Trademark battle: FORTNITE vs FORTNIGHT

In an invalidation trial against TM Reg no. 6389929 for word mark “FORTNIGHT” in classes 9, 16, 28, 35, 41 and 43, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) did not rule in favor of Epic Games, Inc. due to an unlikelihood of confusion with “FORTNITE”.
[Invalidation case no. 2023-890068, decided on May 9, 2024]


FORTNIGHT

A Japanese company sought registration of word mark “FORTNIGHT” in standard character for use on various goods and services in classes 9, 16, 28, 35, 41 and 43 (including games) with the JPO on June 4, 2018 (TM App no. 2028-79647).

The JPO examiner rejected the mark due to a likelihood of confusion with famous game software and distribution platform “FORTNITE” managed by Epic Games, Inc.

However, the JPO Appeal Board disaffirmed the rejection by stating that there is no reason to find “FORTNITE” has been widely recognized among relevant consumers to indicate Epic business and the applicant deleted games from designation. If so, it is unlikely that relevant consumers would not confuse the source of goods and service bearing “FORTNIGHT” with Epic’s “FORTNITE”.

The mark “FORTNIGHT” was registered on June 8, 2021.


Invalidation action by Epic Games, Inc.

Epic Games, Inc. is an American video game development and distribution company, widely known for the success of “Fortnite”, a free multiplayer online video game first released in 2017, and its game marketplace. On August 10, 2021, Epic filed a post-grant opposition against TM Reg no. 6389929 “FORTNIGHT” on August 10, 2021, but the opposition was unsuccessful (Opposition case no. 2021-900304).

On August 22, 2023, Epic filed an invalidation action and claimed that the mark “FORTNIGHT” should be invalidated in contravention of Article 4(1)(xv) and (xix) of the Japan Trademark Law.

Epic repeatedly argued “FORTNIGHT” has a high degree of similarity to “FORTNITE” from visual, phonetical and conceptual points of view. Taking account of famous online game “FORTNITE” among game users and close relation between online games and the goods and services in question, relevant consumers are likely to confuse “FORTNIGHT” with “FORTNITE”.

Given that the initial filing designated the game in question, it is presumed that the company had knowledge of the well-known online game software “FORTNITE” and aimed to benefit from its reputation.


JPO decision

The JPO Invalidation Board found that “FORTNITE” has been widely recognized to indicate video games of Epic among consumers and traders in video game industry. However, given that the launch of the video games in Japan precedes the application date of the mark “FORTNIGHT” by three months, such recognition would be limited to the industry.

With regard to the similarity of the marks, the Board stated, “Although “FORTNIGHT” and “FORTNITE” share the same sound, they are distinguishable in appearance, and the concepts are not comparable. In assessing the overall impression, the Board has a reason to find a low degree of similarity between the marks.”

In light of the aforementioned findings, the Board determined that relevant consumers are unlikely to confuse the source of the goods and services in question bearing the mark “FORTNIGHT” with “FORTNITE.”

Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that the applicant had any malicious intention of free-riding on or damaging Epic’s online video games “FORTNITE.”

Consequently, the Board dismissed the invalidation action and declared the validity of TM Reg. No. 6389929.

Trademark Dispute: Chateau Mouton Rothschild vs MOUTON

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) declared invalidation of TM Reg no. 6090508 for wordmark “MOUTON” in classes 35 and 43 due to a likelihood of confusion with famous mark “Mouton” as a source indicator of Chateau Mouton Rothschild, one of the most famous wine estates in the world.
[Invalidation case no. 2022-890079, decided on January 22, 2024]



TM Reg no. 6090508 “MOUTON”

WALTZ Co., Ltd. filed a trademark application for wordmark “MOUTON” in relation to retail or wholesale services of various foods and drinks (not including wine) of class 35 and restaurant services of class 43 with the JPO on November 17, 2017. The applicant operates a bar and restaurant named “MOUTON” in Shinjuku, Tokyo.

A screen capture from https://www.pub-mouton.com/

The mark was granted protection on September 5, 2018, published for a post-grant opposition on November 13, 2018.


