JPO Appeal Board Rejects Hermes Packaging Colors

On April 25, 2023, the JPO Appeal Board dismissed an appeal filed by HERMES INTERNATIONAL, a French luxury fashion house, and upheld the examiner’s rejection of TM App no. 2018-133223 for a color mark of Hermes box due to lack of inherent and acquired distinctiveness.

[Appeal case no. 2021-13743]

Color mark of Hermes box

On October 25, 2018, HERMES INTERNATIONAL filed a trademark application for its iconic packaging colors, orange and brown (see below), as a color mark to be used on various goods in class 3, 14, 16, 18, and retail services in class 35 with the Japan Patent Office (JPO) [TM application no. 2018-133223].

On July 9, 2021, the JPO examiner rejected the applied mark based on Articles 3(1)(iii) and 3(1)(vi) of the Japan Trademark Law by stating that colors per se would not have any distinctive character. It has been inherently selected to produce aesthetic function or psychological effect on all goods and services. Because of this reason, relevant consumers at the sight of goods or services bearing the applied combination of colors, orange and brown are unlikely to recognize it as a source indicator.

Appeal against the examiner’s rejection by Hermes

Hermes filed an appeal against the rejection on October 8, 2022, and argued inherent distinctiveness as well as acquired distinctiveness of the color mark.

In addition to the evidence regarding the substantial use of Hermes box for the past six decades, in order to bolster the acquired distinctiveness of the packaging color per se, Hermes conducted market research that targeted men and women in their 30s to 50s with incomes JPY10,000,000 and above residing in 9 prefectures. According to the research report, 36.9% of the interviewees answered Hermes when shown three boxes in different shapes with the color mark. 43.1% chose Hermes from the ten options.

JPO Appeal Board decision

The Appeal Board did not find any error in the examiner’s findings. The Board held “Colors are selected to enhance the impression and aesthetics of goods and services. Some colors are obtained naturally or inevitably to ensure the function of goods or services. Therefore, colors are not recognized to indicate the origin of goods or services and distinguish them from competitors.

The Board finds no particular reason to treat the case differently in the circumstances that competitors have used similar combinations of colors including orange and brown in the relevant industries. If so, the examiner’s findings are adequate and would not error in applying Article 3(1)(iii) and (vi) of the Trademark Law.

With respect to the acquired distinctiveness of Hermes box, the Board questioned the relevance of the market research to the issue by stating that relevant consumers of the goods and service in question shall not be restricted to “men and women in their 30s to 50s with incomes JPY10,000,000 and above”. Presumably, 43.1% would be much lower if general consumers nationwide are included in the research. If so, it would be anything but unreasonable to find the applied mark has yet to acquire distinctiveness among relevant consumers.

Based on the foregoing, the Board accordingly upheld the examiner’s rejection and decided to refuse the color mark of the Hermes box under Article 3(1)(iii) and (vi) as well as 3(2) of the Trademark Law.

Hermes is entitled to file an appeal to the IP High Court by August 23, 2023.

Trademark dispute: RIVER vs river

In a recent decision, the JPO Appeal Board found TM Application no. 2021-5278 for the stylized “river” mark is dissimilar to earlier TM Reg no. 5704488 for the mark “RIVER” with design irrespective of designating the same consulting service in class 35.
[Appeal case no. 2021-17274, decision date: June 22, 2022]

TM Application 2021-5278

The dispute mark consists of the stylized word “river” depicted with the figurative element (see below right). The mark was filed in the name of Cultive, Inc for use in advertising and publicity services, business management analysis, or business consultancy service in class 35 on January 19, 2021.

The JPO examiner rejected the mark due to a conflict with earlier TM Reg no. 5704488 for the mark “RIVER” with a design (see above left) based on Article 4(1)(x) of the Japan Trademark Law.

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

The applicant filed an appeal on December 15, 2021, and argued dissimilarity of the mark.

JPO decision

Astonishingly, the JPO Appeal Board found “By virtue of figurative elements, the disputed mark as a whole gives rise to an impression of distinctive and unified design that evokes the image of flowing water and green leaves. Furthermore, the color composition also gives the impression that the mark is designed to evoke the image of flowing water and green leaves. If so, even though the mark may give rise to a sound and meaning of “river”, it is reasonable to believe that the source of the services is identified based on the impression created by the distinctive appearance of the mark rather than its sound and concept in the course of transactions.”

Likewise, the Board found “being that the literal portion “RIVER” would not be deemed a prominent portion of the cited mark, even if the cited mark can give rise to a sound and meaning of “RIVER”, it is reasonable to consider that relevant consumers distinguish the source of the services bearing the cited mark by means of overall impression, rather than it’s sound and concept.

Based on the above findings, the Board concluded “it is obvious that there is a remarkable difference in the appearance of both marks. Even if the disputed mark and the cited mark are both pronounced “RIVER” and mean “river”, the similarity in sound and concept shall not outweigh the distinctiveness caused by a remarkable difference in appearance. Therefore, the disputed mark is unlikely to cause confusion and dissimilar to the cited mark.”

