Rothschild Lost Trademark Opposition in Japan

In a recent trademark opposition, the Opposition Board of the Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an opposition filed by Baron Philippe de Rothschild S.A. (Rothschild) against trademark registration no. 6090508 for word mark “MOUTON” in relation to restaurant service due to unlikelihood of confusion with the fabled French winery “Château Mouton Rothschild”.
[Opposition case no. 2019-900012, Gazette issued date: September 7, 2019]

Opposed mark

Opposed mark, consisting of a word mark “MOUTON” in standard character, was filed in the name of Kabushiki Kaisha Waltz, a Japanese company deploying in business field of bars and restaurants.

The mark was filed to JPO on November 17, 2017. Going through substantive examination, JPO admitted registration in relation to “restaurant service” in class 43 and “wholesale and retail services for non-alcoholic beverages and foods” in class 35, and published for opposition on November 13, 2018.

Opposition by Rothschild

On January 15, 2019, Baron Philippe de Rothschild S.A. filed an opposition and argued opposed mark shall be revocable under Article 4(1)(vii) and 4(1)(xv) of the Japan Trademark Law by citing its wine brand “Château Mouton Rothschild”.

Article 4(1)(vii)

Article 4(1)(vii) prohibits any mark likely to offend public order and morals from registering.
Trademark Examination Guidelines set forth criteria for the article and examples.
Among others, “Trademarks whose registration is contrary to the order predetermined under the Trademark Act and is utterly unacceptable for lack of social reasonableness in the background to the filing of an application for trademark registration.”

Based on a remarkable degree of reputation and popularity to “Château Mouton Rothschild”, Rothschild asserted, applicant must have been aware of the wine brand and filed opposed mark with a malicious intention to take advantage of the reputation and credit of opponent’s famous trademark and impair the goodwill embodied on its brand.

Article 4(1)(xv)

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

Rothschild argued that opponent has used the mark “Château Mouton Rothschild”on wines from Pauillac in the Médoc region which became Premier Grand Cru in 1973, and thus part of a limited list since there are only 5 Premiers Grands Crus from the region. It is doubtless that “Château Mouton Rothschild” and its abbreviation “MOUTON” have acquired a remarkable degree of reputation and popularity as a source indicator of opponent wines. If so, relevant consumers and traders of restaurant service are likely to misconceive or associate opposed mark with famous wine brand of opponent.

Opposition decision

The Opposition Board admitted a certain degree of reputation and popularity to “Château Mouton Rothschild” as a source indicator of opponent among traders and wine lovers, however, questioned whether the wine brand has become famous among general consumers. Besides, from the produced evidences, the Board was not convinced that “MOUTON” has been known as an abbreviation of “Château Mouton Rothschild”.
In the assessment of the similarity between two marks, the Board found a low degree of similarity between opposed mark and “Château Mouton Rothschild” from visual, phonetic, and conceptual points of view. If so, even if wine and restaurant service are associated, it is unlikely that average consumers confuse or associate opposed mark with Rothschild.

Also, the Board found it was not foreseen a circumstance to offend public order and morals from registering opposed mark and give harmful effect to the international faith provided that “MOUTON” is a dictionary word meaning ‘processed sheepskin that has been sheared and dyed to resemble beaver or seal’.

Based on the foregoing, the Board concluded opposed mark shall not be revocable under Article 4(1)(vii) as well as (xv) and granted registration a status quo.

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