Unsuccessful Opposition

Baron Philippe de Rothschild S.A. filed an opposition against TM Reg no. 6090508 “MOUTON” on January 15, 2019 and claimed cancellation of the mark in contravention of Article 4(1)(vii) and (xv) of the Trademark Law. However, the JPO Opposition Board decided to dismiss the opposition on September 6, 2019 (Opposition case no. 2019-900012).

Subsequently, to challenge the validity of the trademark registration for the MOUTON mark, Baron Philippe de Rothschild S.A. filed an invalidation with the JPO on October 7, 2022, a month before the five-year statute of limitations from the registration date was set to lapse. The claimant argued the disputed mark is identical with a well-known abbreviation of the world-famous wine “Chateau Mouton Rothschild”. Besides, in view of close association between wine and the services in question, relevant consumers and traders would confuse a source of the services bearing the mark “MOUTON” with the claimant. If so, the disputed mark shall be invalidated in contravention of Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law.

WALTZ did not respond to the arguments during the invalidation trial procedure.


JPO Invalidation decision

On January 22, 2024, the JPO Trial Board decided to annul TM Reg no. 6090508 “MOUTON” in relation to all of the retail or wholesale services designated in class 35 and restaurant services in class 43 by stating that:

From the facts revealed by the produced evidence, the Board has a reason to believe that the term “Mouton” has acquired a substantial degree of reputation and popularity among relevant consumers and traders to indicate the world-famous wine and its abbreviation.

Undoubtedly, the disputed mark “MOUTON” shall be similar to the mark “Chateau Mouton Rothschild” from phonetical and conceptual points of view even if there is a distinction in appearance between the marks.

There is a close association between wine and retail or wholesale services of various foods and drinks as well as restaurant services.

If so, relevant consumers are likely to confuse a source of the services bearing the disputed mark with the claimant or other business entity systematically or economically connected with them.

Based on the foregoing, the Trial Board found the disputed mark shall be invalidated in contravention of Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law.

Chrysler Wins Japan Trademark Invalidation Trial over “Jeeper”

In a recent invalidation decision by the Japan Patent Office (JPO), Chrysler could finally achieve victory in a trademark dispute against “Jeeper”, regardless of their failed opposition in 2022.

[Invalidation case no. 2022-890064, decided on July 5, 2023]

Disputed mark

The wordmark “Jeeper” was filed by a Japanese individual for use on various hand tools in class 8 with the JPO on January 27, 2020 (TM App no. 2020-8907).

Since the JPO admitted registration of the mark on November 17, 2020, and published it for a post-grant opposition on December 8, 2020, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA US) LLC filed an opposition on Jan 26, 2021.

In the opposition, FCA argued the mark shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) and (xv) of the Trademark Law due to the remarkable reputation and popularity of “JEEP” as a source indicator of Chrysler vehicles and a high degree of similarity between the mark “Jeeper” and Chrysler “JEEP.”

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

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.

However, on April 6, 2022, the JPO Opposition Board dismissed the opposition by questioning the famousness of the “JEEP” mark among relevant consumers of hand tools and finding a low degree of similarity between the two marks (Opposition case no. 2021-900035).


Invalidation action by FCA US LLC

To contest the Opposition Board decision, FCA US LLC filed an invalidation action with the JPO on July 28, 2022, and repeatedly argued the mark “Jeeper” shall be invalid due to its similarity to and the likelihood of confusion with “JEEP” when used on the hand tools in class 8.

The applicant did neither file an answer nor respond to the invalidation claims at all.


JPO Decision

The JPO Trial Board admitted a high degree of reputation and recognition of the claimant’s trademark “JEEP” in connection with small 4WD cars. Besides, based on the facts that the JEEP mark has been used on T-shirts, backpacks, bags, mugs, lunch boxes, carabiners, key chains, spray bottles, containers, and cooler boxes, the Board found the JEEP mark has even become famous among consumers of goods other than automobiles.

Based on the above findings, the Board held that, by taking account of the famousness of the JEEP mark as a source indicator of the claimant’s small 4WD cars, the literal portion of “Jeep” shall play a prominent role in indicating the source of the disputed mark. If so, the disputed mark gives rise to the sound of “Jeep” and the meaning of “the claimant’s famous small 4WD cars” accordingly.

Bearing this in mind, the Board compared the prominent portion “Jeep” of the disputed mark with the claimant’s mark “JEEP” and found a close resemblance of both marks as a whole.

