Volkswagen Unsuccessful in Trademark Opposition to Baidu’s “Car-pollo” mark

In a trademark opposition involving the Volkswagen Polo, the Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) decided that VW’s famous car model name “Polo” is dissimilar to, and unlikely to cause confusion with, the word mark “Car-pollo” even when used in relation to car navigation.
[Opposition Case no. 2019-900054, Gazette issued date: October 25, 2019]

Trademark opposition

German car giant Volkswagen AG filed an opposition against TM registration no. 615016 for word mark “Car-pollo” written in standard character (Opposed mark) sought for registration by Baidu Online Network Technology Beijing Company Limited, a Chinese language internet search company, on the grounds that Opposed mark shall be objectionable under Article 4(1)(xi) and 4(1)(xv) of the Japan Trademark Law based on senior trademark registrations for word mark “POLO”.

The opposed mark designates navigation apparatus (GPS) for vehicles [on-board computers]; car video recorders; batteries for vehicles; battery charging devices for motor vehicles; electric locks for vehicles and others in class 9, wheel barrows; airplanes; vessels; bicycles; electric bicycles in class 12, and automatic driving cars design in class 42.

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

Volkswagen argued opposed mark is a compound word consisting of “Car”, which would be unregistrable alone in relation to the designated goods and service, and “pollo” formed with hyphen. If so, the term “pollo” would constitute the dominant portion of opposed mark. Since the term is an unfamiliar Italian and Spanish word in Japan, relevant consumers would not conceive its meaning of ‘chicken’ at all. The term “pollo” gives rise to a same sound with “POLO” and resembles with “POLO” from appearance. Also, the designated goods in class 12 of both marks are identical or similar. Therefore, opposed mark shall be objectionable under Article 4(1)(xi).

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

Volkswagen argued “POLO” has acquired substantial popularity and reputation as a source indicator of VW’s famous car model name. Thus, it is highly likely that relevant traders and consumers confuse or misconceive the source of goods and services using opposed mark “Car-pollo” with opponent or a business entity systematically or economically connected with VW. If so, opposed mark shall be objectionable under Article 4(1)(xv).

Board decision

The Board admitted “POLO” has become remarkably famous for a car mode name of Volkswagen by taking into consideration of the facts that the Volkswagen Polo has been continuously imported to Japan since 1982 and ranked in the top 5 of new imported automobile registrations for the past decade.

In the meantime, the Board found “POLO” and “Car-pollo” are totally dissimilar from visual, sound and conceptual points of view. Regarding opponent’s allegation the Board stated the term “Car” isn’t a usual word to indicate ‘wheel barrows; airplanes; vessels; bicycles; electric bicycles’ of class 12. From the produced evidence, there does not exist any circumstance to admit the term “pollo” shall be conceived as a dominant portion of opposed mark in fact. If so, it looks rather appropriate to consider relevant consumers would grasp opposed mark in its entirety.

Given a lower degree of similarity between both marks and lack of originality for the term “POLO”, which means a game played on horseback between two teams, each of four players, the Board also negated a likelihood of confusion between “POLO” and “Car-pollo” even when opposed mark is used on car video recorders; batteries for vehicles; battery charging devices for motor vehicles; electric locks for vehicles, and car-related services.

Based on the foregoing, the Board dismissed opposition and allowed “Car-pollo” to survive.