JPO Rejected Colormark of Louboutin’s red soles

On June 7, 2022, the Appeal Board of the Japan Patent Office (JPO) decided to reject a red color mark used on the soles of high heels by Christian Louboutin due to a lack of inherent and acquired distinctiveness.

[Appeal case no. 2019-29921]

Louboutin’s Red Soles

Fast on the heels of the introduction to register color marks in Japan, Christian Louboutin filed a trademark application for a color mark consisting of a red (Pantone 18-1663TP) colored in soles (see below) for use on high heels in class 25 on April 1, 2015 (TM App no. 2015-29921).

The JPO examiner refused the color mark based on Article 3(1)(iii) of the Japan Trademark Law by stating red color has been commonly used on shoes to enhance the aesthetic appearance and attract consumers of high heels. Red-colored heels and shoes have been widely distributed before the launch of Louboutin shoes in 1996 in Japan and even now. Under the circumstance and trade practice, the examiner had no reason to believe the color mark perse has acquired distinctiveness as a source indicator of Louboutin among relevant consumers in Japan. If so, the mark shall not be registrable under Article 3(2).

Louboutin filed an appeal against the refusal and disputed the inherent and acquired distinctiveness of Louboutin’s red soles as a color mark on October 29, 2019.

To bolster the acquired distinctiveness of the red soles, Louboutin conducted an online brand awareness survey to target 3,149 females, aging from 20 to 50 and having a domicile in Tokyo, Osaka, or Nagoya where Louboutin have stores. The survey demonstrated that 43.35% of the interviewees conceived of Louboutin in the answer to an unaided open-ended question (Q1). 53.99% associated the color mark with Louboutin in the answer to a closed-ended question, where it mentioned Louboutin along with other close competitors (Q2). Louboutin argued, that from the survey, it is obvious that Louboutin’s red soles have acquired distinctiveness among relevant consumers and shall be registered under Article 3(2) even though lacking inherent distinctiveness.


JPO Appeal Board decision

The Appeal Board affirmed the examiner’s findings and found the color mark perse lacks distinctiveness in relation to the goods in question by taking into account of fact that a lot of shoes with red-colored soles have been distributed by other shoemakers in Japan.

In the assessment of acquired distinctiveness, the Board pointed out a fact that more than half of the interviewees who live in the region where Louboutin stores are could not conceive of Louboutin in the answer to Q1. The survey was insufficient to admit acquired distinctiveness of the applied mark among relevant consumers nationwide, the Board found.

Even among the consumers who could associate the color mark with Louboutin, the Board had an opinion that as a matter of fact, they will be unable to distinguish Louboutin high heels from competitors’ shoes simply by means of red-colored soles without the aid of another source indicator, a wordmark “Louboutin”, used on the shoes given a lot of red-soled heels and shoes have been distributed by competitors as follows.

Besides, under the current trade practice, the Board considered it will inevitably cause a severe disorder and excessive restriction to competitors if it allows registration of a red color that has been freely used in the relevant industry to enhance the aesthetic appearance of shoes.

Based on the foregoing, the JPO concluded the color mark shall not be registrable under Article 3(2) as well.

COCOGOLF vs COCO

On February 28, 2022, the Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) reversed the examiner’s rejection and decided to register the applied mark “COCOGOLF” in classes 25 and 28 by finding dissimilarity to Chanel’s earlier registration for the mark “COCO.”


COCOGOLF

The applied mark consists of the word “COCOGOLF” (see below).

Applicant, E-COME GROUP Co., Ltd., filed it for use on various goods in classes 18, 25, and 28 on November 27, 2022. [TM Application no. 2020-146448]

Confronting office action from the JPO, the applicant divided the application and filed a new trademark application on goods of ‘sports shoes; sportswear’ in class 25 and ‘golf bags; golf equipment in class 28 on July 2, 2021. [TM Application no. 2021-82743]

The JPO examiner rejected the mark in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) of the Japan Trademark Law on October 12, 2021.

