“OLYMPIAD vs OLYMBEER” trademark battle

The Japan IP High Court reversed a decision of the JPO that canceled the OLYMBEER mark due to its similarity to “OLYMPIAD” in contravention of Article 4(1)(vi) of the Trademark Law.

[Court case no. Reiwa4(Gyo-ke)10067, Judgment date: December 26, 2022]


SJP & Co., a Japanese company, filed a trademark application for the wordmark “OLYMBEER” with its transliteration written in Japanese Katakana character (see below) for use on beers, refreshing beverages, fruit juices, vegetable juices, extracts of hops for making beer, whey beverage in class 32 with the JPO on October 28, 2019, ahead of the opening of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games.

The JPO examiner did not raise any objection to the OLYMBEER mark and granted protection on November 16, 2020 (TM Reg no. 6323630). Subsequently, the mark was published for opposition on December 22, 2020.

Opposition by IOC

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) filed an opposition against the OLYMBEER mark on February 22, 2021, before the lapse of a two-month statutory period counting from the publication date and claimed the OLYMBEER mark shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(vii), (xi) and (xv) of the Japan Trademark Law by citing “OLYMPIC” and “OLYMPIAN” mark.

In the course of trial proceedings, the JPO notified at their discretion that the opposed mark shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(vi) due to a similarity to “OLYMPIAD” which has become famous to represent the modern Olympic Games.

Article 4(1)(vi)  

The article is a provision to prohibit registration of any mark that is identical with, or similar to, a famous mark indicating the State, a local government, an agency thereof, a non-profit organization undertaking a business for the public interest, or a non-profit business for the public interest.

The Trademark Examination Guidelines (TEG) specify “IOC”, and “Olympic” shall be protectable under the article.

Consequently, the JPO decided to cancel the opposed mark based on Article 4(1)(vi) irrespective of no reference to the article by the IOC.

SJP & Co. brought the case to the IP High Court and argued that “OLYMPIAD” would not be such a famous mark as opposed to “Olympic” and the opposed mark is dissimilar to “OLYMPIAD” in its entirety from appearance, sound, and meaning.

IP High Court ruling

The IP High Court questioned if “OLYMPIAD” has become famous among relevant consumers and traders in relation to the goods in question from the produced evidence. If so, it is inadequate to assess the similarity of marks on the assumption that “OLYMPIAD” has acquired a substantial reputation.

The judge said in the decision a mere coincidence of “OLYM” is insufficient to find the similarity between “OLYMBEER” and “OLYMPIAD”. The judge stated that there is no reason to believe both marks are visually, phonetically, and conceptually similar when compared as a whole.

Based on the foregoing, the court found the JPO erred in applying Article 4(1)(vi) of the Trademark Law by wrongly finding the similarity of mark between “OLYMBEER” and “OLYMPIAD”, and thus the court ruled to reverse the JPO decision.

Olympic Lose Trademark Race with Olimple

In a trademark opposition disputing the similarity and the likelihood of confusion between “Olympic” and “Olimple”, the JPO did not side with the IOC (International Olympic Committee).

[Opposition case no. 2021-900173]


The opposed mark, consisting of the term “Olimple” written in the alphabet and the Japanese katakana character (see below), was applied with the Japan Patent Office (JPO) on January 28, 2020, for use on facial skin care gel, cosmetics, soaps, and other goods in class 3 by Olimple Co., Ltd.

The JPO granted protection on February 2, 2021, and published for opposition on March 9, 2021.

The applicant promotes medicated skin care gel for men bearing the Olimple mark.

Image credit: olimple.jp

Opposition by IOC

Opponent, IOC claimed the opposed mark shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(vi), (vii), (xi) and (xv) of the Japan Trademark Law by citing earlier International Registration no. 1128501 for wordmark “OLYMPIC” covering various goods and services in class 3 and other classes.