Consequently, the Board decided to disaffirm the examiner’s rejection and grant protection of the disputed mark.

JPO rejects “AIR NECKTIE” due to similarity to NIKE “AIR”

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an appeal filed by a Japanese individual who sought registration for use of the wordmark “AIR NECKTIE” on neckties in class 25 due to the similarity to NIKE “AIR.”
[Appeal case no. 2020-4106, Gazette issued date: February 26, 2021.]


The mark in question, consisting of two English words “AIR” and “NECKTIE”, and its transliteration in a Japanese katakana character (see below), was filed for use on ‘neckties’ in class 25 with the JPO on July 6, 2018 [TM Application no. 2018-88482].

TM App no. 2018-88482


The examiner raised her objection based on Article 4(1)(xi) of the Trademark Law by citing senior registration nos. 502137 and 4327964 for the mark “AIR” owned by NIKE Innovate C.V. (see below) which cover clothing, shoes, neckties, and other goods in class 25.

TM Reg no. 502137
TM Reg no. 4327964

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

Regardless of the arguments made on a written response to the office action by the applicant, the JPO examiner entirely rejected the “AIR NECKTIE” mark based on the ground.

On March 6, 2020, the applicant filed an appeal against the refusal with the JPO and disputed that the applied mark “AIR NECKTIE” is dissimilar to the cited mark “AIR.”

JPO decision

The JPO Appeal Board referred to the tests established by the Supreme Court ruling in 2008 to determine whether it is permissible to take out respective elements of the composite mark when assessing the similarity of two marks.

“Where a mark in dispute is recognized as a composite mark consisting of two elements or more, it is not permissible to assess the similarity of marks simply by means of taking out an element of the composite mark and then comparing such element with the other mark, unless consumers or traders are likely to perceive the element as a dominant portion indicating its source of origin of goods/service, or remaining elements truly lack inherent distinctiveness as a source indicator in view of sound and concept.”

Based on the tests, the Board found that it is permissible to take out a literal element “AIR” from the applied mark and compare it with the citations by stating the following grounds:

  1. The applied mark can be seen as a composite mark consisting of ‘AIR’ and ‘NECKTIE’ because of the space between two words.
  2. “NECKTIE” is unquestionably recognized as a generic term in connection with ‘neckties’ in class 25.
  3. Relevant consumers at the sight of neckties bearing the mark “AIR NECKTIE” would conceive the term “AIR” as a prominent source indicator.
  4. “AIR NECKTIE” does not give rise to any specific meaning in its entirety.
  5. The above facts suggest that “NECKTIE” lacks inherent distinctiveness in relation to the goods in question, and it would not play the role of source indicator of the applied mark in view of sound as well as concept.

Based on the foregoing, the Board affirmed the examiner’s rejection and decided that the applied mark “AIR NECKTIE” is similar to the cited marks as a whole given the remarkable similarity in sound and concept, even if the word “NECKTIE” differentiates two marks in appearance.

Appeal Board reversed examiner’s rejection in the BOB trademark dispute

In an administrative appeal disputing trademark similarity between TM registration no. 5719997 for word mark “BOB” and a junior application no. 2016-49394 for the “bob” device mark represented as below, the Appeal Board of the Japan Patent Office decided that both marks are deemed dissimilar and reversed examiner’s rejection.
[Appeal case no. 2017-10420, Gazette issued date: January 26, 2018]


TM Registration no. 5719997

The cited mark, consisting of a word “BOB” in standard character, was registered on November 21, 2014 by designating various items of furniture in class 20.


Junior Application no. 2016-49394

Applied junior mark consists of the following “bob” device mark.

It was applied for registration on May 5, 2016 by designating furniture in class 20.

As a result of substantive examination by the JPO examiner, applied mark was rejected due to a conflict with the cited mark based on Article 4(1)(xi) of the Trademark Law.
Subsequently, the applicant filed an appeal against the rejection and disputed dissimilarity of both marks.


Board decision

In the decision, the Appeal Board held that:

applied mark is a device in dark brown, consisting of two circles protruding upward on the left side, a circle connected with the two circles in line, and wavy lines underneath.

From appearance, even if it may happen the circle design is recognized as a stylized design of “bob”, the Board opines that the design is unlikely to be considered as alphabetical letters due to a remarkable extent of stylization or abstraction. Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that applied mark shall not give rise to any specific pronunciation and meaning.

Based on the foregoing, in the assessment of trademark similarity, the Board decided that:

Obviously, both marks are distinguishable in appearance. As long as applied mark does not give rise to a specific pronunciation and meaning, it is meaningless to compare the pronunciation and meaning of both marks. Consequently, the Board finds no ground to affirm examiner’s rejection from visual, phonetic, and conceptual point of view.

Astonishingly, JPO considered the bob device mark is unreadable.

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.