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.

JPO Status Report 2021 – The impact of Covid-19 on Japan trademarks

Unquestionably, 2020 was remarkably a tough and soul-destroying year for businesses around the world. The coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on every aspect of day-to-day life, including the world of business. Just as the fluctuations in the economy and our changing work and lifestyles due to long months spent at homes destroyed our understanding of “normal.” Business mentality, preferences, and actions taken during the crisis have all changed. As a result, it was inevitable for trademark filings to be affected by these changes.

According to “JPO Status Report 2021” released on March 31, 2021, by the Japan Patent Office (JPO), a total of 181,072 trademark applications were filed in 2020. This number is down 5% compared to the previous year when the number of applications amounted to 190,773.

It is interesting to see that Pfizer Inc. became a top-ranking foreign registrant in 2020 who could successfully register 154 trademarks in Japan, drastically increased from the previous year.

Requests for accelerated examination consecutively increased to 11,204 by 38% in 2020, 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 10.9 months on average, which is nearly 2 months longer than the previous year.

You can access and download the full text of “JPO Status Report 2021” from here.

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.

Fast Track Trademark Examination – Japan Patent Office

At present, applicant will wait at least 12 months from when trademark is filed until it becomes registered by the Japan Patent Office (JPO).

Accelerated Trademark Examination

To meet a need of earlier registration, JPO has introduced “Accelerated Trademark Examination” which enables trademark application to be registered in two or three months.
However, since it requires applicant to demonstrate actual use of applied mark on at least one of designated goods and services, if applicant has yet to use the mark, such applications have no way but to be in a long queue for JPO examination.

Fast Track Trademark Examination

Newly introduced “Fast Track Trademark Examination” provides an option to achieve earlier registration for non-use trademark owners. According to announcement from JPO, the Fast Track Examination shortens trademark examination period to 6 (six) months on average.

Excerpt from the JPO website

If trademark application meets with following conditions, your trademark will be freely on the fast track without request.

  1. Good and services initially designated under the application are all listed on the “Examination Guidelines for Similar Goods and Services”, “Regulation for Enforcement of the Trademark Act”, or “International Classification of Goods and Services (Nice Classification)”; and
  2. No amendment has been made with respect to goods and services by the time JPO commences examination; and
  3. Applied mark does not belong to non-traditional trademark, international applications under the Madrid system, or partial 3D (three dimensional) mark.

JPO adopts the Fast Track Examination to trademark application filed on or after February 1, 2020.

Further information is available from here.

Happiness Diamond makes Chopard Happy Diamonds unhappy

Swiss manufacturer and retailer of luxury watches, jewelry and accessories, CHOPARD INTERNATIONAL S.A. failed in their attempt to stop the registration of a word mark “Happiness Diamond” at the Japan Patent Office.
[Opposition case no. 2019-900134, Gazette issue date: November 29, 2019]

HAPPINESS DIAMOND

Opposed mark (TM Registration no. 6118600), consisting of two words “Happiness Diamond” in standard character, was applied for registration on November 26,2018 for jewelry, accessories, watches in class 14 by Happiness and D Co., Ltd., a Japanese company.

At an initial application, applicant requested the JPO to expedite substantive examination. In accordance with the request, JPO examiner put a priority on the mark and admitted to grant registration in two months subsequent to substantive examination.

Accelerated Examination

JPO applies the accelerated examination system to trademark application on the condition that the application meets the following condition.

  1. Applicant/licensee uses or will use applied mark on one of designated goods/services at least, and there exists an urgency to registration, e.g. unauthorized use by third parties
  2. All designated goods/services are actually or shortly used by applicant/licensee, or
  3. Applicant/licensee uses or will use applied mark on one of designated goods/services at least, and all the goods/services are designated in accordance with a standard description based on Examination Guidelines for Similar Goods and Services.

Accelerated examination system enables applicant to obtain examination results in less than two months on average, which is six months shorter than regular examination nowadays.

Opposition by Chopard

On April 26, 2019, before the lapse of a two-months opposition period, CHOPARD INTERNATIONAL S.A., a Swiss manufacturer and retailer of luxury watches, jewelry and accessories, filed an opposition to opposed mark.

Opponent (CHOPARD) claimed that the opposed mark “Happiness Diamond” shall be retroactively cancelled under Article 4(1)(x), (xi), (xv), (xix) of the Japan Trademark Law in relation to all designated goods in class 14 by citing an owned senior international registration no. 446502 for word mark “Happy Diamonds” covering ‘Mechanical hand-winding and self-winding watches; electric and electronic watches; chronometers; jewelry; jewelry watches; all these goods adorned with diamonds’ in class 14, which has been effectively registered in Japan since September 24, 2010.

