Letter of Consent in Japanese Trademark Practice

When trademark applicants receive a refusal of their trademark applications due to a conflict with a prior similar registered mark cited by the JPO examiner, how can the applicants overcome the refusal?


In some jurisdictions, it has become a routine to submit a letter of consent (LOC) issued in the name of the owner of the cited mark agreeing on the use and registration of the applied mark for the purpose of overcoming the refusal, apart from arguing against the similarities between the respective marks.


However, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) is negative to withdraw refusals arising from a conflict with a senior registered mark under Article 4(1)(xi) of the Trademark Law simply by means of LOC.


Trademark Examination Guideline (TEG) 42.111.03 in relation to Article 4(1)(xi) provides special conditions where the JPO accepts LOC and withdraws refusals as follows.

Where an applicant claims that he/she is in any of the relationships (1) and (2) with the owner of a cited trademark right and submits evidence (3), the case shall be handled as if Article 4(1)(xi) does not apply.

(1) The owner of a cited trademark right is under the control of the applicant.

(2) The applicant is under the control of the owner of a cited trademark right.

(3) Evidence to the effect that the owner of a cited trademark right agrees that the trademark as applied is to be registered.

Condition (1) and (2) – “Under the control” relation between cited owner and applicant will be satisfied if:

(a) Business of the owner of a cited trademark right of which the majority of voting rights of all shareholders are owned by the applicant;

(b) Business of the owner of a cited trademark right which has a capital alliance with the applicant and whose corporate activities are substantially under the control of the applicant, although the requirement specified in (a) above is not satisfied.


Therefore, LOC is useful only where either party has a controlling interest in the other entity, the so-called parent-child relationship between companies.

Due to the restriction, LOC would not be available in most cases to overcome the refusal based on Article 4(1)(xi).

Under the circumstance, practically, we are able to select three options.

  1. Arguing dissimilarity of mark or goods/ services 
  2. Filing a non-use cancellation against the cited mark 
  3. Transferring an applied mark to an owner of the cited mark and assigning it back after registration, vice versa.

Samsung Failed in TM Opposition against “Funky Galaxy”

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an opposition filed by Samsung, the world’s largest smartphone maker, against TM Reg no. 6263685 for wordmark “Funky Galaxy” by stating the opposed mark would not cause confusion with Samsung “Galaxy” even when used on smartphones.

[Opposition case no. 2020-900229, Gazette issued date: November 11, 2021]

Opposed mark

On April 12, 2019, KING Entertainment Co., Ltd. applied for registration of wordmark “Funky Galaxy” in standard character for use on goods and services in classes 9, 16, 35, and 41. The goods in class 9 covers ‘telecommunication machines and apparatus; personal digital assistants; smartphones; electronic machines, and apparatus and their parts.’

JPO granted protection of the “Funky Galaxy” mark and published for opposition on July 14, 2020.


Opposition by Samsung

On September 11, 2020, Samsung, the world’s largest smartphone maker famous for Galaxy series mobiles, filed an opposition and claimed the Opposed mark shall be canceled in relation to goods and services in class 9, 35, and 41 in contravention of Article 4(1)(vii), (x), (xi), (xv) and (xix) of the Trademark Law by citing its own senior TM Reg nos. 4498554 “Galaxy”, IR1335923 “GALAXY STUDIO”, and 6309820 “Galaxy Harajuku”.

Article 4(1)(xv) is a provision to prohibit any mark from registering if it is likely to cause confusion with other business entities’ well-known goods or services.

Samsung argued the Opposed mark shall cause confusion with Samsung “Galaxy” especially when used on smartphones and related goods and services, given a remarkable reputation of “Galaxy” holding 3rd market share (7.4% in 2018, 8.0% in 2019, 9,0% in 2020) in Japan and the close resemblance between “Galaxy” and “Funky Galaxy”.


JPO Decision

The Opposition Board did not question a remarkable degree of reputation and popularity of trademark “Galaxy” as a source indicator of the opponent smartphones.

In the meantime, the Board did not consider the term “Galaxy” as a prominent portion of the opposed mark from visual and conceptual points of view. If so, the opposed mark shall be assessed in its entirety.

In the assessment of similarity of the mark, the Board found “Funky Galaxy” is visually and phonetically distinguishable from “Galaxy” due to the presence of “Funky.” From concept, both marks are less similar because the opposed mark does not give rise to a specific meaning and the opponent mark “Galaxy” means an extremely large group of stars and planets. Both marks have a low degree of similarity accordingly.

Even though “Galaxy” has been well-known as a source indicator of Samsung smartphones, and the goods and services in question are closely associated with smartphones, given a low degree of similarity between “Funky Galaxy” and “Galaxy”, the Board has a reasonable ground to believe that relevant consumers would not confuse a source of goods and services bearing the opposed mark “Funky Galaxy” with Samsung and any business entity economically or systematically connected with the opponent.

