Trademark Dispute over Side Stripe on Footwear

In a trademark dispute along the side of shoes between Vans Incorporated and Revenge X Storm Limited, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) did not side with Vans Incorporated.

[Invalidation case no. 2021-890049, Decision date: September 29, 2022]

REVENGE shoes

Revenge X Stream Limited filed a device mark representing a shoe for the right leg with a thunder-shaped line along the side of the shoe for use on ‘sports shoes’ in class 25 with the JPO on June 5, 2018.

The mark was successfully registered on October 2, 2020 (TM Reg no. 6299288).


Invalidation action by VANS

VANS INC. filed an invalidation action on September 16, 2021, and argued the mark shall be invalidated in contravention of Article 4(1)(x), (xi), and (xv) of the Japan Trademark Law by citing earlier trademark registrations for the iconic Vans Side stripe used on OLD SKOOL (see below) since 1977.

VANS alleged the appearance of Vans OLD SKOOL perse has become famous to indicate VANS’ shoes among relevant consumers of sports shoes in Japan.


JPO Decision

To my surprise, the JPO Invalidation Board denied a certain degree of reputation and popularity of the Vans Side stripe as a source indicator of VANS’ shoes from the totality of the produced evidence.

Besides, the Board negated the similarity of both marks by stating:

The mark in question represents a thunder-shaped sideline along the side of sports shoes. On the other hand, the Vans Side stripe consists of a gently wavy curved sideline along the side of the shoes.

Therefore, the appearance of the two marks clearly differs in the shape of the sideline on the side of the shoe and is clearly distinguishable.

In this way, even if both marks cannot be compared in terms of concept, they are dissimilar and unlikely to be confused in terms of appearance and pronunciation, and therefore, the degree of similarity shall be quite low.

Given a low degree of similarity between the two marks, the Board has a reason to believe that relevant consumers are unlikely to confuse a source of sports shoes bearing the mark in question with VANS.

Based on the foregoing, the Board found the entire allegations of VANS groundless and decided to dismiss invalidation action accordingly.

Trademark Opposition or Invalidation, Which Is Useful in Japan?

Opposition

A trademark opposition is a proceeding in which a third party can oppose a newly registered trademark under Article 43bis of the Japan Trademark Law. For example, once a trademark is newly registered by JPO, this fact is published in the Official Gazette of Trade Marks immediately after it is actually registered. This kicks off a two (2) month period known as the ‘opposition period’ during which other parties are then given an opportunity to ‘oppose’ the registration of the trademark.


Invalidation

Trademark invalidation is an inter-partes proceeding in which a party has a legal interest in the result that can null a trademark registration under Article 46 of the Japan Trademark Law. If the registration is less than five years old, the party challenging the trademark rights can rely on any ground that could have prevented registration initially.


Comparison

Conflict with earlier registration (similarity of mark and goods/service), a likelihood of confusion with famous mark, and descriptiveness are the most common grounds asserted both in opposition and invalidation action.

 Trademark OppositionTrademark Invalidation
Statute of limitations2 months from the publication date5 years from the registration date
Official feeJPY11,000 for 1 class
JPY19,000 for 2 classes
JPY55,000 for 1 class
JPY95,000 for 2 classes
StandingLegal interest is not requiredLegal interest is required
CounterargumentNo obligation to counterargue unless the JPO notifies a cancellation ground to a registrant.Mandatory for a registrant to counterargue, otherwise it may adversely affect.
Pendency period7.9 months11.5 months
Appeal to decisionOnly the registrant can file an appeal against an unfavorable decisionEither party can file an appeal against the JPO decision

Which action to take?

From a cost-saving point of view, opposition undoubtedly looks more attractive than invalidation, however, when you look at the success rate of opposition (see below table), it may change your mind. There has been a big gap in the success rate between opposition and invalidation for years.

YearThe success rate of the OppositionThe success rate of Invalidation
201513%32%
201616%42%
201711%33%
201811%34%
201911%56%
202011%35%

Therefore, in terms of probability theory, invalidation action is by far preferable to opposition for the purpose of removing trademark registration in Japan.

