Olympic Lose Trademark Race with Olimple

In a trademark opposition disputing the similarity and the likelihood of confusion between “Olympic” and “Olimple”, the JPO did not side with the IOC (International Olympic Committee).

[Opposition case no. 2021-900173]


Olimple

The opposed mark, consisting of the term “Olimple” written in the alphabet and the Japanese katakana character (see below), was applied with the Japan Patent Office (JPO) on January 28, 2020, for use on facial skin care gel, cosmetics, soaps, and other goods in class 3 by Olimple Co., Ltd.

The JPO granted protection on February 2, 2021, and published for opposition on March 9, 2021.

The applicant promotes medicated skin care gel for men bearing the Olimple mark.

Image credit: olimple.jp

Opposition by IOC

Opponent, IOC claimed the opposed mark shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(vi), (vii), (xi) and (xv) of the Japan Trademark Law by citing earlier International Registration no. 1128501 for wordmark “OLYMPIC” covering various goods and services in class 3 and other classes.

IOC argued a close resemblance between “OLYMPIC” and “Olimple” by stating:

  1. Both marks share four of the seven letters. Besides, the two letters at the end of the word, “le” and “IC” looks similar.
  2. The third letters “I” and “Y” of both marks are pronounced as “li” accompanied by the second letter “L”.
  3. Being that consumers are accustomed to several terms with a prefix of “OLYMP”, e.g., “OLYMPISM”, “OLYMPIAN” in connection with “OLYMPIC”, they will see the literal element “Olimp” as a dominant portion of the opposed mark.
  4. If so, relevant consumers are likely to confuse the opposed mark with “OLYMPIC” when used on goods in question.

JPO decision

The JPO did not question the famousness of the OLYMPIC mark as a source indicator of the IOC. However, the Opposition Board negated the similarity between “Olimple” and “OLYMPIC” on the following grounds.

  1. The term “Olimple” shall be deemed as a coined word because it is not a word that appeared in a language dictionary and does not give rise to any specific meaning in relation to the goods in question.
  2. There is a remarkable difference in the presence or absence of Japanese katakana characters. In addition to the difference between upper- and lower-case letters after the second letter, there are distinctions in the third letter “i” and “Y”, the sixth letter “l” and “I”, and the letters “e” and “C” at the end. In the configuration of the relatively short seven-letter alphabet, both marks are sufficiently distinguishable by appearance.
  3. Phonetically, both marks are unlikely to cause confusion as a whole because of a clear difference in the fourth and fifth sounds.
  4. It is obvious that both marks are dissimilar in concept.

The Board did not find a reason to believe relevant consumers would misconceive the source of the opposed mark merely because of close attention to the literal portion of “OLYMP” and “Olimp”, and its similarity.

Based on the foregoing, the JPO dismissed the entire allegations and decided on July 13, 2022, that the opposed mark shall remain valid as the status quo.

OKLOK vs OKLOCK

In a trademark dispute, similarity between “OKLOK” and “OKLOCK”, the Appeal Board of the Japan Patent Office found both marks dissimilar and reversed examiner’s rejection.
[Appeal case no. 2019-16781, Gazette issued date: March 27, 2020]

OKLOK

A senior mark, consisting of a word “OKLOK” in standard character, was registered on September 21, 2018 (TM Reg no. 6083192) over electric locks; electronic key fobs being remote control apparatus; anti-theft warning apparatus; other goods in class 9 by a Chinese business entity, 深圳市龙兄弟数码锁有限公司 (Shenzhen Longbrothers Digital Co., Ltd.).

Owner has used “OKLOK” on fingerprint key less padlock, Smart Bluetooth Security Lock with USB Charge and other intelligent anti-theft devices (see below).

[Capture shot of OKLOK official site]

OKLOCK

Applied junior mark, consisting of a word “OKLOCK” in standard character, was applied for registration on April 3, 2019 over anti-theft locks for use on automobile steering wheels and other goods in class 12 [TM application no. 2019-47122].

Applicant uses “OKLOCK” on car steering wheel locks and anti-theft car hand brake and gear lock (see below).

The JPO examiner rejected “OKLOCK” because of confusing similarity to “OKLOK” based on Article 4(1)(xi) of the Trademark Law.

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

There is criterion that the examiner is checking when assessing the similarity between the marks:

  • visual similarity
  • aural similarity
  • conceptual similarity

and taking into account all these three aspects examiner makes a decision if a mark is similar (at least to some extent) with the earlier mark and if there is a likelihood of confusion for the consumers.