In assessing the likelihood of confusion, the Board held small 4WD cars are remotely associated with hand tools in class 8, however, the Board paid attention to the fact that camp items bearing the JEEP mark e.g., backpacks, mugs, carabiners, cooler boxes, etc., are closely associated with the goods in question.

Based on the foregoing, the Board found relevant consumers are likely to confuse a source of the goods in question bearing the disputed mark with the claimant and decided to invalidate the disputed mark based on Article 4(1)(xi) and (xv).

HYATT lost a trademark dispute in Japan: GRAND CLUB vs GRAN CLUB

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) did not side with HYATT and dismissed an invalidation petition against TM Reg no. 6186629 for the wordmark “GRAN CLUB” by finding dissimilarity to HYATT’s earlier mark “GRAND CLUB”.

[Invalidation case no. 2022-890018, Decision date: December 14, 2022]

GRAN CLUB

The disputed mark, consisting of the word mark “GRAN CLUB” in standard character was filed by Memolead Wellness Co., Ltd., a Japanese company for use in restaurants, hotels and temporary accommodations, retirement homes, beauty salons, and other services in class 43 and 44 on September 13, 2018, with the JPO. The JPO examiner granted protection on September 10, 2019.

Apparently, the applicant uses the mark on their facility to provide a sports club, fitness gym, spa, beauty salon, sauna, café, and social club in Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture (Japan).


GRAND CLUB

Hyatt International Corporation has effectively owned earlier TM Reg no. 4604602 for the wordmark “GRAND CLUB” in standard character on hotels, restaurants, beauty salons, and other services in Japan.

Hyatt filed an invalidation petition against “GRAN CLUB” with the JPO on March 18, 2022, and argued the disputed mark shall be invalidated in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) of the Trademark Law due to a close resemblance between “GRAND CLUB” and “GRAND CLUB” to be used on identical or similar services.


JPO Decision

The JPO Invalidation Board found the disputed mark “GRAN CLUB” does not give rise to any specific meaning as well as the cited mark “GRAND CLUB”.

From the appearance, the Board found both marks are distinguishable by virtue of the presence or absence of the letter “D” in the middle of the marks.

Besides, the Board had a view that it is unlikely relevant consumers audibly confuse “ɡræn-klʌb” with “ɡrænd-klʌb” in view of short phonetic compositions of six or seven sounds.

Hyatt argued “GRAND CLUB” can be called “ɡræn-klʌb” among Japanese consumers based on a lot of hotels and facilities with a mark containing the term “GRAN” that is ordinary called “ɡræn”. However, the Board held the examples are neither direct nor relevant to find “GRAND CLUB” is pronounced as  “ɡræn-klʌb” by relevant consumers.

Given both marks are incomparable to the concept, the Board has a reason to believe both marks give rise to a different impression in the mind of consumers from visual, phonetical, and conceptual points of view.

Based on the foregoing, the Board concluded “GRAN CLUB” and “GRAND CLUB” are dissimilar and declared the validity of the disputed mark.

Trademark dispute: “Swan Angel” vs “ANGEL SWAN”

In a recent decision, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) declared invalidation of TM Reg no. 5947687 for the word mark “Swan Angel” in class 41 due to a similarity to “ANGEL SWAN”.

[Invalidation case no. 2022-890031, Decision date: December 1, 2022]

Swan Angel

Disputed mark, consisting of the wordmark “Swan Angel” in standard character, was filed for use on various services including ballet school in class 41 with the JPO by a Japanese individual on October 5, 2016, and registered on May 19, 2017 (TM Reg no. 5947687).


Invalidation petition

On May 10, 2022, just before the lapse of a five-year statute of limitations, an owner of earlier TM Reg no. 5509646 for wordmark “ANGEL SWAN” in standard character filed a petition for invalidation against the disputed mark.

The owner argued disputed mark shall be invalidated in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) of the Japan Trademark Law by stating “Swan Angel” is confusingly similar to “ANGEL SWAN” and ballet school and other services pertinent to ballet is deemed similar to the service in class 41 designated under the earlier mark since it also relates to ballet.