LV Damier pattern is unenforceable TM right against traditional Japanese checkered pattern

In an advisory opinion on trademark dispute over world-famous “Damier’s pattern”, the Japan Patent Office did not side with LOUIS VUITTON MALLETIER.
[Case no. 2020-695001, Gazette issued date: September 24, 2021]


IR 952582 Damier’s pattern

In 1888, a French luggage maker Louis Vuitton began putting a canvas checkerboard print on its travel goods. A “distinctive checkered pattern of light and dark colors” named Damier meant to indicate the source of the products, which has been in use since then and “has been one of the biggest successes of Louis Vuitton,” according to the Paris-based luxury goods giant.

IR no. 952582

LOUIS VUITTON MALLETIER has owned IR no. 952582 for the Damier pattern on ‘Boxes of leather or imitation leather, trunks, suitcases, traveling sets (leather goods), traveling bags, luggage, garment bags for travel, hatboxes, vanity cases not fitted, toilet-cases, rucksacks, satchels, handbags, beach bags, shopping bags, sling bags, carrier bags, shoulder bags, waist bags, purses, cases, of leather or leatherboard: briefcases (leather goods), portfolio satchels, pochettes, wallets, change purses, key cases, card cases and holders (wallets), umbrellas, parasols’ in class 18 since 2008.


Ichimatsu Moyo (Traditional Japanese checkered pattern)

As you may remember, the logos for the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 are based on Japanese checkered patterns. The stylish logo designs feature a popular checkered pattern which during the Edo period (1603-1867) was known as “Ichimatsu Moyo” and used the traditional Japanese color of indigo blue.

Because of its traditional background, the Ichimatsu patterns have been used on various goods even now.

Kanbe Prayer Beads Co., Ltd., a Kyoto-based merchant, has promoted cases and pouches for prayer beads (Juzu) or stamp books to keep seals given at temples and shrines for visitors (Gosyuin-Cho) that depict checkered patterns on the outer material of respective goods.

Screen capture from https://www.kyoto-kanbejuzu.co.jp/productsichimatsu.html

In order to prevent LOUIS VUITTON from alleging trademark infringement and secure incontestable status, Kanbe Prayer Beads asked the JPO for an advisory opinion on September 4, 2020.


Advisory Opinion (Hantei)

The Japan Trademark Law has provision for the Japan Patent Office to give advisory opinions about the scope of trademark right upon request under Article 28.

Proceedings of the advisory opinion system are almost the same as invalidation trials. Upon request from either party, the JPO appoints three examiners and orders the opposite party to answer the request in writing. Board seldom holds an oral hearing to investigate the case. In general, all proceedings are based on written statements and documentary evidence.

The advisory opinion by JPO does not have a binding effect, unlike the judicial decision. Accordingly, less than 10 trademark cases have been lodged with the JPO to seek the advisory opinion annually.


JPO Opinion

On April 21, 2021, the JPO provided its advisory opinion to the case by stating that:

Article 26(1)(vi) of the Japan Trademark Law provides trademark rights shall not be enforceable against any sign that consumers are unable to recognize it as a source indicator of goods or services in question.

It is unquestionable that the checkered pattern in dispute, represented on the disputed goods overall in series, has the same pattern with Ichimatsu Moyo that has been known to the public as one of traditional Japanese patterns and motifs.

Besides, Article 3(1)(vi) of the Japan Trademark Law prohibits the registration of a trademark solely consisting of a pattern in series to be considered as background design due to a lack of distinctiveness.

If so, it is highly likely that relevant consumers at the sight of goods bearing the checkered pattern in question would just conceive of Ichimatsu Moyo, one of the traditional Japanese patterns by taking account of the fact that the goods are promoted with the word “Ichimatsu” on the advertisement.

Based on the foregoing, the Board decided the checkered pattern in dispute would not fall within the scope of LV Damier’s pattern trademark right since consumers are unable to recognize the pattern as a source indicator of the goods in question under Article 26 (1)(vi) of the Trademark Law.