Applicant filed an appeal against the rejection on December 11, 2019 and argued dissimilarity of both marks.

Appeal Board decision

In the decision, the Appeal Board held that:

From appearance, applied mark “OKLOCK” contains a letter “C” unlike the cited mark “OKLOK”. This gives rise to a distinctive impression visually in the mind of relevant consumers where respective mark consists of five or six-letter words, anything but long.

Next, applied mark is pronounces as [oʊˈkeɪ lɑːk]. In the meantime, the cited mark just gives rise to a pronunciation of [oʊˈkeɪ el ə keɪ] because relevant consumers are likely to see “OKLOK” as a combination of five alphabets and read it as each letter sounds since “OKLOK” does not appear in dictionary.

Thirdly, applied mark does not give rise to any specific meaning in its entirety even though it is perceived as a combination of “OK” and “LOCK”. Likewise, relevant consumers would not conceive any meaning from “OKLOK” and just see it as a coined word. If so, both marks are incomparable from concept.

Based on the foregoing, the Board found no reasonable ground to affirm examiner’s rejection from visual, phonetic, and conceptual points of view and decided to reverse examiner’s rejection.

KUMAMON triumphs over bear mascot trademark battle

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) sided with Kumamon and declared invalidation of trademark registration no. 5997141 for a bear-like design mark due to a likelihood of confusion with Kumamon.
[Invalidation case no. 2019-890004, Gazette issue date: February 28, 2020]

KUMAMON

Have you ever heard of “Kumamon”?

Nowadays, we are accustomed to see there are many organizations that create and use mascots to further their brands. Kumamon is a cuddly character with its pitch-black fur, red cheeks and white eyes designed as the official mascot (see below) of the Kumamoto Prefecture, a small prefecture in western Japan.

Kumamon made its debut in 2011 as part of a tourism promotion campaign for the Kyushu high-speed railway line. At the time a wave of local municipalities and companies sought to use ‘yuru-kyara’, or ‘relaxing characters’, to promote local products and attractions. Kumamon was hired as a part-time civil servant at Kumamoto before being elevated to sales manager. Such topics generated headlines and helped push Kumamon’s popularity beyond Kumamoto.

As an iconic symbol of ‘relaxing characters’, Kumamon has become a social and cultural phenomenon nationwide. Sales of goods using the Kumamon mascot topped 150 billion yen ($1.4 billion) in 2018.

To protect and promote the mascot, the Kumamoto Prefecture has registered its figurative image reproduced in 2D for various classed of goods and services in Japan as well as neighboring countries.

Disputed Mark

On March 21, 2017, Unique Design Company Limited (Belize) , sought to register the mark consisting of a bear-like design and three Chinese characters “熊本熊” which mean Kumamoto’s bear (see below) to be used on goods in class 11. The JPO granted protection of opposed mark on October 27, 2017.

Invalidation Trial

To challenge the validity of disputed mark, on January 25, 2019, the Kumamoto Prefecture filed an invalidation action to the JPO based on Article 4(1)(vi), (vii), (xi), (xv) and (xix) of the Japan Trademark Law. Kumamoto Prefecture argued that the figurative element of disputed mark closely resembles to the Kumamon character well-known for the official mascot of the Kumamoto Prefecture from appearance. Besides, the literal element of disputed mark gives rise to a similar meaning related to the Kumamoto Prefecture and Kumamon. If so, disputed mark as a whole shall be invalid due to a likelihood of confusion with Kumamon.

JPO Decision

The Invalidation Board of JPO found that:

  1. Unquestionably, Kumamon has acquired a remarkable degree of reputation and popularity nationwide as the official mascot of the Kumamoto Prefecture well before the filing date of disputed mark through continuous activities, promotions, and actual use on various goods since 2011. In addition, it becomes public among relevant consumers that the literal element of disputed mark “熊本熊” gets to be known as a Chinese name of Kumamon in China and neighboring countries.
  2. Since Kumamon has distinctive features visually different from wild bear, the mascot shall be deemed unique, creative, and impressive in itself.
  3. From appearance the bear-like design of disputed mark is confusingly similar to Kumamon. It gives rise to a similar meaning to Kumamon, the mascot originated from bear in the Kumamoto Prefecture. Likewise, the literal element of disputed mark gives rise to the same meaning. If so, both marks are considered highly similar.
  4. Due to free-use policy for brand promotion to domestic merchants (Kumamoto lets domestic companies use the character for free, but charges a license fee of a few percent on product sales by foreign companies), Kumamon mascot has been commercially used on wide range of goods over 10,000 items. 7-year cumulative sales exceed 510 billion JP-yen. If so, disputed goods in class 11, e.g. oil stoves, heaters, pocket warmers, electric foot warmers, shall be closely associated with the Kumamon goods in channels and consumers.