JPO decision

In an assessment of the similarity of marks, the JPO Invalidation Board stated:

Both the disputed mark and the cited mark consist of the two English words, “Swan” and “Angel”, commonly known among general consumers in Japan and it is reasonable to assume that relevant traders and consumers at the sight of both marks will see the words being placed in reverse order.

Even if there is a difference in the order of two words between the marks, the Board has no reason to believe the difference gives rise to any distinct meaning as a whole.

If so, relevant traders and consumers are likely to recognize the respective marks as a combination of “swan” and “angel” in sound and concept irrespective of the reversed order.

In this respect, both marks look similar in appearance because of the same words, font, and alphabet.

Based on the foregoing, the Board found the disputed mark “Swan Angel” is confusingly similar to the cited mark “ANGEL SWAN” from visual, phonetical, and conceptual points of view.

Taking account of another factor that respective services pertinent to ballet are deemed identical or similar as well, the Board concluded the disputed mark shall be retroactively invalidated in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi).

BOND GIRL Score Win in Trademark Dispute

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) declared invalidation of TM Reg no. 6267785 for “BOND GIRL” with a “BG” device mark in contravention of Article 4(1)(vii) of the Trademark Law.

[Invalidation case no. 2022-890013, decided on November 18, 2022]

Disputed mark

A disputed mark, consisting of the stylized word “BOND GIRL” and “BG” logo (see below), was filed with JPO for use on scissors, swords, hand tools, spoons, and forks in class 8 by a Japanese business entity on September 4, 2019, and registered on July 9, 2020.

Apparently, the applicant has used the disputed mark on multi-tools. Click here.


Invalidation petition by Danjaq, LLC

On March 1, 2022, Danjaq, LLC, the holding company responsible for the copyright and trademarks to the characters, elements, and other material related to James Bond on screen, filed a petition for invalidation and argued disputed mark shall be invalid in contravention of Article 4(1)(vii) of the Japan Trademark Law by citing world-famous cinematic heroine “BOND GIRL” in the James Bond film series “007”.

Article 4(1)(vii)

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

In the petition, Danjaq argued “BOND GIRL” has appeared as a love interest of James Bond in the movies for over 55 years since 1962. Due to frequent appearances in magazines, other public media, and various events pertinent to the Japes Bond movie, the name and sign of “BOND GIRL” has been well-known as a cinematic heroine in association with the film series “007”.

If so, it is presumed that the applicant intentionally applied the disputed mark with the aim to monopolize the term. Since the applicant does not have any legal interest with Danjaq, a legitimate owner of trademarks and copyrights pertaining to the 007 movies, it must impermissibly cause not only damage to public order but the disorder in domestic and foreign trade.


JPO decision

The Invalidation Board found, from the produced evidence, the cinematic heroine “Bond girl” has regularly attracted audiences through screens, magazines, and promotional events of the James Bond “007” movie. The sign “BONG GIRL” had further extensive marketing and licensing to companies in vastly different product categories, not only with products associated with motion pictures, e.g. nails, cosmetics, dolls, cards, calendars, and others. Relevant consumers at the sight of the disputed mark would conceive nothing but the cinematic heroine in the film. The Board, therefore, considered that “BOND GIRL” has become worldly famous as a cinematic heroine that appeared in the “007” film series.

The Board continued in analyzing efforts made by Danjaq to enhance the commercial value of “BOND GIRL” by means of trademark registrations in various jurisdictions and licensing to different product categories.

The Board paid attention that the applicant has referred to the James Bond films and the cinematic heroin “Bond girl” in advertisements to promote the BG multi-tools.

Based on the foregoing, the Board found it is impermissible for the applicant, unrelated to Danjaq, to monopolize the term on goods in question and decided to retroactively invalidate the disputed mark in contravention of Article 4(1)(vii) for the purpose of preventing damage to public order.

A trademark dispute over ZOO

In a recent administrative decision, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) found TM Reg no. 6246792 shall not be invalidated in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) of the Japan Trademark Law because of dissimilarity to earlier TM Reg no. 6139339 for mark “ZOO”.

[Invalidation case no. 2021-890029, decision date: November 1, 2022]

TM Reg no. 6246792

The disputed mark consists of literal elements, “SERIES” and “70th Anniversary Premium Brand”, and figurative element that looks like “ZOO” or “700” (see below).

