JPO Status Report 2022

According to “JPO Status Report 2022” released on March 31, 2022, by the Japan Patent Office (JPO), a total of 184,631 trademark applications were filed in 2021. This number increased 2% compared to the previous year when the number of applications amounted to 181,072.

It is astonishing to see that SM Entertainment Co., Ltd., a South Korean record label and entertainment agency, became a top-ranking foreign registrant in 2021 who could successfully register 185 trademarks in Japan, drastically increased from the previous year.

Requests for accelerated examination consecutively increased to 11,450 by 2.2% in 2021, which enables applicants to obtain trademark registration within 2months.

As a background, it should be noted that the entire trademark process for general examination at the JPO (the total time of application from filing to registration) takes 11.2 months on average, which is 0.3 months longer than the previous year.

You can access and download the full text of “JPO Status Report 2022” from here.

COCOGOLF vs COCO

On February 28, 2022, the Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) reversed the examiner’s rejection and decided to register the applied mark “COCOGOLF” in classes 25 and 28 by finding dissimilarity to Chanel’s earlier registration for the mark “COCO.”


COCOGOLF

The applied mark consists of the word “COCOGOLF” (see below).

Applicant, E-COME GROUP Co., Ltd., filed it for use on various goods in classes 18, 25, and 28 on November 27, 2022. [TM Application no. 2020-146448]

Confronting office action from the JPO, the applicant divided the application and filed a new trademark application on goods of ‘sports shoes; sportswear’ in class 25 and ‘golf bags; golf equipment in class 28 on July 2, 2021. [TM Application no. 2021-82743]

The JPO examiner rejected the mark in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) of the Japan Trademark Law on October 12, 2021.

The examiner cited earlier trademark registration nos. #6169514 (cl. 25, 35) and IR699469 (cl. 25) for the wordmark “COCO” owned by Chanel SARL, and found the applied mark “COCOGOLF” is confusingly similar to the cited mark “COCO” when used on the designated goods in class 25 and 28.

The applicant filed an appeal against the rejection on November 17, 2021, and argued for the dissimilarity in the marks.


JPO Decision

The Appeal Board found the applied mark shall be assessed in its entirety by stating:

  1. Visually, there is no reason to consider the term “COCO” as a prominent portion of the applied mark because of its configuration.
  2. The applied mark gives rise to the pronunciation of ‘coco-golf’. The whole sound can be pronounced easily in a breach.
  3. The Board has no reason to believe the term “GOLF” perse has been used to represent specific goods in relation to the goods in question.
  4. If so, relevant consumers at the sight of sports shoes, sportswear, golf bags, and golf equipment bearing the applied mark would see it as a whole, and are unlikely to consider the term “COCO” as a prominent source indicator of the applied mark.

Based on the foregoing, the Board found the examiner erred in finding “COCO” to be separable from “GOLF.” Consequently, the Board held the applied mark is dissimilar to the mark “COCO” and granted “COCOGOLF” registration.

[Appeal case no. 2021-15790]

Isn’t it MIRACLE?

In recent administrative decision, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) decided TM Reg no. 6253344 for wordmark “Miracle Volume” is dissimilar to senior registered mark “MIRACLESUIT” and “MIRACLEBODY” and dismissed an opposition claimed by A&H Sportswear Co., Inc., the owner of senior marks.

[Opposition case no. 2020-900196, Gazette issued date: August 27, 2021]

Miracle Volume

Opposed mark, consisting of the word “Miracle Volume” in standard character, was filed by a Chinese company for use on clothing, footwear, headgear as well as swimsuits in class 25 with the JPO on June 4, 2019 (TM Application no. 2019-77831).

The JPO admitted registration on May 12, 2020 and published for opposition on July 9, 2020.


Opposition by A&H Sportswear

A&H Sportswear Co., Ltd. filed an opposition on August 11, 2020, and argued the opposed mark “Miracle Volume” shall be cancelled in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) of the Japan Trademark Law since the opposed mark is similar to its owned senior marks, “MIRACLESUIT” and “MIRACLEBODY”.

