Failed trademark opposition by Volkswagen: POLO vs. QOLO

On December 28, 2022, the JPO Opposition Board dismissed the opposition claimed by German car giant Volkswagen AG against TM Reg no. 6512258 for the wordmark “Qolo” by finding dissimilarity to, and the unlikelihood of confusion with VW’s famous car model name “Polo” even when used in relation to automobiles.

[Opposition Case no. 2022-900157]

Opposed mark

Qolo Inc., a Japanese start-up company, filed a trademark application for the wordmark “Qolo” for various goods and services in classes 9, 10, 12, 20, 37, 42, and 44 including automobiles and repair, maintenance, and rental of cars on September 7, 2021.

The JPO granted protection of the opposed mark on February 10, 2022, and published it for registration on February 21, 2022.


Opposition by VW

Volkswagen AG filed an opposition against the opposed mark on April 19, 2022, before the lapse of a two-month statutory period counting from the publication date and claimed the opposed mark shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) and (xv) of the Japan Trademark Law by citing VW’s earlier TM Reg no. 600030-2 for wordmark “POLO” on automobiles in class 12.

VW argued the opposed mark “Qolo” is deemed similar to “POLO” from visual and phonetical points of view. The opposed mark designates “electric vehicles; automobiles” in class 12, “repair and maintenance of automobiles; vehicle battery charging” in class 37, and “rental of automobiles, vehicles” in class 39 that are deemed identical or similar to automobiles.

In view of the remarkable reputation of VW POLO cars and the close resemblance between “Qolo” and “POLO”, it is highly likely that relevant consumers confuse a source of goods and services of the opposed mark when used on automobiles and its related services.


JPO decision

The Board admitted the famousness of the “POLO” mark as a source indicator of VW cars based on the facts that the Volkswagen Polo has been continuously imported to Japan since 1996 and ranked in the top 7 of imported automobiles for the past two decades.

However, the Board found “POLO” and “Qolo” are dissimilar in appearance and sound.

The difference in the first letter consisting of four letters in total would be anything but visually negligible. Likewise, the different pronunciation in the 1st sound consisting of two sounds in total gives rise to a distinctive impression.

By taking into consideration a lower degree of similarity between the marks and lack of originality for the term “POLO”, which means a game played on horseback between two teams, each of four players, the Board negated a likelihood of confusion between “POLO” and “Qolo” even when the opposed mark is used on goods and services in question.

Based on the foregoing, the Board dismissed the opposition entirely and decided that the opposed mark “Qolo” shall remain valid as the status quo.

Philippe Starck Lost Trademark Dispute over Starck

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an opposition claimed by Philippe Starck, a French designer, against TM Reg no. 6487488 for the wordmark “Starck” due to the unlikelihood of confusion when used on management, leasing, rental, purchase, and sale of buildings, and real estate agency services in class 36.

[Opposition case no. 2022-900079, Decision date: December 5, 2022]

Opposed mark

Starck Co., Ltd., a Japanese company, sought trademark registration of the wordmark “starck” in standard character to be used on services related to real estate in class 36 on July 2, 2021.

Without raising any objections in the course of substantive examination, the JPO granted protection of the opposed mark on December 13, 3021, and subsequently published for post-grant opposition on January 13, 2022.


Opposition by Philippe Starck

Philip Starck, a French designer known for his wide range of designs, including everything from interior design to household objects and architecture, filed an opposition with the JPO on March 15, 2022, just before the lapse of a statutory period of two months counting from the publication date.

He argued the opposed mark shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(xv) and (xix) of the Japan Trademark Law in view of the high reputation of the term “Starch” as an indication of the opponent and close relatedness between the service in question and architectural design service.


JPO decision

The JPO Opposition Board did not admit the famousness of the mark “Starck” as a source indicator of the opponent’s design service from the produced evidence even though the Board found the mark has acquired a certain degree of recognition as a name of designer among relevant consumers.

