PUMA wins opposition over Formstrip mark

The Opposition Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) sided with PUMA SE in trademark opposition against TM Reg no. 6269999 for the stripe device by finding a likelihood of confusion with PUMA’s iconic “Formstrip”.

[Opposition case no. 2020-900248, decision date: June 21, 2022]

Opposed mark

The opposed mark (see below right) was filed with the JPO in the name of Strato Trading Group Inc, a US company, for use on footwear, sports shoes, headwear, trousers, pants, bottoms, jackets, tops, and shirts in class 25 on July 29, 2019.

The JPO examiner did not issue any office action and granted protection of the opposed mark on June 16, 2020 (TM Reg no. 6269999). The opposed mark was published for opposition on August 4, 2020.


PUMA Formstrip

MARKS IP LAW FIRM, as a representative of PUMA SA, filed an opposition against the opposed mark on October 1, 2020, and argued the mark shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) and (xv) of the Japan Trademark Law by citing earlier trademark registrations for famous Formstrip mark (see above left) in class 25.

In 1958 PUMA trademarked their “Formstrip” – an ever-expanding band of color that extended from the heel of the shoe, before diving into the soles along the sides. This particular shape was originally created to stabilize the foot inside the shoe, is now a typical PUMA trademark found on almost all PUMA shoes, and is used as a design element on our apparel products.


JPO Decision

By taking into consideration the produced evidence and substantial use of the cited mark on PUMA shoes that have annual sales exceeded JP15billion-yen and held a 4% market share in Japan for long years, the Opposition Board found “the Formstrip mark is highly distinctive and has acquired a remarkable degree of reputation and popularity as a source indicator of PUMA shoes among relevant consumers at the time of filing and registration of the opposed mark.

Besides, the Board found a high degree of similarity of marks by stating that both marks have the similar configuration of gradually becoming narrower and narrower with a gentle curve from a wide width. Although there are some differences in detail, such as the slight curvature at the narrow end, the opposed mark can be conceived of as a reversed version of the Formstrip.

In view of a close association between the goods in question and PUMA’s business, attention to be paid by relevant consumers, and the totality of circumstances and transactions in the relevant industry, the Board has a reasonable ground to believe that relevant consumers and traders are likely to confuse the source of the goods bearing the opposed mark from PUMA or an entity economically or systematically connected with PUMA.

Based on the foregoing, the Board decided to cancel the opposed mark entirely in contravention of Article 4(1)(xv) of the Japan Trademark Law.

Trademark Battle – PUMA vs KUMA

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) decided to invalidate trademark registration no. 5661816 for a stylized word “KUMA”, which means ‘bear’ in Japanese, due to similarity to, and a likelihood of confusion with a world-renowned sports brand, PUMA. [Invalidation case no. 2019-890021, Gazette issue date: January 31,2020]

KUMA mark

Disputed mark (see below),consisting of a stylized word “KUMA” with a partial island shape of Hokkaido, Japan’s most northerly main island, depicted on the inside of letter “U”, was filed on October 24, 2013 by a Japanese business entity having its principal place of business in Hokkaido over various goods in class 25 including sportswear and shoes.

It was found Applicant has used the KUMA mark on T-shirts and other goods with a bear silhouette facing left in the upper right of the mark.

The JPO admitted registration on April 4, 2014 and published for opposition on May 13, 2014.

PUMA’s Opposition / Invalidation Trial

On June 13, 2014, PUMA SE filed an opposition against the KUMA mark based on Article 4(1)(vii) and 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law. PUMA argued relevant consumers or traders are likely to confuse or misconceive a source of disputed mark with PUMA when used on designated goods in class 25 because of a high reputation and close resemblance between PUMA word logo and the KUMA mark.

The Opposition Board admitted a high degree of popularity and reputation of PUMA word logo, however, Board dismissed the opposition entirely due to unlikelihood of confusion because of a low degree of similarity between the marks (Opposition case no. 2014-900177).

Subsequently, PUMA SE entrusted the case to us. On April 3, 2019, just one day before the lapse of five-year Statute of limitations, MARKS IP LAW FIRM on behalf of PUMA SE requested for an invalidation trial and challenged invalidating the KUMA mark based on Article 4(1)(vii), (xi), (xv) and (xix) of the Japanese 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)(xi) is a provision to refrain from registering a junior mark which is deemed identical with, or similar to, any senior registered mark on identical or similar goods/service.

Article 4(1)(xv) prohibits to register a trademark which is likely to cause confusion with a business of other entity.

Article 4(1)(xix) prohibits to register a trademark which is identical with, or similar to, other entity’s famous mark, if such trademark is aimed for unfair purposes, e.g. gaining unfair profits, or causing damage to the entity.

