services with that of a well-known brand business.

IP High Court decision

The IP High Court ruled that the Board erred in applying Article 4(1)(xv) based on following reasons.

  • Both marks, consisting of MEN’S CLUB, are almost identical
  • MEN’S CLUB brand men’s fashion magazine has acquired a high degree of popularity and reputation among relevant consumers as a result of substantial use over decades, notwithstanding lack of creativity in the mark
  • Male cosmetics are considerably associated with men’s fashion magazines since they are often featured in men’s fashion magazines
  • Consumers of men’s fashion magazines are likely to consume male cosmetics

Based on the foregoing and the degree of ordinary care taken by relevant consumers, the court concluded that consumers of male cosmetics would conceive the MEN’S CLUB brand men’s fashion magazine and then associate the cosmetics with goods produced by plaintiff or a business entity who has systematical or economical connection with plaintiff in error.