Besides, the Board considered architectural design services shall be remotely associated with the management, leasing, rental, purchase, and sale of buildings, and real estate agency services in class 36.

If so, irrespective of the identical marks, the Board has no reason to believe relevant consumers would conceive of the opponent at a slight of the service in question using the opposed mark and confuse its source with the opponent.

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

HYATT lost a trademark dispute in Japan: GRAND CLUB vs GRAN CLUB

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) did not side with HYATT and dismissed an invalidation petition against TM Reg no. 6186629 for the wordmark “GRAN CLUB” by finding dissimilarity to HYATT’s earlier mark “GRAND CLUB”.

[Invalidation case no. 2022-890018, Decision date: December 14, 2022]

GRAN CLUB

The disputed mark, consisting of the word mark “GRAN CLUB” in standard character was filed by Memolead Wellness Co., Ltd., a Japanese company for use in restaurants, hotels and temporary accommodations, retirement homes, beauty salons, and other services in class 43 and 44 on September 13, 2018, with the JPO. The JPO examiner granted protection on September 10, 2019.

Apparently, the applicant uses the mark on their facility to provide a sports club, fitness gym, spa, beauty salon, sauna, café, and social club in Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture (Japan).


GRAND CLUB

Hyatt International Corporation has effectively owned earlier TM Reg no. 4604602 for the wordmark “GRAND CLUB” in standard character on hotels, restaurants, beauty salons, and other services in Japan.

Hyatt filed an invalidation petition against “GRAN CLUB” with the JPO on March 18, 2022, and argued the disputed mark shall be invalidated in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) of the Trademark Law due to a close resemblance between “GRAND CLUB” and “GRAND CLUB” to be used on identical or similar services.


JPO Decision

The JPO Invalidation Board found the disputed mark “GRAN CLUB” does not give rise to any specific meaning as well as the cited mark “GRAND CLUB”.

From the appearance, the Board found both marks are distinguishable by virtue of the presence or absence of the letter “D” in the middle of the marks.

Besides, the Board had a view that it is unlikely relevant consumers audibly confuse “ɡræn-klʌb” with “ɡrænd-klʌb” in view of short phonetic compositions of six or seven sounds.

Hyatt argued “GRAND CLUB” can be called “ɡræn-klʌb” among Japanese consumers based on a lot of hotels and facilities with a mark containing the term “GRAN” that is ordinary called “ɡræn”. However, the Board held the examples are neither direct nor relevant to find “GRAND CLUB” is pronounced as  “ɡræn-klʌb” by relevant consumers.

Given both marks are incomparable to the concept, the Board has a reason to believe both marks give rise to a different impression in the mind of consumers from visual, phonetical, and conceptual points of view.

Based on the foregoing, the Board concluded “GRAN CLUB” and “GRAND CLUB” are dissimilar and declared the validity of the disputed mark.

Trademark dispute: “Swan Angel” vs “ANGEL SWAN”

In a recent decision, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) declared invalidation of TM Reg no. 5947687 for the word mark “Swan Angel” in class 41 due to a similarity to “ANGEL SWAN”.

[Invalidation case no. 2022-890031, Decision date: December 1, 2022]

Swan Angel

Disputed mark, consisting of the wordmark “Swan Angel” in standard character, was filed for use on various services including ballet school in class 41 with the JPO by a Japanese individual on October 5, 2016, and registered on May 19, 2017 (TM Reg no. 5947687).


Invalidation petition

On May 10, 2022, just before the lapse of a five-year statute of limitations, an owner of earlier TM Reg no. 5509646 for wordmark “ANGEL SWAN” in standard character filed a petition for invalidation against the disputed mark.

The owner argued disputed mark shall be invalidated in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) of the Japan Trademark Law by stating “Swan Angel” is confusingly similar to “ANGEL SWAN” and ballet school and other services pertinent to ballet is deemed similar to the service in class 41 designated under the earlier mark since it also relates to ballet.