The examiner cited earlier trademark registration nos. #6169514 (cl. 25, 35) and IR699469 (cl. 25) for the wordmark “COCO” owned by Chanel SARL, and found the applied mark “COCOGOLF” is confusingly similar to the cited mark “COCO” when used on the designated goods in class 25 and 28.

The applicant filed an appeal against the rejection on November 17, 2021, and argued for the dissimilarity in the marks.


JPO Decision

The Appeal Board found the applied mark shall be assessed in its entirety by stating:

  1. Visually, there is no reason to consider the term “COCO” as a prominent portion of the applied mark because of its configuration.
  2. The applied mark gives rise to the pronunciation of ‘coco-golf’. The whole sound can be pronounced easily in a breach.
  3. The Board has no reason to believe the term “GOLF” perse has been used to represent specific goods in relation to the goods in question.
  4. If so, relevant consumers at the sight of sports shoes, sportswear, golf bags, and golf equipment bearing the applied mark would see it as a whole, and are unlikely to consider the term “COCO” as a prominent source indicator of the applied mark.

Based on the foregoing, the Board found the examiner erred in finding “COCO” to be separable from “GOLF.” Consequently, the Board held the applied mark is dissimilar to the mark “COCO” and granted “COCOGOLF” registration.

[Appeal case no. 2021-15790]

JPO Found Lego 3D Figure Mark Lack Distinctiveness

In a decision to the appeal against refusal to TM App no. 2017-138422 for the 3D shape of Lego figures in class 28, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) did not side with Lego Juris A/S and found the 3D mark is inherently descriptive and has not acquired distinctiveness in relation to toys.

[Appeal case no. 2019-13906, Decision date: January 6, 2022]

LEGO 3D Figure mark

Toy giant, Lego Juris A/S applied to the JPO to register a 3D mark, showing the Lego figure seen from the front, side, back, top, and beneath (see below), for “games and playthings” and other goods in class 28 on October 20, 2017.

Article 3(1)(iii)

Trademark Examination Guideline (TEG) pertinent to Article 3(1)(iii) of the Japan Trademark Law provides a mark shall be subject to the article if it solely consists of a shape that is recognized by consumers as a shape of goods or equivalent, namely “not go beyond the scope of the descriptive shape of goods”.

TEG stipulates criteria to assess the recognition.

  1. Where 3D shape is admittedly adopted for a purpose of enhancing function or the aesthetic appeal of goods, the shape is deemed to remain within the scope of descriptive shape of goods.
  2. Even though 3D shape has specific features by means of unique alteration or decoration, it is still considered not to go beyond the scope of descriptive shape of goods, where consumers assume such alteration or decoration attributable to enhancing function or the aesthetic appeal of goods.

The JPO examiner totally rejected the applied mark based on the article by finding the shape remains the scope of the descriptive shape of ‘human figure toys’ in class 28.

Lego Juris A/S filed an appeal against the rejection on October 18, 2019.


JPO decision

The JPO Appeal Board affirmed the findings of the examiner and found the 3D mark does not go beyond the scope of the descriptive shape of the goods in question by stating that:

  1. Plenty of human shape figures have been promoted for sale by competitors in relevant business field.
  2. There is less necessity to adopt specific configuration in making a human shape figure provided that it has a basic skeleton of head, body, arms, and legs.
  3. The Board has a reason to believe 3D shape of the applied mark is adopted enabling (i) to wear several caps and hair wigs, (ii) to get hold of various tools at hand, (iii) to stand still in display and play.
  4. If so, relevant consumers would assume the whole shape and its unique decoration of Lego figure attributable to enhancing function or the aesthetic appeal of the toy.

Taking into consideration that the actual 3D shape of Lego figures are considerably different from the applied mark, and the word mark “LEGO” has been constantly used on catalogs, packages, and advertisement material adjacent to the applied mark, the Board has a reasonable doubt if the 3D shape per se has acquired distinctiveness as a source indicator of LEGO toys.

