ROLEX Unsuccessful in Trademark Battle Over Crown Logo

In a recent trademark decision, the Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an opposition against IR no. 1263679  filed by Rolex SA, Swiss manufacturer of luxurious watches, based on the iconic Rolex crown.

[Opposition case no. 2017-685031, Gazette issue date: August 31, 2018]


Opposed mark – Crown device

Opposed mark, consisting of a crown device (see below), was filed in the name of PWT A/S, a Danish retailer of clothing, furnishings, and accessories for men, women, and children.
The mark was filed to JPO through the Madrid Protocol (IR no. 1263679) with priority date of June 25, 2014 and admitted national registration on July 28, 2017 over the goods of “Toilet soaps, perfumery, essential oils, cosmetics, perfumed toilet preparations, preparations for cleaning, care and beauty cosmetics of the skin, scalp and hair, deodorizing preparations for personal use” in class 3, “Leather, boxes of leather or leather board, bags of leather for packaging” in class 18, and “Clothing, headgear” in class 25.
During substantive examination, JPO examiner initially issued a refusal due to a conflict with senior registrations for the Rolex crown. However, the JPO withdrew the refusal as a result of PWT’s response to partially delete goods and argue dissimilarity of mark.

Opposition by Rolex

During a two-months opposition period after registration, Rolex SA filed an opposition, stating that relevant consumers are likely to confuse or misconceive opposed mark with Rolex or any business entity systematically or economically connected with Rolex because of high similarity to the iconic Rolex crown (see above) and close association between “watches” and the designated goods in class 3 and 25.

Article 4(1)(xv)

Rolex SA sought to retroactively cancel opposed mark in relation to cosmetics and other goods designated under class 3 and clothing, headgear in class 25 based on Article 4(1)(xv) of the Japan 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’ benefits.

Board decision

The Opposition Board did not question a remarkable degree of popularity and reputation of the ROLEX crown as a source indicator of opponent business.
In the meantime, the Board considered both marks give rise to a different impression in the minds of relevant consumers from overall appearance and found that the degree of similarity of marks is relatively low irrespective of a common crown design with five points and its circle-shaped ends. Besides, the Board negated close association between watches and cosmetics, apparel to the extent that watches, a sort of precision instrument, are not ordinarily manufactured or distributed by same business entity with cosmetics and apparel.

Based on the foregoing, the Board concluded that relevant consumers of goods in question are unlikely to confuse opposed mark with Rolex or any business entity systematically or economically connected with opponent.
Thus, opposed mark is not subject to Article 4(1)(x), and valid as a status quo.

Trademark battle over slogan : Think different vs Tick different

Swiss watch giant Swatch has failed to stop US tech giant Apple from registering “Think Different” as a trademark, which Swatch argued segues too closely to its own “Tick Different” trademark.


Apple’s “THINK DIFFERENT” mark was used in its successful Emmy-award winning advertising campaign which ran for five years from 1997. The mark was also used on the box packaging for its iMac computers next to another trademark “Macintosh”.

Its applications to register “THINK DIFFERENT” were filed in Japan on February 24, 2016 for use in relation to various goods and services belonging to 8 classes like watches, clocks (cl.12) as well as online social networking services (cl.45), among other items. JPO admitted registration on September 12, 2017. Subsequently, the mark was published in the Official Gazette for opposition.

Tick different

By citing its own mark, Swatch filed an opposition against Apple’s “THINK DIFFERENT” mark based on Article 4(1)(xi) of the Japan Trademark Law and asserted a likelihood of confusion with Swatch “Tick different” mark when used in connection with all goods designated in class 14.

Swatch’s “Tick Different” mark was filed to JPO through the Madrid Protocol (IR no. 1279757) with priority date of July 16, 2015 and admitted national registration on July 15, 2016 by designating timepieces and chronometric instruments, namely chronometers, chronographs, clocks, watches, wristwatches, wall clocks, alarm clocks, among other items in class 14.

Swatch, having a worldwide presence and its corporate group owns a stable of Swiss watch brands, including Omega, Tissot and Swatch, has allegedly used the mark on mobile payment smart watches since 2015.


Opposition decision

Swatch argued that the two marks were highly similar due to the same syllabic structure and number of words. With the same ending and almost the same beginning, they are visually and aurally similar.

However, in decision grounds issued on June 6 2018, the Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) found that when compared as wholes, the marks were more dissimilar than similar.

The Board, after considering all the pleadings, evidence and submissions, concluded because of the conceptual, visual and aural dissimilarities of the marks, the Board was persuaded that the average consumer would conceive they are, overall, more dissimilar than similar.