JPO decision

In an assessment of the similarity of marks, the JPO Invalidation Board stated:

Both the disputed mark and the cited mark consist of the two English words, “Swan” and “Angel”, commonly known among general consumers in Japan and it is reasonable to assume that relevant traders and consumers at the sight of both marks will see the words being placed in reverse order.

Even if there is a difference in the order of two words between the marks, the Board has no reason to believe the difference gives rise to any distinct meaning as a whole.

If so, relevant traders and consumers are likely to recognize the respective marks as a combination of “swan” and “angel” in sound and concept irrespective of the reversed order.

In this respect, both marks look similar in appearance because of the same words, font, and alphabet.

Based on the foregoing, the Board found the disputed mark “Swan Angel” is confusingly similar to the cited mark “ANGEL SWAN” from visual, phonetical, and conceptual points of view.

Taking account of another factor that respective services pertinent to ballet are deemed identical or similar as well, the Board concluded the disputed mark shall be retroactively invalidated in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi).

Warner Defeated in Trademark Opposition over TWEETY

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an opposition filed by Warner Bros against Japanese trademark registration no. 6452448 for the TWETYBIRD mark with a device by finding dissimilarity to and less likelihood of confusion with “Tweety”, a yellow canary bird, featured in the Warner Bros Looney Tunes animated cartoons.

[Opposition case no. 2021-900459, Decision date: October 26, 2022]

Japan TM Reg no. 6452448

The opposed mark, consisting of the word “TWETYBIRD” and an encircled “B” device (see below), was filed by a Chinese company for use on various goods in classes 3,9,14,18,25, and advertising and other services in class 35 on December 16, 2020.

The JPO granted protection on August 25, 2021, and the mark was published for opposition on October 26, 2021.


Opposition by Warner Bros

On December 27, 2021, before the lapse of a two-month opposition period, Warner Brothers Entertainment Incorporated filed an opposition with the JPO, and argued the opposed mark shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(vii), (xi), (xv) and (xix) of the Japan Trademark Law by citing earlier trademark registrations for the mark “Tweety”, a yellow canary bird (see below) featured in the Looney Tunes animated cartoons.

Warner Bros alleged that the cited marks have been remarkably famous for the title of the animated cartoons or the name of the cartoon character produced by Warner Bros. In view of the close resemblance between the famous mark “Tweety” and a literal element “Twety” of the opposed mark, it shall be considered the opposed mark is similar to and likely to cause confusion with the opposed mark when used on the goods and service in question.


JPO decision

The JPO Opposition Board admitted a certain degree of reputation and popularity of the cited marks to indicate a cartoon character. However, the Board questioned such popularity as a source indicator of Warner Bros from the totality of the circumstances and the produced evidence.

Besides, the Board found the literal element “TWETYBIRD” of the opposed mark shall be assessed in its entirety from the visual configuration. If so, the opposed mark would not give rise to a similar sound and meaning to “Tweety”. Therefore, the Board has a reason to believe that relevant consumers are unlikely to confuse a source of the goods and services in question bearing the opposed mark with Warner Bros due to a low degree of similarity between marks and reputation of the cited marks as a source indicator of Warner Bros.

In the decision, the Board mentioned it is doubtful if relevant consumers acquaint themselves with “Tweety Bird” as the full name of “Tweety”. If so, there is no reasonable ground to find the opposed mark violates morality or public order.

Based on the foregoing, the Board found the opposed mark shall not be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(vii), (xi), (xv), and (xix) and dismissed the opposition entirely.

Failed Opposition by Chanel over Monogram

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed a trademark opposition filed by Chanel against TM Reg no. 6351256 for a composite mark containing a device made of two inverted and interlocked “C” by finding dissimilarity to and the unlikelihood of confusion with Chanel’s monogram.

[Opposition case no. 2021-900169, Decision date: September 30, 2022]

Opposed mark

The opposed mark consists of the words “MUSIC BAR” and “CHAYA”, and a device made of two inverted and interlocked “C” (see below).

