SWATCH Defeated in SWATCH vs iWATCH Trademark Dispute

The Trial Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an invalidation petition by Swiss watch giant, Swatch against TM Reg. no. 5849925 for word mark “iWATCH” owned by U.S. tech giant, Apple Inc.
[Invalidation case no. 2017-890071, Gazette issue date: January 31,2020]


Disputed mark, consisting of a word “iWATCH” in plain block letters (see below), was applied for registration in the name of Apple Inc. on April 25, 2014 in respect of watches, clocks and other goods in class 14.

Immediately after registration on May 13, 2016, Swatch filed an opposition to challenge registrability of disputed mark based on Article 3(1)(iii), 3(1)(vi), 4(1)(xi), 4(1)(xv), 4(1)(xvi) of the Japan Trademark Law, but in vain. [Opposition case no. 2016-900234]

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, materials, efficacy, intended purpose, quantity, shape (including shape of packages), price, the method or time of production or use.

Article 3(1)(vi) is a comprehensive provision to prohibit any mark lacking inherent distinctiveness from being registered.

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.

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 users’ benefits.

Article 4(1)(xvi) is a provision to prohibit registration of any mark likely to mislead quality of goods or services.

Invalidation Trial

Japan Trademark Law provides a provision to retroactively invalidate trademark registration for specific grounds under Article 46 (1).

In an effort to argue against the opposition decision, Swatch filed a petition for invalidation against disputed mark on October 23, 2017. Swatch argued disputed mark “iWATCH” shall be invalid because of following reasons:

  1. Given disputed mark consists of an alphabet letter “i” and a generic term in relation to a designated goods ‘watch’, the mark can be merely perceived to indicate a value, code, type, mode or standard of ‘watch’. If so, disputed mark shall be lack of distinctiveness and revocable under Article 3(1)(vi) in relation to the goods.
  2. Likewise, relevant consumers would misconceive quality of goods when disputed mark is used on goods other than ‘watch’ in class 14, e.g. jewelry, key holders, jewelry boxes, accessories. If so, disputed mark shall be revocable under Article 4(1)(xvi) in relation to goods other than ‘watch’.
  3. Disputed mark “iWATCH” resembles “SWATCH” from visual and phonetic points of view. It is unquestionable SWATCH has become remarkably famous for watches and fashion items of Swatch Group. If so, a likelihood of confusion will arise between “iWATCH” and “SWATCH” when disputed mark is used on goods in class 14. Thus, disputed mark is revocable under Article 4(1)(xi).

Board Decision

In the decision, the Board sided with Apple Inc. and found that:

  • The Board considers the term “iWATCH” is a coined word in its entirety which does not give rise to any specific meaning at all. Therefore, it is unlikely that relevant consumers conceive disputed mark just as a qualitative indication of goods in question.
  • The Board admits “SWATCH” has been acquired a high degree of reputation and popularity among relevant consumers and traders as famous watch of Swatch Group. In the meantime, the term appears less unique and creative since it is a dictionary word meaning ‘a sample piece (as of fabric) or a collection of samples’.
  • Difference on initial letter of both marks shall not be negligible on the case. The Board has no good reason to believe both marks are deemed similar from visual, phonetic and conceptual points of view.
  • If so, it is unlikely to happen that relevant consumers with an ordinary care would associate or misconceive disputed mark with Swatch or any entity systematically or economically connected with claimant even when used on ‘watch’.

Based on the foregoing, the Board concluded “iWATCH” shall be irrevocable in relation to “SWATCH” and dismissed Swatch’s invalidation petition wholly.

Trademark battle over slogan : Think different vs Tick different

Swiss watch giant Swatch has failed to stop US tech giant Apple from registering “Think Different” as a trademark, which Swatch argued segues too closely to its own “Tick Different” trademark.


Apple’s “THINK DIFFERENT” mark was used in its successful Emmy-award winning advertising campaign which ran for five years from 1997. The mark was also used on the box packaging for its iMac computers next to another trademark “Macintosh”.

Its applications to register “THINK DIFFERENT” were filed in Japan on February 24, 2016 for use in relation to various goods and services belonging to 8 classes like watches, clocks (cl.12) as well as online social networking services (cl.45), among other items. JPO admitted registration on September 12, 2017. Subsequently, the mark was published in the Official Gazette for opposition.

Tick different

By citing its own mark, Swatch filed an opposition against Apple’s “THINK DIFFERENT” mark based on Article 4(1)(xi) of the Japan Trademark Law and asserted a likelihood of confusion with Swatch “Tick different” mark when used in connection with all goods designated in class 14.

Swatch’s “Tick Different” mark was filed to JPO through the Madrid Protocol (IR no. 1279757) with priority date of July 16, 2015 and admitted national registration on July 15, 2016 by designating timepieces and chronometric instruments, namely chronometers, chronographs, clocks, watches, wristwatches, wall clocks, alarm clocks, among other items in class 14.

Swatch, having a worldwide presence and its corporate group owns a stable of Swiss watch brands, including Omega, Tissot and Swatch, has allegedly used the mark on mobile payment smart watches since 2015.


Opposition decision

Swatch argued that the two marks were highly similar due to the same syllabic structure and number of words. With the same ending and almost the same beginning, they are visually and aurally similar.

However, in decision grounds issued on June 6 2018, the Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) found that when compared as wholes, the marks were more dissimilar than similar.

The Board, after considering all the pleadings, evidence and submissions, concluded because of the conceptual, visual and aural dissimilarities of the marks, the Board was persuaded that the average consumer would conceive they are, overall, more dissimilar than similar.

Consequently, JPO ruled that as Swatch’s opposition failed on all grounds, the “THINK DIFFERENT” mark registration from Apple will remain with the status quo.
[Opposition case no. 2017-900376]