APPLE Unsuccessful in Trademark Opposition to “MACLOGIC”

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an opposition filed by the U.S. tech giant, Apple Inc. against trademark registration no. 6370191 for a word mark “MACLOGIC” due to dissimilarity to and less popularity of the “Mac” mark among general consumers as a source indicator of Apple’s personal computers.

[Opposition case no. 2021-900239, Gazette issued date: June 24, 2022]

MACLOGIC

The opposed mark, consisting of the word “Maclogic” in standard character, was filed in the name of MACLOGIC Co., Ltd., a Japanese company providing EC consulting services and SNS marketing.

The mark was filed with the JPO on December 24, 2020, and admitted registration on March 9, 2021, over computer programs in class 9 and computer software design, computer programming, or maintenance of computer software, providing computer programs on data networks in class 42.


Opposition by Apple Inc.

On June 21, 2021, Apple Inc. filed an opposition to “Maclogic” and contended that the opposed mark shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(x) and (xv) of the Japan Trademark Law.

Article 4(1)(xi) is a provision to refrain from registering a junior mark that is identical with, or similar to, any senior mark that has acquired a certain degree of recognition among relevant consumers.

Article 4(1)(xv) provides that a mark shall not be registered where it is likely to cause confusion with other business entities’ well-known goods or services, to the benefit of brand owners and users.

Apple Inc. argued that the mark “Mac” has been famous as a source indicator of the opponent in relation to personal computers and their operating system. Being that relevant consumers consider the opposed mark as a composite mark composed of “Mac” and logic”, the term “Mac” per se shall be a prominent portion of the opposed mark.

If so, it is likely that relevant consumers confuse or misconceive the source of the opposed goods with Apple or any business entity systematically or economically connected with the opponent due to the high popularity of Apple’s “Mac” computers and the close resemblance between “Maclogic” and “Mac”.


Board decision

The Opposition Board found the “Mac” mark has acquired a certain degree of recognition among relevant consumers and trades in relation to personal computers and its operating system. However, to my surprise, the Board questioned if the mark has acquired a similar degree of popularity among general consumers.

Given the opponent mark has not been famous among general consumers, the Board found the opposed mark “Maclogic” in its entirety is dissimilar to the opponent mark “Mac” from visual, phonetical, and conceptual points of view.

Taking into consideration a low degree of similarity between the marks and popularity of Apple’s “Mac” mark, the Board had no reason to believe that consumers would mistakenly assume the opposed goods originate from the same source as or are associated with, the opponent when used on goods in question.

Based on the foregoing, the Board decided Apple’s opposition was groundless and dismissed the entire allegations.

Trademark Opposition: Samurai vs Samouraï

In a trademark opposition disputing the similarity between “Samurai” and “Samouraï”, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed the opposition filed by Parfums Samouraï SA against TM Reg no. 6384904 for a stylized word “Samurai” due to dissimilar to “Samouraï”.

[Opposition case no. 2021-900283, Gazette issued date: April 28, 2022]

TM Reg no. 6384904 “Samurai”

The opposed mark, consisting of a stylized word n “Samurai” (see below), was applied with the JPO on September 29, 2020, for use on cosmetics, soaps, perfumes, fragrances, and other goods in class 3 by a Japanese business entity, Yugen Kaisha Life Products.

The JPO granted protection on February 12, 2021, and published for opposition on May 25, 2021.

Apparently, the applicant promotes soaps in the name of “SAMURAI SOAP” via the internet.


Opposition by Parfums Samouraï SA

Opponent, Parfums Samouraï SA, alleged the opposed mark shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(x) and (xi) of the Japan Trademark Law by citing earlier trademark registrations for the wordmark “Samouraï” in classes 3.

The opponent argued that they have been promoting perfumes and fragrances, hair wax, and softener bearing the “Samouraï” mark since 1997, and thus the opponent mark has acquired a certain degree of reputation in the industry of perfumes. Besides, the opposed mark has the same sound and meaning as the opponent mark, namely, a member of a powerful class of fighters in Japan’. If so, both marks shall be deemed similar even though there is a difference in appearance.


