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”.

Is “You Tuber” a source indicator of Google?

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) recently dismissed Google LLC’s invalidation petition against TM Reg. no. 5999063 for word mark “NYAN TUBER” by finding “YouTuber” would be famous, but not as a source indicator of Google.
[Invalidation case no. 2018-890081, Gazette issued date: June 26, 2020]

Disputed mark

PECO Co., Ltd., a Japanese business entity working on the health benefits of the human-animal bond, filed a trademark application for word mark “NYAN TUBER” written in Japanese Katakana character (see below) on pet-related services in class 35 and 42 to the JPO on April 3, 2017.

“Nyan” is the sound cats make in Japan. Cats don’t make the same sounds in other countries. In the United States, it sounds like meow. In Germany, it’s miau; and, in France, it’s miaou.

So, “NYAN TUBER” easily reminds Japanese consumers of a person who frequently uploads videos of cats to ‘YouTube’.

The disputed mark was registered on November 24, 2017 (TM Registration no. 5999063).

Invalidation petition by Google

On October 24, 2018, Google LLC filed a petition for invalidation and alleged among others the disputed mark shall be invalidated in contravention of Article 4(1)(vii),(x),(xi),(xv),(xix) of the Trademark Law due to similarity to, or a likelihood of confusion with “YouTuber”

Google argued “YouTuber” has become famous as an indication closely associated with Google’s well-known online video sharing services ‘YouTube’. Because of it, relevant consumers and traders at sights of the disputed mark would connect or associate it with ‘YouTuber’.

YOU TUBER

According to recent polls, becoming a YouTuber or vlogger becomes the most popular career goal for Japanese children and teenagers.

TOP 5 JOBS BOYS WANT (2019)
1. Youtuber/Vlogger, 2. Soccer player, 3. Baseball player, 4. Driver, 5. Policeman

PECO counterargued that it becomes usual for YouTubers to use him/her YouTube name “___Tuber”. If so, relevant consumers at the sight of “NYAN TUBER” videos would just consider the disputed mark represents the video or a person who uploaded it and never conceive the mark as a source indicator of Google or YouTube.

Invalidation Board decision

The JPO Invalidation Board did not question a high degree of popularity and reputation of “YouTube” as a source indicator of Google’s online video sharing services.

In the meantime, the Board found “YouTuber” would be recognized as a generic term to represent ‘a person who creates and uploads videos on the YouTube online video sharing service’ by referring to some dictionaries. In fact, Google does not register the term over any goods and services at all, and thus the Board denied the famousness of “YouTuber” as a source indicator of Google’s service.

With regard to the assessment of the similarity between “YouTuber” and “NYAN TUBER”, the Board found that both marks are dissimilar as a whole even though they have partially the same in the suffix. The difference in the prefix, “NYAN” and “YOU” substantially gives rise to a distinctive impression from appearance, sound, and concept as a whole in the minds of relevant consumers. Accordingly, both marks would be anything but confusingly similar.

Based on the foregoing, the Board dismissed Google’s allegations entirely and declared validation of the disputed mark.

Never Register “BOND GIRL” Never Again

In a recent administrative decision, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) sided with Danjaq, LLC, and declared invalidation of a wordmark “BOND GIRL” written in a Japanese katakana character in contravention of Article 4(1)(vii) of the Trademark Law.

[Invalidation case no. 2019-890044, Gazette issued date: April 24, 2020]

Disputed mark

“BOND GIRL” written in a Japanese katakana character (see below) was filed to JPO on the service of ‘arranging, conducting, and organization of seminars’ in class 41 by a Japanese individual on November 4, 2015, and registered on December 2, 2016.

Opposition & Invalidation petition by Danjaq, LLC

On March 9, 2017, just before the lapse of a two-months opposition period, Danjaq, LLC, the holding company responsible for the copyright and trademarks to the characters, elements, and other material related to James Bond on screen, filed an opposition to the disputed mark.

However, since Danjaq failed to supplement arguments for opposition within a statutory period, the JPO decided to dismiss the opposition entirely.

On August 2, 2019, Danjaq filed a petition for invalidation and argued disputed mark shall be invalid in contravention of Article 4(1)(vii), (xv) and (xix) of the Trademark Law by citing world-famous cinematic heroine “BOND GIRL” in the James Bond film series “007”.

