JPO rejects “AIR NECKTIE” due to similarity to NIKE “AIR”

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an appeal filed by a Japanese individual who sought registration for use of the wordmark “AIR NECKTIE” on neckties in class 25 due to the similarity to NIKE “AIR.”
[Appeal case no. 2020-4106, Gazette issued date: February 26, 2021.]


The mark in question, consisting of two English words “AIR” and “NECKTIE”, and its transliteration in a Japanese katakana character (see below), was filed for use on ‘neckties’ in class 25 with the JPO on July 6, 2018 [TM Application no. 2018-88482].

TM App no. 2018-88482


The examiner raised her objection based on Article 4(1)(xi) of the Trademark Law by citing senior registration nos. 502137 and 4327964 for the mark “AIR” owned by NIKE Innovate C.V. (see below) which cover clothing, shoes, neckties, and other goods in class 25.

TM Reg no. 502137
TM Reg no. 4327964

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

Regardless of the arguments made on a written response to the office action by the applicant, the JPO examiner entirely rejected the “AIR NECKTIE” mark based on the ground.

On March 6, 2020, the applicant filed an appeal against the refusal with the JPO and disputed that the applied mark “AIR NECKTIE” is dissimilar to the cited mark “AIR.”

JPO decision

The JPO Appeal Board referred to the tests established by the Supreme Court ruling in 2008 to determine whether it is permissible to take out respective elements of the composite mark when assessing the similarity of two marks.

“Where a mark in dispute is recognized as a composite mark consisting of two elements or more, it is not permissible to assess the similarity of marks simply by means of taking out an element of the composite mark and then comparing such element with the other mark, unless consumers or traders are likely to perceive the element as a dominant portion indicating its source of origin of goods/service, or remaining elements truly lack inherent distinctiveness as a source indicator in view of sound and concept.”

Based on the tests, the Board found that it is permissible to take out a literal element “AIR” from the applied mark and compare it with the citations by stating the following grounds:

  1. The applied mark can be seen as a composite mark consisting of ‘AIR’ and ‘NECKTIE’ because of the space between two words.
  2. “NECKTIE” is unquestionably recognized as a generic term in connection with ‘neckties’ in class 25.
  3. Relevant consumers at the sight of neckties bearing the mark “AIR NECKTIE” would conceive the term “AIR” as a prominent source indicator.
  4. “AIR NECKTIE” does not give rise to any specific meaning in its entirety.
  5. The above facts suggest that “NECKTIE” lacks inherent distinctiveness in relation to the goods in question, and it would not play the role of source indicator of the applied mark in view of sound as well as concept.

Based on the foregoing, the Board affirmed the examiner’s rejection and decided that the applied mark “AIR NECKTIE” is similar to the cited marks as a whole given the remarkable similarity in sound and concept, even if the word “NECKTIE” differentiates two marks in appearance.

Katakana to prevent mispronunciation of brands

The unique writing system of the Japanese language consists of three different character sets: Kanji (several thousands of Chinese characters), and Hiragana and Katakana (two syllabaries of 46 characters each).

Specifically, Katakana gets used to writing foreign loanwords phonetically.

By virtue of Katakana, we get a clue to learn the proper pronunciation of unpronounceable alphabetical words. In this regard, Katakana is obviously of great help to avoid phonetic slip-ups and mispronouncing high-profile brand names in Japan.

For instance, when we come across the word “YVES SAINT LAURENT” for the first time, we most likely call it “i-bes-sein-to-lo-ren-to”.
Likewise, we are likely to call “Uber” as “yu-be:ru”, “Google” as “go:gu-lu”, “NIKE” as “ni-ke”, “Levis” as “le-vi-su”, “XLARGE” as “eks-la:ji”, “Michelin” as “mi-sye-lin”, “XXIO” as “eks-esk-ai-ou”.

In other words, less attention to Katakana in promoting alphabetical brand names is likely to result in mispronunciation among the relevant public in Japan as you can see from the above instances.

What’s worse, it may give rise to a tragedy that trademark registration for the alphabetical name is insufficient to force an unauthorized entity to cease its use of a mark consisting of Katakana to represent the correct pronunciation of the name due to dissimilarity of the marks.

Provided that trademark registration is solely composed of alphabetical words, the pronunciation of the mark is construed based on the most natural, logical way to pronounce it.

In this regard, it was a bit surprised that the Supreme Court judged a wordmark written in Katakana to be read as “reeru-dyu-tan” is phonetically identical with a registered mark “L’Air du Temps” in Case 1998 (Gyo-Hi) 85. Undoubtedly the judgment was based on the facts that “L’Air du Temps” had become well-known as a brand of perfume and the registered mark had been advertised accompanying a Katanaka “reeru-dyu-tan” as well.

When we come across the word “L’Air du Temps” for the first time, little thought is given to call it “reeru-dyu-tan”. The most natural way to pronounce it is “lu-ea:-dyu-ten-po-su” indeed. Thus, the Supreme Court judgment should not be considered to negate the necessity of Katakana in avoiding mispronounced marks.

It is advisable to use and register a Katakana character representing the correct pronunciation of the brand name as well as the alphabetical letters, especially where the letters are unpronounceable to the Japanese and thus natural pronunciation is not what a brand owner expects the Japanese to call it.

NIKE uses and registers its corporate name in both respectively.

NIKE unsuccessful in registering JUST DO IT on cosmetics

In a recent decision, the Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an appeal filed by NIKE Innovate C.V., who attempted to register a word mark “JUST DO IT” in standard character on cosmetics and other goods classified in class 3 by means of “defensive mark” under Article 64 of the Japan Trademark Law.
[Appeal case No. 2015-23031, Gazette issued date: February 23, 2018]



According to Article 64, famous brand owner is entitled to register its brand as “defensive mark” with respect to dissimilar goods/services that are not designated under the basic registration, where the owner shall demonstrate that the mark has acquired remarkable prestige in relation to the goods/services on which the mark has been substantially used, and thus there will be likely to occur confusion with the owner if an identical or similar mark is used on dissimilar or remotely associated goods/services with basic registration.



NIKE Innovate C.V. owns trademark registration no. 4206837 for the word mark “JUST DO IT” on apparels, shoes and sportswear and other goods in class 25 since 1998.

NIKE sought to register the mark as defensive mark on cosmetics (class 3) on October 22, 2014 (Trademark application no. 2014-88774). Examiner refused the application by stating that it is unclear whether the mark has been used in connection with applicant’s goods of class 25. If so, the mark can be recognized merely as a commercial slogan to represent sports event. Consequently, examiner considers the mark has not become well-known mark as a source indicator of applicant.

To contest the refusal, NIKE filed an appeal on December 15, 2015.



The Appeal Board likewise questioned whether “JUST DO IT” has been used as a source indicator of apparel, shoes, or sportswear.

Board admitted a certain degree of popularity and reputation on the term “JUST DO IT” as a corporate message from NIKE, however, upheld the refusal by stating that the produced advertisement and evidences regarding “JUST DO IT” are insufficient and vague to connect the term with goods designated under basic registration.


Apparently, the Board underestimated “JUST DO IT” on the grounds that NIKE failed to advertise the term in a manner closely connected with specific goods.