McDonald Unsuccessful in Trademark Opposition against “mac”

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) did not side with McDonald in opposition against Japanese TM Reg no. 6575774 for stylized wordmark “mac” in class 35 due to dissimilarity to “Mc” and unlikelihood of confusion with McDonald.

[Opposition case no. 2022-900294, decided on August 15, 2023]

Opposed mark “mac”

The opposed mark, consisting of a stylized word “mac” (see below), was filed by Daiya Group Inc. for use on retail services or wholesale services for various goods including, meat, milk, carbonated drinks [refreshing beverages] and non-alcoholic fruit juice beverages, tea, coffee and cocoa in class 35 with the JPO on October 27, 2021.

The applicant has used the opposed mark as a tradename of their drug store “mac”.

Screen capture from Google map

The JPO granted protection of the opposed mark on June 22, 2022 and published it for post-grant opposition on June 30, 2022.

Opposition by McDonald

McDonald International Property Company Limited filed an opposition against the opposed mark on July 20, 2022 with the JPO and claimed cancellation of the opposed mark in contravention of Article 4(1)(x), (xi) and (xv) of the Japan Trademark Law based on earlier trademark registrations and various marks used in relation to their business.

McDonald argued that the mark “Mc” has been remarkably famous as a source indicator of the opponent and it gives rise to a same sound with the opposed mark “mac”. If so, relevant consumers would confuse the source of retail services or wholesale services for meat, milk, carbonated drinks [refreshing beverages] and non-alcoholic fruit juice beverages, tea, coffee and cocoa bearing the opposed mark with McDonald due to close resemblance of the marks and relatedness to food business.

JPO decision

The Opposition Board pointed out McDonald has been regularly using the mark “Mc” in a tight combination with other word. Regardless of the fact that consumers are accustomed to call McDonald as “MAC”, there is no evidence to show the opponent has used “MAC” in connection with their business.

By taking account of insufficient evidence to demonstrate substantial recognition of the cited marks, the Board has no reason to admit famousness of the mark “Mc” as a source indicator of McDonald.

In assessing the similarity of mark, the Board found the cited marks are aurally dissimilar to the opposed mark since they are pronounced as “emˈsiː” or “mækˈkæfˈeɪ” in its entirety. Besides, there is no ground to find visual and conceptual similarity of respective mark. If so, the Board believes the opposed mark is clearly dissimilar to the cited marks.

To the extent that there is insufficient evidence to support how the term “MAC” has played a significant role in indicating the source of McDonald, the Board held it unlikely that relevant consumers confuse the opposed mark with McDonald when used on the services in question.

Based on the foregoing, the Board dismissed the opposition entirely and decided that the opposed mark “mac” shall remain valid as the status quo.

Securely Protecting Trademark Abbreviations

Japanese is prone to abbreviate trademarks. Occasionally, the abbreviation has no resemblance to its original name. A brand owner should be mindful of how the public perceives and uses its trademarks in Japan. Abbreviations or nicknames used by the public are not protected under the respective registrations given that they have no resemblance to the original names.

“Family Mart”, Japan’s second-largest convenience store franchiser since 1973, with more than 15,000 locations, is commonly called “Fa-mi-ma” among consumers. It is true that Family Mark has used only “Family Mart” in the ordinary course of their business for more than three decades. But, eventually, Family Mart decided to adopt the name on their store opened in urban office or commercial buildings.

I suppose it aims at avoiding risks of the “Famima” mark registration by a third party in view of high recognition for the name among relevant consumers and dissimilarity to “Family Mart”. Now, the mark is securely registered in the name of Family Mart.

Trademark abbreviations may serve as a barometer for well-recognition of the mark among the general public in Japan. In this respect, trademark abbreviations would not be a matter only for the Japanese company, but also for foreign brand owners. Where a trademark is composed of five sounds or more, you should mind that the general public in Japan gets to call the mark in abbreviation contrary to the brand owner’s intention. A combination mark is an easy target for abbreviation as well. BOTTEGA VENETA is called “BOTTEGA”. LUIS VUITTON is known as “VITON”. DOLCE & GABBANA is popularly called “DOLU-GABA”. STARBUCKS COFFEE is known as “SUTABA”. TOMMY HILFIGER is called “TOMI-HIRU”. Undoubtedly, the most popular name recognized in the abbreviation is “McDonald”. We seldom call it in the full name. One of the most popular fast-food chains and one of the top franchises in the world has always been called “MAKUDO” or “MAC”.

Using abbreviations, nicknames, and acronyms as trademarks may be appealing from a marketing perspective, however, trademark protection for an abbreviation has to be sought independently from the trademark protection that its extensive version might be already enjoying, and vice versa.

It came to my notice that ABERCROMBIE & FITCH, known for its shortened name “ABA-KURO”, sought Japanese trademark registration of “ABACRO” in English and its Japanese transliteration, but ended in vain due to a conflict with a senior trademark registration “ABERCRO”. A&F was unsuccessfully challenging the senior trademark registration based on non-use grounds.