To whom does “Mary Poppins” return?

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an invalidation petition by Disney Enterprises, Inc. against Japanese TM Reg no. 5710595 for the wordmark “Mary Poppins” by finding that “Mary Poppins” has not been well known as a source indicator of Disney.

[Invalidation case no. 2019-890040, Gazette issued date: June 25, 2021]

TM Registration no. 5710595

Disputed mark, consisting of the word “Mary Poppins” in standard character (see below), was applied for registration on February 28, 2014, in respect of caring for babies [excluding services provided at facilities]; babysitting in class 45.

Without confronting refusal during the substantive examination, the disputed mark was registered on October 17, 2014.

The applicant of the disputed mark, Mary Poppins Inc., has apparently offered babysitting services in Kobe, Japan since its establishment in 1988.

Screen capture from https://www.marypoppins.co.jp/en/

Petition for invalidation by Disney

Japan Trademark Law has a provision to retroactively invalidate trademark registration for certain restricted reasons specified under Article 46 (1), provided that the interested party files an invalidation petition within a five-year statute of limitations.

Disney filed a petition for invalidation against the disputed mark on July 18, 2019, three months before the lapse of the limitations period, and argued the mark unquestionably freerides on the world-famous Walt Disney film “Mary Poppins” and thus relevant consumers would associate the disputed mark with Disney when used on the services in question. If so, it shall be invalid in contravention of Article 4(1)(vii), (xv), and (xix) 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.

Article 4(1)(xv) provides that a mark shall not be registered where it is likely to cause confusion with other business entities ’ well-known goods or services, to the benefit of brand owners and users.

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.


Mary Poppins, an American musical film, released in 1964, features the now-iconic screen debut of Julie Andrews. A children’s classic, Mary Poppins is considered to be among the finest of Walt Disney’s productions based on the original books by P.L Travers.


JPO Decision

The JPO Invalidation Board admitted a certain degree of reputation and popularity of “Mary Poppins” as the title of the beloved Walt Disney film and the name of the main character of the film.

In the meantime, the Board questioned if “Mary Poppins” has played a distinctive role in indicating a source of Disney’s goods or services. A mere fact that goods featuring the Walt Disney films and its characters are merchandised at the Tokyo Disney Resort and Disney Shops in Japan is insufficient to prove Disney has used “Mary Poppins” as a source indicator to identify their business, the Board found.

In so far as “Mary Poppins” has not been recognized as a source indicator, but a title of the world-famous Walt Disney film or the main character of the film, it is unlikely that relevant consumers would consider the disputed mark “Mary Poppins” used on the services in question coming from Disney or entities systematically or economically connected with the opponent.

The Board also referred to the precedent court cases that ruled invalidation of the trademark “Anne of Green Gables” and “Tarzan” in contravention of Article 4(1)(vii). Contrary to these films, the Board could find no authorized activity to protect or preserve the film or original books of “Mary Poppins” as cultural heritage and prohibit unlicensed use by the private sector. If so, it is inadequate to treat the case equally with them. The Board held that the disputed mark shall not be likely to cause damage to public order or morality.

Based on the foregoing, the JPO decided the disputed mark shall remain valid and dismissed the invalidation entirely.

BRIDGESTONE Victorious in Trademark Dispute for B Mark Logo

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) upheld an invalidation petition by the world’s largest tire and rubber company, Bridgestone Corporation against TM Reg. no. 5664068 for the “SB NAGAMOCHI” mark due to a likelihood of confusion with its well-known B mark logo.
[Invalidation case no. 2018-890068, Gazette issue date: March 27, 2020]

TM Registration no. 5664068

Disputed mark, consisting of “SB” logo and a word “NAGAMOCHI” in a smaller plain letter (see below left), was applied for registration on September 13, 2013 in respect of non-electric prime movers for land vehicles, not including their parts; AC motors or DC motors for land vehicles, not including their parts; automobiles and their parts and fittings; two-wheeled motor vehicles, bicycles and their parts and fittings; adhesive rubber patches for repairing tubes or tires in class 12.

Without confronting with a refusal during substantive examination, disputed mark was registered on April 18, 2014.