Allegedly, the word “Volume” has a low degree of distinctiveness since it just implies the goods in question voluminous. If so, a prominent portion of the opposed mark shall be undoubtedly “Miracle”.

Senior TM Reg no. 4789644 for wordmark “MIRACLESUIT” in class 25, consists of two words, “MIRACLE” and “SUIT”. It is obvious that the word “SUIT” lacks distinctiveness in relation to the goods in questions since it means ‘a set of clothes or a piece of clothing to be worn in a particular situation or while doing a particular activity’. Consequently, a prominent portion of “MIRACLESUIT” shall be “MIRACLE”.

TM Reg no. 5121472 for wordmark “MIRACLEBODY” in class 25, also consists of two words, “MIRACLE” and “BODY”. The word “BODY” has a low degree of distinctiveness in relation to the goods in question since it suggests the goods bearing the mark for consumers to put on. If so, likewise, a prominent portion of “MIRACLEBODY” shall be “MIRACLE”.

In so far as relevant consumers conceive of the literal element of “MIRACLE” as a prominent portion on both marks, they shall be confusingly similar accordingly, A&H Sportswear alleged.


JPO decision

The Opposition Board did not find a reasonable ground to believe that the consumers consider the word “Miracle” as a prominent portion of the opposed mark from visual and phonetical points of view. Besides, the word “Volume” per se would not entirely be descriptive in relation to apparels. If so, the opposed mark shall be taken for a coined word in its entirety.

Similarly, from visual, phonetical and conceptual points of view, the cited marks, “MIRACLESUIT” and “MIRACLEBODY”, shall be taken for a coined word in its entirety.

In assessing similarity of mark, the Board opined that the opposed mark “Miracle Volume” and the cited marks are sufficiently distinguishable because of difference arising from the word “Volume”, “SUIT”, and “BODY”.

Even if the goods in question are deemed similar to that of the cited marks, severe distinction in appearance and sound would be unlikely to cause confusion among relevant consumers.

Based on the foregoing, the Board did not side with A&H Sportswear and dismissed the opposition totally.

HUGO BOSS Unsuccessful in Blocking “BOSS”

German luxury fashion house Hugo Boss failed in their attempt to block Japanese TM Reg no. 6218609 for word mark “BOSS” on SaaS and order processing services.

[Opposition case no. 2020-900096, Gazette issued date: August 27, 2021]

Opposed mark

Opposed mark, filed on January 22, 2019, by Rakuten, Japanese electronic commerce and online retailing company, consists of the word “BOSS” in standard character (see below).

The services sought for registration are order processing services in class 35 and providing computer programs on e-commerce, software as a service (SaaS), and other related services in class 42. Rakuten is using the opposed mark “BOSS” as an abbreviation of ‘Back Office Support System’ to indicate their service for sales order management and automated shipping system.

The JPO admitted registration on June 22, 2020, and published for post-grant opposition on February 12, 2020.


Opposition by Hugo Boss

HUGO BOSS Trademark Management GmbH & Co KG filed an opposition against the opposed mark on April 3, 2020, and claimed the opposed mark “BOSS” shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) and (xv) of the Japan Trademark Law.

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

Article 4(1)(xv) is a provision to prohibit registration of a trademark which is likely to cause confusion with the business of other entities.

HUGO BOSS argued that not only tradename “HOGO BOSS but also their mark “BOSS” has been well known for a luxury fashion brand and source indicators of the opponent by producing Deloitte’s annual list of the world’s largest luxury companies on which HUGO BOSS was ranked No.19(2015), No.21(2016), No.23(2017).

In view of a high degree of similarity between the opposed mark and the opponent’s mark “BOSS” (see below), relevant consumers are likely to confuse the source of services bearing the opposed mark with HUGO BOSS.


Board Decision

The JPO Opposition Board admitted a certain degree of the reputation of the “HUGO BOSS” mark as a source indicator of the opponent in connection with fashion items, e.g., clothing, watches, sunglasses, fragrances.

