Hummel Victory in Appeal to Overcome Rejection against Chevron Position Mark

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) Appeal Board disaffirmed the examiner’s rejection and granted registration of TM App nos. 2018-133121 and 2018-133123 for a position mark consisting of chevron devices in relation to jackets and pants (trousers) of class 25 by finding inherent distinctiveness of the position marks.
[Appeal case nos. 2022-13211, 2022-13212 decided on December 20, 2023]


Hummel Chevron Position Mark

Hummel Holding AS filed two position marks with the JPO (TM App nos. 2018-133121, 2018-133123) on October 25, 2018. TM App no. 2018-133121 consists of 15 chevron devices positioned in series from shoulder to sleeve (see below left), and designates long-sleeved jackets in class 25. TM App no. 2018-133123 consists of 21 chevron devices positioned in series from waist to hem (see below right), and designates pants and trousers in class 25.


JPO Examination

On May 25, 2022, the JPO examiner rejected both marks based on Article 3(1)(vi) of the Japan Trademark Law by stating that:

In fashion industry, there are plenty of jackets and pants with decorations aiming to enhance aesthetic effect of the goods and attract consumers.  Under the circumstances, relevant consumers at the sight of pants or jackets bearing the position mark would not see it as a source indicator, but as a pattern for decorative or functional indication.

Article 3(1)(vi) is a provision to comprehensively prohibit from registering any mark lacking inherent distinctiveness.

Any trademark to be used in connection with goods or services pertaining to the business of an applicant may be registered, unless the trademark:

(vi) is in addition to those listed in each of the preceding items, a trademark by which consumers are not able to recognize the goods or services as those pertaining to a business of a particular person.

Hummel Holding AS filed an appeal against the rejection on August 23, 2022 and argued inherent distinctiveness of the position marks.


JPO Appeal Board decision

The Appeal Board found that respective mark would be far from a common or descriptive device as a whole.

In relevant industries, competitors often provide jackets and pants bearing their brand on the same position with the Hummel Chevron mark. If so, consumers are also accustomed to distinguishing a source of the goods by means of devices depicted on the position.

Bearing in mind that the applicant has been extensively and continuously using the position marks on their jackets and pants, presumably the marks have become famous as a source indicator of the applicant among relevant consumers.

Besides, the Board could not find any evidence of a common use of the chevron device on the same position as a decorative or functional indication.

Based on the foregoing, the Board held that relevant consumers would recognize the position marks as a source indicator. If so, the examiner made an error in finding distinctiveness of respective mark. Therefore, the Board disaffirmed the examiner’s rejection and decided in favor of Hummel Holding AS consequently.

Is Mr. Benjamin Brown around?

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) reversed the examiner’s rejection to TM App no. 2022-13396 for word mark “Benjamin Brown” in classes 25 and 28 based on Article 4(1)(viii) of the Trademark Law by stating the mark would not be completely identical with a full name of the person “Benjamin Brown” alive.

[Appeal case no. 2023-4642, decided on November 9, 2023]

Benjamin Brown

Japanese company, Kabushiki Kaisha Pmang, filed trademark application for a word mark “Benjamin Brown” for use on various goods in class 25 and 28, especially golf wear, shoes and other gold items, with the JPO on February 7, 2022.

On December 19, 2022, the JPO examiner rejected the mark in contravention of Article 4(1)(viii) of the Japan Trademark Law since “Benjamin Brown” corresponds to a full name of person, an Israeli professor, researcher of Judaism and Jewish thought, lecturer at the Department of Jewish thought at Hebrew University.


Article 4(1)(viii)

Article 4(1)(viii) is a provision to prohibit registration of trademark that contains the representation or name of any person, famous pseudonym, professional name, or pen name of another person, or famous abbreviation thereof.

Notwithstanding the provision, the article is not applicable where the applicant could obtain a written consent from the person.

The Supreme Court of Japan ruled the article has aimed to protect personality rights of a living individual. Therefore, the article is not applicable when the person is no longer alive.

