Failed trademark opposition by HERMES against HAIRMES

On December 1, 2021, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an opposition filed by Hermes International against TM Reg no. 6275593 for the wordmark “HAIRMES” due to dissimilarity to and the unlikelihood of confusion with the famous fashion brand “HERMES”.
[Opposition case no. 2020-900266]

Opposed mark

Dog Diggin Designs, LLC applied a wordmark “HAIRMES” in standard character for use on beds for household pets; pillows for pets; pet cushions in class 20, and toys for pets in class 28 with the JPO on October 16, 2019.

The JPO examiner granted protection of the opposed mark on July 28, 2020, and published for opposition on August 18, 2020.

Apparently, Dog Diggin Designs promotes parody dog toys & dog beds, and other pet supplies.

Opposition by Hermes

To oppose against registration within a statutory period of two months counting from the publication date, Hermes International filed an opposition against the opposed mark on October 15, 2020.

Hermes 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 the HERMES brand in the fashion industry and a high degree of similarity between “HAIRMES” and “HERMES” likely to cause confusion among relevant consumers in Japan.

JPO decision

The JPO Opposition Board admitted “HERMES” has been widely recognized as a luxury fashion brand and source indicator of Hermes International.

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

From the appearance, the difference of “AI” and “E” in the middle of a respective word would suffice for relevant consumers to distinguish them.
Phonetically, “HERMES” is easily distinguishable from “HAIRMES” because of the difference in the first and second given both marks just consist of four sounds respectively.
Conceptually, the opposed mark does not give rise to any specific meaning. Meanwhile, “HERMES” has a meaning of a Greek god of commerce, eloquence, invention, travel, and theft who serves as herald and messenger of the other gods and ‘luxury fashion brand.’ If so, both marks give rise to a different impression in the mind of relevant consumers.

Based on a low degree of similarity between the marks, the Board denied a likelihood of confusion as well.

As to Hermes’ allegation that Dog Diggin Designs must have an unjustified intention to free-ride the reputation of HERMES by promoting pet supplies with a similar package design and color to Hermes, the Board found irrelevant to the case since the opposed mark does not contain such figurative element. Ironically, the opposed mark “HAIRMES” rather serves to prevent confusion even if used on similar package design and color, the Board held.

Based on the foregoing, the JPO dismissed the entire allegations and decided the opposed mark shall remain valid as the status quo.

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.

Hermès beat Birkin Bag Imitator for Trademark Infringement

On December 17, 2020, the Japan IP High Court upheld awards for JPY2,900,000 for damages suffered by Hermès in relation to a trademark infringement and passing-off case regarding the Birkin Bag imitations.
[Court case no. Reiwa2(Ne)10040]

Hermès Birkin Bag

HERMES INTERNATIONAL, a French luxury fashion house, has owned Japanese trademark registration no. 5438059 for the 3D shape of the “Birkin” bag in connection with handbags of class 25 since 2011 by successfully demonstrating acquired secondary meaning as a specific source indicator of Hermès’ luxury bags.

The iconic Birkin bag was firstly created for Jane Birkin in 1984. It is known for its superior craftsmanship and jaw-dropping price tag, with standard models starting around JPY1,000,000. Its annual sales figures exceed 3,000 in 1998, 8,000 in 2003, and 17,000 in 2009.

Birkin Bag Imitations

Hermes sued Kabushiki Kaisha Tia Maria at the Tokyo District Court for violating its trademark right and the unfair competition prevention law by allegedly promoting 100 or more Birkin look-alike bags (see below) in Japan with a price tag of JPY27,300 from August 2010 to February 2018.

Court decision

On June 3, 2020, the Tokyo District Court decided in favor of HERMES INTERNATIONAL and awarded damages for trademark infringement and passing-off in the amount of JPY2,900,000.
[court case no. Heisei31(wa)9997]

In the decision, the Tokyo District Court found that Hermès Birkin Bag has acquired distinctiveness and become remarkably famous as a source indicator of Hermès’ luxury bags by 2009.

Besides, the court held that defendant’s goods constitutes an infringement of the 3D shape of the “Birkin” bag trademark since both are confusingly similar in view of the following aspects:
(a) a distinctive three-lobed flap design with keyhole-shaped notches to fit around the base of the handle, (b) a dimpled triangular profile, (c) a closure which consists of two thin, horizontal straps designed to fit over the flap, with metal plates at their end that fit over a circular turn lock, (d) a padlock which fits through the center eye of the turn lock and (e), typically, a key fob affixed to a leather strap, one end of which is affixed to the bag by wrapping around the base of one end of the handle.

Screen capture of TIA MARIA’s website (

The court measured damages to recover (i) defendant’s actual sales of infringing bags (JPY2,730,780) by subtracting appropriate variable cost (40% of the offered price) for JPY1,638,468, (ii) “mental suffering” caused by an infringement for JPY1,000,000, and (iii) reasonable attorney fee for JPY260,000.