In the meantime, the Board questioned if the word “BOSS” has also acquired such popularity, stating that produced materials are insufficient to find the word perse plays the source indicator since the cited mark contains a famous mark “HUGO BOSS” adjacent to it.

Even if there is a high degree of similarity between the marks, the Board has a reasonable ground to believe the services in question, namely, order processing services (cl.35) and SaaS (cl.42) are less associated with fashion items, e.g., clothing, watches, sunglasses, fragrances.

If so, it is unlikely that relevant consumers at the sight of the opposed mark would conceive or associate it with HUGO BOSS or any entity who is systematically or economically connected with the opponent when used on the services in question.

Based on the foregoing, the JPO dismiss the entire allegations of HUGO BOSS and allowed the opposed mark “BOSS” to survive.

BEYOND MEAT defeats “Beyond Meat Burger”

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) sided with Beyond Meat Inc. and canceled TM Reg no. 6197193 for wordmark “Beyond Meat Burger” by free-riding on the business reputation of “BEYOND MEAT”.

[Opposition case no. 2020-900023, Gazette issued date: July 30, 2021]

Beyond Meat Burger

Opposed mark, consisting of a wordmark “Beyond Meat Burger” written in a Japanese katakana character (see below), was filed by a Japanese individual on July 23, 2018, for use on ‘meat products’ in class 29 and ‘clothing’ in class 25.

Subsequently, the applicant deleted the designated goods in class 29.

The mark was registered on November 15, 2019, and published for opposition on December 10, 2019.


BEYOND MEAT

Beyond Meat Inc., a US food processing company that specializes in providing plant-based meat, filed an opposition against the “Beyond Meat Burger” mark with the JPO on January 24, 2020, before the lapse of a two-month statutory period for the opposition.

In the opposition brief, Beyond Meat argued the opposed mark shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(xix) of the Japan Trademark Law.

Article 4(1)(xix) prohibits registering a trademark that is identical with, or similar to, another entity’s famous mark, if such trademark is aimed for unfair purposes, e.g. gaining unfair profits, or causing damage to the entity.

It is interpreted that the “famous mark” under the article does not require a high reputation among Japanese consumers. If domestic consumers recognize such a reputation in foreign countries, it will suffice.

Beyond Meat alleged that the “BEYOND MEAT” mark has been well known for plant-based meat substitutes by the opponent to meat distributors as well as US consumers (It should be noted that Beyond Meat has yet to launch the business in Japan as of now). It is obvious that the opposed mark is confusingly similar to “BEYOND MEAT”. Presumably, the opposed party must have filed the opposed mark with a fraudulent intention to prevent registration of the “BEYOND MEAT” mark in Japan and gain unjust enrichment by doing so.


JPO decision

The JPO Opposition Board admitted that the “BEYOND MEAT” mark has acquired a remarkable degree of reputation among US consumers as a source indicator of plant-based meat substitutes by Beyond Meat Inc. even before the application date of the opposed mark

The Board assessed the opposed mark is confusingly similar to “BEYOND MEAT”. Relevant consumers with an ordinary care would see the term “Beyond Meat” as a prominent portion of the opposed mark because the consumers get familiar with the English word “Burger.”

A fact that the opposed party initially designated ‘meat products’ implies the applicant’s intention to use the opposed mark on the goods that are closely associated with meat substitutes. If so, the Board had a reasonable ground to believe the opposed mark was filed with an intention to take advantage of goodwill and business reputation associated with Beyond Meat’s tradename and trademark.

Based on the foregoing, the JPO decided to retroactively cancel the opposed mark “Beyond Meat Burger” in contravention of Article 4(1)(xix).