HIC Co., Ltd. filed the opposed mark for use on restaurant service in class 43 on August 27, 2020, with the JPO. The examiner granted protection on January 19, 2022, and published for opposition on February 10, 2021.


Opposition by Chanel

Chanel filed an opposition on April 30 and argued the opposed mark shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi), (xv), and (xix) of the Japan Trademark Law by citing earlier trademark registrations for Chanel’s monogram on the ground that:

  1. The figurative element of the opposed mark is similar to the prestigious Chanel’s monogram made of two inverted “c” displayed as an ellipse in its central point (see below).
  2. Given the remarkable degree of popularity and reputation of Chanel’s monogram, relevant consumers with ordinary care are likely to confuse a source of the service in question bearing the opposed mark with CHANEL.
  3. Applicant must have applied the opposed mark, confusingly similar to Chanel’s monogram with an unfair intention to take advantage of the reputation and goodwill associated with Chanel’s famous trademark.

JPO Decision

The JPO Opposition Board admitted that Chanel’s monogram has acquired a high degree of reputation among relevant consumers of the service in question. Allegedly, CHANEL spent more than 5 billion JP-Yen on advertising in Japan each year since 2014. Annual sales revenue exceeds 50 billion JP-Yen. Jewelry accounts for 3 billion JP-Yen of the revenue.

In the meantime, the JPO denied visual similarity between the figurative element of the opposed mark and the monogram by stating:

They share a similarity in that they are both figures with two “C”-shaped curves placed back-to-back on the left and right sides so that parts of the curves overlap. However, in addition to differences in the way the “C”-shaped curves are represented (whether the thickness varies or is uniform and whether the opening is wide or narrow), there are also differences in the way the entire composition is represented, such as asymmetrical and symmetrical figures, vertical figures with two deeply overlapping curves and horizontal figures with two shallowly overlapping curves. Furthermore, the overall impression of the composition is clearly different in terms of asymmetrical and symmetrical figures, vertical figures with two curves deeply superimposed and horizontal figures with two curves shallowly superimposed. Therefore, there is no likelihood of confusion in terms of appearance.”

Obviously, there is no likelihood of confusion in terms of appearance and conception. Therefore, taking account of the impression, memory, and association given to traders and consumers by means of the appearance, concept, and pronunciation of two marks as a whole, the Board has a reason to believe that two marks are dissimilar and there is no likelihood of confusion.

Based on the foregoing, the Board dismissed the entire allegations of Chanel and allowed the opposed mark to register as the status quo.

ZARA Unsuccessful in Trademark Opposition against ZARAHA

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed a trademark opposition claimed by INDITEX, S.A. against TM Reg no. 6423743 for the wordmark “ZARAHA” by finding dissimilarity of the mark and unlikelihood of confusion with a famous fashion brand “ZARA”.

[Opposition case: 2021-900373, Decision date: September 8, 2022]

ZARAHA

ZARAHA BEAUTY CO., LTD., a Japanese company, filed a word mark “ZARAHA” in standard character for use on beauty care cosmetics and preparations (cl. 3); retail services for beauty care cosmetics (cl. 35); beauty arts instruction (cl. 41); aesthetician services, beauty salon services (cl. 44) with the JPO on October 15, 2020 (TM App no. 2020-127458).

The applicant opens the ZARAHA BEAUTY shop in Tokyo to provide beauty salon services. Click here.

The JPO granted protection of the applied mark on July 6, 2021, and published for opposition on August 24, 2021


Opposition by INDITEX

Inditex, S.A., an international fashion manufacturer, and distribution group filed an opposition against the wordmark “ZARAHA” by citing its flagship brand “ZARA” on October 21, 2021.

Inditex argued the opposed mark shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) and (xv) of the Japan Trademark Law by taking into consideration the remarkable reputation of “ZARA” as a famous fashion brand, resemblance of both marks, and close association between apparels and cosmetics, beauty care-related services.