JPO decision

To my surprise, the JPO Opposition Board found that it is doubtful if the opposed mark consists of the term “Samurai” from appearance. The initial letter is true “S”. But subsequent letters are illegible. If so, the opposed mark would not give rise to any specific sound and meaning.

Given the opposed mark does not have a sound and meaning relating to “Samurai”, the Board can’t find a reasonable ground to believe a certain degree of similarity between the opposed mark and the opponent mark.

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

Dropbox Unsuccessful in Trademark Opposition over Open Box Logo

On April 7, 2022, the Opposition Board of the Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed a trademark opposition filed by Dropbox, Incorporated against TM Reg no. 6385226 for an open box device mark due to dissimilar to the Dropbox logo.

[Opposition case no. 2021-900281]

TM Reg no. 6385226

The opposed mark, consisting of an open box device mark depicted in a white circle and green outline (see below), was applied with the JPO on April 8, 2020, for use on computer application software; downloadable computer programs; downloadable image files via internet in class 9 and computer software design; computer programming; providing computer programs on data networks; rental of SNS server memory space in class 42 by Jiraffe Inc.

The JPO granted protection on April 6, 2021, and published for opposition on May 25, 2021.


Opposition by Dropbox

Opponent, Dropbox, Incorporated alleged the opposed mark shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(x), (xi), and (xix) of the Japan Trademark Law by citing earlier trademark registrations for the Dropbox “open box” device in classes 9, 38, and 42.

Dropbox argued, that the basic overall configuration of the open box looks almost identical to the opponent mark. Because of it, both marks give rise to the same sound and concept. Besides, the opponent mark has acquired a certain degree of popularity and reputation as a source indicator of Dropbox. If so, relevant consumers would confuse the source of goods and services bearing the opposed mark with Dropbox due to a high degree of similarity of the marks.


JPO decision

At the outset, the JPO Opposition Board did not admit a substantial degree of reputation and popularity of the opponent mark by stating that sufficient evidence was not produced by the opponent for the Board to convince such reputation.

The Board found both the opposed mark and opponent mark would not give rise to any specific sound and meaning from the overall configuration regardless of finding that the respective box device looks like an “open box”.

In assessing the similarity of the marks, the Board did not directly compare the resemblance between open boxes. Instead, by means of overall comparison, the Board considered both marks are visually distinguishable due to the difference in color and a white circle and green outline. Being that there is no clue to find similarities in sound and concept, the Board has no reason to believe both marks are likely to cause confusion from visual, phonetic, and conceptual points of view.

Based on the foregoing, the JPO found the entire allegations of Dropbox groundless and dismissed the opposition accordingly.

Trademark Parody case: Champion Defeated by Nyanpion

On March 16, 2022, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an opposition filed by HBI Branded Apparel Enterprises, LLC against TM Reg no. 6368388 for the mark “Nyanpion” with a device due to dissimilarity to and the unlikelihood of confusion with the famous apparel brand “Champion.”

[Opposition case no. 2021-900230]

Opposed mark

A Japanese individual applied a composite mark consisting of a stylized word “Nyanpion” and a cat device (see below) for use on apparel, headgear, footwear, sports shoes, and sportswear in class 25 with the JPO on August 25, 2020.

The JPO examiner granted protection of the opposed mark on January 29, 2021, and published for opposition on April 13, 2021.

T-shirts, sweats, hoodies, and tote bags bearing the Nyanpion mark have been promoted for sale with a catchword of “Champion” parody.

I should note that “Nyan” is the sound cats make in Japan. Because of it, “Nyanpion” easily reminds us of a combination of cat sounds and “Champion”.


Opposition by Champion

To oppose registration within a statutory period of two months counting from the publication date, HBI Branded Apparel Enterprises, LLC filed an opposition against the opposed mark on June 14, 2021.

