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).

Patagonia Inc Failed in Registering “PATAGONIA”

On December 15, 2021, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) affirmed the examiner’s rejection to protect a wordmark “PATAGONIA” for seafood in class 29 and dismissed an appeal filed by Patagonia Inc. due to a lack of distinctiveness.

[Appeal case no. 2020-16786]

“PATAGONIA”

An American clothing company that markets and sells outdoor clothing, Patagonia Incorporated, filed a divided-trademark application for wordmark “PATAGONIA” in standard character on goods of ‘fresh, chilled or frozen edible aquatic animals (not live); blue mussels, not live; oysters, not live; processed seafood products; soups’ in class 29 on August 19, 2019 (TM Application no. 2019-110730).

The JPO examiner rejected the mark in contravention of Articles 3(1)(iii) and 4(1)(xvi) of the Japan Trademark Law on August 24, 2020.

The examiner asserted “PATAGONIA” refers to a geographical region that encompasses the southern end of South America and is a popular tourist destination for nature-lovers and adventure-seekers. Since Patagonia travel guides often have contents of Patagonia’s seafood, it is likely that relevant consumers and traders at the sight of seafood bearing the wordmark “PATAGONIA” with ordinary care would conceive the goods from the Patagonia region and see it as an indication of the origin of seafood.

If so, whenever the mark is used on seafood, not from the Patagonia region, it inevitably misleads the quality of goods.


Appeal by Patagonia Inc.

On December 7, 2020, Patagonia Inc. filed an appeal against the rejection and argued the term “Patagonia” is frequently accompanied by “region” or “sea” when used to indicate the origin of seafood because Patagonia is neither a nation nor a specific province but is a region comprising of all southerly Chile and Argentina. Being that the applied mark “PATAGONIA” has acquired a substantial degree of reputation and popularity in connection with apparel as a source indicator of Patagonia Inc., relevant consumers would rather conceive of a famous apparel brand at the sight of seafood bearing the mark “PATAGONIA.”

Besides, it is questionable if relevant consumers are familiar with the Patagonian Sea as an origin of seafood available in Japan.


JPO decision

The JPO Appeal Board found the mark “PATAGONIA” lacks distinctiveness in connection with the goods in question by stating that fish and seafood from the Patagonian Sea have been imported to Japan over the past three decades. The term “Patagonia” perse or its transliteration written in Japanese Katakana character has been used to indicate the origin of the goods. Under the circumstances, it is unquestionable that relevant consumers at the sight of seafood bearing the mark “PATAGONIA” would see it as an indication of the origin of the goods.

The Board did not question the famousness of the “PATAGONIA” mark in connection with outdoor-related goods. However, the Board denied the distinctiveness of the mark in relation to seafood even though Patagonia Inc. has promoted seafood for sale in Japan since 2016 because the mark in question is not used, but “PATAGONIA PROVISIONS”.

Based on the foregoing, the Board dismissed the entire allegations and decided to reject the mark in contravention of Article 3(1)(iii).

Hermes Challenge to Register Packaging Colors

HERMES INTERNATIONAL, a French luxury fashion house, is in a legal battle to register its iconic packaging colors, orange and brown, as a color mark in Japan.


Color mark of Hermes box

On October 25, 2018, HERMES INTERNATIONAL filed a trademark application for its iconic packaging colors, orange and brown (see below), as a color mark to be used on various goods in class 3, 14, 16, 18, and retail services in class 35 with the Japan Patent Office (JPO) [TM application no. 2018-133223].


Article 3(1)(iii) and 3(1)(vi)

The JPO examiner rejected the color mark under Article 3(1)(iii) and 3(1)(vi) of the Japan Trademark Law by stating that colors per se are unlikely to play a role in source indicator because they are frequently aimed to attract consumers in association with function or quality of goods and services. Because of it, relevant consumers at the sight of goods or services bearing the applied color would not see the combination of colors, orange and brown, as a source indicator.


Acquired Distinctiveness

Hermes argued acquired distinctiveness of the color combination as a result of substantial use on Hermes box for the past six decades from the 1960s onward.

A bottleneck is that the Hermes box contains its name “HERMES” and horse and carriage logo as a conspicuous source indicator. Hermes conducted market research to demonstrate the acquired distinctiveness of the packaging color per se. The research targeted high-income men and women in their 30s to 50s with incomes JPY10,000,000 and above. According to the research report, 36.9% of the interviewees answered Hermes when shown three boxes in different shapes with the color mark. 43.1% chose Hermes from ten options.


JPO Rejection

The JPO examiner did not find the research persuasive to support acquired distinctiveness among relevant consumers of the goods and services in question.

The examiner stated the relevant consumers shall not be limited to the high-income class. Besides, even among high-income consumers, more than half of them did not link the color to Hermes. From the research, it is doubtful if relevant consumers would conceive the color per se as a source indicator.