Based on the above findings, the Board concluded that relevant consumers and traders are likely to confuse disputed mark with Kumamon or misconceive a source from any entity systematically or economically connected with the Kumamoto Prefecture. Thus, disputed mark shall be invalidated in violation of Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law.

Trademark dispute over Shogun Emblem of the Samurai Era

In a recent appeal trial over trademark dispute, the Trademark Appeal Board within the Japan Patent Office (JPO) overturned the Examiner’s determination and held that a combination mark with Tokugawa crest image and literal elements written in Chinese characters is dissimilar to, and unlikely to cause confusion with a senior trademark registration for the “TOKUGAWA CREST” device mark in connection with pickled plums of class 29.
[Appeal case no. 2018-6893, Gazette issue date: March 29, 2019]

 

TOKUGAWA CREST

The Tokugawa clan was the family that established the Edo shogunate, also known as the Tokugawa shogunate, (1603–1867), the final period of traditional Japan, a time of internal peace, political stability, and economic growth under the shogunate (military dictatorship) founded by Tokugawa Ieyasu. The Tokugawa shogunate continued to rule Japan for a remarkable 250 years and ended in 1868, with the Meiji Restoration when the Emperor regained power.

The Tokugawa crest was a circle in closing three leaves of the awoi (a species of mallow, found in Central Japan) joined at the tips, the stalks touching the circle (see below).

This gilded trefoil is gleaming on the property of the shogun and mausoleum even now in Japan.

 

YUME-AWOI

Kabushiki Kaisha Kiwa-Nouen Products, a Japanese merchant dealing with plums and its products filed a trademark application for a combination mark with Tokugawa crest image and literal elements written in Chinese characters (see below) covering pickled plums in class 29 on June 21, 2016 [TM application no. 2016-72127].

Three Chinese characters “紀州梅” in the upper right of the mark lacks distinctive since the term means plums made in Kishu, the name of a province in feudal Japan (the area corresponds to nowadays Wakayama Prefecture and southern Mie Prefecture), as a whole. Two characters “夢葵” in the center of the mark to be pronounces as “yume-awoi” is obviously a coined word and distinctive in relation to pickled plums.

The mark is actually in use on high-class pickled plums produced by applicant.

Tokugawa Museum

Going through substantive examination by the JPO examiner, applied mark was totally refused registration based on Article 4(1)(vi), (vii), (xv) of the Trademark Law on the ground that the mark contains a device resembling the Tokugawa crest which becomes famous as a source indicator of ‘Public Interest Incorporated Foundation The Tokugawa Museum’.
If so, using the mark on the designated goods by an unauthorized entity may free-ride goodwill vested in the Tokugawa crest and anything but conductive to the public interest. Besides, relevant consumers are likely to confuse or misconceive pickled plums using applied mark with goods from The Tokugawa Museum or any business entity systematically or economically connected with the museum.

Article 4(1)(vi) is a provision to refuse any mark which is identical with, or similar to, a famous mark indicating the State, a local government, an agency thereof, a non-profit organization undertaking a business for public interest, or a non-profit enterprise undertaking a business for public interest.

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 entity’s well-known goods or services, to the benefit of brand owner and users’ benefits.

 

Applicant filed an appeal against the refusal on May 21, 2018 and argued dissimilarity of the marks.

 

Appeal Board decision

The Board reversed the examiner’s refusal and admitted applied mark to registration by stating that:

It becomes trade practice to print family crest on the packaging of food products. Especially, trefoil awoi crest has been commonly used on the packaging of specialty products or souvenir from Aichi (Owari), Wakayama (Kishu) and Ibaragi (Mito) Prefectures where descendants from clan founder Tokugawa Ieyasu’s three youngest sons governed during the Edo shogunate. Besides, from appearance, Tokugawa crest image in applied mark looks like a background pattern and thus relevant consumers are unlikely to aware that the pattern serves the legally defined role of a trademark because the image is colored washier than literal elements. If so, two Chinese characters “夢葵” of the mark functions primarily as a source indicator.