Based on the foregoing, the Board decided the allegations are groundless and the Opposed mark shall remain valid as the status quo.

Failed trademark opposition by Disney over a 3-circle silhouette

In a recent decision, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an opposition filed by Disney Enterprises, Inc. against TM Reg no. 6303837 for a composite mark containing a three-round device due to a low degree of similarity to famous Mickey’s 3-circle silhouette.

[Opposition case no. 2021-900006, Gazette issued date: September 24, 2021]

Opposed mark

Aoki shofuan Co., Ltd., a Japanese confectionery maker, applied a composite mark consisting of words “TSUKIGESHO”, “FACTORY”, its Japanese language and a three-round device (see below) for use on retail or wholesales service in relation to confectionery, processed foods and beverage (tea, coffee, cocoa) in class 35 with the JPO on October 21, 2019.

The JPO examiner granted protection of the opposed mark on September 23, 2020, and published for opposition on November 4, 2020.


Opposition by Disney

To oppose against registration within a statutory period of two months counting from the publication date, Disney Enterprises, Inc. filed an opposition against the opposed mark on January 4, 2021.

Disney argued the opposed mark shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(x), (xi), (xv), and (xix) of the Trademark Law because of the remarkable reputation and popularity of Mickey’s 3-circle silhouette (see below) as a source indicator of Disney and a high degree of similarity between the opposed mark and the opponent’s famous mark.


JPO decision

The JPO Opposition Board did not question the famousness of Mickey’s 30-circle silhouette as a source indicator of Disney and their business since most consumers would conceive a world-famous iconic character “Mickey Mouse” at the sight of the silhouette.

In the meantime, the Board negated similarity between the marks by stating that:

  1. From appearance, both marks are easily distinguishable because the opposed mark contains distinctive literal elements “TSUKIGESHO” and its Japanese language written in a conspicuous manner, and the figurative element (three round silhouette) is depicted upside down.
  2. Phonetically, both marks are quite dissimilar because the opponent mark does not give rise to a pronunciation contrary to the opposed mark.
  3. Conceptually, although the opposed mark does not give rise to any specific meaning, both marks are dissimilar given the opponent mark is well-known for an indication of Mickey Mouse.
  4. In view of different configuration of the figurative element by depicting three circles upside down, relevant consumers are unlikely to associate the three-round device of the opposed mark with Mickey Mouse. If so, the figurative element would not be considered as a prominent portion to play a source indicator of the opposed mark.

Based on the foregoing, the JPO found both marks are too dissimilar to cause a likelihood of confusion. If so, the Board can’t find reasonable grounds to believe the opposed mark shall be canceled under Article 4(1)(x), (xi), (xv), and (xix) and decided to dismiss the opposition.

Huda Kattan failed to take back trademark HUDABEAUTY

In a trademark opposition against TM Reg no. 6204338 for the stylized “HUDABEAUTY” mark in class 3, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed the opposition claimed by Huda Kattan due to insufficient famousness of trademark “HUDA BEAUTY” as a source indicator of a beauty mogul “Huda Kattan”.

[Opposition case no. 2020-900049, Gazette issued date: September 24, 2021]

Opposed mark

A Chinese company filed the stylized “HUDABEAUTY” mark (see below) on cosmetics; lotions; facial creams; lips; hand-cleaners; eye-shadows; whitening creams and other goods in class 3 with the JPO on November 22, 2018.

The JPO granted protection of the opposed mark on November 26, 2019, and published for opposition on January 7, 2020. [TM Reg. 6204338]


Opposition by Huda Kattan

On January 10, 2020, three days after the publishment of the opposed mark, Huda Kattan applied the same mark for use on cosmetics, perfumes, and fragrances in class 3 with the JPO and filed an opposition against TM Reg no. 6204338 on February 21, 2020.

The opponent argued the opposed mark shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(vii), (x), (xv) and (xix) of the Trademark Law because the opposed mark is completely identical with the stylized “HUDABEAUTY” mark that has acquired a substantial reputation and popularity as a source indicator of cosmetics line launched by famous beauty blogger “Huda Kattan” among relevant consumers at the filing date of the opposed mark.

In bolstering the famousness of the opponent mark, the opponent alleged the founder, Kattan, achieved popularity on Instagram, attaining more than 47 million followers as of 2020. Huda is ranked #1 on the “2017 Influencer Instagram Rich List” and was declared one of the “ten most powerful influencers in the world of beauty” and “The Richest Self-Made Women and one of the Top Three Beauty Influencers ” by Forbes magazine. She was chosen as one of “The 25 Most Influential People on the Internet” by Time magazine in 2017.

