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.

Letter of Consent in Japanese Trademark Practice

When trademark applicants receive a refusal of their trademark applications due to a conflict with a prior similar registered mark cited by the JPO examiner, how can the applicants overcome the refusal?


In some jurisdictions, it has become a routine to submit a letter of consent (LOC) issued in the name of the owner of the cited mark agreeing on the use and registration of the applied mark for the purpose of overcoming the refusal, apart from arguing against the similarities between the respective marks.


However, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) is negative to withdraw refusals arising from a conflict with a senior registered mark under Article 4(1)(xi) of the Trademark Law simply by means of LOC.


Trademark Examination Guideline (TEG) 42.111.03 in relation to Article 4(1)(xi) provides special conditions where the JPO accepts LOC and withdraws refusals as follows.

Where an applicant claims that he/she is in any of the relationships (1) and (2) with the owner of a cited trademark right and submits evidence (3), the case shall be handled as if Article 4(1)(xi) does not apply.

(1) The owner of a cited trademark right is under the control of the applicant.

(2) The applicant is under the control of the owner of a cited trademark right.

(3) Evidence to the effect that the owner of a cited trademark right agrees that the trademark as applied is to be registered.

Condition (1) and (2) – “Under the control” relation between cited owner and applicant will be satisfied if:

(a) Business of the owner of a cited trademark right of which the majority of voting rights of all shareholders are owned by the applicant;

(b) Business of the owner of a cited trademark right which has a capital alliance with the applicant and whose corporate activities are substantially under the control of the applicant, although the requirement specified in (a) above is not satisfied.


Therefore, LOC is useful only where either party has a controlling interest in the other entity, the so-called parent-child relationship between companies.

Due to the restriction, LOC would not be available in most cases to overcome the refusal based on Article 4(1)(xi).

Under the circumstance, practically, we are able to select three options.

  1. Arguing dissimilarity of mark or goods/ services 
  2. Filing a non-use cancellation against the cited mark 
  3. Transferring an applied mark to an owner of the cited mark and assigning it back after registration, vice versa.

Samsung Failed in TM Opposition against “Funky Galaxy”

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an opposition filed by Samsung, the world’s largest smartphone maker, against TM Reg no. 6263685 for wordmark “Funky Galaxy” by stating the opposed mark would not cause confusion with Samsung “Galaxy” even when used on smartphones.

[Opposition case no. 2020-900229, Gazette issued date: November 11, 2021]

Opposed mark

On April 12, 2019, KING Entertainment Co., Ltd. applied for registration of wordmark “Funky Galaxy” in standard character for use on goods and services in classes 9, 16, 35, and 41. The goods in class 9 covers ‘telecommunication machines and apparatus; personal digital assistants; smartphones; electronic machines, and apparatus and their parts.’

JPO granted protection of the “Funky Galaxy” mark and published for opposition on July 14, 2020.


Opposition by Samsung

On September 11, 2020, Samsung, the world’s largest smartphone maker famous for Galaxy series mobiles, filed an opposition and claimed the Opposed mark shall be canceled in relation to goods and services in class 9, 35, and 41 in contravention of Article 4(1)(vii), (x), (xi), (xv) and (xix) of the Trademark Law by citing its own senior TM Reg nos. 4498554 “Galaxy”, IR1335923 “GALAXY STUDIO”, and 6309820 “Galaxy Harajuku”.

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

Samsung argued the Opposed mark shall cause confusion with Samsung “Galaxy” especially when used on smartphones and related goods and services, given a remarkable reputation of “Galaxy” holding 3rd market share (7.4% in 2018, 8.0% in 2019, 9,0% in 2020) in Japan and the close resemblance between “Galaxy” and “Funky Galaxy”.


JPO Decision

The Opposition Board did not question a remarkable degree of reputation and popularity of trademark “Galaxy” as a source indicator of the opponent smartphones.

In the meantime, the Board did not consider the term “Galaxy” as a prominent portion of the opposed mark from visual and conceptual points of view. If so, the opposed mark shall be assessed in its entirety.

In the assessment of similarity of the mark, the Board found “Funky Galaxy” is visually and phonetically distinguishable from “Galaxy” due to the presence of “Funky.” From concept, both marks are less similar because the opposed mark does not give rise to a specific meaning and the opponent mark “Galaxy” means an extremely large group of stars and planets. Both marks have a low degree of similarity accordingly.

Even though “Galaxy” has been well-known as a source indicator of Samsung smartphones, and the goods and services in question are closely associated with smartphones, given a low degree of similarity between “Funky Galaxy” and “Galaxy”, the Board has a reasonable ground to believe that relevant consumers would not confuse a source of goods and services bearing the opposed mark “Funky Galaxy” with Samsung and any business entity economically or systematically connected with the opponent.