Based on the foregoing, the JPO Appeal Board decided to dismiss the appeal in contravention of Article 3(1)(iii).

“MONA LISA” May Smile At You

In a recent decision, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) disaffirmed the examiner’s refusal and accepted for registration of the world-famous painting, ‘Mona Lisa’ by Leonardo da Vinci.
[Appeal case no. 2020-9377, Gazette issued date: May 28, 2021]


“MONA LISA”

Disputed mark, consisting of a wordmark “MONA LISA” written in a Japanese katakana character (see below), was filed by a Japanese company, Negibito Co., Ltd on February 20, 2019, for use on ‘edible live aquatic animals; edible unprocessed seaweeds; fresh vegetables; fresh fruits; live mammals, fish [not for food], birds and insects and other goods in class 32.

Apparently, the company uses the disputed mark on specially grown scallions with a high sugar content of more than 20 degrees to be sold at JPY10,000 (USD92) for one stalk!


Article 4(1)(vii)

JPO examiner raised her objection by stating that since “MONA LISA” has been known for the world-famous painting, ‘Mona Lisa’ by Leonardo da Vinci, it shall contravene the generally accepted sense of morality or the international faith if registered. Accordingly, the disputed mark shall be rejected in contravention of Article 4(1)(vii) of the Japan Trademark Law.

Article 4(1)(vii) of the Trademark Law prohibits any mark likely to cause damage to public order or morality from registration.

Trademark Examination Guidelines 42.107.05 provides seven criteria to take into consideration to determine if a mark, consisting of valuable cultural products (works of art), shall contravene the article.

(i) Famousness of the cultural products
(ii) Recognition of the cultural products among citizens or local residents
(iii) State of use of the cultural products
(iv) Relationship between the state of use of the cultural products and the designated goods or services
(v) Background, purpose, and reason for filing an application
(vi) Relationship between the cultural products and the applicant
(vii) Authorized entity that manages and owns the cultural products (if any)

The applicant filed an appeal against the refusal on July 3, 2020.


JPO Appeal Board decision

The Appeal Board assessed seven criteria pertinent to the works of art “MONA LISA” in accordance with the Trademark Examination Guideline.

The Board admitted a remarkable degree of recognition and reputation of “MONA LISA” among the general public in Japan as the world-famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci.

In the meantime, the Board questions if the goods in question are closely related to works of art and art exhibitions that the term “MONA LISA” has been used.

Besides, the Board found that the term is not used to promote or develop certain regions associated with the painting in relation to the goods in question.

Based on the foregoing, the Board held that it is unlikely that registration of the disputed mark would constitute a genuine and sufficiently serious threat to a fundamental interest of society when used in connection with the goods in class 32. Therefore, the disputed mark “MONA LISA” shall not be refused on the basis of the public policy exception provided for in Article 4(1)(vii) of the Trademark Law.

JPO rejects “AIR NECKTIE” due to similarity to NIKE “AIR”

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an appeal filed by a Japanese individual who sought registration for use of the wordmark “AIR NECKTIE” on neckties in class 25 due to the similarity to NIKE “AIR.”
[Appeal case no. 2020-4106, Gazette issued date: February 26, 2021.]

AIR NECKTIE

The mark in question, consisting of two English words “AIR” and “NECKTIE”, and its transliteration in a Japanese katakana character (see below), was filed for use on ‘neckties’ in class 25 with the JPO on July 6, 2018 [TM Application no. 2018-88482].

TM App no. 2018-88482

AIR

The examiner raised her objection based on Article 4(1)(xi) of the Trademark Law by citing senior registration nos. 502137 and 4327964 for the mark “AIR” owned by NIKE Innovate C.V. (see below) which cover clothing, shoes, neckties, and other goods in class 25.

TM Reg no. 502137
TM Reg no. 4327964

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.

Regardless of the arguments made on a written response to the office action by the applicant, the JPO examiner entirely rejected the “AIR NECKTIE” mark based on the ground.