JPO found likelihood of confusion between SONY and SONICODE

The Japan Patent Office sided with Sony Corporation and declared invalidation of TM Registration no. 5764615 for wordmark “SONICODE” due to a likelihood of confusion with “SONY”.

[Invalidation case no. 2020-890039, Gazette issued date: July 30, 2021]

SONICODE

Field System Inc., a mobile application developer, applied wordmark “SONICODE” in standard character for registration on various goods including telecommunication apparatus, electronic machines, consumer video game programs, and its related services in class 9, 38, and 41 with the JPO on December 12, 2014 (TM App no. 2014-105218).

The mark did not face any refusal during the substantive examination and it was registered on date May 15, 2015.

Apparently, the mark has been used on mobile applications for smartphones.


SONY

SONY CORPORATION, a major Japanese manufacturer of consumer electronics products, filed an opposition against the SONICODE mark on August 5, 2015, before the lapse of a two-month statutory period for the opposition, in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi), (xv), and (xix) of the Japan Trademark Law. However, the JPO Opposition Board found both marks dissimilar and no likelihood of confusion between the marks SONY and SONICODE and dismissed SONY’s allegations entirely. [Opposition case no. 2015-900260]

On May 12, 2020, just three days before the lapse of the five-year statute of limitations, SONY CORPORATION files a petition for invalidation and alleged that the contested mark shall be invalidated based on Article 4(1)(x), (xi), (xv).

SONY argued that relevant consumers would conceive SONY at the sight of the contested mark SONICODE because of a high reputation of SONY and less distinctiveness of the term “CODE” in relation to the goods and services in question.

To bolster the arguments, SONY demonstrated how AI speakers, e.g., Amazon Alexa, Google Assist, Microsoft Cortana, Apple Siri, reacted to hear “SONICODE”. Allegedly, the AI speakers recognized it as ‘SONY code’ or ‘SONY cord’ and displayed information relating to SONY.

Field System Inc. did neither answer to the petition nor dispute at all during the invalidation procedure.


JPO decision

The JPO Invalidation Board did not question a remarkable degree of reputation, popularity, and originality of “SONY” as a source indicator of the opponent’s business and its products (telecommunication apparatus, electronic machines, consumer video game programs).

Besides, the Board found the prefix “SONI” of the contested mark gives rise to a similar appearance and pronunciation with “SONY”. Relevant consumers are likely to consider that the contested mark consists of “SONI” and “CODE”. If so, even if both marks are deemed dissimilar in their entirety, the Board has good reason to believe “SONICODE” has a certain degree of similarity to “SONY”.

In view of a close association between the goods and services in question and the opponent business, the Board concluded the contested mark shall be retroactively invalidated in contravention of Article 4(1)(xv). In the meantime, because of the dissimilarity of the marks, the Board dismissed allegations based on Article 4(1)(x) and (xi).

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.

LEGO Triumphs In ‘CATTYLEGO’ Trademark Battle at JPO

LEGO eventually scored a win over PETSWEET CO., Ltd., a Taiwanese company, in a trademark dispute against ‘CATTYLEGO’ thanks to the JPO’s finding a likelihood of confusion with “LEGO” famous for toy brick.
[Invalidation case no. 2018-890084, Gazette issued date: September 25, 2020]

CATTY LEGO

PETSWEEY Co. (派斯威特國際有限公司), Ltd., a Taiwanese company, applied for trademark registration in Japan for the mark consisting of a word “CATTYLEGO” and rectangle device (see below) on June 15, 2016, over toy boxes and chests, dog kennels, fodder racks, pet cushions, pet house in class 20 and toys for pets in class 28.

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) registered the mark on December 2, 2016 (TM Registration no. 5902786) and published for opposition on January 10, 2017.

LEGO

LEGO Juris A/S, the world’s largest Danish toy manufacturer, filed an opposition against the mark ‘CATTYLEGO’ on the final day of a two-month duration for the opposition, and argued it shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(viii), (xi), (xv) and (xix) of the Japan Trademark Law, but in vain. Click here to read more about the opposition.

