Trademark Battle – PUMA vs KUMA

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) decided to invalidate trademark registration no. 5661816 for a stylized word “KUMA”, which means ‘bear’ in Japanese, due to similarity to, and a likelihood of confusion with a world-renowned sports brand, PUMA. [Invalidation case no. 2019-890021, Gazette issue date: January 31,2020]

KUMA mark

Disputed mark (see below),consisting of a stylized word “KUMA” with a partial island shape of Hokkaido, Japan’s most northerly main island, depicted on the inside of letter “U”, was filed on October 24, 2013 by a Japanese business entity having its principal place of business in Hokkaido over various goods in class 25 including sportswear and shoes.

It was found Applicant has used the KUMA mark on T-shirts and other goods with a bear silhouette facing left in the upper right of the mark.

The JPO admitted registration on April 4, 2014 and published for opposition on May 13, 2014.

PUMA’s Opposition / Invalidation Trial

On June 13, 2014, PUMA SE filed an opposition against the KUMA mark based on Article 4(1)(vii) and 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law. PUMA argued relevant consumers or traders are likely to confuse or misconceive a source of disputed mark with PUMA when used on designated goods in class 25 because of a high reputation and close resemblance between PUMA word logo and the KUMA mark.

The Opposition Board admitted a high degree of popularity and reputation of PUMA word logo, however, Board dismissed the opposition entirely due to unlikelihood of confusion because of a low degree of similarity between the marks (Opposition case no. 2014-900177).

Subsequently, PUMA SE entrusted the case to us. On April 3, 2019, just one day before the lapse of five-year Statute of limitations, MARKS IP LAW FIRM on behalf of PUMA SE requested for an invalidation trial and challenged invalidating the KUMA mark based on Article 4(1)(vii), (xi), (xv) and (xix) of the Japanese Trademark Law.

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

Article 4(1)(xi) is a provision to refrain from registering a junior mark which is deemed identical with, or similar to, any senior registered mark on identical or similar goods/service.

Article 4(1)(xv) prohibits to register a trademark which is likely to cause confusion with a business of other entity.

Article 4(1)(xix) prohibits to register a trademark which is identical with, or similar to, other entity’s famous mark, if such trademark is aimed for unfair purposes, e.g. gaining unfair profits, or causing damage to the entity.

Invalidation Decision

The Invalidation Board reversed the opposition decision and decided in favor of PUMA on all grounds by finding that:

  1. PUMA word logo has been continuously well-known in Japan for a source indicator of PUMA in connection with sports shoes, sportswear and others among relevant consumers and traders.
  2. A mere difference on initial letter of both marks and the Hokkaido island shape shall be insufficient to overturn an overall impression of the mark from visual and phonetic points of view. Conceptually, the KUMA mark, having a meaning of bears in Japanese, would give rise to a similar meaning with PUMA word logo, four-footed mammal. If so, by taking into consideration a high degree of reputation and popularity of PUMA word logo, both marks shall be deemed similar.
  3. Configuration of PUMA word logo looks unique, creative, and impressive in itself.
  4. Besides, given close association between designated goods in class 25 and PUMA’s business, relevant consumers of the goods in question with an ordinary care are likely to confuse its source with PUMA.
  5. It has good reasons to believe that the applicant of disputed mark did fraudulently apply the KUMA mark for registration with an aim to free-ride and dilute PUMA’s goodwill based on totality of the circumstances.
  6. If so, applicant must have filed disputed mark with a malicious intention to dilute or do harm to PUMA’s goodwill, which was impermissible to protect public order and morals

Based on the foregoing, the JPO decided to invalidate the KUMA mark based on Article 4(1)(vii), (xi), (xv) as well as 4(1)(xix) of the Japan Trademark Law.

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