Based on the above findings, the examiner totally rejected the applied color mark under Article 3(1)(iii) and (vi) on July 9, 2021.

HERMES INTERNATIONAL filed an appeal against the rejection on October 8, 2021.

Formula One Successful in Registering “F1”

In a recent decision, the Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) overturned the examiner’s rejection and decided to register the wordmark “F1” in standard character by finding acquired distinctiveness as a source indicator in relation to automobile races in class 41.

[Appeal case no. 2021-1819, Decision date: November 5, 2021]

F1

Formula One Licensing BV, managing the trademarks for the FIA Formula One World Championship, applied wordmark “F1” in standard character for use on ‘organization, arranging and conducting of automobile races; providing information relating to automobile races’ in class 41 on May 7, 2018 (TM App no. 2018-58985).


Article 3(1)(v)

The JPO examiner rejected the mark “F1” because of lack of inherent distinctiveness based on Article 3(1)(v) of the Japan Trademark Law on the grounds that a sign consisting of a digit and an alphabet is commonly used in transactions to represent article number, model number or standards. If so, the applied mark shall not play a role in a specific source indicator.

Article 3(1)(v) prohibits any mark from registering if it solely consists of a very simple and common sign.

Trademark Examination Guidelines (TEG) sets forth 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 the distinctiveness of the “FS12” mark.

Formula One Licensing BV filed an appeal against the refusal and argued acquired distinctiveness of the “F1” mark on February 9, 2021.


JPO Appeal Board decision

The Appeal Board affirmed the examiner’s finding that the applied mark “F1” inherently lacks distinctiveness as a source indicator and shall not be registered under Article 3(1)(v).

In the meantime, the Board found the mark has acquired distinctiveness as a result of substantial use in relation to automobile races to indicate Formula One for more than seven decades. The Board could not find a single fact that the term “F1” has been used in relation to the services in question by any entity unrelated to the applicant. If so, the Board has a reasonable ground to believe that relevant consumers and traders would conceive the mark “F1” as a source indicator of Formula One and shall be exceptionally registered under Article 3(2).

Article 3(2)

Notwithstanding the preceding paragraph, a trademark that falls under any of items (iii) to (v) of the preceding paragraph may be registered if, as a result of the use of the trademark, consumers are able to recognize the goods or services as those pertaining to a business of a particular person.

Based on the above findings, the Board overturned the examiner’s rejection and granted protection of the wordmark “F1” in standard character for use on services relating to automobile races in class 41.

Is the Academy Award-winning film “La La Land” a famous trademark?

In an appeal decision, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) overturned the examiner’s rejection and decided to register the trademark “LA LA LAND” in class 25 by finding no likelihood of confusion with the Academy Award-winning film “La La Land.”

[Appeal case no. 2020-17242, Gazette issued date: October 29, 2021]

LA LA LAND

A Los Angeles based private equity firm, Tsunami Capital Group, Inc., filed a trademark application for the word “LA LA LAND” in standard character on various goods in class 25 including clothing, footwear, headwear, and sportswear with the JPO on July 1, 2019 [TM App no. 2019-91271].

The JPO examiner rejected the mark in contravention of Article 4(1)(xv) of the Japan Trademark Law by stating that the word “La La Land” has been widely recognized as a title of the Academy Award-winning film among relevant consumers and traders. If so, the consumers at the sight of the applied mark used on the designated goods in class 12 are likely to conceive it from an entity economically or systematically connected with the filmmaker.

The applicant filed an appeal against the refusal on December 16, 2020.


JPO Appeal Board decision

The Appeal Board questioned the famousness of the word “La La Land” as a source indicator.

Even if an original movie musical “La La Land” won 6 Academy Awards at the 89th Academy Awards after earning a record-tying 14 nominations and “La La Land” DVD has been released for sale, the Board had an opinion that it is doubtful whether the word “La La Land” has been widely recognized as a source indicator of goods or services from the filmmaker in view of insufficient use of the cited mark on the goods or services unrelated to the film.

Given the word “La La Land” has meanings of a euphoric, dreamlike mental state detached from the harsher realities of life and a nickname for Los Angeles, California, the cited mark would be considered less original.

Based on the foregoing, the Board had a reasonable ground to believe that relevant consumers would not confuse the source of the goods in question with the filmmaker or an entity economically or systematically connected with them and concluded the refusal shall be disaffirmed since the examiner erroneously found famousness of the film “La La Land” as a source indicator.

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.

Trademark Similarity: APLAY vs applay

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

APLAY

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

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

applay

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

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

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

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

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

  • visual similarity
  • aural similarity
  • conceptual similarity

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

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

Appeal Board decision

In the decision, the Appeal Board held that:

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

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

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

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