Trademark Dispute over “RED HOT”

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed trademark opposition against wordmark “REDHOT” written in Katakana character opposed by The French’s Food Company LLC who owns senior trademark “REDHOT” and “FRANK’S REDHOT” in class 30.

[Opposition case no. 2020-900289, Gazette issued date: June 25, 2021]

Opposed mark “REDHOT”

Opposed mark, consisting of the word “REDHOT” written in Japanese Katakana character (see below), was filed by Kentucky Fried Chicken Japan (KFC) for use on fried chicken, meat, processed meat products, and other goods in class 29 and hamburgers, hot dog sandwiches, bread rolls, and other goods except for seasonings and spices in class 30 with the JPO on November 6, 2018 (TM Application no. 2018-142676).

KFC Japan has begun selling the “Red Hot Chicken”, red and white pepper with a touch of habanero, giving it a crisp, spicy flavor and the taste of domestic chicken in limited quantities since 2004.


FRANK’S REDHOT

The French’s Food Company LLC, an owner of the #1 brand of hot sauce “Frank’s RedHot” in America, filed an opposition on November 2, 2020.

Opponent argued that the opposed mark shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) and (xv) because of similarity to senior TM Reg nos. 4723565 and 5523112 for wordmark “REDHOT” on seasonings and spices in class 30 (Citation 1), and a likelihood of confusion with TM Reg no. 5523111 for wordmark “FRANK’S REDHOT” (Citation 2) which has become famous as a source indicator in connection with hot sauce as a result of substantial and continuous use since 1920.


JPO decision

The Opposition Board of JPO found that Article 4(1)(xi) shall not be applicable to the opposed mark.

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

Since the designated goods, seasonings and spices, of the opposed mark are deemed dissimilar to any other goods belonging to class 30. In so far as respective goods in question are dissimilar, the opposed mark shall not be subject to the article even though the mark is identical with Citation 1.

The Board questioned whether the mark “FRANK’S REDHOT” has acquired a certain degree of reputation and popularity among relevant consumers in Japan by taking account of the produced evidence. The mere fact that the opponent’s hot sauces get to be a popular choice at specific dining restaurants is insufficient to support the famousness of Citation 2 in Japan.

Besides, relevant consumers would be easily able to distinguish the opposed mark with “FRANK’S REDHOT” by means of the distinctive term “FRANK’S” of Citation 2.

Given the low degree of similarity and unproven famousness as a source indicator of the opponent, the Board concluded it is unlikely that relevant consumers would confuse the source of goods bearing the opposed mark with the opponent or Citation 2 from the totality of circumstances, and thus dismissed the opposition entirely.

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.]

AIR NECKTIE

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

AIR

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.

SMART vs SMART TYRE

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an opposition against trademark registration no. 6227071 for work mark “SMART TYRE” over a tire and other goods in class 12 claimed by Daimler AG who argued the mark is confusingly similar to senior registrations for the “SMART” mark in the same class owned by smart Automobile Co., Ltd.
[Opposition case no. 2020-900136, Gazette issued date: December 25, 2020]

“SMART TYRE”

The opposed mark, composing of wordmark “SMART TYRE” written in standard character, was sought for registration by Sumitomo Rubber Industries, Ltd., famous for “DUNLOP” tire brand, by designating various tires, automobiles, motorcycles, bicycles, and its structural parts and accessories in class 12 on August 21, 2018.  
[TM Application no. 2018-105830]

The mark was registered and published for opposition on March 10, 2020.

Opposition by Daimler AG

On May 11, 2020, just before the lapse of a two-months opposition period, Daimler AG filed an opposition before the JPO and claimed that the opposed mark shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) and (xvi) of the Japan Trademark Law by citing senior trademark registrations for the “SMART” mark (see below) in class 12, which the opponent allegedly has used on the micro compact cars since 1998.

Daimler AG argued the opposed mark is a composite mark consisting of “SMART” and “TYRE”. The term “TYRE” undoubtedly lacks distinctiveness in relation to the goods of ‘tires’. If so, the dominant portion of the opposed mark shall be the term “SMART” which is identical to the cited marks. Besides, the ‘tires’ is considered as a structural part of automobiles and thus deemed similar to automobiles designated under the citations.

Therefore, the opposed mark shall be canceled based on Article 4(1)(xi).

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.

Board decision

Surprisingly, the Opposition Board of the JPO found the opposed mark “SMART TYRE” shall be considered in its entirety irrespective of the fact that the term “TYRE” means ‘tire’. In addition, the Board held the opposed mark does not give rise to any specific meaning at all, and it is deemed a coined word.

Based on this finding, the Board assessed the similarity of marks as follows.

From appearance, both marks are sufficiently distinguishable since the opposed mark contains the term “TYRE” unlike the citations.

Phonetically, the opposed mark consists of seven sounds. In the meantime, the citations have four sounds. Due to the difference, relevant consumers are unlikely to confuse both marks.

The citations truly give rise to adjective meanings of ‘clever, bright, intelligent’. Meanwhile, the opposed mark has no meaning.

Therefore, the opposed mark “SMART TYRE” is dissimilar to the citations from visual, phonetical, and conceptual points of view even if the goods in question is deemed similar to the citations.

By stating that the term “TYRE” is inseparably and tightly incorporated into the opposed mark to the extent that relevant consumers would not conceive it as a descriptive indication in relation to the goods of class 12, the Board concluded the opposed mark shall not cause misapprehension of quality even when used on goods in question other than tires.