Article 4(1)(x) prohibits to register a trademark which is identical with, or similar to, other entity’s well-known mark over goods or services closely related with the entity’s business.

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) prohibits to register a trademark which is likely to cause confusion with a business of other entity.

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

To stop registration of opposed mark, CHOPARD has to prove “Happy Diamonds” is similar to “Happiness Diamond”. Even if both marks are deemed dissimilar, CHOPARD is still able to win the case by demonstrating likelihood of confusion resulting from fame of CHOPARD “Happy Diamonds”.

Board Decision

To my surprise, the Board held “Happiness Diamond” is sufficiently dissimilar to “Happy Diamonds” by stating that:

  1. From appearance and pronunciation, both marks, consisting of two words, are unlikely to cause confusion given the difference on the first word “Happiness” and “Happy”.
  2. Besides, both marks do not give rise to any specific meaning. If so, it is incomparable in concept.
  3. Thus, from the totality of the circumstances, relevant consumers would neither associate nor connect opposed mark with “Happy Diamonds”.

The Board questioned whether CHOPARD “Happy Diamonds” has acquired a sufficient degree of reputation and popularity among relevant consumers in Japan to be protectable under Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law in view of produced evidences although opponent alleged its first use dates back to 1976. If so, it is unlikely that relevant consumers confuse or misconceive a source of the opposed mark with CHOPARD or any entity systematically or economically connected with the opponent.

Consequently, opposed mark is not subject to Article 4(1)(x), (xi), (xv) and (xix), and remains valid as a status quo.

Acquired distinctiveness for 3D shape of OMRON digital thermometer

The Japan Patent Office recently admitted trademark registration for a three-dimensional shape of digital thermometers ‘MC-670’ and ‘MC-681’ manufactured by Omron Healthcare Co., Ltd. by finding acquired distinctiveness in relation to thermometers (cl.10) under Article 3(2) of the Japan Trademark Law.
[Appeal case no. 2019-10386, Gazette issued date: October 29, 2019]

3D shape of the Omron digital thermometer

Omron Healthcare Co., Ltd. filed a trademark solely consisting of three-dimensional shape of its digital thermometers ‘MC-670’ and ‘MC-681’ (see below) in relation to thermometers in class 10 on August 28, 2018.
[TM application no. 2018-108289]

JPO examiner entirely rejected the application on the ground that in general pen-shape digital thermometers have a similar configuration with the applied mark. If so, it is unlikely that relevant consumers and traders conceive the shape as a source indicator of the goods. Hence, the mark is subject to 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, Omron filed an appeal on August 6, 2019.

Appeal Board’s decision – Acquired Distinctiveness

The Appeal Board affirmed examiner’s rejection of the 3D shape based on lack of distinctiveness. In the meantime, the Board granted protection of the 3D shape by finding acquired distinctiveness under Article 3(2).

Article 3(2) of the Trademark Law

Notwithstanding the preceding paragraph, a trademark that falls under any of items (iii) to (v) of the preceding paragraph may be registered if, as a result of the use of the trademark, consumers are able to recognize the goods or services as those pertaining to a business of a particular person.

Allegedly Omron has continuously used the 3D shape on its digital thermometers ‘MC-670’ and ‘MC-681’ since November 2004. Omron holds top-ranked market share (43.9%) of digital thermometers in Japan. ‘MC-670’ and ‘MC-681’ have been sold more than 4million sets over the last decade and maintains the 2nd market share (8.7%) in 2018.

The Board took a favorable view of the package design to appeal its 3D shape in an impression and conspicuous manner (see below), advertisements and award-winning.

According to the produced interview report, 60% of the interviewees (total of one thousand people who have digital thermometer or use it more than once a year ranging in age from 20 to 69) associated the shape with Omron or its digital thermometers.

Since Omron has been aggressive to stop competitors using resembled shape on their thermometers, the Board considered that the 3D shape is distinguishable to achieve its role as a source indicator consequently even if the “OMRON” mark is represented on the thermometers.

Based on the above findings, the Board held that the 3D shape would be conceived as a source indicator of Omron thermometers and thus registrable based on the acquired distinctiveness under Article 3(2).
[TM Registration no. 6197317]

JPO finds “CLUB MOET KYOTO” and “Moët & Chandon” likely to cause confusion

The Opposition Board of the Japan Patent Office (JPO) sided with MHCS, the producer, inter alia, of the famous Moët & Chandon champagne, and decided to cancel trademark registration no. 6030384 for word mark “CLUB MOET KYOTO” due to a likelihood of confusion with “Moët & Chandon”.