Based on the foregoing, the Board considered, given the Tokugawa crest image in the applied mark does not play a role of source indicator at all, both marks are dissimilar and unlikely to cause confusion from visual, phonetic and conceptual points of view even if the Tokugawa crest becomes famous as a source indicator of Public Interest Incorporated Foundation The Tokugawa Museum in fact. Likewise, the Board found no specific reason to cause damage to public order or morality from applied mark.

Partial revision of the Japan Trademark Law in force on May 27, 2019

Partial revision of the Japan Trademark Law which aims to amend the Article 31 (1) was promulgated on May 17, 2019 and takes effect on May 27, 2019.

 

Non-exclusive license for famous mark owned by public entity

Existing Trademark Law permits to register a mark which is identical with, or similar to, a famous mark representing (i) the nation, (ii) a local government, (iii) an agency thereof, (iv) a non-profit organization undertaking a business for public interest, or (v) a non-profit activity for public interest [Article 4(1)(vi)], provided that an applicant of the mark corresponds with the public entity from (i) to (iv), or an individual who is managing (v) [Article 4(2)].

 

Article 31 is a provision pertinent to “non-exclusive trademark license”.

Under the existing law, owner of trademark right (licensor) may grant a non-exclusive permission for the use of its mark to another [Article 31(1)]. In the meantime, the article has an exceptional clause and disallows a non-exclusive license for the use of registered mark which was granted based on Article 4(2).

 

New Revision

According to announcement from the Japan Patent Office, “Recently, public entity aiming to encourage regional development and collaboration with industry gets involved in necessity to advertise or promote goods or products originated from the entity. Inter alia, universities/colleges are desirous to secure financial resources, publicize achievements of academic research and increase publicity of the school by means of granting permission for the use of famous mark to a business entity”.

 

By the revision, the exceptional clause is deleted from Article 31(1).

From May 27, 2019, it enables an owner of trademark right for famous mark, i.e. (i) the nation, (ii) a local government, (iii) an agency thereof, (iv) a non-profit organization undertaking a business for public interest, or (v) an individual who manages non-profit activity for public interest, to grant “non-exclusive license” permission for the use of its famous mark.

It should be noted that the revision does not apply to “exclusive trademark license” provided in Article 30 (1). It remains impermissible. 

Trademark race for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games

The Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) refused Trademark Application No. 2016-85559 for a device mark consisting of metallic rings on goods of metallic fishing nets in class 6 on the ground of conflict with Article 4(1)(vi) of the Japan Trademark Law.

Metallic ring device mark

Mark in question ( see below) was filed on August 8, 2016 by designating goods of metallic fishing nets in class 6.

Article 4(1)(vi) of the Trademark Law

The JPO examiner refused the mark by citing the Olympic Rings based on Article 4(1)(vi) of the Trademark Law.
Article 4(1)(vi) is a provision to refuse any mark which is identical with, or similar to, a famous mark indicating the State, a local government, an agency thereof, a non-profit organization undertaking a business for public interest, or a non-profit enterprise undertaking a business for public interest.
JPO trademark examination guidelines clearly refer to the Olympic Symbol as an example of the mark to indicate a non-profit business for public interest.

Olympic Rings

The Olympic symbol, widely known throughout the world as the Olympic Rings, is the visual ambassador of Olympism for billions of people.
The Olympic symbol is defined in Olympic Charter, Rule 8 as

“The Olympic symbol consists of five interlaced rings of equal dimensions (the Olympic rings), used alone, in one or in five different colours. When used in its five-colour version, these colours shall be, from left to right, blue, yellow, black, green and red. The rings are interlaced from left to right; the blue, black and red rings are situated at the top, the yellow and green rings at the bottom.”

The Olympic Rings, publicly presented for the first time in 1913, remain a global representation of the Olympic movement and its activity.

Appeal Board decision

In an appeal, the Board sustained examiner’s refusal and decided the mark in question shall be refused on the same ground.
The Board stated that mark in question has same configuration with the Olympic Rings and thus consumers at the sight of the mark are likely to conceive a well-known Olympic symbol from appearance regardless of difference in small rings to connect five symbolic rings.
[Appeal case no. 2018-1590, Gazette issued date : August 31, 2018]