Subsequently, LEGO lodged a trademark invalidation trial with the JPO on October 31, 2018, based on the same grounds.

JPO Decision

The Invalidation Board did not question a high degree of reputation and popularity of the LEGO trademark as a source indicator of toy brick by finding consecutive promotion of LEGO bricks in Japan for more than five decades, annual sales amounting to over 8 billion yen (Approx. USD 74 million ), its remarkable share in the sector of kids toys, and almost half of preschools in Japan have adopted the bricks for educational purpose.

Given the remarkable reputation of the LEGO mark, the Board held relevant consumers/traders at the sight of the ‘CATTYLEGO’ mark would inevitably conceive the term “LEGO” as a dominant portion. If so, both marks may give rise to a similar sound and concept pertinent to “LEGO”.

The Board also affirmed toy brick and the goods in question are closely associated in view of suppliers, commercial channels, usage, consumers.

Consequently, by taking into consideration the totality of the circumstances, the Board found relevant consumers with an ordinary care would confuse or associate the goods in question bearing the ‘CATTYLEGO’ mark with LEGO or any entity systematically or economically connected with LEGO, and thus the mark shall be invalidated based on Article 4(1)(xv) of the trademark law.

Coffee Trademark Battle

Colombian Coffee Federation (FNC) failed a fight for invalidation of Japanese TM Registration no. 5901554 for word mark “EMERALD” in class 30 owned by The Coca-Cola Company, one of the world’s largest beverage company in the US.
[Invalidation case no. 2018-890017, Gazette issued date: August 28, 2020]

EMERALD MOUNTAIN

Emerald Mountain is a top brand name of Colombian coffee approved by FNC (NGO organization, the union of coffee producer established in 1927 joining over 560,000 members for enhancing quality, production, and export) guaranteed hand-picked and hand-screened beans of which quantity is only 3 –1% of the total production of Colombia coffee beans.

The FNC owns several trademark registrations for “EMERALD MOUNTAIN” in Japan.

In the early 90s, Emerald Mountain began to be sold by Coca-Cola as canned liquid coffee under the Georgia brand in thousands of vending machines across Japan. Since 1997 it has become the most sold coffee in Japanese history as well as the #1 beverage sold by Coca-Cola in Japan. Every can of Georgia Emerald Mountain coffee has an explanation of the Colombian origin of the coffee as well as the high-quality certification of the FNCS. With annual sales of more than 630 million cans, Georgia Emerald Mountain Blend is undoubtedly Emerald Mountain’s leading product within the Japanese market.

EMERALD

Irrespective of a long-standing relationship, The Coca Cola Company, in 2011, sought registration for a wordmark “EMERALD” over artificial coffee, coffee-based beverages, prepared coffee and cocoa, tea, ice in class 30 which confronted with a severe objection from FNC.

FNC was successful in removing the registration by means of a non-use cancellation in 2017. However, The Coca Cola Company deliberately filed a new trademark application for the same mark in 2015 immediately when the registered mark was vulnerable for cancellation on grounds of non-use. The JPO allowed registration of the new application in December 2016.

To contend, FNC filed an invalidation action against the EMERALD mark in March 2018.

Invalidation petition by FNC

FNC argued the EMERALD mark shall be invalidated in contravention of Article 4(1)(vii), (x), (xi), (xv), and (xix) of the Trademark Law by stating that “EMERALD MOUNTAIN” has acquired substantial reputation and popularity as an indicator of high-quality Columbian coffee as a result of continuous sales promotion in Japan since 1970. In the coffee industry, coffee beans grown in highland are often named with the term “MOUNTAIN”, e.g. “BLUE MOUNTAIN”, “CRYSTAL MOUNTAIN”, “CARRIBERAN MOUNTAIN”, “CORAL MOUNTAIN”. In this respect, “EMERALD” shall play a prominent role in “EMERALD MOUNTAIN”. If so, both marks are deemed similar and it is likely that relevant consumers confuse or associate artificial coffee, coffee-based beverages, prepared coffee and cocoa, tea, ice bearing the EMERALD mark with “EMERALD MOUNTAIN”.