CLUB MOET KYOTO

Opposed mark, a word mark “CLUB MOET KYOTO” written in standard character, was filed on November 14, 2017 by designating restaurant service of class 43 in the name of a Japanese business entity having its principal place of business at Kyoto. It appears the applicant owns hostess bar and opposed mark is actually used as a name of the bar. See here.

Immediately after filing the application, applicant requested the JPO to accelerate examination of opposed mark. In accordance with the request, the JPO rushed to a decision and admitted registration on March 23, 2018.

MHCS – OPPOSITION

MHCS, as a holder of the Japanese trademark “MOET”, sought to retroactively cancel the registration of opposed mark, on the grounds that the mark was likely to cause confusion with “Moët & Chandon” when used on restaurant service in class 43 under Article 4(1)(xv) of the Japan Trademark Law.

Likelihood of confusion is a key criteria when assessing the similarity of trademarks. To establish whether there is likelihood of confusion, the visual, phonetic and conceptual similarity will be assessed as well as the goods and/or services involved. This assessment is based on the overall impression given by those marks, account being taken, in particular, of their distinctive and dominant components. A low degree of similarity between the goods or services may be offset by a high degree of similarity between the marks, and vice versa.

MHCS argued that a term “MOET” of opposed mark shall playa a dominant role as a source indicator since both “CLUB” and “KYOTO” are devoid of distinctive character in relation to restaurant service. If so, relevant consumers may misconceive “Moët & Chandon” from opposed mark when used on the service in question by taking its prestigious reputation of “Moët” as an abbreviation of world-famous champagne into consideration.

OPPOSITION DECISION

The JPO Opposition Board decided in favor of MHCS, finding that both “Moët & Chandon” and its abbreviation “Moët” have acquired substantial reputation as a top ranking champagne brand distributed by MHCS. It is unlikely that relevant consumers would conceive “Moët” as a surname of foreigners. If so, the term is anything but a dictionary word, rather a coined word. Besides, both marks are confusingly similar, due to visual, phonetic and conceptual similarities, since the literal elements “CLUB” and “KYOTO” of opposed mark are devoid of distinctive character in relation to the service in question, as well as close association between champagne and restaurant service for which protection was sought based on the fact that MHCS once opened restaurant in the year 2014.

Based on the above considerations, the Opposition Board cancelled trademark registration of opposed mark in its entirety, finding there to be likelihood of confusion between “Moët & Chandon” and the trademark applied for.
[Opposition case no. 2018-900152, Gazette issued date: October 25, 2019]

JPO decided to invalidate the word mark “Bord’or” in relation to wines

In a decision to the invalidation trial jointly claimed by INSTITUT NATIONAL DE L’ORIGINE ET DE LA QUALITE and CONSEIL INTERPROFESSIONNEL DU VIN DE BORDEAUX, the Invalidation Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) ordered to invalidate TM registration no. 5737079 for a word mark “Bord’or” in script fonts (see below) in violation of Article 4(1)(vii) of the Trademark Law.
[Invalidation case no. 2016-890075]

TM Registration no. 5737079

Mark in dispute (see above), owned by a Japanese legal entity, was filed on October 9, 2014 by designating various types of alcoholic beverages including wines in class 33. After an initial application, applicant requested the JPO to expedite substantive examination. In accordance with the request, JPO examiner put a priority on the mark and admitted to grant registration in three months subsequent to substantive examination.

Accelerated Examination

JPO applies the accelerated examination system to trademark application on the condition that the application meets the following condition.

  1. Applicant/licensee uses or will use applied mark on one of designated goods/services at least, and there exists an urgency to registration, e.g. unauthorized use by third parties, basic application to international registration,
  2. All designated goods/services are actually or shortly used by applicant/licensee, or
  3. Applicant/licensee uses or will use applied mark on one of designated goods/services at least, and all the goods/services are designated in accordance with a standard description based on Examination Guidelines for Similar Goods and Services.

Accelerated examination system enables applicant to obtain examination results in less than two months on average, which is four months shorter than regular examination.

Claimants’ allegation

Claimants argued disputed mark gives rise to the same pronunciation with BORDEAUX, “ bɔːˈdəʊ”. If so, relevant consumers shall conceive BORDEAUX, a world-famous geographical name known for an origin of French wine. Besides, according to the document produced by applicant to demonstrate actual use of disputed mark on designated goods in requesting accelerated examination, it evidently reveals intention to free-ride or dilute fame of prestigious wine.
Thus, if disputed mark is used on wines originated from areas other than BORDEAUX, it severely does harm to fame and aura of prestigious wine constituted under the strict control of domicile of origin. Then, inevitably it causes disorder to a world of global commerce in a manner inconsistent with international fidelity.