The applicant filed an appeal against the rejection on March 20, 2023 and argued that registration of the mark “Benjamin Brown” in relation to goods of classes 25 and 28 would never cause damages of personal right to Israeli professor at Hebrew University.


JPO Appeal Board decision

The Appeal Board found that the applied mark “Benjamin Brown” shall be conceived as a coined word in its entirety. Relevant consumers are unlikely to associate it with a full name of particular person.

It is uncertain if “Benjamin Brown” is a full name of the professor or alive (!). Besides, the Board can’t find any reason to believe that his name has been highly recognized among consumers in Japan.

If so, the applied mark shall not be subject to Article 4(1)(viii). Since the examiner made an error in applying the article, it should be cancelled in due course, the Board decided.

JPO decision to trademark dissimilarity, Unbelievable or Believable?

On November 9, 2023, the JPO Appeal Board reversed the examiner’s rejection to TM Application no. 2021-98849 for word mark “ADEAM/ICHI” by finding dissimilarity to earlier trademark registrations for word mark “ICHI”.
[Appeal case no. 2022-19409]


Earlier TM registrations “ICHI”

Following trademarks have been effectively registered since 2015 at the latest.

  • TM Reg no. 4736544 (soaps and detergent, incense, cosmetics in class 3)
  • TM Reg no. 5756228 (clothing, waistbands, belts [clothing] in class 25)
  • TM Reg no. 5991461 (bags and pouches, wallets, umbrella, walking sticks in class 18)

Junior mark “ADEAM/ICHI”

On August 6, 2021, FOXY Corporation filed a word mark consisting of “ADEAM” with larger roman-font and “ICHI” with smaller gothic-font in two lines (see below) for use on various goods and services in classes 3,14,16,18,24,25, and 35.

The JPO examiner rejected the applied mark due to a conflict with the earlier TM registrations for the mark “ICHI” owned by other entity based on Article 4(1)(xi) of the Japan Trademark Law on September 6, 2022.

Subsequently, the applicant filed an appeal against the rejection on December 1, 2022 and disputed dissimilarity of mark.


JPO Appeal Board decision

To my surprise, the Appeal Board found the applied mark is dissimilar to the cited marks and decided to cancel the examiner’s rejection by stating that:

Since the term “ICHI” of the applied mark is placed just beneath the term “ADEAM” in the middle about a quarter of the font size, from appearance, the term “ADEAM” occupies a large portion of the applied mark in its entirety. Thus, relevant consumers would have an impression that the term “ADEAMN” is considered as a dominant portion to identify a source of goods and service.

Besides, the term “ADEAM” is apparently a coined word. The term “ICHI” also does not give rise to a clear meaning. Therefore, conceptually there is no particular difference in assessing distinctiveness of respective term.

The Board has no reason to believe that relevant consumers would focus only on the portion “ICHI” of the applied mark as a source indicator by separating the dominant element “ADEAM”.

If so, it shall not be permissible to compare the literal portion “ICHI” of the applied mark with the cited marks.

In this respect, the examiner made an error in applying Article 4(1)(xi).

Based on the foregoing, the Board granted registration of the applied mark

JPO decided trademark “MONO” dissimilar to “MONO+”

In a trademark appeal disputing similarity between “MONO” and “MONO+”, the Appeal Board of the Japan Patent Office (JPO) reversed the examiner’s rejection and found both marks dissimilar and unlikely to cause confusion.

[Appeal case no. 2023-6307, decided on November 1, 2023]

MONO+

Onoya Inc. filed a mark “MONO+” (see below) for use on retail or wholesale services for furniture, joinery fittings, flowers [natural] and trees, kitchen equipment, cleaning tools and washing utensils in class 35 with the JPO on September 11, 2021.