JPO Decision

The JPO Opposition Board admitted a certain degree of the reputation of the mark ZARA as a source indicator of the opponent’s apparel. However, the Board questioned if “ZARA” has acquired a substantial degree of popularity among relevant consumers of the goods and services in question from the totality of the produced evidence.

Besides, the Board found that “ZARAHA” and “ZARA” shall be easily distinguishable in appearance and pronunciation. Conceptually, both marks are not similar because they do not give rise to any specific meaning. Therefore, the Board has a reason to believe both marks are dissimilar.

Given that “ZARA” has not become famous among relevant consumers of the goods and services in question, and a low degree of similarity between the marks, it is unlikely that the consumers confuse a source of cosmetics and beauty care-related services bearing the opposed mark “ZARAHA” with Inditex.

Based on the foregoing, the Board dismissed the entire allegations and decided that the opposed mark shall remain valid as the status quo.

No confusion between “InstaShop” and “Instagram”

On July 27, 2022, the Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) disaffirmed the examiner’s rejection and found TM Application no. 2019-152946 for “InstaShop” with device mark is dissimilar and thus unlikely to cause confusion with a famous mark “Insta” known as an abbreviation of “Instagram”.

[Appeal case no. 2021-12444]

InstaShop

The applied mark consists of a red rectangle with rounded corners, a motif depicting a white shopping basket, the term “InstaShop” in white with large font, and “Convenience delivered” in black with a smaller font (see below).

The mark was filed in the name of InstaShop DMCC, a UAE corporation, for use on ‘online ordering services; price comparison services; import-export agency services; compilation of information into computer databases; providing commercial information and advice for consumers in the choice of products and services; retail services and wholesale services for foods and beverages, clothing, footwear, bags, cosmetics, and others in class 35 and ‘car transport; truck transport; packaging of goods; freight brokerage; delivery of goods; warehousing; rental of warehouse space and others’ in class 39 on December 5, 2019.

The JPO examiner rejected the mark due to a likelihood of confusion with the famous mark “Insta”, known as an abbreviation of “Instagram” in connection with application software for posting and sharing images and videos, online social networking services, advertising, and publicity services based on Article 4(1)(xv) of the Japan Trademark Law.

Article 4(1)(xv) is a provision to refrain from registering a junior mark that is likely to cause confusion with other business entities’ well-known goods or services.

The applicant filed an appeal on September 16, 2021, and argued the unlikelihood of confusion with Instagram.


JPO decision

The JPO assessed the term “InstaShop” can be a prominent portion of the applied mark and play a role in source indicator per se, but it shall be dissimilar to the “Insta” mark from visual, phonetical points of view. Even if the concepts are not comparable, by taking into global consideration the impression, memory, and association that respective mark gives to consumers and traders, the Board has a reason to believe that both marks are distinctively dissimilar.

Being that the applied mark contains figurative elements and other words “Convenience delivered”. Due to the difference, the applied mark as a whole has a low degree of similarity to the “Insta” mark.

Besides, the Board does not find the services in question have a close association with goods and services of Instagram in view of purpose, business field.

Even if the “Insta” mark has acquired a certain degree of reputation and popularity mainly among young consumers in their teens and twenties, the Board has no reason to believe relevant consumers are likely to associate and confuse a source of the services in question bearing the applied mark with Instagram because of a low degree of similarity of marks and relatedness with respective goods and services.

Based on the foregoing, the Board decided to disaffirm the examiner’s rejection and grant registration of the applied mark.

Trademark dispute: RIVER vs river

In a recent decision, the JPO Appeal Board found TM Application no. 2021-5278 for the stylized “river” mark is dissimilar to earlier TM Reg no. 5704488 for the mark “RIVER” with design irrespective of designating the same consulting service in class 35.
[Appeal case no. 2021-17274, decision date: June 22, 2022]


TM Application 2021-5278

The dispute mark consists of the stylized word “river” depicted with the figurative element (see below right). The mark was filed in the name of Cultive, Inc for use in advertising and publicity services, business management analysis, or business consultancy service in class 35 on January 19, 2021.