To bolster the allegation, claimants cited precedent trademark decisions involving famous French wine, e.g. ROMANEE-CONTI, BEAUJOLAIS NOUVEAU, CHABLIS. Inter alia, IP High Court ruled a word mark “CHAMPAGNE TOWER” invalid in relation to “CHAMPAGNE” based on Article 4(1)(vii).

Article 4(1)(vii) of the Japan Trademark Law

Article 4(1)(vii) prohibits any mark likely to offend public order and morals from registering.

Trademark Examination Guidelines sets forth criteria for the article and samples.

  1. Trademarks that are “likely to cause damage to public order or morality” are, for example, the trademarks that fall under the cases prescribed in (1) to (5) below.

(1) Trademarks which are, in composition per se, characters or figures, signs, three-dimensional shapes or colors or any combination thereof, or sounds that are unethical, obscene, discriminative, outrageous, or unpleasant to people. It is judged whether characters, figures, signs, three-dimensional shapes or colors or any combination thereof, or sounds are unethical, discriminative or unpleasant to people, with consideration given to their historical backgrounds, social impacts, etc. from a comprehensive viewpoint.

(2) Trademarks which do not have the composition per se as prescribed in (1) above but are liable to conflict with the public interests of the society or contravene the generally-accepted sense of morality if used for the designated goods or designated services.

(3) Trademarks with their use prohibited by other laws.

(4) Trademarks liable to dishonor a specific country or its people or trademarks generally considered contrary to the international faith.

(5) Trademarks whose registration is contrary to the order predetermined under the Trademark Act and is utterly unacceptable for lack of social reasonableness in the background to the filing of an application for trademark registration.

 

  1. Examples that fall under this item

(i) Trademarks that contain characters such as “university” and are likely to be mistaken for the name of universities, etc. under the School Education Act.

(ii) Trademarks that contain characters such as “士(shi)” which are likely to mislead that they represent national qualifications.

(iii) Trademarks of the name of a well-known or famous historical personage which are determined to have the risk of taking a free ride on public measures related to that personage and damage the public interests by inhibiting the performance of such measures.

(iv) Trademarks with figures indicated in a manner that may impair the dignity and honor of national flags (including foreign national flags)

(v) A sound mark related to the services of “medical treatment” which causes people to recognize siren sounds generated by ambulances that are well known in Japan.

(vi) A sound mark which causes people to recognize national anthems of Japan and other countries.

Board decision

Board found in favor of claimants that “BORDEAUX” has acquired a high degree of popularity and reputation among Japanese consumers as a source indicator of wines originated from the Bordeaux district. As long as disputed mark gives rise to the same pronunciation with BORDEAUX, it is undeniable that consumers are likely to connect the disputed mark with BORDEAUX wine or its district. If so, disputed mark free-rides or dilutes lure and image of BORDEAUX wine, and adversely affects domicile of origin strictly controlled by French government.
Consequently, Board decided to invalidate Bord’or in violation to Article 4(1)(vii).


Protection of geographical indication

The Japan Trademark Law contains provisions to protect geographical indication.
In principle, a mark merely consisting of geographical name or location is deemed descriptive and falls under Article 3(1)(iii). Even if a mark is combined geographical indication with other distinctive elements, it is subject to Article 4(1)(xvi) since the mark may mislead the quality when used on goods from other areas.
Regarding a mark indicating a place of origin off wine, Article 4(1)(xvii) plays a significant role.

Article 4(1)(xvii)

No trademark shall be registered if the trademark is comprised of a mark indicating a place of origin of wines or spirits of Japan which has been designated by the Commissioner of the Patent Office, or a mark indicating a place of origin of wines or spirits of a member of the World Trade Organization which is prohibited by the said member from being used on wines or spirits not originating from the region of the said member, if such a trademark is used in connection with wines or spirits not originating from the region in Japan or of the said member.

Geographical indications to be protected under the article can be reviewed by accessing http://www.jpo.go.jp/tetuzuki_e/t_tokkyo_e/pdf/appendix2.pdf

In this regard, it should be noted that Article 4(1)(xvii) is applicable to any mark containing a term to represent protected GI in itself. In other words, Article 4(1)(xvii) can’t block “Bord’or” since disputed mark does not contain “BORDEAUX” or its transliteration.