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.

JPO rejects 3D Shape Mark of Giant Cotton Candy

In a dispute of registrability to a unique three-dimensional shape of giant cotton candy, the Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) refused protection of the 3D mark due to lack of distinctiveness.  
[Appeal case no. 2017-9666, Gazette issue date: September 27, 2019]

TOTTI CANDY FACTORY

If you ever visit Harajuku (Tokyo) chances are you will spot people carrying around gigantic pastel-colored cotton candy. When you think of cotton candy, a balloon-size blob of sticky blue or pink fluff probably comes to mind. But this cotton candy is here to rewrite any preconceptions you have about the treat, because not only does it come in the most beautiful shades of pastel you’ve ever seen, it’s also legitimately larger than your head. It’s so big, it’s actually hard to take a cute picture holding it — because it blocks your entire face with its pretty rainbow hues.

You can find this giant rainbow cotton candy at a sweet shop popular with young people in Harajuku, Totti Candy Factory.

3D shape of the cotton candy was applied for registration with JPO in respect of confectionery (class 30) on May 20, 2016. [TM application no. 2016-54840]

Registrability of 3D shape mark

The shape of a product can be an important element that generates value for a company. For this reason, the protection of three-dimensional forms is of commercial interest. Three-dimensional trademarks include the shape of a product or its packaging. Prior to 1996, there was no proper statutory provision that recognized three-dimensional shapes as trademarks. 1996 revision to the Trademark Law recognized 3D shape trademarks such as the shape of the packaging and specific product shapes. Now, a Trademark Registration can be attained for any distinctive three-dimensional shapes, that discern the goods or services of one business from those of other businesses, under the Japan Trademark law.

JPO Examination

JPO examiner entirely rejected the 3D shape mark by stating that:

“Appearance of the applied mark in color can be perceived merely as an ordinary three-dimensional shape of cotton candy. If so, the shape is deemed equivalent to a configuration solely consisting of the shape of goods in a common manner to the extent that relevant traders and/or consumers are unlikely to recognize the shape as a source indicator. Hence, the mark is subject to Article 3(1)(iii) of the Trademark Law. From the produced evidence, it is questionable whether the shape has acquired distinctiveness as a result of substantial use.”

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, an owner of Totti Candy Factory, filed an appeal on June 30, 2017.

Appeal Board’s decision

The Appeal Board affirmed examiner’s rejection of the 3D shape based on lack of distinctiveness. As grounds for rejection, Board cited following conical cotton candies in several colors distributed by third parties.

In addition, the Board negated acquired distinctiveness of the 3D shape by stating that:

  1. Allegedly applicant has used applied mark on cotton candy since February 2015, however, he failed to produce objective evidence of its first use.
  2. In general, cotton candy is consumed by individuals in a wide age range. If so, three brick-and-mortar shops at Harajuku (Tokyo), Shinsaibashi (Osaka), Nagoya PARCO (Aichi) are insufficient to demonstrate increased publicity among relevant consumers all over the country.
  3. According to the produced sales record, from the period of February 2015 through June 2017 applicant sold 370,302 pieces of Giant Rainbow Cotton Candy, amounting to 200 million JP-yen in total sales. However, its market share remains unclear.
  4. A fact that Totti Giant Cotton Candy has gotten popular with young women in their teens and early 20’s is insufficient to admit acquire distinctiveness of the 3D shape since consumers of cotton candy are not limited to young women.
  5. Advertisement and publications of Giant Rainbow Cotton Candy contains a term “TOTTI CANDY FACTORY” or “Totti” adjacent to the 3D shape. From these evidences, it is questionable whether relevant consumers would conceive the 3D shape in itself as a source indicator of Totti Candy Factory.

Based on the foregoing, the Board consequently refused to register the mark based on Article 3(1)(iii) of the Trademark Law.

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]