Coronavirus Force Japan to Eliminate Signature on POA

Both Hanko seals and paper documents have long been regarded as important parts of Japan’s working or administrative culture. Along with this, it has been an established practice that the country’s authority requires the original document signed by a foreigner to be submitted. By virtue of the COVID-19 pandemic, Japan has taken its latest step to bring government at all levels further into the digital age.
Recently, the Japanese parliament enacted six laws to promote electronic government, with steps such as ending Hanko seals on official documents and allow digital data to be used instead of paper documents.


On June 11, 2021, the new governmental and ministerial ordinances concerning registration procedures of intellectual property were promulgated.

Based on the new ordinances, from June 12, 2021, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) would not require an original Power of Attorney (POA) with the signature of a foreign company or individual who entrusts the case to an IP attorney in Japan anymore. As long as the POA clearly specifies the name and address of the foreign company and its representative, the JPO would accept it genuine and consider the entrusted attorney as an agent of subsequent action with the JPO even if the POA does not have a signature on it.


It should be noted that, as a result of the new ordinances, the JPO decided to eliminate Hanko seals or signatures on 764 paper documents among 797 in total. The remaining 33 documents pertaining to the ownership or license of IP right still require an original with inked-signature or Hanko seals to prevent harm by document falsification.

Trademark Similarity: APLAY vs applay

In a trademark dispute pertinent to the similarity between “APLAY” and “applay”, the Appeal Board of the Japan Patent Office found both marks dissimilar and reversed the examiner’s rejection.
[Appeal case no. 2020-6380, Gazette issued date: April 30, 2021]

APLAY

A senior mark, consisting of the word “APLAY” in standard character, was registered on April 28, 2017 (TM Reg no. 5943175) over computer programs; application software; game programs for home video game machines; electronic circuits, and CD-ROMS recorded with programs for hand-held games with liquid crystal displays; electronic publications; earphones; headphones in class 9, and software as a service [SaaS]; other related computer services in class 42 by Nain Inc.

Apparently, Nain has used “APLAY” on wireless earphones and connect app for android (see below).

applay

Applied junior mark, consisting of the word “applay”, was sought for registration on August 7, 2019, over toys in class 28 [TM application no. 2019-107218] by Ed. Inter Co., Ltd.

The applicant uses the mark on wooden toys for kids (see below).

The JPO examiner rejected “applay” because of similarity to “APLAY” based on Article 4(1)(xi) of the Trademark Law.

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

There is the criterion that the examiner is checking when assessing the similarity between the marks:

  • visual similarity
  • aural similarity
  • conceptual similarity

and taking into account all these three aspects, the examiner would decide if a mark is similar (at least to some extent) to the earlier mark and if there is a likelihood of confusion for the consumers.

Applicant filed an appeal against the rejection on May 12, 2020, and argued dissimilarity of the marks.

Appeal Board decision

In the decision, the Appeal Board held that:

In appearance, there are differences in the third letter ‘p’, and lower case or upper-case letters. These would give rise to a distinctive impression visually in the mind of relevant consumers where the respective mark consists of five or six-letter words, anything but long.

Next, assessing the pronunciation between applied mark [ˈæpleɪ] and the cited mark [əˈpleɪ], the difference in the first sound would be anything but negligible in view of a few phonetic compositions of four sounds in total. Relevant consumers would be unlikely to confuse each sound when pronounced because of phonetical distinction in overall nuance and tone as a whole

Thirdly, the respective mark does not give rise to any specific meaning at all. If so, both marks are incomparable from the concept.

Based on the foregoing, the Board found no reasonable reason to affirm the JPO examiner’s rejection from visual, phonetic, and conceptual points of view as well as consumer perception and decided to reverse the examiner’s rejection.

ENRICO COVERI failed to remove “COVERI” from trademark registration

The Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) held in an opposition filed by Enrico Coveri Società a Responsabilità Limitata (Opponent) that trademark registration no. 5874843 for a word mark “COVERI” (Opposed mark) shall remain as valid as ever and dismissed claims in the opposition entirely.
[Opposition case no. 2016-900368]


Opposed mark (see below) was applied for registration on November 27, 2015 by designating various kinds of goods in class 25 including apparels and shoes, and published for registration on September 20, 2016without any office action from the JPO examiner.


