Letter of Consent in Japanese Trademark Practice

When trademark applicants receive a refusal of their trademark applications due to a conflict with a prior similar registered mark cited by the JPO examiner, how can the applicants overcome the refusal?


In some jurisdictions, it has become a routine to submit a letter of consent (LOC) issued in the name of the owner of the cited mark agreeing on the use and registration of the applied mark for the purpose of overcoming the refusal, apart from arguing against the similarities between the respective marks.


However, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) is negative to withdraw refusals arising from a conflict with a senior registered mark under Article 4(1)(xi) of the Trademark Law simply by means of LOC.


Trademark Examination Guideline (TEG) 42.111.03 in relation to Article 4(1)(xi) provides special conditions where the JPO accepts LOC and withdraws refusals as follows.

Where an applicant claims that he/she is in any of the relationships (1) and (2) with the owner of a cited trademark right and submits evidence (3), the case shall be handled as if Article 4(1)(xi) does not apply.

(1) The owner of a cited trademark right is under the control of the applicant.

(2) The applicant is under the control of the owner of a cited trademark right.

(3) Evidence to the effect that the owner of a cited trademark right agrees that the trademark as applied is to be registered.

Condition (1) and (2) – “Under the control” relation between cited owner and applicant will be satisfied if:

(a) Business of the owner of a cited trademark right of which the majority of voting rights of all shareholders are owned by the applicant;

(b) Business of the owner of a cited trademark right which has a capital alliance with the applicant and whose corporate activities are substantially under the control of the applicant, although the requirement specified in (a) above is not satisfied.


Therefore, LOC is useful only where either party has a controlling interest in the other entity, the so-called parent-child relationship between companies.

Due to the restriction, LOC would not be available in most cases to overcome the refusal based on Article 4(1)(xi).

Under the circumstance, practically, we are able to select three options.

  1. Arguing dissimilarity of mark or goods/ services 
  2. Filing a non-use cancellation against the cited mark 
  3. Transferring an applied mark to an owner of the cited mark and assigning it back after registration, vice versa.

“MONA LISA” May Smile At You

In a recent decision, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) disaffirmed the examiner’s refusal and accepted for registration of the world-famous painting, ‘Mona Lisa’ by Leonardo da Vinci.
[Appeal case no. 2020-9377, Gazette issued date: May 28, 2021]


“MONA LISA”

Disputed mark, consisting of a wordmark “MONA LISA” written in a Japanese katakana character (see below), was filed by a Japanese company, Negibito Co., Ltd on February 20, 2019, for use on ‘edible live aquatic animals; edible unprocessed seaweeds; fresh vegetables; fresh fruits; live mammals, fish [not for food], birds and insects and other goods in class 32.

Apparently, the company uses the disputed mark on specially grown scallions with a high sugar content of more than 20 degrees to be sold at JPY10,000 (USD92) for one stalk!


Article 4(1)(vii)

JPO examiner raised her objection by stating that since “MONA LISA” has been known for the world-famous painting, ‘Mona Lisa’ by Leonardo da Vinci, it shall contravene the generally accepted sense of morality or the international faith if registered. Accordingly, the disputed mark shall be rejected in contravention of Article 4(1)(vii) of the Japan Trademark Law.

Article 4(1)(vii) of the Trademark Law prohibits any mark likely to cause damage to public order or morality from registration.

Trademark Examination Guidelines 42.107.05 provides seven criteria to take into consideration to determine if a mark, consisting of valuable cultural products (works of art), shall contravene the article.

(i) Famousness of the cultural products
(ii) Recognition of the cultural products among citizens or local residents
(iii) State of use of the cultural products
(iv) Relationship between the state of use of the cultural products and the designated goods or services
(v) Background, purpose, and reason for filing an application
(vi) Relationship between the cultural products and the applicant
(vii) Authorized entity that manages and owns the cultural products (if any)

The applicant filed an appeal against the refusal on July 3, 2020.


JPO Appeal Board decision

The Appeal Board assessed seven criteria pertinent to the works of art “MONA LISA” in accordance with the Trademark Examination Guideline.

The Board admitted a remarkable degree of recognition and reputation of “MONA LISA” among the general public in Japan as the world-famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci.

In the meantime, the Board questions if the goods in question are closely related to works of art and art exhibitions that the term “MONA LISA” has been used.

Besides, the Board found that the term is not used to promote or develop certain regions associated with the painting in relation to the goods in question.