Internet search does not reveal any goods of the opposed party. Meanwhile, the opponent’s “HUDABEAUTY” cosmetics are available at Amazon Japan and other online platforms for domestic consumers.


JPO decision

Astonishingly, the JPO Opposition Board did not admit the famousness of the “HUDABEAUTY” mark as a source indicator of Huda Kattan by stating that:

  1. It is unclear if the merchants promoting “HUDABEAUTY” cosmetics at Amazon Japan and other online platforms are licensed distributor.
  2. Produced invoices to demonstrate the actual sale of opponent’s goods to Japanese consumers are irrelevant because these are issued on a date after the registration of the opposed mark.
  3. Even though the opponent and Huda Kattan make good use of SNS and have a very high number of followers and been awarded as a beauty influencer, the Board can’t find reasonable grounds to believe from these facts the opponent mark has acquired a certain degree of reputation and popularity among relevant consumers in Japan.
  4. The opponent did not produce any evidence to demonstrate sales amount, publication, and advertisement in Japan.

Since it is one of the requisites in applying Article 4(1)(vii), (x), (xv), and (xix) to have a certain degree of reputation and popularity among relevant consumers before the filing date of the opposed mark, regardless of the close duplication, the Board decided to dismiss the opposition entirely and allowed registration of the opposed mark as it is.


This case teaches us how significant to be a “first-filer” in registering and protecting trademarks in Japan.

Famous mark Protection under Trademark Law

Japan is a rigid “first-to-file” jurisdiction, meaning that it is necessary to register a trademark in order to obtain proprietary rights over it in principle. Prior use of the trademark is insufficient to be protected under the Trademark Law. The only meaningful exception to this rule is the treatment of so-called famous trademarks even if they have not been filed yet. But it should note owners of famous trademarks can’t file an infringement lawsuit based on the trademark right without registration in Japan. The Trademark Law provides special provisions to protect the famous trademarks. However, the statute never refers to the “famous” mark. It only refers to “recognized” marks, “widely recognized” marks, and “highly recognized” marks.


Relative grounds for refusal, opposition, invalidation

Like other jurisdictions, the Japan Trademark Law prohibits registration of junior marks which are the same as or similar to senior marks that are effectively registered in Japan under Article 4(1)(xi). In order to provide broader protection of famous trademarks, the Law stipulates extra grounds for refusal, opposition, and invalidation on Article 4(1)(x), (xv), (xix).

Article 4(1)(x)

Trademarks that are the same as or similar to trademarks that are widely recognized by consumers as marks indicating the goods or services of another and are used on the same goods or services or similar to those of the other party may not be registered.

Article 4(1)(xv)

Trademarks that are likely to cause confusion in connection with the goods or services related to another’s business may not be registered.

Article 4(1)(xix)

Trademarks which are the same as or similar to trademarks that are widely recognized among consumers either in Japan or in foreign countries as identifying the goods or services related to another’s business and are used for illicit purposes such as trading off the goodwill of another or causing damage to another may not be registered.

These articles spotlight that the Japan Trademark Law considers (1) “similarity” as a most critical issue to determine the scope of protection to famous trademark and (2) “likelihood of confusion” as other legal concepts different from “similarity”.


Defensive mark

A famous trademark may be registered as a defensive mark to cover other identified goods or services than those listed in the original registration under Article 64. These additional goods or services need to be dissimilar to the original goods or services and the registrant needs to prove (1) that the mark is “widely recognized by consumers” and (2) that confusion is likely if the mark is used on these additional goods or services by a third party.

Noteworthy is that defensive mark registration would not be vulnerable to non-use cancellation. Besides, the registrant is entitled to take action against a third party for trademark infringement even if the mark was used on the goods or services that are remotely associated with his business.


Prior use rights

As stated above, a mere prior use is insufficient to be protected under the Trademark Law. Prior user is entitled to defense for trademark infringement only where the mark is “widely recognized by consumers” as identifying the goods or services of the prior user at the filing date of initial trademark application by the registrant under Article 32.


Enforcement/Infringement

Unauthorized use of the mark that is the same as or similar to the registered mark constitutes trademark infringement under Articles 25 and 37(i).

As a matter of law, the Trademark Law does not provide broader protection of famous trademarks in enforcement. No specific provision is given to prohibit famous trademark dilution and parody. There is a considerable gray zone in the Trademark Law when it comes to the unauthorized use of “non-similar” marks that are likely to cause confusion with famous trademarks.

Failed Opposition by Longines over Winged Hourglass logo mark

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed a trademark opposition claimed by Swiss luxury watchmaker, Longines Watch Co., Francillon Ltd., against Japanese trademark registration no. 6165986 by finding dissimilarity to Longine winged hourglass logo.
[Opposition case no. 2019-900301, Gazette issued date: August 27, 2021]


Opposed mark

Opposed mark, consisting of a winged device (see below right), was filed by a Chinese undertaking on July 11, 2018, for use on jewelry, clocks, watches, chronometers, and other goods in class 14.