The district court decision was challenged by the defendant before the High Court to set aside or vary it, however, the IP High Court dismissed the appeal entirely and sided with HERMES INTERNATIONAL.

To read a full text of the IP High Court decision (Japanese only), click here.

Less than 1.5% Success Rate for Getting Color Mark Registration in Japan

Japan opened the gate to Non-Traditional trademark, namely, color, sound, position, motion, hologram, in April 2015. It seems true that, beyond expectation, JPO has a significantly high hurdle to clear.

543 applications for color marks were filed with the Japan Patent Office (JPO) as of now (Nov 15, 2020). Among them, only 8 color marks are allowed for registration.

1. Tombow Pencil “MONO” (stationery)
2. Seven-Eleven (convenience store)
3. Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group (financial service)
4. Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group (financial service)
5. Mitsubishi Pencil “UNI” (pencil)
6. Mitsubishi Pencil “HI-UNI” (pencil)
7. Family Mart (convenience store)
8. UCC Ueshima Coffee (canned coffee)

All the registered color marks consist of more than two colors. JPO has yet to register a single case of color per se.

Most single-color marks are rejected due to a lack of distinctiveness and failure to demonstrate acquired distinctiveness. Surprisingly, 492 applications (90.6%) are already rejected or voluntarily withdrawn by the applicant.

Red Bull was unsuccessful in registering a combination of dark blue and silver on energy drinks in class 32.

Hermes also failed to register a three-color combination over various goods in class 14, 18, and 25.

43 applications are in review with the JPO as of now. Remarkably, Christian Louboutin fights for the appeal against the refusal of its iconic red-sole.

HERMES scores victory in trademark battle over KELLY

In a trademark opposition at the Japan Patent Office (JPO), French luxury brand HERMES achieved victory to stop the registration of a word mark “D. KELLY” over bags and pouches in class 18.
[Opposition case no. 2018-900177, Gazette issue date: March 27, 2020]

Opposed mark

Opposed mark, “D.KELLY” was applied for registration on August 25, 2017 by designating bags and pouches in class 18, and published for registration on May 22, 2018 without any office action from the JPO examiner.

Applicant, a Japanese individual, apparently operates brick-and -mortar shops in Japan and on-line shop to promote hand bags, shoulder bags, tote bags, rucksacks/backpacks and other fashion items.
“D.KELLY” is used on the bags and as its shop name.

Hermes Kelly Bag

Opponent, HERMES INTERNATIONAL, a French luxury fashion house, claimed that the opposed mark “D.KELLY” shall be liable for cancellation under Article 4(1)(xi) and (xv) of the Japan Trademark Law by citing the Hermes Kelly Bag and an owned senior trademark registration no. 4341534 for word mark “KELLY” in standard character over bags, pouches and other goods in class 18.

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.

Hermes argued opposed mark is perceived as a combination of “D.” and “KELLLY”. The prefix “D.” per se lacks distinctiveness in relation to the goods in question. The mark as a whole does not give rise to any specific meaning at all. As a consequence, the literal portion of “KELLY” shall play a dominant role as a source indicator. If so, opposed mark is deemed confusingly similar to “KELLY” owned by Hermes. Besides, both marks designate same goods in class 18.

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 consumers.

Given a remarkable degree of reputation of Hermes “Kelly” Bag in relation to bags, relevant consumers with an ordinary care would associate “D.KELLY” with Hermes and confuse its source when used on bags and pouches because “KELLY” is not a common surname in Japan and thus the term is more distinctive than “D.”.

JPO decision

The Opposition Board of JPO sided with Hermes and decided to cancel opposed mark by stating that:

  1. From the produced evidences, Hermes has continuously used the cited mark on bag since 1956, inspired by an icon, Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco. The bag has been advertised or publicized in fashion magazines and internet frequently. Annual sales consecutively reach in the range of JPY 1.6 to 4.6 billion, which amounts 2,000 to 4,000 bags in quantity, for the past fifteen years. The Board admits a high degree of reputation and popularity of opponent mark “KELLY” as a source indicator of Hermes bag.
  2. The Board considers opposed mark is a compound mark of “D” and “KELLY” placing dot(.) in-between. Since an alphabetical letter “D” lacks distinctiveness, relevant consumers would conceive the portion of “KELLY” as a dominant source indicator. If so, opposed mark may give rise to a meaning of Hermes brand bag, identical pronunciation and appearance with opponent’s mark. It is unquestionable that goods in question belongs to that of the citation.
  3. Provided that Hermes “Kelly Bag” has been rather known for in a name of “Kelly Bag” than “Kelly”, the Board finds a high degree of similarity between the marks in relation to bags. If so, it is undeniable that relevant consumers and traders are likely to confuse opposed mark with Hermes “Kelly Bag” or misconceive a source from any entity systematically or economically connected with Hermes International.
  4. Based on the foregoing, opposed mark shall be liable for cancellation based on Article 4(1)(xi) and (xv).