HBI argued the opposed mark shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(vii), (x), (xi), (xv), and (xix) of the Japan Trademark Law because of the remarkable reputation and popularity of the Champion brand in relation to apparels and a high degree of similarity between the opposed mark and its owned trademark registrations (see below) to the extent that relevant consumers are likely to confuse a source of the goods in question bearing the opposed mark with “Champion”.


JPO Decision

The JPO Opposition Board admitted that the “Champion” mark has acquired a high degree of reputation as a result of substantial use in Japan for more than four decades and become famous as a source indicator of the opponent.

In the meantime, the Board negated the similarity between the marks by stating that:

From the appearance, the difference in the prefix of literal elements, “Nyanpion” and “Champion” would suffice for relevant consumers to distinguish them. The figurative element of the opposed mark represents a cat’s face. The opponent device mark gives rise to an impression of a letter “C”. If so, both marks are sufficiently distinguishable in appearance.

Phonetically, “Nyanpion” is easily distinguishable from “Champion” because of the difference in the first sound given both marks just consist of five sounds respectively.

Conceptually, the opposed mark does not give rise to any specific meaning. Meanwhile, the opponent mark has a meaning of someone or something, especially a person or animal, that has beaten all other competitors in competition and ‘famous apparel brand.’ If so, both marks are dissimilar in concept.

By virtue of a low degree of similarity, the Board found relevant consumers are unlikely to confuse or associate the source of the goods bearing the “Nyanpion” mark with “Champion” and any entity systematically or economically connected 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.

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.

Failed trademark opposition by Disney over a 3-circle silhouette

In a recent decision, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an opposition filed by Disney Enterprises, Inc. against TM Reg no. 6303837 for a composite mark containing a three-round device due to a low degree of similarity to famous Mickey’s 3-circle silhouette.

[Opposition case no. 2021-900006, Gazette issued date: September 24, 2021]

Opposed mark

Aoki shofuan Co., Ltd., a Japanese confectionery maker, applied a composite mark consisting of words “TSUKIGESHO”, “FACTORY”, its Japanese language and a three-round device (see below) for use on retail or wholesales service in relation to confectionery, processed foods and beverage (tea, coffee, cocoa) in class 35 with the JPO on October 21, 2019.

The JPO examiner granted protection of the opposed mark on September 23, 2020, and published for opposition on November 4, 2020.


Opposition by Disney

To oppose against registration within a statutory period of two months counting from the publication date, Disney Enterprises, Inc. filed an opposition against the opposed mark on January 4, 2021.

Disney argued the opposed mark shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(x), (xi), (xv), and (xix) of the Trademark Law because of the remarkable reputation and popularity of Mickey’s 3-circle silhouette (see below) as a source indicator of Disney and a high degree of similarity between the opposed mark and the opponent’s famous mark.


JPO decision

The JPO Opposition Board did not question the famousness of Mickey’s 30-circle silhouette as a source indicator of Disney and their business since most consumers would conceive a world-famous iconic character “Mickey Mouse” at the sight of the silhouette.

In the meantime, the Board negated similarity between the marks by stating that:

  1. From appearance, both marks are easily distinguishable because the opposed mark contains distinctive literal elements “TSUKIGESHO” and its Japanese language written in a conspicuous manner, and the figurative element (three round silhouette) is depicted upside down.
  2. Phonetically, both marks are quite dissimilar because the opponent mark does not give rise to a pronunciation contrary to the opposed mark.
  3. Conceptually, although the opposed mark does not give rise to any specific meaning, both marks are dissimilar given the opponent mark is well-known for an indication of Mickey Mouse.
  4. In view of different configuration of the figurative element by depicting three circles upside down, relevant consumers are unlikely to associate the three-round device of the opposed mark with Mickey Mouse. If so, the figurative element would not be considered as a prominent portion to play a source indicator of the opposed mark.