Based on the foregoing, the Board decided the opposed mark shall not be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) and (xvi) of the Trademark Law and allowed “SMART TYRE” to survive.


The JPO’s finding does not look reasonable to me. It is clear that “TYRE” indicates ‘tire’. I suppose the Board rather should have mentioned the term “SMART” nowadays becomes generic when used in combination with the descriptive word(s) on the goods in question.

LEPUS vs. LEPS

In an appeal decision, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) overturned the examiner’s rejection and decided to register trademark “LEPS” by finding dissimilarity to senior registration for mark “LEPUS” even if both marks designate similar goods in class 12.
[Appeal case no. 2019-6626, Gazette issued date: March 27, 2020]

LEPS

Applicant, GS Yuasa Corporation, filed a trademark application for term “LEPS” in standard character over solar batteries, power distribution or control machines, and apparatus, rotary converters, phase modifiers of class 12 on December 18, 2017 (TM application no. 2017-165431).

JPO examiner rejected the applied mark in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) of the Trademark Law by citing senior trademark registration no. 3194818 for mark “LEPUS”

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

LEPUS

Cited mark “LEPUS” (see below), owned by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation, has been registered since September 1996 over automobiles and their parts and fittings, two-wheeled motor vehicles, bicycles, and their parts and fittings, AC motors or DC motors for land vehicles in class 12.

On April 25, 2019, GS Yuasa filed an appeal against the rejection and argued dissimilarity of the marks.

Appeal Board decision

In the decision, the Appeal Board held that:

From appearance, even if both marks start with “LEP” and end with “S”, with or without “U” in the middle of a short word consisting of four or five letters would be anything but negligible. Because of it, the marks as a whole give rise to a distinctive visual impression in the minds of relevant consumers. Accordingly, both marks are unlikely to cause confusion from appearance.

Applied mark “LEPS” is pronounced as “le-ps”. In the meantime, cited mark “LEPUS” shall be “le-pəs”. The difference in the 2nd sound, “p” and “pə”, would be influential in the overall pronunciation given both marks aurally consist of just three sounds. Due to the difference, both sounds can be distinguishable in tone and linguistic feeling when pronounced at a time.

Conceptually, applied mark is incomparable with cited mark since both marks would not give rise to any specific meaning at all.

Based on the foregoing, the Board concluded: “applied mark “LEPS” would be deemed dissimilar to cited mark “LEPUS” from the global appreciation of the visual, aural and conceptual similarity of the marks in question, and based on the overall impression and association given by the marks to relevant traders and consumers with ordinary care“.

Consequently, the Board reversed the examiner’s rejection due to the dissimilarity of the marks even if the goods in question are similar and allowed registration of the applied mark (TM registration no. 6234714).

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).

KANGOL: Assessing the Similarity Between Hairbands and Head wear

In a trademark opposition trial to seek cancellation of TM registration no. 6028674, the Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed the opposition claimed by Kangol Limited, an English clothing company famous for its head wear, because of dissimilarity between hairbands and head wear.
[Opposition case no. 2018-900149, Gazette issue date: December 28, 2018]

Opposed mark

Opposed mark, consisting of the word “KANGOL” and a kangaroo device (see below), was filed in the name of Crown Creative Co., Ltd., a Japanese business entity on June 23, 2017, and admitted registration on March 16, 2018 over the goods of hairbands and others in class 25.

It is doubtless opposed mark exactly looks the same with the KANGOL trademark owned by Kangol Limited.

 

Opposition by Kangol

On June 11, 2018, Kangol Limited filed an opposition based on its-own senior TM registration no. 5036704 for the Kangol mark (see below) over the goods of head wear, helmets, night caps and hoods in class 25.

 

In the opposition brief, Kangol asserted opposed mark shall be cancelled in violation of Article 4(1)(xi) of the Japan Trademark Law.
Article 4(1)(xi) is a provision to refrain from registering a junior mark which is deemed identical with, or similar to, any senior registered mark.

Since the marks of the respective parties are identical, Kangol focused on arguing the designated goods, inter alia hairbands, of opposed mark is similar to hear wear.

 

Similarity of goods

Trademark Examination Guidelines (TEG) [Part III Chapter 10: Article 4(1)(xi)] set forth criteria to determine similarity of goods.
In principle, similarity of goods is evaluated whether or not the relevant goods are likely to cause confusion as if they are goods manufactured and sold by the same business entity, when an identical or similar trademark is used for the designated goods of the trademark as applied and the cited trademark due to circumstances such that normally the goods are manufactured and sold by the same business entity.
To assess the similarity of goods, the following criteria are comprehensively taken into consideration.

(i) Whether both goods are produced by the same suppliers.
(ii) Whether both goods are distributed through the same sales channel.
(iii) Whether both goods are made from the same materials and achieve the same quality.
(iv) Whether both goods are for the same usage.
(v) Whether both goods are purchased by the same consumers.
(vi) Whether respective goods constitutes finished goods or a component of other goods.

 

Board decision

In the assessment of similarity between hairbands and head wear, the Board totally denied, based on the above criteria, Kangol’s allegations by stating that:

It is true that both goods are used for many purposes and can be made from various kinds of materials. Hairbands are used for cold protection or decoration just like with head wear. Some of hairbands and head wear use cloth or rubber as a material. However, suppliers, sales channel, consumers, usage and materials of both goods are substantially different in general. If so, relevant consumers and traders are unlikely to conceive both goods with the Kangol mark would come from the same source.

Accordingly, JPO decided opposed mark shall not be subject to Article 4(1)(xi) and valid as a status quo.