Invalidation Decision

The Invalidation Board reversed the opposition decision and decided in favor of PUMA on all grounds by finding that:

  1. PUMA word logo has been continuously well-known in Japan for a source indicator of PUMA in connection with sports shoes, sportswear and others among relevant consumers and traders.
  2. A mere difference on initial letter of both marks and the Hokkaido island shape shall be insufficient to overturn an overall impression of the mark from visual and phonetic points of view. Conceptually, the KUMA mark, having a meaning of bears in Japanese, would give rise to a similar meaning with PUMA word logo, four-footed mammal. If so, by taking into consideration a high degree of reputation and popularity of PUMA word logo, both marks shall be deemed similar.
  3. Configuration of PUMA word logo looks unique, creative, and impressive in itself.
  4. Besides, given close association between designated goods in class 25 and PUMA’s business, relevant consumers of the goods in question with an ordinary care are likely to confuse its source with PUMA.
  5. It has good reasons to believe that the applicant of disputed mark did fraudulently apply the KUMA mark for registration with an aim to free-ride and dilute PUMA’s goodwill based on totality of the circumstances.
  6. If so, applicant must have filed disputed mark with a malicious intention to dilute or do harm to PUMA’s goodwill, which was impermissible to protect public order and morals

Based on the foregoing, the JPO decided to invalidate the KUMA mark based on Article 4(1)(vii), (xi), (xv) as well as 4(1)(xix) of the Japan Trademark Law.

PUMA’s Fight Against Logo Parody

On August 1, 2019, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) decided to invalidate trademark registration no. 5861923 for composite mark consisting of a word “KUMA”, which means ‘bear’ in Japanese, and the bear device by finding a likelihood of confusion with a world-renowned sports brand, PUMA and detrimental effect to public policy or morality.
[Invalidation case no. 2019-890001]

KUMA device mark

Disputed mark (see below) was filed on January 7, 2016 by a Japanese business entity in Hokkaido, Japan’s most northerly main island, an otherworldly volcanic land with eastern Asia’s highest concentration of brown bears, over various goods in class 25 including sportswear and shoes.

Precedently, applicant applied for registration of following trademarks, consist of four alphabets in bold font and an animal silhouette facing left depicted in the upper right of the alphabets, on goods in classes 9, 14, 16, 24, 25 and 28, but in vain.

“UUMA” means ‘horse’, “BUTA” means ‘pig’, “KUMA” means ‘bear’ in Japanese. It is obvious that both literal element and figurative element of respective mark give rise to a same meaning, which is the same for PUMA.

It is likely the applicant intended to use these marks on souvenirs from Hokkaido since we get accustomed to see scenes at a famous tourist spot that T-shirts and other small items displayed at gift shops parody famous brands by featuring local specialty to attract tourists for fun.

PUMA’s Opposition / Invalidation Trial

On September 26, 2016, PUMA SE filed an opposition against the KUMA mark based on Article 4(1)(vii) and 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law. PUMA argued relevant consumers or traders are likely to confuse or misconceive a source of disputed mark with PUMA when used on designated goods in class 25 because of a high reputation and close resemblance between PUMA logo and the KUMA mark.

The Opposition Board admitted a high degree of popularity and reputation of PUMA logo, however, the Board dismissed the opposition entirely due to unlikelihood of confusion as a result of low degree of similarity between the marks (Opposition case no. 2016-900308).

Subsequently, PUMA SE entrusted the case to MARKS IP LAW FIRM. On New Year’s Eve of 2018, MARKS IP LAW FIRM on behalf of PUMA SE requested for an invalidation trial and sought to annul the KUMA mark on the same grounds.

Invalidation Decision

The Invalidation Board reversed the opposition decision and decided in favor of PUMA by finding that:

  1. PUMA logo has been continuously famous as a source indicator of PUMA in connection with sports shoes, sportswear and others among relevant consumers and traders in Japan.
  2. Configuration of PUMA logo looks unique, creative, and impressive in itself.
  3. Regardless of visual difference in detail between the marks, overall impression of both marks is quite similar.
  4. Given close association between designated goods in class 25 and PUMA business, relevant consumers of the goods with an ordinary care are likely to confuse its source with PUMA
  5. Besides, it is presumed the current registrant of disputed mark was knowingly assigned a similar KUMA mark that applicant had a fraudulent intent to free-ride and dilute PUMA’s goodwill.
  6. If so, current registrant must have filed disputed mark with a fraudulent intention to dilute or do harm to PUMA’s goodwill given a close resemblance of between disputed mark and a rejected KUMA mark (see above right).

Based on the foregoing, the JPO decided to invalidate disputed marks based on Article 4(1)(xv) as well as 4(1)(vii) of the Japan Trademark Law.