The mark was filed for use on flour and other foods in class 30 in the name of ODAZO SEIFUN Co., Ltd. on March 15, 2019.

According to the applicant’s website, the company uses the mark on a series of high-quality wheat flour and clearly calls it “ZOO”.

The JPO granted registration of the mark on April 20, 2020.


TM Reg no. 6139339

The opponent has owned earlier TM Reg no. 6139339 for the mark “ZOO” in three colors (see below) in classes 29, 30, and 41 since April 19, 2019.

On June 28, 2021, the opponent filed an invalidation action and argued that the disputed mark shall be invalidation due to its close resemblance to the earlier trademark “ZOO” in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) of the Japan Trademark Law.

Article 4(1)(xi) is a provision to prohibit the registration of a junior mark that is identical with, or similar to, any senior registered mark.

The opponent alleged that the disputed mark obviously gives rise to the same pronunciation and sound as the earlier mark from its configuration. If so, both marks shall be considered confusingly similar when used on goods in class 30.


JPO decision

Astonishingly, the JPO Invalidation Board found both marks are dissimilar from visual, phonetical, and conceptual points of view by stating;

In assessing the similarity between the disputed mark and the cited mark, both marks are clearly distinguishable from overall appearance, as there is a clear difference between the three tiers/one tier, literal elements and color, even if some components are colored in red.

In addition, the figurative element of the disputed mark is recognizable as a geometric figure. Meanwhile, the cited mark consists of the word “ZOO”. Therefore, the disputed mark does not give rise to a sound of “ZOO”, but “Series Seventies Anniversary Premium Brand,” “Series,” and “Seventies Anniversary Premium Brand”. It is obvious that both marks are unlikely to cause confusion in sound.

Assuming that the figurative elements of the disputed mark does not give rise to any specific meaning, there is no reason to find similarity in concept between the disputed mark and the cited mark in its entirety.

Therefore, the disputed mark is considered dissimilar to the cited mark in terms of the impressions, memories, associations that they give to traders and consumers through appearance, sound and concept.

Based on the foregoing, the Board held the disputed mark shall not be invalidated under Article 4(1)(xi) of the Japan Trademark Law even if the goods in question are identical or similar to the designated goods of the cited mark, and dismissed the entire allegations.

Trademark Opposition or Invalidation, Which Is Useful in Japan?

Opposition

A trademark opposition is a proceeding in which a third party can oppose a newly registered trademark under Article 43bis of the Japan Trademark Law. For example, once a trademark is newly registered by JPO, this fact is published in the Official Gazette of Trade Marks immediately after it is actually registered. This kicks off a two (2) month period known as the ‘opposition period’ during which other parties are then given an opportunity to ‘oppose’ the registration of the trademark.


Invalidation

Trademark invalidation is an inter-partes proceeding in which a party has a legal interest in the result that can null a trademark registration under Article 46 of the Japan Trademark Law. If the registration is less than five years old, the party challenging the trademark rights can rely on any ground that could have prevented registration initially.


Comparison

Conflict with earlier registration (similarity of mark and goods/service), a likelihood of confusion with famous mark, and descriptiveness are the most common grounds asserted both in opposition and invalidation action.

 Trademark OppositionTrademark Invalidation
Statute of limitations2 months from the publication date5 years from the registration date
Official feeJPY11,000 for 1 class
JPY19,000 for 2 classes
JPY55,000 for 1 class
JPY95,000 for 2 classes
StandingLegal interest is not requiredLegal interest is required
CounterargumentNo obligation to counterargue unless the JPO notifies a cancellation ground to a registrant.Mandatory for a registrant to counterargue, otherwise it may adversely affect.
Pendency period7.9 months11.5 months
Appeal to decisionOnly the registrant can file an appeal against an unfavorable decisionEither party can file an appeal against the JPO decision

Which action to take?

From a cost-saving point of view, opposition undoubtedly looks more attractive than invalidation, however, when you look at the success rate of opposition (see below table), it may change your mind. There has been a big gap in the success rate between opposition and invalidation for years.

YearThe success rate of the OppositionThe success rate of Invalidation
201513%32%
201616%42%
201711%33%
201811%34%
201911%56%
202011%35%

Therefore, in terms of probability theory, invalidation action is by far preferable to opposition for the purpose of removing trademark registration in Japan.

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).