The JPO examiner rejected the mark due to a conflict with earlier TM Reg no. 4533103 for wordmark “MONO” in standard character on goods of food wrapping plastic film for household purposes; garbage bags of paper or plastic for household purposes; hygienic hand tools of paper; towels of paper; table napkins of paper; hand towels of paper; handkerchiefs of paper in class 16 based on Article 4(1)(xi) of the Japan Trademark Law.

Article 4(1)(xi) is a provision to prohibit registration of a junior mark that is deemed identical with, or similar to, an earlier 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.


JPO Appeal Board decision

The Board found the applied mark “MONO+” gives rise to a sound of “mono-plus”, but it has no specific meaning in view of overall appearance and a meaning of respective word “MONO” and “+”.

As for the cited mark, the Board held the term “MONO” is not a foreign word familiar among relevant consumers in Japan. Thus, it has a sound of “mono”, but no specific meaning.

Comparing both marks, although they share the same appearance in that both contain the word “MONO”, they are sufficiently distinguishable because, by virtue of the presence or absence of the “+” symbol at the end, it is conceived both marks represent different words as a whole.  

Phonetically, they start with the same sound “mono”, but the overall tone and impression are different with or without the sound “plus” at the end. Due to the reason, both sounds can be distinguishable.

It is meaningless to compare the concept of both marks because neither does give rise to a specific meaning.

If so, from the totality of visual, aural, and conceptual points of view, the Board has no reason to believe that relevant consumers are likely to confuse the source of the services in class 35 bearing the applied mark with the earlier mark.

Based on the foregoing, the Board found both marks are dissimilar regardless of similarity in goods and services, and decided to cancel the rejection and granted protection of the applied mark.

Japan IP High Court Decision to A Position Mark of Dr. Martens’ Yellow Welt Stitch

On August 10, 2023, the Japan IP Hight Court ruled to dismiss an appeal by Airwair International Limited to the JPO’s rejection against a position mark for Dr. Martens’ Yellow Welt Stitch.

[Court case no. Reiwa 5(Gyo-ke)10003]

Dr. Martens’ Yellow Welt Stitch

Airwair International Limited, a UK company, applied a position mark consisting of a yellow stitching around the perimeter of footwear on the outer sole edge (see below) for use on leather shoes and boots in class 25 with the JPO on June 12, 2018 (TM App no. 2018-77608).

Allegedly, first use of the position mark on the Dr. Martens “1460” boots has dated back to 1960 in UK. Leather shoes and boots bearing the yellow welt stitch have been continuously distributed in Japan by the applicant or a local subsidiary (Dr. Martens Japan) via company store (61 shops at present) and major shoes retailers since 1985. Recent annual sales for Dr.  Martens’ shoes in Japan exceed 6 billion Japanese yens and over 460,000 pairs. Airwair has routinely monitored and taken legal actions against lookalikes of shoes bearing the yellow welt stitch and been successful in stopping distribution of following shoes.

According to the brand awareness survey that targeted a total of 1,019 men and women aged from 15 to 59, 30.7% of the interviewees who have purchased leather shoes and boots could answer Dr. Martens at the sight of black leather shoes with the yellow welt stitch and 37.6% selected Dr. Martens from multiple choice.

On August 23, 2022, The JPO Appeal Board decided the yellow stitching of Dr. Martens does not possess its own distinctive character by stating that relevant consumers would not see the stitch as a source indicator, but as a mere decoration. The Board also negated acquired distinctiveness of the position mark based on the fact that a majority of frequent users of the goods in question could not connect the stitch with Dr. Martens. Accordingly, the Board sustained the examiner’s rejection (Appeal case no. 2021-2446).

Airwair filed an appeal against the JPO Appeal Board decision and argued inherent and acquired distinctiveness of the Dr. Martens’ yellow welt stitch in relation to leather shoes and goods.


IP High Court decision

Inherent distinctiveness

The Court paid attention to the circumstance that plenty of leather shoes and boots have been manufactured by means of the Goodyear Welted Method for long years and the thread stitched to attach the upper to the sole has often identical or similar color to the upper and sole. If so, in relation to yellow-colored shoes, a yellow stitch would be anything but distinctive.

