Formula One Successful in Registering “F1”

In a recent decision, the Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) overturned the examiner’s rejection and decided to register the wordmark “F1” in standard character by finding acquired distinctiveness as a source indicator in relation to automobile races in class 41.

[Appeal case no. 2021-1819, Decision date: November 5, 2021]

F1

Formula One Licensing BV, managing the trademarks for the FIA Formula One World Championship, applied wordmark “F1” in standard character for use on ‘organization, arranging and conducting of automobile races; providing information relating to automobile races’ in class 41 on May 7, 2018 (TM App no. 2018-58985).


Article 3(1)(v)

The JPO examiner rejected the mark “F1” because of lack of inherent distinctiveness based on Article 3(1)(v) of the Japan Trademark Law on the grounds that a sign consisting of a digit and an alphabet is commonly used in transactions to represent article number, model number or standards. If so, the applied mark shall not play a role in a specific source indicator.

Article 3(1)(v) prohibits any mark from registering if it solely consists of a very simple and common sign.

Trademark Examination Guidelines (TEG) sets forth that a mark consisting of one or two alphabetical letters followed by a numeral, e.g. “A2”, “AB2”, is unregistrable under the article.

Followings are also enumerated as unregistrable marks under the article.

Numerals

One or two alphabetical letters, e.g. “AA”

Two alphabetical letters combined with “-” or “&”, e.g. “A-B”, “C&D”

One or two alphabetical letters accompanied by “Co.”, e.g. “AB Co.”

A numeral followed by one or two alphabetical letters, e.g. “2A”

The applicant filed an appeal against the refusal and argued the distinctiveness of the “FS12” mark.

Formula One Licensing BV filed an appeal against the refusal and argued acquired distinctiveness of the “F1” mark on February 9, 2021.


JPO Appeal Board decision

The Appeal Board affirmed the examiner’s finding that the applied mark “F1” inherently lacks distinctiveness as a source indicator and shall not be registered under Article 3(1)(v).

In the meantime, the Board found the mark has acquired distinctiveness as a result of substantial use in relation to automobile races to indicate Formula One for more than seven decades. The Board could not find a single fact that the term “F1” has been used in relation to the services in question by any entity unrelated to the applicant. If so, the Board has a reasonable ground to believe that relevant consumers and traders would conceive the mark “F1” as a source indicator of Formula One and shall be exceptionally registered under Article 3(2).

Article 3(2)

Notwithstanding the preceding paragraph, a trademark that falls under any of items (iii) to (v) of the preceding paragraph may be registered if, as a result of the use of the trademark, consumers are able to recognize the goods or services as those pertaining to a business of a particular person.

Based on the above findings, the Board overturned the examiner’s rejection and granted protection of the wordmark “F1” in standard character for use on services relating to automobile races in class 41.

Dot Makes Wordmark Dissimilar

In a trademark dispute pertinent to the similarity between “.NEXT” and “NEXT”, the  Japan Patent Office (JPO) found both marks dissimilar and reversed examiner’s rejection.

[Appeal case no. 2020-650026, Gazette issued date: June 25, 2021]

“.NEXT”

Nutanix, Inc. applied for registration of a trademark “.NEXT” (see below) to be used on services in classes 35 and 41 (IR 1418062) with the JPO via the Madrid Protocol.

Class 35

Conducting trade shows and exhibitions in the fields of computers, computer software, cloud computing, hybrid cloud computing, virtualization, storage, computer resource management, and product demonstrations; none of the aforesaid services relating to navigation, aviation, land vehicles, marine vessels, or offshore platforms.

Class 41

Educational and entertainment services, namely, conducting conferences, presentations, seminars, lectures, and speeches, in the fields of computers, computer software, cloud computing, hybrid cloud computing, virtualization, storage, computer resource management; none of the aforesaid services relating to navigation, aviation, land vehicles, marine vessels, or offshore platforms.


JPO examiner’s rejection

The JPO examiner rejected the applied mark due to a conflict with senior TM registrations for wordmark “NEXT” covering similar services in classes 35 and 41.

The examiner considered that the word “NEXT” with a stylized “X” was visually separable from a dot “.” and thus a prominent portion of the applied mark as a source indicator. If so, both marks are deemed similar as a whole and thus, the applied mark shall not be registrable in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) of the Japan Trademark Law.

To contest the rejection, Nutanix, Inc. filed an appeal to the JPO Appeal Board on June 19, 2020, and argued dissimilarity between “.NEXT” and “NEXT”.