Based on the foregoing, the JPO found both marks are too dissimilar to cause a likelihood of confusion. If so, the Board can’t find reasonable grounds to believe the opposed mark shall be canceled under Article 4(1)(x), (xi), (xv), and (xix) and decided to dismiss the opposition.

Huda Kattan failed to take back trademark HUDABEAUTY

In a trademark opposition against TM Reg no. 6204338 for the stylized “HUDABEAUTY” mark in class 3, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed the opposition claimed by Huda Kattan due to insufficient famousness of trademark “HUDA BEAUTY” as a source indicator of a beauty mogul “Huda Kattan”.

[Opposition case no. 2020-900049, Gazette issued date: September 24, 2021]

Opposed mark

A Chinese company filed the stylized “HUDABEAUTY” mark (see below) on cosmetics; lotions; facial creams; lips; hand-cleaners; eye-shadows; whitening creams and other goods in class 3 with the JPO on November 22, 2018.

The JPO granted protection of the opposed mark on November 26, 2019, and published for opposition on January 7, 2020. [TM Reg. 6204338]


Opposition by Huda Kattan

On January 10, 2020, three days after the publishment of the opposed mark, Huda Kattan applied the same mark for use on cosmetics, perfumes, and fragrances in class 3 with the JPO and filed an opposition against TM Reg no. 6204338 on February 21, 2020.

The opponent argued the opposed mark shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(vii), (x), (xv) and (xix) of the Trademark Law because the opposed mark is completely identical with the stylized “HUDABEAUTY” mark that has acquired a substantial reputation and popularity as a source indicator of cosmetics line launched by famous beauty blogger “Huda Kattan” among relevant consumers at the filing date of the opposed mark.

In bolstering the famousness of the opponent mark, the opponent alleged the founder, Kattan, achieved popularity on Instagram, attaining more than 47 million followers as of 2020. Huda is ranked #1 on the “2017 Influencer Instagram Rich List” and was declared one of the “ten most powerful influencers in the world of beauty” and “The Richest Self-Made Women and one of the Top Three Beauty Influencers ” by Forbes magazine. She was chosen as one of “The 25 Most Influential People on the Internet” by Time magazine in 2017.

Internet search does not reveal any goods of the opposed party. Meanwhile, the opponent’s “HUDABEAUTY” cosmetics are available at Amazon Japan and other online platforms for domestic consumers.


JPO decision

Astonishingly, the JPO Opposition Board did not admit the famousness of the “HUDABEAUTY” mark as a source indicator of Huda Kattan by stating that:

  1. It is unclear if the merchants promoting “HUDABEAUTY” cosmetics at Amazon Japan and other online platforms are licensed distributor.
  2. Produced invoices to demonstrate the actual sale of opponent’s goods to Japanese consumers are irrelevant because these are issued on a date after the registration of the opposed mark.
  3. Even though the opponent and Huda Kattan make good use of SNS and have a very high number of followers and been awarded as a beauty influencer, the Board can’t find reasonable grounds to believe from these facts the opponent mark has acquired a certain degree of reputation and popularity among relevant consumers in Japan.
  4. The opponent did not produce any evidence to demonstrate sales amount, publication, and advertisement in Japan.

Since it is one of the requisites in applying Article 4(1)(vii), (x), (xv), and (xix) to have a certain degree of reputation and popularity among relevant consumers before the filing date of the opposed mark, regardless of the close duplication, the Board decided to dismiss the opposition entirely and allowed registration of the opposed mark as it is.


This case teaches us how significant to be a “first-filer” in registering and protecting trademarks in Japan.

Famous mark Protection under Trademark Law

Japan is a rigid “first-to-file” jurisdiction, meaning that it is necessary to register a trademark in order to obtain proprietary rights over it in principle. Prior use of the trademark is insufficient to be protected under the Trademark Law. The only meaningful exception to this rule is the treatment of so-called famous trademarks even if they have not been filed yet. But it should note owners of famous trademarks can’t file an infringement lawsuit based on the trademark right without registration in Japan. The Trademark Law provides special provisions to protect the famous trademarks. However, the statute never refers to the “famous” mark. It only refers to “recognized” marks, “widely recognized” marks, and “highly recognized” marks.