Bearing in mind that the applied mark does not specify a color of the upper and the sole, the judge had a view that it is allowed to assess inherent distinctiveness of the position mark in relation to the shoes with a yellow thread, upper and sole and any colors.

Based on the foregoing, the Court found the position mark lacks inherent distinctiveness in relation to leather shoes and boots and shall be unregistrable based on Article 3(1)(iii) of the Trademark Law.

Acquired distinctiveness

The Court questioned relevance of the brand awareness survey that excluded consumers who had not purchased either leather shoes or boots in the past year. However, by taking account of an expert opinion that points out 15% shall be sufficient to admit distinctiveness of trade dress as a source indicator especially in fashion industry and the survey revealed there were over four times as many interviewees who selected Dr. Martens than Timberland (7.9%) from multiple choice, the judge ruled Dr. Martens’ yellow welt stitch has acquired a certain degree of recognition as a sign that the black leather shoes originate from the Airwair company.

In the meantime, the Court held there is doubt if the position mark would play a role in indicating its source even when used on a yellow or similar colored outsole or welt. As a matter of fact, Airwair has not taken actions against shoes having non-black outsoles and welts.

Given the applied mark does not restrict a color of shoes, a fact that Dr. Martens’ yellow welt stitch has played a role of source indication in relation to black leather shoes and boots is insufficient to find acquired distinctiveness of the appled mark and admit registration under Article 3(2) of the Trademark Law.


Obviously, the Court opens a gate to register Dr. Martens’ yellow welt stitch provided that a position mark consists of yellow stich and black upper and welt.

JPO Annual Report 2023

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) released its 2023 Annual Report (in Japanese only) on July 28, 2023, which contains informative figures and statistics relating to IP applications in Japan and all other activities of the JPO.


Trademark applications filed in 2022

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of trademark applications in Japan decreased to 170,275 by 7.8 % in 2022. TM applications via Madrid Protocol also decreased to 19,769 by 1.6% compared to the previous year. Direct applications decreased to 150,506 by 8.5 %.


Pendency time for trademark prosecution

Since 2020, the first office action pendency, the average number of months from the date of application filing to the JPO examiner’s first office action, has been drastically getting shorter in a row. The first Action Pendency was 5.4 months in 2022.

Total pendency, the average number of months from the date of filing to registration in 2022 was 6.9 months, four months shorter than in 2020 (11.2 months).


The average number of months for trial is also getting shorter in 2022.

TM Appeal trial: 8.6 months / TM Opposition trial: 8.9 months / TM Invalidation trial: 10.0 months / TM Cancellation trial: 6.4months


TM applications to JPO by Foreign Companies/ Non-resident

44,911 trademark applications, which account for 26.4 % of the total, were filed by foreign companies or non-residents in 2022. The number of applications was decreased by 13 % since last year.

The statistic shows China was continuously leading the ranking with about 15,100 trademark applications in 2022, decreased by 25 % from the previous year.

CASIO Successful in Registering 3D Shape of “G-SHOCK” Watch

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) disaffirmed the examiner’s rejection and granted protection to the 3D shape of the Casio “G-Shock” watch by finding acquired distinctiveness as a result of substantial use over the past four decades.

[Appeal case no. 20212-11052, Gazette issued date: June 30, 2023]

CASIO “G-SHOCK” Watch

On April 28, 2021, Casio Computer Co., Ltd. filed a trademark application for the 3D shape of the first-released G-Shock, the DW-5000 (see below) to be used on ‘watches’ in class 14 with the JPO (TM application no. 2021-52961).


Rejection by JPO Examiner

On April 11, 2022, the JPO examiner rejected the 3D mark based on Article 3(1)(iii) of the Japan Trademark Law.