Consequently, JPO ruled that as Swatch’s opposition failed on all grounds, the “THINK DIFFERENT” mark registration from Apple will remain with the status quo.
[Opposition case no. 2017-900376]

Trademark Battle: SPEC vs. SPECK

In a trademark opposition filed by Samsonite IP Holdings S.à.r.l., an owner of IR no. 1024440 for the mark “SPECK”, against Japanese TM Reg. no. 5980195 for the mark “SPEC”, the Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed the opposition.
[Opposition case no. 2017-900373, Gazette issue date: July 27, 2018]


Opposed mark “SPEC” was filed by SPEC CORPORATION, a Japanese business entity on September 3, 2015 by designating the goods of audio speakers; audio amplifiers; audio players; CD players; audio equipment to be connected with internet” in class 9.
The JPO admitted registration on September 15, 2017 and published for registration on October 10, 2017.



Samsonite IP Holdings S.à.r.l., operating as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Samsonite International S.A., a travel luggage company, owns international TM registration no. 1024440 for the mark “SPECK” over the goods of “Protective carrying cases for portable electronic listening devices and music players, namely, MP3 players, and for global positioning systems (GPS devices), mobile and cellular telephones, and portable media players” in class 9 and it has become effective in Japan since 2012.

As a result of acquisition of Speck Products, a leading U.S. designer and distributor of slim protective cases for personal electronic devices, Samsonite extends its brand portfolio beyond its traditional strength in travel luggage products.


Opposition – SPEC vs. SPECK

On December 11, 2017, Samsonite IP Holdings S.à.r.l. filed an opposition and cited senior registered mark “SPECK”.
In the opposition brief, Samsonite asserted opposed mark shall be cancelled in violation of Article 4(1)(xi) of the Japan Trademark Law.
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.


Board decision

The Opposition Board negated similarity of mark between SPEC and SPECK, stating that:

“From appearance, both marks are distinguishable by means of a fact that opposed mark does not contain “K” in the suffix position since such difference shall not be negligible in the configuration consisting of small number of letters, four or five. Conceptually, opposed mark can be perceived as a word to mean specification. Meanwhile, opponent mark does not give rise to any specific meaning. Hence, both marks are dissimilar in concept.
It is doubtless that both marks give rise to the same sound, however, distinctive gap in appearance and concept may cause consumers to recognize them as a different source indicator. If so, both marks are unlikely to cause confusion and thus deemed dissimilar.”

Based on the foregoing, the Board decided opposed mark is not subject to Article 4(1)(xi), and admitted registration as a status quo.

It is just a 3D shape of electronic baccarat shoe, or trademark?

In a lawsuit disputing adequacy of decision by the JPO Appeal Board (Appeal case no. 2015-907) to refuse the applied 3D mark (TM2014-5943, class 28), consisting of a three-dimensional shape of electronic baccarat shoe with the program enabling to reduce the chance of foreign cards and eliminate dealer mistakes, due to lack of  distinctiveness and secondary meaning, the IP High Court sustained the decision being appealed.
[Case no. Heisei28(Gyo-ke)10266,  Decision date: September 27, 2017]

Inherent distinctiveness of the 3D shape

Plaintiff, a Japanese manufacturer and distributor of the ANGEL EYE electronic baccarat shoe, asserted that the 3D shape of ANGEL EYE, being the first products in the industry, is not an essential shape to make it free for public use since no competitors have dealt with same type of product other than plaintiff so far. Besides, a fact that the 3D shape has been registered in the legal gambling countries, e.g. US, EU, AU, RU, Malaysia and NZ, will rather bolster necessity to allow exclusive right on the shape.

However, the Court opposed to plaintiff. “It is inadequate to allow plaintiff to use the 3D shape exclusively. Applied 3D mark can be perceived objectively as a general shape of electronic baccarat shoe aimed to fulfill its original function and produce aesthetic image. If so, it may disorder a fair marketplace to allow exclusive use to plaintiff just because of a first-to-file. A mere fact of trademark registrations in countries where the ANGEL EYE has been distributed is insufficient to admit trademark registration in our nation since the goods is yet to be distributed in Japan.” Accordingly, the Court refused Applied 3D mark based on Article 3(1)(iii).


Secondary meaning of Applied 3D mark

Plaintiff argued Applied 3D mark has already served to function as a source indicator by means of substantial use of the mark sine 2005. Plaintiff exported 11,481 units (sale proceeds: 2.7 billion yen) over the lase decade and has achieved 90 % market share in Macau, the world’s largest casino gambling hub.

In this respect, the Court ruled in favor of the JPO. As plaintiff admits, the shoe has not been manufactured for domestic use. Any evidence suggesting a high degree of recognition to Applied 3D mark in foreign countries is neither relevant nor persuasive. Unless plaintiff demonstrates that domestic consumers have become aware of such recognition, it is groundless to find Applied 3D mark would satisfy requisite of secondary meaning based on Article 3(2) of the Japan Trademark Law.

The case raises a question: What is a role of the Trademark Law where applied mark, being registered in foreign nations,  confronts with an insuperable refusal attributable to legal restrictions on domestic use of the mark?
Unsuccessful domestic registration prevents domestic company from utilizing the Madrid Protocol and protecting his/her vital brands on the global market in an effective and economical manner.