Relative grounds for refusal, opposition, invalidation

Like other jurisdictions, the Japan Trademark Law prohibits registration of junior marks which are the same as or similar to senior marks that are effectively registered in Japan under Article 4(1)(xi). In order to provide broader protection of famous trademarks, the Law stipulates extra grounds for refusal, opposition, and invalidation on Article 4(1)(x), (xv), (xix).

Article 4(1)(x)

Trademarks that are the same as or similar to trademarks that are widely recognized by consumers as marks indicating the goods or services of another and are used on the same goods or services or similar to those of the other party may not be registered.

Article 4(1)(xv)

Trademarks that are likely to cause confusion in connection with the goods or services related to another’s business may not be registered.

Article 4(1)(xix)

Trademarks which are the same as or similar to trademarks that are widely recognized among consumers either in Japan or in foreign countries as identifying the goods or services related to another’s business and are used for illicit purposes such as trading off the goodwill of another or causing damage to another may not be registered.

These articles spotlight that the Japan Trademark Law considers (1) “similarity” as a most critical issue to determine the scope of protection to famous trademark and (2) “likelihood of confusion” as other legal concepts different from “similarity”.


Defensive mark

A famous trademark may be registered as a defensive mark to cover other identified goods or services than those listed in the original registration under Article 64. These additional goods or services need to be dissimilar to the original goods or services and the registrant needs to prove (1) that the mark is “widely recognized by consumers” and (2) that confusion is likely if the mark is used on these additional goods or services by a third party.

Noteworthy is that defensive mark registration would not be vulnerable to non-use cancellation. Besides, the registrant is entitled to take action against a third party for trademark infringement even if the mark was used on the goods or services that are remotely associated with his business.


Prior use rights

As stated above, a mere prior use is insufficient to be protected under the Trademark Law. Prior user is entitled to defense for trademark infringement only where the mark is “widely recognized by consumers” as identifying the goods or services of the prior user at the filing date of initial trademark application by the registrant under Article 32.


Enforcement/Infringement

Unauthorized use of the mark that is the same as or similar to the registered mark constitutes trademark infringement under Articles 25 and 37(i).

As a matter of law, the Trademark Law does not provide broader protection of famous trademarks in enforcement. No specific provision is given to prohibit famous trademark dilution and parody. There is a considerable gray zone in the Trademark Law when it comes to the unauthorized use of “non-similar” marks that are likely to cause confusion with famous trademarks.

Failed Opposition by Longines over Winged Hourglass logo mark

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed a trademark opposition claimed by Swiss luxury watchmaker, Longines Watch Co., Francillon Ltd., against Japanese trademark registration no. 6165986 by finding dissimilarity to Longine winged hourglass logo.
[Opposition case no. 2019-900301, Gazette issued date: August 27, 2021]


Opposed mark

Opposed mark, consisting of a winged device (see below right), was filed by a Chinese undertaking on July 11, 2018, for use on jewelry, clocks, watches, chronometers, and other goods in class 14.

The JPO admitted registration of the opposed mark on July 26, 2019, and published for post-grant opposition on August 20, 2019.


Opposition by Longines

To oppose against registration within a statutory period of two months counting from the publication date, Compagnie des Montres Longines, Francillon S.A. filed an opposition on October 18, 2019.

In the opposition brief, Longines asserted the opposed mark shall be retroactively canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(vii), (x), (xi), and (xix) of Japan Trademark Law due to a resemblance to Longine’s famed winged hourglass logo (see above left).

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

Article 4(1)(x) prohibits registering a trademark that is identical with, or similar to, other entity’s well-known mark over goods or services closely related to the entity’s business.

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

Article 4(1)(xix) prohibits registering a mark that is identical with, or similar to, another entity’s famous mark, with an aim to gain unfair profits, or cause damage to the entity, even if goods or services sought for registration are unrelated to the entity’s business.