The JPO admitted registration of the opposed mark on July 26, 2019, and published for post-grant opposition on August 20, 2019.


Opposition by Longines

To oppose against registration within a statutory period of two months counting from the publication date, Compagnie des Montres Longines, Francillon S.A. filed an opposition on October 18, 2019.

In the opposition brief, Longines asserted the opposed mark shall be retroactively canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(vii), (x), (xi), and (xix) of Japan Trademark Law due to a resemblance to Longine’s famed winged hourglass logo (see above left).

Article 4(1)(vii) prohibits any mark likely to cause damage to public order or morality from registration.

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

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

Article 4(1)(xix) prohibits registering a mark that is identical with, or similar to, another entity’s famous mark, with an aim to gain unfair profits, or cause damage to the entity, even if goods or services sought for registration are unrelated to the entity’s business.


JPO decision

The JPO Opposition Board did admit a certain degree of the reputation of wordmark “LONGINES” from the produced evidence. In the meantime, the Board questioned if the winged hourglass logo per se has acquired a similar degree of reputation as a source indicator of the opponent’s watches by stating that the logo has been always used in conjunction with or adjacent to the LONGINES mark.

Besides, the Board considered both marks dissimilar as a whole from visual, phonetic, and conceptual points of view. The cited mark consists of an hourglass and straight wings. The opposed mark consists of geometrical figures conceived as a human body and spread wing. Taking account of distinctions in appearance, the Board has reasonable ground to believe that relevant consumers would be unlikely to confuse a source of the opposed mark with Longines when used on the goods in question.

Due to a low degree of similarity and popularity, the Board did not find a reasonable doubt that the opposed mark was sought for registration with an aim to obtain unfair profits from Longines and disorder public interest and morality from the totality of the circumstances.

Based on the foregoing, the Board decided to dismiss the opposition entirely and found opposed mark shall not be canceled under Article 4(1)(vii), (x), (xi), and (xix).

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.

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.

Trademark Dispute over “RED HOT”

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed trademark opposition against wordmark “REDHOT” written in Katakana character opposed by The French’s Food Company LLC who owns senior trademark “REDHOT” and “FRANK’S REDHOT” in class 30.

[Opposition case no. 2020-900289, Gazette issued date: June 25, 2021]

Opposed mark “REDHOT”

Opposed mark, consisting of the word “REDHOT” written in Japanese Katakana character (see below), was filed by Kentucky Fried Chicken Japan (KFC) for use on fried chicken, meat, processed meat products, and other goods in class 29 and hamburgers, hot dog sandwiches, bread rolls, and other goods except for seasonings and spices in class 30 with the JPO on November 6, 2018 (TM Application no. 2018-142676).

KFC Japan has begun selling the “Red Hot Chicken”, red and white pepper with a touch of habanero, giving it a crisp, spicy flavor and the taste of domestic chicken in limited quantities since 2004.


FRANK’S REDHOT

The French’s Food Company LLC, an owner of the #1 brand of hot sauce “Frank’s RedHot” in America, filed an opposition on November 2, 2020.

Opponent argued that the opposed mark shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) and (xv) because of similarity to senior TM Reg nos. 4723565 and 5523112 for wordmark “REDHOT” on seasonings and spices in class 30 (Citation 1), and a likelihood of confusion with TM Reg no. 5523111 for wordmark “FRANK’S REDHOT” (Citation 2) which has become famous as a source indicator in connection with hot sauce as a result of substantial and continuous use since 1920.


JPO decision

The Opposition Board of JPO found that Article 4(1)(xi) shall not be applicable to the opposed mark.

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

Since the designated goods, seasonings and spices, of the opposed mark are deemed dissimilar to any other goods belonging to class 30. In so far as respective goods in question are dissimilar, the opposed mark shall not be subject to the article even though the mark is identical with Citation 1.

The Board questioned whether the mark “FRANK’S REDHOT” has acquired a certain degree of reputation and popularity among relevant consumers in Japan by taking account of the produced evidence. The mere fact that the opponent’s hot sauces get to be a popular choice at specific dining restaurants is insufficient to support the famousness of Citation 2 in Japan.

Besides, relevant consumers would be easily able to distinguish the opposed mark with “FRANK’S REDHOT” by means of the distinctive term “FRANK’S” of Citation 2.

Given the low degree of similarity and unproven famousness as a source indicator of the opponent, the Board concluded it is unlikely that relevant consumers would confuse the source of goods bearing the opposed mark with the opponent or Citation 2 from the totality of circumstances, and thus dismissed the opposition entirely.