The JPO examiner rejected the mark due to a conflict with earlier TM Reg no. 5704488 for the mark “RIVER” with a design (see above left) based on Article 4(1)(x) of the Japan Trademark Law.

Article 4(1)(xi) is a provision to refrain from registering a junior mark that is deemed identical with, or similar to, an earlier registered mark.

The applicant filed an appeal on December 15, 2021, and argued dissimilarity of the mark.


JPO decision

Astonishingly, the JPO Appeal Board found “By virtue of figurative elements, the disputed mark as a whole gives rise to an impression of distinctive and unified design that evokes the image of flowing water and green leaves. Furthermore, the color composition also gives the impression that the mark is designed to evoke the image of flowing water and green leaves. If so, even though the mark may give rise to a sound and meaning of “river”, it is reasonable to believe that the source of the services is identified based on the impression created by the distinctive appearance of the mark rather than its sound and concept in the course of transactions.”

Likewise, the Board found “being that the literal portion “RIVER” would not be deemed a prominent portion of the cited mark, even if the cited mark can give rise to a sound and meaning of “RIVER”, it is reasonable to consider that relevant consumers distinguish the source of the services bearing the cited mark by means of overall impression, rather than it’s sound and concept.

Based on the above findings, the Board concluded “it is obvious that there is a remarkable difference in the appearance of both marks. Even if the disputed mark and the cited mark are both pronounced “RIVER” and mean “river”, the similarity in sound and concept shall not outweigh the distinctiveness caused by a remarkable difference in appearance. Therefore, the disputed mark is unlikely to cause confusion and dissimilar to the cited mark.”

Consequently, the Board decided to disaffirm the examiner’s rejection and grant protection of the disputed mark.

Trademark Opposition or Invalidation, Which Is Useful in Japan?

Opposition

A trademark opposition is a proceeding in which a third party can oppose a newly registered trademark under Article 43bis of the Japan Trademark Law. For example, once a trademark is newly registered by JPO, this fact is published in the Official Gazette of Trade Marks immediately after it is actually registered. This kicks off a two (2) month period known as the ‘opposition period’ during which other parties are then given an opportunity to ‘oppose’ the registration of the trademark.


Invalidation

Trademark invalidation is an inter-partes proceeding in which a party has a legal interest in the result that can null a trademark registration under Article 46 of the Japan Trademark Law. If the registration is less than five years old, the party challenging the trademark rights can rely on any ground that could have prevented registration initially.


Comparison

Conflict with earlier registration (similarity of mark and goods/service), a likelihood of confusion with famous mark, and descriptiveness are the most common grounds asserted both in opposition and invalidation action.

 Trademark OppositionTrademark Invalidation
Statute of limitations2 months from the publication date5 years from the registration date
Official feeJPY11,000 for 1 class
JPY19,000 for 2 classes
JPY55,000 for 1 class
JPY95,000 for 2 classes
StandingLegal interest is not requiredLegal interest is required
CounterargumentNo obligation to counterargue unless the JPO notifies a cancellation ground to a registrant.Mandatory for a registrant to counterargue, otherwise it may adversely affect.
Pendency period7.9 months11.5 months
Appeal to decisionOnly the registrant can file an appeal against an unfavorable decisionEither party can file an appeal against the JPO decision

Which action to take?

From a cost-saving point of view, opposition undoubtedly looks more attractive than invalidation, however, when you look at the success rate of opposition (see below table), it may change your mind. There has been a big gap in the success rate between opposition and invalidation for years.

YearThe success rate of the OppositionThe success rate of Invalidation
201513%32%
201616%42%
201711%33%
201811%34%
201911%56%
202011%35%

Therefore, in terms of probability theory, invalidation action is by far preferable to opposition for the purpose of removing trademark registration in Japan.