On March 6, 2020, the applicant filed an appeal against the refusal with the JPO and disputed that the applied mark “AIR NECKTIE” is dissimilar to the cited mark “AIR.”

JPO decision

The JPO Appeal Board referred to the tests established by the Supreme Court ruling in 2008 to determine whether it is permissible to take out respective elements of the composite mark when assessing the similarity of two marks.

“Where a mark in dispute is recognized as a composite mark consisting of two elements or more, it is not permissible to assess the similarity of marks simply by means of taking out an element of the composite mark and then comparing such element with the other mark, unless consumers or traders are likely to perceive the element as a dominant portion indicating its source of origin of goods/service, or remaining elements truly lack inherent distinctiveness as a source indicator in view of sound and concept.”

Based on the tests, the Board found that it is permissible to take out a literal element “AIR” from the applied mark and compare it with the citations by stating the following grounds:

  1. The applied mark can be seen as a composite mark consisting of ‘AIR’ and ‘NECKTIE’ because of the space between two words.
  2. “NECKTIE” is unquestionably recognized as a generic term in connection with ‘neckties’ in class 25.
  3. Relevant consumers at the sight of neckties bearing the mark “AIR NECKTIE” would conceive the term “AIR” as a prominent source indicator.
  4. “AIR NECKTIE” does not give rise to any specific meaning in its entirety.
  5. The above facts suggest that “NECKTIE” lacks inherent distinctiveness in relation to the goods in question, and it would not play the role of source indicator of the applied mark in view of sound as well as concept.

Based on the foregoing, the Board affirmed the examiner’s rejection and decided that the applied mark “AIR NECKTIE” is similar to the cited marks as a whole given the remarkable similarity in sound and concept, even if the word “NECKTIE” differentiates two marks in appearance.

“FS12” can’t be registered due to a lack of distinctiveness

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) affirmed the examiner’s refusal and decided to reject a wordmark “FS12” due to a lack of inherent distinctiveness.
[Appeal case no. 2019-650019, Gazette issued date: January 29, 2021]

“FS12”

Fette Compacting GmbH filed a trademark application with the JPO via the Madrid Protocol (IR no. 1349196) for word mark “FS12” (see below) for use on goods of ‘Compression tools (parts of machines for the pharmaceutical industry, chemical industry, food industry, and metal industry) for producing pellets and tablets; die-table segments (parts of machines for the pharmaceutical industry, chemical industry, food industry, and metal industry) for rotary presses’ in class 7

Article 3(1)(v) of the Trademark Law


The JPO examiner refused the “FS12” mark in contravention of Article 3(1)(v) of the Trademark Law.

The article prohibits any mark from registering if it consists solely of a very simple and common mark.

Trademark Examination Guidelines (TEG) stipulates that a mark consisting of one or two alphabetical letters followed by a numeral, e.g. “A2”, “AB2”, is unregistrable under the article.

Followings are also enumerated as unregistrable marks under the article.

  • Numerals
  • One or two alphabetical letters, e.g. “AA”
  • Two alphabetical letters combined with “-” or “&”, e.g. “A-B”, “C&D”
  • One or two alphabetical letters accompanied by “Co.”, e.g. “AB Co.”
  • A numeral followed by one or two alphabetical letters, e.g. “2A”

The applicant filed an appeal against the refusal and argued distinctiveness of the “FS12” mark.

Appeal Board decision

However, the JPO Appeal Board dismissed the entire allegations and held that a mark consisting of a numeral and one or two alphabetical letters is incapable of identifying the source of the goods since the relevant public would perceive, without further thought, it to indicate a value, code, type, model or standard of the goods in question.

As a matter of fact, the Board found the combination of alphabetical letters, and a numeral is frequently used to indicate a value, code, type, model, or standard of the goods in relevant industries.

Given the mark “FS12” consists of two alphabetical letters and two digits written in regular font, the Board considers it is unlikely to play a role of source indicator and shall be unregistrable in contravention of Article 3(1)(v) of the Trademark Law.