Opponent claimed that the opposed mark “COVERI” shall be cancelled on the basis of Article 4(1)(vii), (viii), (x), (xi), (xv) and (xix) of the Japan Trademark Law by citing senior trademark registrations for word mark “ENRICO COVERI”, a name of the late Italian fashion designer, in class 18, 24 and 25.


In the opposition decision, the Board concluded that “ENRICO COVERI” and “COVERI” are both dissimilar in appearance, pronunciation and concept.

Besides, the Board did not admit a high degree of popularity and recognition to “ENRICO COVERI” among relevant public in Japan because of insufficient evidence to demonstrate amount of sales, number of stores and expenditure for promotion and advertisement (Opponent has just produced some photographs or articles appeared in fashion magazines).

Based on the fact finding, the Board concluded that opposed mark was not filed in a malicious intent to do harm to the designer’s fame, and “COVERI” shall not be deemed as an abbreviation of “ENRICO COVERI”. Therefore, there finds less likelihood of confusion between “COVERI” and “ENRICO COVERI” even if both marks are used on apparels or shoes.


It is highly advisable to an owner of high-end or luxurious brand, consisting of two or more alphabetical words, to have each word registered as well for the purpose of preventing free-riding and enjoying a broader scope of protection against use by others.

V&W is unlikely to cause confusion with VW emblem

In a recent trademark opposition involving the circular Volkswagen logo, the Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) decided that famous VW emblem is entirely dissimilar to, or unlikely to cause confusion with, the word mark “V&W” in standard character when used on retail services for automobiles [Opposition Case no. 2017-900009].


Trademark opposition

German car giant Volkswagen AG filed an opposition against TM registration no. 5888513 for word mark “V&W” written in standard character (Opposed mark) on the grounds that Opposed mark violates Article 4(1)(xi), 4(1)(xv) and 8(1) of the Trademark Law based on senior trademark registrations for the VW emblems and a word mark “VW”.
The opposed mark designates retail services or wholesale services for automobiles and various other goods in class 35.

Volkswagen argued Opposed mark gives rise to a pronunciation of “vi: dʌb·l·juː” by omitting “&” since the prevalent symbol representing a word of “AND” is just to connect “V” and “W”, and relevant traders and consumers are prone to omit the symbol in pronouncing the entire mark in light of transactional customs at present. If so, Opposed mark is deemed similar to the VW emblem as well as “VW” in visual, phonetical and conceptual point of view.

Besides, the VW emblem has acquired substantial popularity and reputation as a source indicator of famous automobile maker, Volkswagen. Thus, it is highly likely that relevant traders and consumers confuse the source of retail service for automobiles and its parts using Opposed mark “V&W” with opponent or a business entity systematically or economically connected with the opponent.

 


Board decision

The Board admitted the VW emblem has become famous for a source indicator of opponent by taking into consideration of the facts that opponent’s cars with the VW emblem have been continuously imported to Japan since 1978 at the latest and ranked in the top 3 of new imported automobile registrations for the past three years.

In the meantime, the Board denied high awareness of the word mark “VW” as a source indicator of opponent. A mere definition of VW to indicate the opponent in a dictionary is insufficient since the term is often seen in conjunction with corporation name “Volkswagen” in newspaper, magazines and newsarticle on a website.

In the assessment of trademark similarity, the Board concluded that “V&W” is obviously dissimilar to the VW emblem and “VW” in appearance, pronunciation and meaning. Due to substantial distinction between the marks, relevant traders and consumers are less likely to confuse or associate “V&W” with opponent and any business entity systematically or economically connected with opponent.

Based on the foregoing, the Board dismissed opposition and allowed “V&W” to survive.


It is noteworthy that a mark consisting of two alphabetical letters written in a plain font design is considered less distinctive in Japan. In this respect, IR no. 1272004 for the word mark “VW” did not function to broadly protect the VW emblem in favor of Volkswagen.