JPO decision

The JPO Opposition Board did admit a certain degree of the reputation of wordmark “LONGINES” from the produced evidence. In the meantime, the Board questioned if the winged hourglass logo per se has acquired a similar degree of reputation as a source indicator of the opponent’s watches by stating that the logo has been always used in conjunction with or adjacent to the LONGINES mark.

Besides, the Board considered both marks dissimilar as a whole from visual, phonetic, and conceptual points of view. The cited mark consists of an hourglass and straight wings. The opposed mark consists of geometrical figures conceived as a human body and spread wing. Taking account of distinctions in appearance, the Board has reasonable ground to believe that relevant consumers would be unlikely to confuse a source of the opposed mark with Longines when used on the goods in question.

Due to a low degree of similarity and popularity, the Board did not find a reasonable doubt that the opposed mark was sought for registration with an aim to obtain unfair profits from Longines and disorder public interest and morality from the totality of the circumstances.

Based on the foregoing, the Board decided to dismiss the opposition entirely and found opposed mark shall not be canceled under Article 4(1)(vii), (x), (xi), and (xix).

JPO found likelihood of confusion between SONY and SONICODE

The Japan Patent Office sided with Sony Corporation and declared invalidation of TM Registration no. 5764615 for wordmark “SONICODE” due to a likelihood of confusion with “SONY”.

[Invalidation case no. 2020-890039, Gazette issued date: July 30, 2021]

SONICODE

Field System Inc., a mobile application developer, applied wordmark “SONICODE” in standard character for registration on various goods including telecommunication apparatus, electronic machines, consumer video game programs, and its related services in class 9, 38, and 41 with the JPO on December 12, 2014 (TM App no. 2014-105218).

The mark did not face any refusal during the substantive examination and it was registered on date May 15, 2015.

Apparently, the mark has been used on mobile applications for smartphones.


SONY

SONY CORPORATION, a major Japanese manufacturer of consumer electronics products, filed an opposition against the SONICODE mark on August 5, 2015, before the lapse of a two-month statutory period for the opposition, in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi), (xv), and (xix) of the Japan Trademark Law. However, the JPO Opposition Board found both marks dissimilar and no likelihood of confusion between the marks SONY and SONICODE and dismissed SONY’s allegations entirely. [Opposition case no. 2015-900260]

On May 12, 2020, just three days before the lapse of the five-year statute of limitations, SONY CORPORATION files a petition for invalidation and alleged that the contested mark shall be invalidated based on Article 4(1)(x), (xi), (xv).

SONY argued that relevant consumers would conceive SONY at the sight of the contested mark SONICODE because of a high reputation of SONY and less distinctiveness of the term “CODE” in relation to the goods and services in question.

To bolster the arguments, SONY demonstrated how AI speakers, e.g., Amazon Alexa, Google Assist, Microsoft Cortana, Apple Siri, reacted to hear “SONICODE”. Allegedly, the AI speakers recognized it as ‘SONY code’ or ‘SONY cord’ and displayed information relating to SONY.

Field System Inc. did neither answer to the petition nor dispute at all during the invalidation procedure.


JPO decision

The JPO Invalidation Board did not question a remarkable degree of reputation, popularity, and originality of “SONY” as a source indicator of the opponent’s business and its products (telecommunication apparatus, electronic machines, consumer video game programs).

Besides, the Board found the prefix “SONI” of the contested mark gives rise to a similar appearance and pronunciation with “SONY”. Relevant consumers are likely to consider that the contested mark consists of “SONI” and “CODE”. If so, even if both marks are deemed dissimilar in their entirety, the Board has good reason to believe “SONICODE” has a certain degree of similarity to “SONY”.

In view of a close association between the goods and services in question and the opponent business, the Board concluded the contested mark shall be retroactively invalidated in contravention of Article 4(1)(xv). In the meantime, because of the dissimilarity of the marks, the Board dismissed allegations based on Article 4(1)(x) and (xi).