To my knowledge, “FS12” would be mostly considered distinctive in other jurisdictions. Please be noted that a combination of one or two alphabetical letters and the numeral is deemed descriptive in relation to any kind of goods in Japan. 
To register such a mark, it is required to add a descriptive element or demonstrate acquired distinctiveness as a result of substantial use in Japan.

Mercedes-Benz StarParts vs Star-Parts

In an administrative decision, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) held the “Mercedes-Benz Star Parts” with a car device mark is dissimilar to the “Star-Parts” word mark.
[Appeal case no. 2020-650009, Gazette issued date: November 27, 2020]

Mercedes-Benz StarParts

Daimler AG applied for registration of a composite mark consisting of “Mercedes-Benz StarParts” in two lines, a car device overlapping with checkmark icon, and a blue horizontal line in between (see below), in relation to ‘Parts for vehicles for locomotion by land, air, water or rail’ of class 12 via the Madrid Protocol (IR No. 1402813).

On December 5, 2019, the JPO examiner refused the applied mark based on Article 4(1)(xi) of the Trademark Law due to a conflict with senior trademark registration no. 5806962 for word mark “Star-Parts” in standard character which designates retail services or wholesale services for automobiles, parts, and accessories thereof in class 35.

Daimler AG filed an appeal against the refusal on March 4, 2019.

JPO Appeal Board’s decision

The Appeal Board overturned the examiner’s rejection by stating that the respective element of the applied mark shall be separably conceivable in view of a low degree of phonetic and conceptual association between figurative and literal elements. In the meantime, “StarParts” shall not be perceived as a dominant portion appealing its source of origin of goods, given “Mercedes-Benz” unquestionably plays an impressive role in identifying the source known for Germany luxury car maker. If so, it is not permissible to assess the similarity between the cited mark “Star-Parts” and the applied mark by dissecting the literal portion of “StarParts” from the applied mark.

Based on the foregoing, the Board concluded the refusal shall be disaffirmed since the examiner erroneously assessed the similarity between the marks.


I am of the view that the JPO’s decision looks unreasonable. From this viewpoint, any composite mark containing a famous or strong source indicator can be deemed dissimilar and eligible for registration.

El Clasico Scores a Goal in Trademark Race

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) overturned the examiner’s refusal and decided to register the “El Clasico” mark in connection with sporting activities, production of sports events, sports information services, and other services of class 41 by finding the term shall not be recognized as football matches between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid C.F.
[Appeal case no. 2019-650060, Gazette issued date: October 30, 2020]

El Clasico

“El Clasico” is a magical phrase to make football fans passionate, emotional, and excited. The meaning of El Clasico is the Spanish name that is given to any football match between fierce Spanish rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona FC. The literal translation of El Clasico is ‘The Classic’. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, “El Clasico” is defined as ‘any of the games played between the football teams Real Madrid and Barcelona’. Being that this rivalry can be dated back to the 1930s and ever since then, it is one of the most viewed annual sporting events.

Liga Nacional de Fútbol Profesional, the administrator of the Spanish football league, aka LaLiga, applied for registration of the “El Clasico” mark (see below) in relation to sporting activities, production of sports events, sports information services, and other services of class 41 via the Madrid Protocol (IR No. 1379292).

On August 15, 2019, the JPO examiner refused the applied mark due to a lack of distinctiveness in contravention of Article 3(1)(iii) of the Trademark Law. Examiner asserted that the term “El Clasico” gets to be known as football matches between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid C.F. If so, relevant consumers would conceive that services bearing the applied mark just relate to football matches between two teams. In this respect, the applied mark shall not be registrable based on Article 4(1)(xvi) as well since the consumers would mistake its nature when used on service unrelated to football matches between two teams.

LaLiga filed an appeal against the refusal on November 15, 2019.

JPO Appeal Board’s decision

The Appeal Board overturned the examiner’s decision by stating that relevant consumers and traders at the sight of the applied mark are unlikely to see the mark to represent football matches between indicate FC Barcelona and Real Madrid C.F. immediately when used on services in question.