Applicant of disputed mark, RMP NAGAMOCHI Technology Japan Ltd promotes various structural parts for automobiles, e.g. cylinders, brakes and clutch hoses, brake calipers, brake pads, rubber parts, filters, gaskets. Disputed mark was actually used on brake pads (see below).

Petition for invalidation

Japan Trademark Law has a provision to retroactively invalidate trademark registration for certain restricted reasons specified under Article 46 (1) provided that interested party files an invalidation petition within five-year statute of limitations.

Bridgestone Corporation, a Japanese tire and rubber company, filed a petition for invalidation against disputed mark on September 5, 2018. Bridgestone argued the mark shall be invalidated due to a likelihood of confusion with its famous “B” mark logo (see above right) when used on all goods in class 12 based on Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law.

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.

Board Decision

In the decision, JPO Trial Board sided with Bridgestone by finding that:

  1. In 2016, Bridgestone holds top-ranked market share (14.6%) of automobiles tires in the world, the largest market share (55.9%) of tires and rubber products in Japan.
  2. Bridgestone has consecutively used “B” mark logo on goods and promotions as a symbolic house mark of Bridgestone group since 1984 and even when announcing sponsorship partnership with the Olympic Games and Tokyo2020 Paralympic Games Gold Partner.
  3. Based on the foregoing, it is unquestionable that “B” mark logo has acquired strong and considerable reputation as a source indicator of Bridgestone tires and rubber products among relevant traders and consumers of goods in question.
  4. “B” logo is a ‘strong’ mark because it is depicted with distinctive figurative element so that the mark as a whole can be seen sufficiently distinguishable from an ordinary “B” letter.
  5. Both marks look different when compared in its entirety, however, 2nd letter of “SB” logo is considered highly similar to “B” mark logo from visual point of view.
  6. Disputed goods “automobiles and their parts and fittings; two-wheeled motor vehicles, bicycles and their parts and fittings” and “tires” have the potential to be connected in the minds of the consumers. Since respective products share distributors or can be found in the same stores, there finds proximity in channels of trade and marketing of the products on which the marks are used.
  7. Foregoing weighs in favor of finding confusion. Thus, disputed mark shall be invalidated in violation of Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law.

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]

iWATCH

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.

PUMA’s Fight Against Logo Parody

On August 1, 2019, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) decided to invalidate trademark registration no. 5861923 for composite mark consisting of a word “KUMA”, which means ‘bear’ in Japanese, and the bear device by finding a likelihood of confusion with a world-renowned sports brand, PUMA and detrimental effect to public policy or morality.
[Invalidation case no. 2019-890001]

KUMA device mark

Disputed mark (see below) was filed on January 7, 2016 by a Japanese business entity in Hokkaido, Japan’s most northerly main island, an otherworldly volcanic land with eastern Asia’s highest concentration of brown bears, over various goods in class 25 including sportswear and shoes.

Precedently, applicant applied for registration of following trademarks, consist of four alphabets in bold font and an animal silhouette facing left depicted in the upper right of the alphabets, on goods in classes 9, 14, 16, 24, 25 and 28, but in vain.

“UUMA” means ‘horse’, “BUTA” means ‘pig’, “KUMA” means ‘bear’ in Japanese. It is obvious that both literal element and figurative element of respective mark give rise to a same meaning, which is the same for PUMA.

It is likely the applicant intended to use these marks on souvenirs from Hokkaido since we get accustomed to see scenes at a famous tourist spot that T-shirts and other small items displayed at gift shops parody famous brands by featuring local specialty to attract tourists for fun.

PUMA’s Opposition / Invalidation Trial

On September 26, 2016, PUMA SE filed an opposition against the KUMA mark based on Article 4(1)(vii) and 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law. PUMA argued relevant consumers or traders are likely to confuse or misconceive a source of disputed mark with PUMA when used on designated goods in class 25 because of a high reputation and close resemblance between PUMA logo and the KUMA mark.

The Opposition Board admitted a high degree of popularity and reputation of PUMA logo, however, the Board dismissed the opposition entirely due to unlikelihood of confusion as a result of low degree of similarity between the marks (Opposition case no. 2016-900308).