In the rejection, taking into consideration various decorations or patterns on the belt and case of wristwatches by other watchmakers (see below), the examiner considered the 3D shape of the applied mark lacks distinctiveness as a source indicator of wristwatch because relevant consumers and traders would recognize it simply represents a common shape of wristwatch adopted to enhance aesthetic function and psychological effect on the goods in question.

The examiner negated the acquired distinctiveness of the 3D shape of “G-Shock”, the DW-5000 regardless of continuous use on Casio’s wristwatches for 40 years on the grounds that:

  1. On the goods, catalogs, and advertisements, wordmarks “CASIO” and “G-SHOCK” have been constantly used as well.
  2. The “G-Shock” wristwatch collection has a lot of models that have a different appearance from the applied 3D shape.
  3. The market research that targeted a total of 1,100 men and women aged over 16 resulted in 55.52% of the interviewees answering “Casio” or “G-Shock” to an open-ended question when shown the 3D shape of the DW-5000. The percentage is insufficient to admit the 3D shape per se has acquired distinctiveness as a source indicator.
A screen shot from casio.com

On July 15, 2022, Casio filed an appeal against the rejection and disputed the acquired distinctiveness.


JPO Appeal Board decision

The Appeal Board affirmed the examiner’s finding in applying Article 3(1)(iii) of the Trademark Law.

In the meantime, the Board paid attention to the fact 66.27% of the interviewees selected “Casio” or “G-Shock” to a closed-ended question, where it mentions G-Shock along with other close competitors.

Provided that more than 60% of consumers associate the 3D shape with Casio or G-Shock, and the shape has the reputation as a representative model of the G-Shock with its unique shock-resistance form, the Board has a reason to believe the 3D shape per se has acquired a substantial degree of recognition among relevant consumers and played a role in source indicator of Casio’s wristwatches. If so, the examiner errored in applying Article 3(2) of the Trademark Law.

Based on the foregoing, the Board decided to cancel the examiner’s rejection and admitted registration of the applied mark exceptionally based on Article 3(2).

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.

IP High Court Rules Lego 3D Figure Mark Unregistrable

The Japan IP High Court dismissed an appeal brought by Lego Juris A/S and affirmed the Japan Patent Office (JPO) decision that found the 3D shape of Lego figures unregistrable due to a lack of inherent distinctiveness and secondary meaning in relation to toys.

[Court case no. Reiwa4(Gyo-ke)10050, decision date: December 26, 2022]

LEGO 3D Figure Mark

Toy giant, Lego Juris A/S applied to register a 3D mark, showing the Lego figure seen from the front, side, back, top, and beneath (see below), for “games and playthings” and other goods in class 28 on October 20, 2017 (TM App no. 2017-138422).


JPO rejection

The JPO Appeal Board sustained the findings of the examiner and found the 3D mark does not go beyond the scope of the descriptive shape of the goods in question by stating that:

  1. Plenty of human shapes figures have been promoted for sale by competitors in the relevant business field.
  2. There is less necessity to adopt a specific configuration in making a human shape figure provided that it has a basic skeleton of head, body, arms, and legs.
  3. The Board has a reason to believe the 3D shape of the applied mark is adopted enabling (i) to wear several caps and hair wigs, (ii) to get hold of various tools at hand, and (iii) to stand still in the display, and play.
  4. If so, relevant consumers would assume the whole shape and its unique decoration of the Lego figure attributable to enhancing function or the aesthetic appeal of the toy.

Based on the foregoing, on January 6, 2022, the Board decided to dismiss the appeal in contravention of Article 3(1)(iii) of the Japan Trademark Law. See a previous post from here.

Lego Juris A/S immediately brought the case to the IP High Court and argued inherent distinctiveness and secondary meaning as a result of the substantial use of the 3D shape in relation to toys.


IP High Court ruling

By judgment of December 26, 2022, the IP High Court found relevant consumers are likely to consider the 3D shape as a whole adopted for a purpose of enhancing function or the aesthetic appeal of ‘human figure toys’ by taking into account a lot of human shape figures with similar features by competitors and trade practice.