IOC argued a close resemblance between “OLYMPIC” and “Olimple” by stating:

  1. Both marks share four of the seven letters. Besides, the two letters at the end of the word, “le” and “IC” looks similar.
  2. The third letters “I” and “Y” of both marks are pronounced as “li” accompanied by the second letter “L”.
  3. Being that consumers are accustomed to several terms with a prefix of “OLYMP”, e.g., “OLYMPISM”, “OLYMPIAN” in connection with “OLYMPIC”, they will see the literal element “Olimp” as a dominant portion of the opposed mark.
  4. If so, relevant consumers are likely to confuse the opposed mark with “OLYMPIC” when used on goods in question.

JPO decision

The JPO did not question the famousness of the OLYMPIC mark as a source indicator of the IOC. However, the Opposition Board negated the similarity between “Olimple” and “OLYMPIC” on the following grounds.

  1. The term “Olimple” shall be deemed as a coined word because it is not a word that appeared in a language dictionary and does not give rise to any specific meaning in relation to the goods in question.
  2. There is a remarkable difference in the presence or absence of Japanese katakana characters. In addition to the difference between upper- and lower-case letters after the second letter, there are distinctions in the third letter “i” and “Y”, the sixth letter “l” and “I”, and the letters “e” and “C” at the end. In the configuration of the relatively short seven-letter alphabet, both marks are sufficiently distinguishable by appearance.
  3. Phonetically, both marks are unlikely to cause confusion as a whole because of a clear difference in the fourth and fifth sounds.
  4. It is obvious that both marks are dissimilar in concept.

The Board did not find a reason to believe relevant consumers would misconceive the source of the opposed mark merely because of close attention to the literal portion of “OLYMP” and “Olimp”, and its similarity.

Based on the foregoing, the JPO dismissed the entire allegations and decided on July 13, 2022, that the opposed mark shall remain valid as the status quo.

Trademark battle: OLYMPIC vs Ocalympic

In a TM invalidation appeal filed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) who disputed TM registration no. 5608031 for the mark “Ocalympic” covering services of organization of musical performances played by ocarinas and others in class 41 shall be invalid due to conflict with “OLYMPIC”, an international sports festival organized by IOC, the Appeal Board of JPO  decided in favor of IOC and declared invalidation of the “Ocalympic” mark based on Article 4(1)(vi) of the Trademark Law.
[Case no. 2016-890064,  Decisively  fixed date: September 4, 2017]

Article 4(1)(vi)

Trademark shall not be registered if the trademark is identical with, or similar to, a famous mark indicating the State, a local government, an agency thereof, a non-profit organization undertaking a business for public interest, or a non-profit enterprise undertaking a business for public interest.

Famous mark to represent public business by NPO

The Board admitted the OLYMPIC marks has acquired substantial degree of popularity and reputation worldwide as a source indicator of the Olympic Games organized by NPO for public interest at the time of application for invalidated mark based on the facts that IOC is an international NPO established on June 23, 1894, an organizer of the Olympic Games, has been using the marks to represent the Games which correspond to an undertaking for public interest.

Assessment of similarity between marks

Since literal configuration of the Invalidated mark, having an initial letter “O” and spellings of “LYMPIC(lympic)” in the latter part, is identical with a coined mark “OLYMPIC”, the mark gives rise to an impression closely associated with “OLYMPIC” from appearance.

A mere verbal difference on second sound “ca” shall not be material as a whole in view of common pronunciation in initial sound “O” and “LYMPIC” in the latter part. Besides, when pronouncing each mark at a breath, relevant audience shall find resemblance in tone and a sense of language. Thus, both marks are deemed similar in phonetical point of view.

Regarding conceptual point of view, even if the Invalidated mark is admittedly a coined term, it still gives rise to a meaning of the Olympic Games.

Therefore, considering every circumstance, both marks are deemed similar.

Provided that Invalidated mark combines “ocarinas” with “Olympic”, I feel above assessment inappropriate. Toward the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, it is anticipated that such sort of mark may appear. Be on high alert for famous mark “OLYMPIC”!