Subsequently, PUMA SE entrusted the case to MARKS IP LAW FIRM. On New Year’s Eve of 2018, MARKS IP LAW FIRM on behalf of PUMA SE requested for an invalidation trial and sought to annul the KUMA mark on the same grounds.

Invalidation Decision

The Invalidation Board reversed the opposition decision and decided in favor of PUMA by finding that:

  1. PUMA logo has been continuously famous as a source indicator of PUMA in connection with sports shoes, sportswear and others among relevant consumers and traders in Japan.
  2. Configuration of PUMA logo looks unique, creative, and impressive in itself.
  3. Regardless of visual difference in detail between the marks, overall impression of both marks is quite similar.
  4. Given close association between designated goods in class 25 and PUMA business, relevant consumers of the goods with an ordinary care are likely to confuse its source with PUMA
  5. Besides, it is presumed the current registrant of disputed mark was knowingly assigned a similar KUMA mark that applicant had a fraudulent intent to free-ride and dilute PUMA’s goodwill.
  6. If so, current registrant must have filed disputed mark with a fraudulent intention to dilute or do harm to PUMA’s goodwill given a close resemblance of between disputed mark and a rejected KUMA mark (see above right).

Based on the foregoing, the JPO decided to invalidate disputed marks based on Article 4(1)(xv) as well as 4(1)(vii) of the Japan Trademark Law.

Trademark Dispute over Pendant Lamp Shade

In a decision to the invalidation trial claimed by LUIS POULSEN A/S, a Danish company, the Trial Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) upheld the petition and invalidated TM registration no. 5643726 for a combination mark containing the pendant lamp shade design (see below) in violation of Article 4(1)(xix) of the Trademark Law.
[Invalidation case no. 2017-890003, Gazette issue date: September 28, 2018]

 

Disputed mark

Disputed mark, consisting of a literal element “R&M Interior Store”, “R&M” logo in the shape of shield and the pendant lamp shade design (see below), was filed on June 14, 2013 by a Japanese business entity, designating wholesale or retail services for lighting apparatus and others in class 35.

Going through substantive examination, the JPO admitted registration on January 17, 2014. Three years after the registration, LUIS POULSEN A/S filed an invalidation action against disputed mark on January 4, 2017.

 

Invalidation trial

During the invalidation trial, LUIS POULSEN A/S argued disputed mark shall be invalidation based on Article 4(1)(xix) since the applicant filed the mark, confusingly similar to trademark registration no. 5825191 for 3D mark in the shape of unique pendant lamp shade (see below) well-known for “PH5” created by a Danish designer Poul Henningsen, with a malicious intention to damage claimant.

According to supporting evidence produced to the trial, “PH5” lamp was originally designed in 1958. It has been promoted for sale in the marketplace of Japan since 1976. More than 500,000 lamps have been produced and sold around the globe. To bolster its reputation, LUIS POULSEN submitted a written declaration by Danish Ambassador to Japan. Besides, 3D shape of “PH5” lamp shade is successfully registered by finding acquired distinctiveness as a result of substantial use and uniqueness finally to serve as a source indicator (TM Registration no. 5825191).


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.

 

Board decision

The Board found that:

  1. 3D shape of “PH5” lamp has become famous as a source indicator of LUIS POULSEN among relevant domestic consumers well before the filing date of disputed mark as a result of continuous marketing activities in Japan since 1976.
  2. In the assessment of trademark similarity, it is unquestionable that the pendant lamp shade design depicted in disputed mark closely resembles “PH5”. From overall appearance, relevant consumers and traders will conceive the portion of the pendant lamp shade design plays a dominant role in disputed mark.
  3. The fact that applicant promoted similar lamp shade as “reproduct” or “generic product” of “PH5” convinces us that applicant has been aware of prospective controversy and causing damage to business interest of LUIS POULSEN.

Based on the above findings, the Board concluded that applicant filed a similar mark to “PH5” well-known for a pendant lamp shade of LUIS POULSEN with a malicious intention to gain unfair profits or cause damage to claimant. Thus, disputed mark shall be invalidated in violation of Article 4(1)(xix) of the Trademark Law.