Besides, The Coca Cola Company has been using “EMERALD MOUNTAIN” on canned-liquid coffee under license from FNC. Presumably, the disputed mark was filed in anticipation of non-use cancellation claimed by FNC. In the cancellation proceeding, The Coca-Cola Company did neither answer nor respond. These facts clearly show the disputed mark was filed just to avoid cancellation even if The Coca-Cola Company had no intention to use it. It is really annoyance and free-riding on the famous marks with a fraudulent intention.

JPO decision

From the totality of evidence and circumstances, the JPO admitted a high degree of reputation and popularity of EMERALD MOUNTAIN as a source indicator of FNC’s high-quality Columbian coffee beans. In the meantime, the JPO questioned if relevant consumers connect the term “EMERALD” with FNC when used on coffee since the evidence did not disclose EMERALD MOUNTAIN is actually abbreviated to “EMERALD” in commerce. Likewise, it is suspicious whether “BLUE MOUNTAIN”, “CRYSTAL MOUNTAIN”, “CARRIBERAN MOUNTAIN”, “CORAL MOUNTAIN” are recognized with its short name, namely, “BLUE”, “CRYSTAL”, “CARRIBEAN”, “CORAL”.

In assessing the similarity of the mark, the JPO found “EMERALD MOUNTAIN” and “EMERALD” are dissimilar from visual, phonetic, and conceptual points of view. Given both marks are distinctively dissimilar, it is unlikely to find a likelihood of confusion in connection with the goods in dispute.

Even if The Coca-Cola Company filed the disputed mark with an intention to avoid the non-use cancellation, it would be anything but punishable in view of dissimilarity between marks. Besides, from the produced evidence, the JPO was unable to find fraudulent intention by Coca Cola to be blamed for invalidation.

Based on the foregoing, the JPO decided to dismiss the invalidation action.

Starbucks defeated in trademark battle to defend the logo

On September 16, 2020, the Japan IP High Court dismissed an appeal by the American multinational coffee house chain, Starbucks Corporation, challenging the unfavorable decision made by the Japan Patent Office (JPO) that did not find a likelihood of confusion with the previous Starbucks logo. [Court case no. Reiwa1(Gyo-ke)10170]

BULL PULU TAPIOCA LOGO

Starbucks has been eagerly struggling to invalidate trademark registration for BULL PULU TAPIOKA logo (see below) because it contains a green circular frame with white lettering inside.

Disputed mark was applied for registration over tapioca-based milk products in class 29, tapioca-flavored coffee, cocoa, confectionery; tapioca powder for foods in class 30, and restaurant service in class 43 on March 9, 2016, by a Japanese Company who operates tapioca drink parlors bearing the disputed mark in Japan. JPO registered the mark on December 9, 2016.

Invalidation action to JPO

On September 15, 2017, Starbucks Corporation filed a petition for invalidation and alleged among others the disputed mark shall be invalidated in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) and (xv) of the Trademark Law due to similarity to, or a likelihood of confusion with senior trademark registration no. 4806987 for the previous Starbucks logo.

The third version of the Starbucks logo design, used from 1992 to 2010, consists of a black and white two-tailed siren wearing a starred crown and framed around a green circle in which the words “Starbucks Coffee” are written.

The JPO Invalidation Board questioned given five years have already passed since Starbucks redesigned its iconic emblem to the new logo whether the previous logo has continuously retained a substantial degree of reputation and popularity in Japan at the time of filing the disputed mark. Besides, the Board did see both marks are totally dissimilar and the configuration of a green circular frame with white lettering inside per se would never be known for a source indicator of Starbucks. If so, the Board found that relevant consumers are unlikely to confuse the source of goods and services in question bearing the disputed mark with Starbucks and decided to dismiss the invalidation action on August 21, 2019. [Invalidation case no. 2017-890065]

On December 19, 2019, Starbucks brought the case to the IP High Court and demanded the cancellation of the JPO decision.