Based on the foregoing, the Board decided the allegations are groundless and the Opposed mark shall remain valid as the status quo.

Famous mark Protection under Unfair Competition Prevention Law

The Unfair Competition Prevention Law (UCPL) protects famous trademarks regardless of their registration status under Article 2(1)(i) & (ii).

Article 2(1)(i)

The act of using goods or other indications (hereinafter, “goods or other indications” means name connected with person’s business, tradename, trademark, mark, container, or package of goods, or any other indication used for goods or business) which is identical with, or similar to, another person’s goods or other indication as to be well-known among consumersor the act of selling, distributing, displaying for the purpose of selling or distributing, exporting, importing or offering via telecommunication lines goods on which such goods or other indication is used, thereby causing confusion with another person’s goods or business.

Article 2(1)(ii)

The act of using goods or other indications as one’s own while it is identical with, or similar to, another person’s famous goods or other indication, or the act of selling, distributing, displaying for the purpose of selling or distributing, exporting, importing or offering via telecommunication lines.

The UCPL provides legal remedies for famous trademarks even though they have yet to be registered in Japan under the Trademark Law. The UCPL privileges owners of the famous trademarks to take legal action against unauthorized use of the mark on goods or services remotely associated with their business, however, it does not go beyond the “similar” marks theoretically.

HUGO BOSS Unsuccessful in Blocking “BOSS”

German luxury fashion house Hugo Boss failed in their attempt to block Japanese TM Reg no. 6218609 for word mark “BOSS” on SaaS and order processing services.

[Opposition case no. 2020-900096, Gazette issued date: August 27, 2021]

Opposed mark

Opposed mark, filed on January 22, 2019, by Rakuten, Japanese electronic commerce and online retailing company, consists of the word “BOSS” in standard character (see below).

The services sought for registration are order processing services in class 35 and providing computer programs on e-commerce, software as a service (SaaS), and other related services in class 42. Rakuten is using the opposed mark “BOSS” as an abbreviation of ‘Back Office Support System’ to indicate their service for sales order management and automated shipping system.

The JPO admitted registration on June 22, 2020, and published for post-grant opposition on February 12, 2020.


Opposition by Hugo Boss

HUGO BOSS Trademark Management GmbH & Co KG filed an opposition against the opposed mark on April 3, 2020, and claimed the opposed mark “BOSS” shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) and (xv) of the Japan 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.

Article 4(1)(xv) is a provision to prohibit registration of a trademark which is likely to cause confusion with the business of other entities.

HUGO BOSS argued that not only tradename “HOGO BOSS but also their mark “BOSS” has been well known for a luxury fashion brand and source indicators of the opponent by producing Deloitte’s annual list of the world’s largest luxury companies on which HUGO BOSS was ranked No.19(2015), No.21(2016), No.23(2017).

In view of a high degree of similarity between the opposed mark and the opponent’s mark “BOSS” (see below), relevant consumers are likely to confuse the source of services bearing the opposed mark with HUGO BOSS.


Board Decision

The JPO Opposition Board admitted a certain degree of the reputation of the “HUGO BOSS” mark as a source indicator of the opponent in connection with fashion items, e.g., clothing, watches, sunglasses, fragrances.

In the meantime, the Board questioned if the word “BOSS” has also acquired such popularity, stating that produced materials are insufficient to find the word perse plays the source indicator since the cited mark contains a famous mark “HUGO BOSS” adjacent to it.

Even if there is a high degree of similarity between the marks, the Board has a reasonable ground to believe the services in question, namely, order processing services (cl.35) and SaaS (cl.42) are less associated with fashion items, e.g., clothing, watches, sunglasses, fragrances.

If so, it is unlikely that relevant consumers at the sight of the opposed mark would conceive or associate it with HUGO BOSS or any entity who is systematically or economically connected with the opponent when used on the services in question.

Based on the foregoing, the JPO dismiss the entire allegations of HUGO BOSS and allowed the opposed mark “BOSS” to survive.

Dot Makes Wordmark Dissimilar

In a trademark dispute pertinent to the similarity between “.NEXT” and “NEXT”, the  Japan Patent Office (JPO) found both marks dissimilar and reversed examiner’s rejection.

[Appeal case no. 2020-650026, Gazette issued date: June 25, 2021]

“.NEXT”

Nutanix, Inc. applied for registration of a trademark “.NEXT” (see below) to be used on services in classes 35 and 41 (IR 1418062) with the JPO via the Madrid Protocol.

Class 35

Conducting trade shows and exhibitions in the fields of computers, computer software, cloud computing, hybrid cloud computing, virtualization, storage, computer resource management, and product demonstrations; none of the aforesaid services relating to navigation, aviation, land vehicles, marine vessels, or offshore platforms.

