JPO protects 3D shape of cherry design bottle for soy sauce dispenser

In a recent administrative decision, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) found 3D shape of cherry design bottle is inherently distinctive in relation to soy sauce dispensers in class 21 even without secondary meaning.
[Appeal case no. 2019-7188, Gazette issue date: March 27, 2020]

3D shape of cherry design bottle

RISU Co., Ltd. filed a trademark application for three-dimensional shape of soy sauce bottle featuring cherry designs (see below) in relation to say sauce dispensers of class 21 on July 20, 2017 (TM Application no. 2017-96914).

From appearance, the 3D shape does not differentiate from an ordinary soy sauce dispenser except cherry designs in red encircling a clear cylindrical plastic bottle.

As a matter of fact, RISU Co., Ltd. has produced various plastic products for home use as well as cherry patterned table top condiment containers.

Article 3(1)(iii)

The JPO examiner rejected registration of the 3D mark on the ground that relevant consumers would not conceive the shape as a source indicator in relation to soy sauce dispensers since there exists similar goods depicting decorative patterns and colors to aim at attracting their attentions. The mark merely represents a shape of designated goods in a common manner and thus is not eligible for registration based on Article 3(1)(iii) of the Trademark Law.

Article 3(1)(iii) is a provision to prohibit any mark from registering where the mark solely consists of elements just to indicate, in a common manner, the place of origin, place of sale, quality, raw materials, efficacy, intended purpose, quantity, shape (including shape of packages), price, the method or time of production or use.

To dispute the refusal, applicant, applicant filed an appeal on June 3, 2019.

Appeal Board’s decision

The Appeal Board disaffirmed examiner’s rejection of the 3D shape by stating that:

Figurative elements depicted on a clear plastic cylindrical bottle would be rather perceived as a distinctive device created on a cherry motif, than a decoration for the purpose of enhancing function or aesthetic appeal of goods in question. If so, the 3D shape per se is deemed to play a role of source indicator sufficiently. It is obvious that examiner errored in finding distinctiveness of the 3D shape.

Thus, the 3D mark is eligible for registration in connection with soy sauce dispensers of class 21 even without finding secondary meaning because of inherent distinctiveness of the shape.

Trademark registration for Kikkoman’s Soy sauce 3D Bottle

In October 11, 2016, Kikkoman Corporation, the world’s leading producer of soy sauce, filed an application for trademark registration at the Japan Patent Office (JPO) for the following three-dimensional colored mark for soy sauce in class 30.

Red-capped Kikkoman soy sauce dispenser

Iconic red-capped Kikkoman soy sauce dispenser was introduced in 1961 and has been in continuous production ever since. It was developed by Kenji Ekuan, a Japanese Navy sailor former naval academy student who dedicated his life to design when he left the service. Its unique shape took three years and over a hundred prototypes to perfect, but the teardrop design and dripless spout have become a staple of restaurant condiments all around the world. The bottle’s design hasn’t changed over the past 50 years.

JPO Examination/Acquired distinctiveness

The JPO examiner initially notified her refusal due to a lack of inherent distinctiveness in relation to say sauce.

In a response to the office action, Kikkoman argued acquired distinctiveness of the 3D bottle arising from uniqueness of its shape and substantial use for over five decades.

According to news release from Kikkoman, over 500 million of the bottles have been sold since the design was first introduced and distributed in approximately a hundred countries worldwide. Red-capped Kikkoman soy sauce dispenser has already been registered as 3D mark in US, EU, Ukraine, Norway, Russia, Australia.

In March 30, 2018, the JPO granted trademark registration based on Article 3(2) of the Trademark Law by finding acquired distinctiveness of the 3D color mark as a source indicator of Kikkoman.
[TM Registration No. 6031041]