IP High Court ruling

Starbucks argued the JPO erred in finding a likelihood of confusion based on the interview report which indicated more than 70% of the interviewees (total of 552 people ranging in age from 20 to 69) associated the following image of a green circular frame with white lettering inside with Starbucks.

The IP High Court held the previous logo has become remarkably famous as a source indicator of Starbucks in 2011 when it was replaced with the new logo. The Court also found the portion of a green circular frame with white lettering inside shall be impressive to consumers at the sight of the previous Starbucks logo. However, the court raised the same question if relevant consumers conceive Starbucks even when different words other than “STARBUCKS” and “COFFEE” appear inside the frame. If so, there is no reasonable ground to believe a mere image of a green circular frame with white lettering inside has played a significant role in the source indicator of Starbucks by taking account of the fact that the disputed mark was filed four years after the redesign to the new logo.

As for the interview report, the court strictly viewed that the image was not precisely identical to the previous Starbucks logo. It just focused on extracting the generic concept of the frame with lettering. In addition, interviewees were notified in advance that the image originally contained a design in the center and words to represent a company inside the frame. Such information shall be misleading and biased. If so, the report would be anything but appropriate and relevant to assess the high recognition of the frame as well as a likelihood of confusion on the case.

Based on the foregoing, the IP High Court upheld the JPO decision.

ZARA successful in invalidating the Zarbleu mark

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) sided with Industria de Diseño Textil, SA (INDITEX), owner of the fashion brand “ZARA” in an invalidation action against Japanese TM Registration no. 6110359 for word mark “Zarbleu” in class 25 by finding a likelihood confusion with “ZARA”.
[Invalidation case no. 2019-890038, Gazette issued date: August 28, 2020]

Zarbleu

Disputed mark “Zarbleu” was applied for registration by a Chinese corporation on January 24, 2018, by designating sweaters, shirts, trousers, outers, skirts, dresses, T-shirts, underwear, headgear, gloves, coats, and other clothing in class 25, and registered on December 28, 2018, without confronting with office action from the JPO.

Invalidation action by Inditex

INDITEX, one of the world’s largest fashion retailers and owner of the fashion brand “ZARA”, filed an invalidation action on July 20, 2019, and claimed “Zarbleu” shall be retroactively invalidated in contravention of Article 4(1)(xv) of the Japan Trademark Law by citing senior trademark registrations for word mark “ZARA” in relation with clothing in class 25 and 35.

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

INDITEX argued, given “ZARA” has acquired a remarkable reputation among relevant consumers and the close resemblance between the marks and goods, relevant consumers are likely to confuse or misconceive opposed mark with “ZARA”.

JPO Decision

It would not surprise us that the JPO Invalidation Board admitted a high degree of reputation and popularity of “ZARA” among relevant consumers and traders as a source indicator of INDITEX in connection with clothing based on the facts that (i) “ZARA” launched fashion business in Japan since 1998 and increased the number of its stores in Japan to 100 as of December 2019, (ii) worldwide sales in excess of EUR 18 billion. (iii) ZARA has been ranked No.24(2017), No.25(2018) on Interbrand’s list of the most valuable global brands.

Astonishingly, the Board found a certain degree of similarity between “ZARA” and “Zarbleu” by stating that relevant consumers have a tendency to pay higher attention to the prefix of a mark and “Zarbleu” incorporates the same prefix “Zar” with “ZARA” which has acquired a high degree of reputation among the consumers in connection with clothing.

In addition, addressing sufficient strength of the ZARA mark as a fanciful term and close relatedness of goods in dispute, the Board concluded that relevant consumers and traders are likely to confuse clothing bearing the disputed mark “Zarbleu” with ZARA or misconceive a source from any entity systematically or economically connected with INDITEX. Thus, the disputed mark shall be invalidated in contravention of Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law.

Based on the foregoing, the JPO decided in favor of INDITEX and declared invalidation of the disputed mark “Zarbleu”.