The judge stated JPO did not error in applying Article 3(1)(iii) of the Japan Trademark Law and the 3D mark shall be unregistrable due to a lack of inherent distinctiveness under the article.

As for Lego’s allegations of the secondary meaning, the judge, based on the produced evidence, pointed out that relevant consumers would just consider the 3D mark as an unfinished shape of Lego figures because there is a number of figures wearing caps and hair wigs with different facial expressions.

In order to bolster secondary meaning, Lego produced an interview report, showing 37.32% of the interviewees (a total of 1,190 people aged over 16) selected “Lego” from a list. However, the judge thought it negatively by paying an attention to the fact that more interviewees (amounting to 37.45%) selected other brands from the list.

Accordingly, the court decided the 3D mark is even unregistrable under Article 3(2) because it has yet to acquire secondary meaning as a source indicator of Lego figures.

TM Race: Which is Registrable, “Virtual Marathon” or “Virtual Tokyo Marathon”?

In a recent administrative decision, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) found the word mark “Virtual Marathon” lacks distinctiveness in relation to marathon races of class 41 although the JPO admitted registration of the word mark “Virtual Tokyo Marathon” in the same class.

[Appeal case no. 2022-001910, Decision date: December 12, 2022]

Virtual Marathon

During the COVID-19 pandemic when large gathering in person is not possible, many major running decided to go virtual around the globe.

On March 30, 2020, R-bies Co., Ltd., a Japanese company managing sports events and sports media, filed a word mark “Virtual Marathon” written in Japanese Katakana characters (see below) for use on various goods and services including marathon races in classes 9, 41, and 42.


Virtual Tokyo Marathon

Three months later, Tokyo Marathon Foundation filed a trademark application for the word mark “Virtual Tokyo Marathon” in standard character on various goods and services in classes 9, 35, 36, 38, 41, 42, and 45.

The JPO did not raise any objection to the Virtual Tokyo Marathon mark and granted protection on June 21, 2021.


Examiner’s Refusal

In the meantime, on April 7, 2021, the JPO examiner raised her objection to the Virtual Marathon mark due to a lack of inherent distinctiveness in relation to sports events and marathon races of class 41 by stating that the term “virtual marathon” is commonly used to indicate an organized event where participants run a full marathon in an individual place of their choice during a specific date range tracked on an app on their smartphones. If so, the mark “Virtual Marathon” shall not meet the requirements of Article 3(1)(iii) of the Japan Trademark Law. The applicant filed a written response and argued the distinctiveness of the mark, however, the examiner did not withdraw her objection and decided to reject the entire application on November 8, 2021.

R-bies Co., Ltd. filed an appeal to the refusal on February 8, 2022, and argued the inherent distinctiveness of the Virtual Marathon mark by citing a junior trademark application for the “Virtual Tokyo Marathon” mark that was considered distinctive in relation to the same goods and services (TM Reg no. 6420795).


JPO decision

The JPO Appeal Board affirmed the examiner’s findings by citing a lot of web articles pertinent to virtual marathon races organized in Japan.

Under the circumstance, the Board has a reason to believe that relevant consumers at the sight of the Virtual Marathon mark are likely to conceive of online footrace in which each participant goes out and runs the full marathon in their own time, not as a source indicator of sports event managed by R-bies Co., Ltd. or other specific entity.

Based on the foregoing, the Appeal Board upheld the examiner’s refusal and decided to reject the word mark “Virtual Marathon” in contravention of Article 3(1)(iii).


As a matter of interpretation of the Trademark Law, provided that “Virtual Marathon” is to be rejected under Article 3(1)(iii), “Virtual Tokyo Marathon” shall be rejected on the same ground as well unless Tokyo Marathon Foundation demonstrates acquired distinctiveness of the mark as a result of substantial use. I believe it is impossible because the Tokyo Marathon was never virtually started before registration.