Based on the foregoing, the Board held that it is unlikely that registration of the disputed mark would constitute a genuine and sufficiently serious threat to a fundamental interest of society when used in connection with the goods in class 32. Therefore, the disputed mark “MONA LISA” shall not be refused on the basis of the public policy exception provided for in Article 4(1)(vii) of the Trademark Law.

Tips to Pass the JPO Trademark Registration Exam in 2 months

“JPO Status Report 2020” reveals more applicants make use of the “Accelerated Examination” in order to obtain an earlier trademark registration.

According to the latest report, the number of requests for accelerated examination in 2019 was 8,110, which increased by 54% than the previous year.

Accelerated Trademark Examination

The accelerated examination has enabled the shortening trademark examination period to 1.7 months on average. Being that it takes 7.9 months or longer for the JPO to notify the examination result at present, accelerated examination must be appealing to an applicant who wants their brand to be registered as early as possible.

The accelerated examination is available in three cases.

[Case 1]

An applicant is in use of or likely to use an applied mark on more than one of the goods/services in the designation, and in urgent need of registration.

To meet an urgent need requirement, the applicant is required to demonstrate; (i) unauthorized third party uses an applied mark, (ii) any third party request a license to use the applied mark, (iii) any third-party demand applicant to cease use of the applied mark, or (iv) applicant filed the identical mark to a foreign country.

[Case 2]

An applicant is in use of or likely to use an applied mark on every goods/service in the designation.

[Case 3]

An applicant is in use of or likely to use an applied mark on more than one of goods/services in the designation, and the description of goods/services are all in conformity with that listed in the Examination guidelines for similar goods and services.

Besides, (v) where the applicant seeks to apply for international registration of trademark identical with the applied mark through the Madrid Protocol, it is also admitted meeting an urgent need requirement for Case 1.

JPO denied registering GRAND CANYON as trademark

In a recent appeal decision, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) upheld examiner’s refusal and decided to reject trademark “GRAND CANYON” in connection with clothing and shoes of class 25 due to lack of distinctiveness. [Appeal case no. 2017-16166]

 

GRAND CANYON

UNITIKA LTD., a Japanese textile company, applied for registration of word mark “GRAND CANYON” in relation to clothing, shoes and other goods of class 25 on September 26, 2016.

JPO examiner totally refused the application due to lack of distinctiveness based on Article 3(1)(iii) of the Trademark Law by stating that THE GRAND CANYON, a steep-sided canyon carved by the Colorado River in Arizona, one of America’s most famous and awe-inspiring natural attractions, recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, has been known for a famous tourist spot. Since relevant traders and consumers in Japan are familiar with circumstances that variety of souvenirs and gifts are on sale at tourist spot, presumably consumers will consider the applied mark just as a geographical indication in connection with the designated goods, not a source indicator.

 

Article 3(1)(iii)

Article 3(1) of the Trademark Law is a provision to prohibit descriptive marks from registering.

Section (iii) of the article aims to remove any mark merely or directly suggesting quality of goods and services.

“Article 3(1) Any trademark to be used in connection with goods or services pertaining to the business of an applicant may be registered, unless the trademark:

(iii) consists solely of a mark indicating, in a common manner, in the case of goods, 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, or, in the case of services, the location of provision, quality, articles to be used in such provision, efficacy, intended purpose, quantity, modes, price or method or time of provision;”

 

To dispute the refusal, UNITIKA filed an appeal on May 12, 2017.

UNITIKA argued “GRAND CANYON” shall be registrable in connection with clothing by citing several trademark registrations of the name granted by the JPO. In fact, UNITIKA is an owner of trademark registration for the same mark on goods of class 24 and 25 since 2005.

 

Appeal Board’s decision

The Appeal Board, however, upheld the examiner’s decision on the ground and dismissed UNITIKA’s allegation by stating that relevant consumers and traders at the sight of applied mark depicted on clothing shall conceive of a famous World Heritage Site in US.

Existing trademark registrations for the mark “GRAND CANYON” will not affect the decision since distinctiveness of trademark is variable as time goes by – with the lapse of time.

 

Criteria for Trademark Examination Guideline

Trademark Examination Guideline (TEG) pertinent to Article 3(1)(iii) provides that where a trademark is composed of a geographical name in foreign country or sightseeing area, the mark is deemed as “the place of origin” of goods or “the place of their sale”, provided that consumers or traders generally recognize that the designated goods will be produced or sold at the place indicated by the geographical name.

Trademark Examination Manual, 413.103.01 sets forth criteria to examine trademarks related to foreign geographical name.