Class 41

Educational and entertainment services, namely, conducting conferences, presentations, seminars, lectures, and speeches, in the fields of computers, computer software, cloud computing, hybrid cloud computing, virtualization, storage, computer resource management; none of the aforesaid services relating to navigation, aviation, land vehicles, marine vessels, or offshore platforms.


JPO examiner’s rejection

The JPO examiner rejected the applied mark due to a conflict with senior TM registrations for wordmark “NEXT” covering similar services in classes 35 and 41.

The examiner considered that the word “NEXT” with a stylized “X” was visually separable from a dot “.” and thus a prominent portion of the applied mark as a source indicator. If so, both marks are deemed similar as a whole and thus, the applied mark shall not be registrable in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) of the Japan Trademark Law.

To contest the rejection, Nutanix, Inc. filed an appeal to the JPO Appeal Board on June 19, 2020, and argued dissimilarity between “.NEXT” and “NEXT”.


JPO Appeal Board decision

The JPO Appeal Board found that relevant consumers are unlikely to see respective elements of the applied mark separable from visual aspect. If so, the mark shall be considered a coined word in its entirety and just gives rise to a sound of ‘dot next’ that would never be considered too long to be pronounced at a breath.

Based on the foregoing, the Board stated that the examiner erred in finding pronunciation and concept of the applied mark correctly. In assessing similarity of the marks, it is inadequate to compare the sound and meaning arising from the word “NEXT” of the applied mark with the citations.

Consequently, the Board reversed the examiner’s refusal and decided to register the applied mark by finding dissimilarity between “.NEXT” and “NEXT”.

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.

Japan IP High Court ruled “AZURE” is unregistrable due to “AZULE”

On December 23, 2020, the Japan IP High Court affirmed a decision of the Japan Patent Office (JPO) finding that the “AZURE” mark is similar to senior trademark registration no. 5454302 for word mark “AZULE” in connection with medical services of class 44.
[Judicial case no. Reiwa 2(Gyo-ke)10086]

AZURE

A disputed mark is a wordmark “AZURE” in standard character. The mark filed by Willfarm Co., Ltd., a Japanese merchant on November 22, 2017, over cosmetics (cl. 3), pharmaceutical preparations, dietary supplements (cl. 5), retail or wholesale services for these goods (cl. 35), beauty salon, massage, providing medical information, health clinic services, rental of medical equipment, nutritional and dietetic consultancy, nursing home services (cl. 44). [TM application no. 2017-153742]

JPO decision

Initially, the JPO examiner refused the mark in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) of the Trademark Law by citing senior trademark registration no. 5454302 for word mark “AZULE” written in standard character. Among other things, the designated service of ‘providing medical information, health clinic services, rental of medical equipment’ in class 44 is deemed identical with that of the citation.

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 a 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 examiner makes a decision 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.

The applicant sought to file an appeal against the examiner’s rejection and argued dissimilarity of both marks, however, the Appeal Board upheld the rejection for the same reason on June 8, 2020. [Appeal case no. 2020-1707]

To contest the administrative decision, the applicant filed a lawsuit to the IP Hight Court on July 21, 2020.

IP High Court ruling

In the lawsuit, the plaintiff argued the Board inappropriately found the “AZURE” mark would give rise to pronunciations of ‘æʒə’ and ‘a-zhə-reˈ, but it is precisely pronounced as ‘æʒə’ or ‘a-jü(ə)l’. Besides, the Board erroneously held “AZURE” is similar to “AZULE” in appearance. By virtue of the difference in the fourth letter “R” and “L”, relevant consumers of the medical services in question would easily distinguish them. If so, by taking account of slight conceptual association between the marks, the “AZURE” mark shall be considered dissimilar to “AZULE” from visual, aural, and conceptual points of view.

The Court upheld the Board decision by stating that relevant consumers at the sight of the disputed mark would pronounce the term “AZURE” as ‘æʒə’ or ‘a-zhə-reˈ since it is not a familiar foreign word among the general public in Japan. The cited mark “AZULE” also gives rise to a pronunciation of ‘a-zhə-leˈ. Therefore, both pronunciations are confusingly similar.

As for appearance, the court denied the plaintiff’s argument on the ground that the medical services in question are consumed not only by health care workers but also by the general public. As long as both terms are unfamiliar to the relevant consumers, a mere difference of one letter would be anything but sufficient for them to distinguish both marks.

Based on the foregoing, the Court dismissed the allegations entirely and ruled to reject the “AZURE” mark in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi).

To read a full text of the IP High Court decision (Japanese only), click here.