Article 4(1)(vii)

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

In the petition, Danjaq argued “BOND GIRL” has appeared as a love interest of James Bond in the movies for over 55 years since 1962. Due to frequent appearances in magazines, other public media, and various events pertinent to the Japes Bond movie, the name and sign of “BOND GIRL” has been well-known for cinematic heroine in association with the film series “007”.

If so, it is presumed that the applicant intentionally applied disputed mark with an aim to monopolize the term. Since the applicant does not have any legal interest with Danjaq, a legitimate owner of trademarks and copyrights pertaining to the 007 movies, it must impermissibly cause not only damage to public order but the disorder in domestic and foreign trade.

Invalidation Board decision

The Invalidation Board initially noted that the James Bond film series “007” is world-widely known motion pictures. From the produced evidence, the cinematic heroine “Bond girl” has regularly attracted audiences through screens, magazines, and promotional events of the movie. The sign “BONG GIRL” had further extensive marketing and licensing to companies in vastly different product categories, not only with products associated with the motion pictures, e.g. nails, cosmetics, dolls, cards, calendars, and others. Relevant consumers at the sight of the disputed mark would conceive nothing but the cinematic heroine in the film. The Board, therefore, considered that “BOND GIRL” has become worldly famous as a cinematic heroine that appeared in the “007” film series.

The Board continued in analyzing efforts made by Danjaq to enhance the commercial value of “BOND GIRL” by means of trademark registrations in various jurisdictions and licensing to different product categories.

The Board finally concluded that taking into account the foregoing, since it appears that the applicant makes less contribution to establishing reputation and goodwill on “BOND GIRL”, it shall be impermissible for the applicant to monopolize the term on service in question.

To prevent damage to public order, the disputed mark shall be retroactively invalidated in contravention of Article 4(1)(vii).

In the meantime, surprisingly, the Board denied Danjaq’s allegation regarding a likelihood of confusion because “BOND GIRL” is just famous for cinematic heroine, not as a source indicator of Danjaq.

BRIDGESTONE Victorious in Trademark Dispute for B Mark Logo

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) upheld an invalidation petition by the world’s largest tire and rubber company, Bridgestone Corporation against TM Reg. no. 5664068 for the “SB NAGAMOCHI” mark due to a likelihood of confusion with its well-known B mark logo.
[Invalidation case no. 2018-890068, Gazette issue date: March 27, 2020]

TM Registration no. 5664068

Disputed mark, consisting of “SB” logo and a word “NAGAMOCHI” in a smaller plain letter (see below left), was applied for registration on September 13, 2013 in respect of non-electric prime movers for land vehicles, not including their parts; AC motors or DC motors for land vehicles, not including their parts; automobiles and their parts and fittings; two-wheeled motor vehicles, bicycles and their parts and fittings; adhesive rubber patches for repairing tubes or tires in class 12.

Without confronting with a refusal during substantive examination, disputed mark was registered on April 18, 2014.

Applicant of disputed mark, RMP NAGAMOCHI Technology Japan Ltd promotes various structural parts for automobiles, e.g. cylinders, brakes and clutch hoses, brake calipers, brake pads, rubber parts, filters, gaskets. Disputed mark was actually used on brake pads (see below).

Petition for invalidation

Japan Trademark Law has a provision to retroactively invalidate trademark registration for certain restricted reasons specified under Article 46 (1) provided that interested party files an invalidation petition within five-year statute of limitations.

Bridgestone Corporation, a Japanese tire and rubber company, filed a petition for invalidation against disputed mark on September 5, 2018. Bridgestone argued the mark shall be invalidated due to a likelihood of confusion with its famous “B” mark logo (see above right) when used on all goods in class 12 based on Article 4(1)(xv) of the 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.

Board Decision

In the decision, JPO Trial Board sided with Bridgestone by finding that:

  1. In 2016, Bridgestone holds top-ranked market share (14.6%) of automobiles tires in the world, the largest market share (55.9%) of tires and rubber products in Japan.
  2. Bridgestone has consecutively used “B” mark logo on goods and promotions as a symbolic house mark of Bridgestone group since 1984 and even when announcing sponsorship partnership with the Olympic Games and Tokyo2020 Paralympic Games Gold Partner.
  3. Based on the foregoing, it is unquestionable that “B” mark logo has acquired strong and considerable reputation as a source indicator of Bridgestone tires and rubber products among relevant traders and consumers of goods in question.
  4. “B” logo is a ‘strong’ mark because it is depicted with distinctive figurative element so that the mark as a whole can be seen sufficiently distinguishable from an ordinary “B” letter.
  5. Both marks look different when compared in its entirety, however, 2nd letter of “SB” logo is considered highly similar to “B” mark logo from visual point of view.
  6. Disputed goods “automobiles and their parts and fittings; two-wheeled motor vehicles, bicycles and their parts and fittings” and “tires” have the potential to be connected in the minds of the consumers. Since respective products share distributors or can be found in the same stores, there finds proximity in channels of trade and marketing of the products on which the marks are used.
  7. Foregoing weighs in favor of finding confusion. Thus, disputed mark shall be invalidated in violation of Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law.

SWATCH Defeated in SWATCH vs iWATCH Trademark Dispute

The Trial Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an invalidation petition by Swiss watch giant, Swatch against TM Reg. no. 5849925 for word mark “iWATCH” owned by U.S. tech giant, Apple Inc.
[Invalidation case no. 2017-890071, Gazette issue date: January 31,2020]

iWATCH

Disputed mark, consisting of a word “iWATCH” in plain block letters (see below), was applied for registration in the name of Apple Inc. on April 25, 2014 in respect of watches, clocks and other goods in class 14.

Immediately after registration on May 13, 2016, Swatch filed an opposition to challenge registrability of disputed mark based on Article 3(1)(iii), 3(1)(vi), 4(1)(xi), 4(1)(xv), 4(1)(xvi) of the Japan Trademark Law, but in vain. [Opposition case no. 2016-900234]

Article 3(1)(iii) is a provision to prohibit any mark from registering where the mark solely consists of elements just to indicate, in a common manner, the place of origin, place of sale, quality, materials, efficacy, intended purpose, quantity, shape (including shape of packages), price, the method or time of production or use.

Article 3(1)(vi) is a comprehensive provision to prohibit any mark lacking inherent distinctiveness from being registered.

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.

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.

Article 4(1)(xvi) is a provision to prohibit registration of any mark likely to mislead quality of goods or services.

Invalidation Trial

Japan Trademark Law provides a provision to retroactively invalidate trademark registration for specific grounds under Article 46 (1).

In an effort to argue against the opposition decision, Swatch filed a petition for invalidation against disputed mark on October 23, 2017. Swatch argued disputed mark “iWATCH” shall be invalid because of following reasons:

  1. Given disputed mark consists of an alphabet letter “i” and a generic term in relation to a designated goods ‘watch’, the mark can be merely perceived to indicate a value, code, type, mode or standard of ‘watch’. If so, disputed mark shall be lack of distinctiveness and revocable under Article 3(1)(vi) in relation to the goods.
  2. Likewise, relevant consumers would misconceive quality of goods when disputed mark is used on goods other than ‘watch’ in class 14, e.g. jewelry, key holders, jewelry boxes, accessories. If so, disputed mark shall be revocable under Article 4(1)(xvi) in relation to goods other than ‘watch’.
  3. Disputed mark “iWATCH” resembles “SWATCH” from visual and phonetic points of view. It is unquestionable SWATCH has become remarkably famous for watches and fashion items of Swatch Group. If so, a likelihood of confusion will arise between “iWATCH” and “SWATCH” when disputed mark is used on goods in class 14. Thus, disputed mark is revocable under Article 4(1)(xi).

Board Decision

In the decision, the Board sided with Apple Inc. and found that:

  • The Board considers the term “iWATCH” is a coined word in its entirety which does not give rise to any specific meaning at all. Therefore, it is unlikely that relevant consumers conceive disputed mark just as a qualitative indication of goods in question.
  • The Board admits “SWATCH” has been acquired a high degree of reputation and popularity among relevant consumers and traders as famous watch of Swatch Group. In the meantime, the term appears less unique and creative since it is a dictionary word meaning ‘a sample piece (as of fabric) or a collection of samples’.
  • Difference on initial letter of both marks shall not be negligible on the case. The Board has no good reason to believe both marks are deemed similar from visual, phonetic and conceptual points of view.
  • If so, it is unlikely to happen that relevant consumers with an ordinary care would associate or misconceive disputed mark with Swatch or any entity systematically or economically connected with claimant even when used on ‘watch’.

Based on the foregoing, the Board concluded “iWATCH” shall be irrevocable in relation to “SWATCH” and dismissed Swatch’s invalidation petition wholly.