In the cases of (a) the name of a capital, (b) the name of a state, (c) the name of a prefecture, (d) the name of a state capital, (e) the name of a province, (f) the name of the capital of a province, (g) the name of a county, (h) the name of the capital of a prefecture, (i) a former country name, (j) an old regional name, (k) the name of a district, (l) the name of a city, or special district, (m) the name of a busy downtown street, and (n) the name of a sightseeing area, even though these names may not be directly described in a dictionary or other documents/material as the place of origin, the place of sales (location of transaction) of the goods, or the location of provision of services (location of transaction), if a factor exists that establishes a connection between the goods and the name as the place of sales (location of transaction), or the location of the provision of services (location of transaction), in principle, the trademark will be refused on the grounds that it indicates the location where the goods are sold (location of transaction) or the location of provision of services (location of transaction)

Japan: trademark registration of era names will be banned

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) revised its screening criteria to prevent all era names from being registered as trademarks.

The amendment came as the country prepares for the change in May of the current era name following the abdication of Emperor Akihito on April 30, 2019. Japan will start using the new name from May 1 when Crown Prince Naruhito ascends to the throne. The government announced to unveil the new era name on April 1, a month before the Imperial succession, to mitigate the impact of the change on people’s lives.

There was concern that the JPO might be flooded with requests to register the new era name for trademarks during the last month of the Heisei Era, which commenced on Jan. 8, 1989.


According to the JPO, more than 100 trademark registration applications for merchandise and company names using “Heisei” were filed in January of that year.

Under previous criteria, there was room for era names, except Heisei, to be registered as trademarks.
The revised guidelines to ensure trademarks do not feature any era name now clearly state that all era names, in principle, cannot be used for trademarks.

However, even after the revision, familiar product and corporate names already using old era names, such as Meiji Holdings Co. and Taisho Pharmaceutical Co., will continue to be treated as exceptions.

Royal Copenhagen successful in removing FLORA DANICA on bags and apparels

The Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) decided to cancel trademark registration no. 5681437 for word mark “FLORA DANICA” covering various types of bags in class 18, apparels and shoes in class 25 as a consequence of opposition trial raised by ROYAL COPENHAGEN AS, one of Europe’s oldest porcelain manufacturers in Denmark.
[Opposition case no. 2014-900278]

Trademark Opposition

Opposed mark was filed by a Danish corporation on January 23, 2014. Without receiving any office action from the JPO examiner, it was smoothly granted registration on May 30, 2014. Upon payment of registration fee on June 19, 2014, it was published for opposition on July 29, 2014.

On the very final day of statutory period to file an opposition (two months from the publication provided under Article 43bis of the Trademark Law), ROYAL COPENHAGEN challenged to an opposition disputing validity of opposed mark due to a likelihood of confusion with renowned Flora Danica porcelain, made 1790-1803 at the Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory, decorated with botanical drawings of Denmark’s flora.

The opposition relied on Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law to prohibit a junior mark likely to cause confusion with other business entity’s well-known goods or services from being registered to the benefit of brand owner and users’ benefits.

Article 4(1)(xv)

Trademark Examination Guidelines set forth factors to be taken into consideration in the assessment of a likelihood of confusion under the article.

  • The degree of similarity between the trademark as applied and the other entity’s mark;
  • The degree to which the other entity’s trademark is well known;
  • Whether the other entity’s trademark consists of a coined word or contains a distinctive feature;
  • Whether the other entity’s trademark is used as a house mark;
  • Whether there is the possibility of proximity in business as a result of diversified management;
  • Whether there is any relationship between goods, services or goods and services;
  • Whether there is any commonality between the consumers of goods, etc. and other actual states of transactions.

Click here to access the guidelines.

Board decision

In the disputed opposition, the Board found that “FLORA DANICA” has acquired a high degree of population and reputation among relevant traders and consumers as a source indicator of ceramic products manufactured by ROYAL COPENHAGEL and remained the status quo continuously.

The Board assessed both marks are deemed unquestionably identical or similar. Besides, both opposed goods in classes 18, 25 and ceramic products are all closely related to daily life, and consumers are likely to show strong preference for design and fashion of goods in selection of these goods. ROYAL COPENHAGEN deals with handkerchiefs, scarfs, perfumes, cuffs, wallets, aprons, bags as well.

Base on the foregoing, the Board concluded that relevant traders and consumers of the goods in question are likely to confuse or associate the goods using Opposed mark with opponent or any business entity economically or systematically connected with ROYAL COPENHAGEN. Thus, Opposed mark is subject to cancellation due to Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law.