Taking into account less familiarity with the Spanish language among relevant consumers in Japan and the literal meaning of ‘The Classic’, the Board found the term “El Clasico” would be conceived as a coined word in its entirety. Furthermore, the Board could not identify any fact that the term is commonly used to represent a specific nature or quality in connection with the services in question.

Based on the foregoing, the Board concluded the refusal shall be disaffirmed since the examiner erroneously found the applied mark “El Clasico”.

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)

Is “MAHARAJA” a generic term in relation to Indian restaurants?

On July 8, 2020, the Japan IP High Court affirmed the JPO’s rejection in a trademark dispute over the “MAHARAJA” mark for Indian restaurant services in class 43. [Judicial case no. Reiwa2(Gyo-ke)10022]

Disputed mark

The disputed mark prominently consists of “Maharaja” with stylization in red (see below).

The mark was filed by MAHARAJA.CO., LTD, on December 25, 2017, designating the services of providing Indian cuisine; providing alcoholic beverages, tea, coffee, or juices; providing hotel accommodation in class 43 [TM application no. 2017-168406].

The applicant allegedly opened the first “Maharaja” Indian restaurant at Shinjuku (Tokyo) in 1968 and now operates the “Maharaja” restaurants at some places in Japan.

JPO decision

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) rejected the disputed mark in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) of the Japan Trademark Law by citing the following senior registrations.

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

The JPO found that the stylized “Maharaja” term, due to its position, larger font, and color, dominates the perception of the disputed mark. If so, the disputed mark obviously gives rise to the same sound and meaning with the Citations. “MAHARAJA” means the head of one of the royal families that used to rule parts of India (Collins English Dictionary). Because of a high degree of phonetic and conceptual similarity, the mere difference in appearance is not sufficient to neutralize the similarity.

Besides, it is unquestionable that the disputed mark designates identical or similar services with the Citations.

For the reader’s reference, I had better explain that the Citations are respectively co-existing on similar services of providing Indian cuisine; providing alcoholic beverages in the same class. It is because these were filed just after the implementation of Servicemark in 1992 and the Trademark Law exceptionally secured for registration to protect the existing business status even if similar marks are filed by other entities on the condition that business owners apply for registration within a statutory period for the implementation.

To contest the JPO decision [Appeal case no. 2019-4961], the applicant appealed to the IP High Court on February 19, 2020.

IP High Court ruling

Applicant argued that since “MAHARAJA” has become a generic term in relation to Indian restaurant services, relevant consumers would find the appearance of the “MAHARAJA” mark rather than sound and meaning as a material clue to distinguish such restaurants. To bolster the argument, the applicant referred to the fact that 14 (fourteen) restaurants managed by an entity other than the applicant provide Indian foods using tradename “MAHARAJA” in Japan.

Given relevant consumers are accustomed to seeing the term “MAHARAJA” in close connection with Indian foods, it would likely be a generic term in relation to the service in question. If so, the aural and conceptual elements of generic term shall not be taken into consideration in assessing the similarity of the mark. The JPO errored in finding the background of the case appropriately.

The court, however, did deny the applicant’s allegation, stating that the on-line database of NTT telephone directory (town page) shows 2162 Indian restaurants exist in Japan as of 2017. It means more than 2,100 Indian restaurants use a tradename other than “MAHARAJA”. Under the circumstances, the court would not find a reasonable reason to believe “MAHARAJA” has become a generic term in relation to the service.

Even though there are plenty of Indian restaurants under the tradename of “MAHARAJA” in Japan as the applicant argues, the court would not be convinced if relevant consumers distinguish such restaurants simply by means of the visual elements of a mark (tradename). Because the court finds it commercial practice for shop owners to modify the font and color of mark (tradename) depending on its place and venue.

Based on the foregoing, the court decided that the JPO did not error in finding similarity of the mark and dismissed the appeal entirely.