JPO Appeal Board decision

The JPO Appeal Board found that relevant consumers are unlikely to see respective elements of the applied mark separable from visual aspect. If so, the mark shall be considered a coined word in its entirety and just gives rise to a sound of ‘dot next’ that would never be considered too long to be pronounced at a breath.

Based on the foregoing, the Board stated that the examiner erred in finding pronunciation and concept of the applied mark correctly. In assessing similarity of the marks, it is inadequate to compare the sound and meaning arising from the word “NEXT” of the applied mark with the citations.

Consequently, the Board reversed the examiner’s refusal and decided to register the applied mark by finding dissimilarity between “.NEXT” and “NEXT”.

JPO found Italian word “Panetteria” distinctive in relation to restaurant service

In a recent administrative decision, the Appeal Board of the Japan Patent Office (JPO) disaffirmed the examiner’s refusal and found “Panetteria ARIETTA” and “ARIETTA” are dissimilar by virtue of distinctiveness of the term “Panetteria.”

[Appeal case no. 2020-9688, Gazette issued date: May 28, 2021]

Panetteria ARIETTA

FOOD ENGINEERING DESIGN INC., a Japanese commercial bakery and restaurant, filed a trademark registration for word mark consisting of the term “Panetteria ARIETTA” in a gothic type and its transliteration written in a Japanese katakana character (see below) for use on confectionery and bread in class 30 and restaurant service in class 43 on January 15, 2019 [TM App no. 2019-8176].

The applicant has used the applied mark as a shop name on bakeries located in Tokyo.


ARIETTA

The JPO examiner raised her objection on the ground that the applied mark is deemed similar to senior trademark registration no. 5106118 for word mark consisting of the term “ARIETTA” and its transliteration written in a Japanese katakana character (see below) on restaurants and other services in class 43.

In the refusal decision dated May 7, 2020, the examiner asserted the term “Panetteria” is an Italian word meaning ‘bakery’ and thus lacks distinctiveness in relation to bread and restaurant service. If so, other term “ARIETTA” of the applied mark would play a dominant role of its source indicator. Accordingly, the examiner rejected the applied mark in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) of the Japan Trademark Law.

The applicant filed an appeal against the refusal on July 10, 2020.


JPO Appeal Board decision

The Appeal Board questioned whether an Italian word “Panetteria” is commonly used as a descriptive indication in relation to restaurant service in Japan. The Board found the term as well as its meaning is not familiar among the general public. Under the circumstance, the examiner errored in assessing distinctiveness of the word. A mere fact that the term “Panetteria” appears in an Italian language dictionary is insufficient to conclude a portion of the term “ARIETTA” per se plays a role of source indicator of the applied mark.

Provided that relevant consumers would not conceive any specific meaning from the term “Panetteria”, the Board held the applied mark “Panetteria ARIETTA” and cited mark “ARIETTA” are obviously dissimilar as a whole from visual, phonetic, and conceptual points of view.

Based on the foregoing, the JPO Appeal Board disaffirmed the examiner’s rejection and decided to register the applied mark accordingly.

Trademark Similarity: APLAY vs applay

In a trademark dispute pertinent to the similarity between “APLAY” and “applay”, the Appeal Board of the Japan Patent Office found both marks dissimilar and reversed the examiner’s rejection.
[Appeal case no. 2020-6380, Gazette issued date: April 30, 2021]

APLAY

A senior mark, consisting of the word “APLAY” in standard character, was registered on April 28, 2017 (TM Reg no. 5943175) over computer programs; application software; game programs for home video game machines; electronic circuits, and CD-ROMS recorded with programs for hand-held games with liquid crystal displays; electronic publications; earphones; headphones in class 9, and software as a service [SaaS]; other related computer services in class 42 by Nain Inc.

Apparently, Nain has used “APLAY” on wireless earphones and connect app for android (see below).

applay

Applied junior mark, consisting of the word “applay”, was sought for registration on August 7, 2019, over toys in class 28 [TM application no. 2019-107218] by Ed. Inter Co., Ltd.

The applicant uses the mark on wooden toys for kids (see below).

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

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

There is the 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, the examiner would decide if a mark is similar (at least to some extent) to the earlier mark and if there is a likelihood of confusion for the consumers.

Applicant filed an appeal against the rejection on May 12, 2020, and argued dissimilarity of the marks.

Appeal Board decision

In the decision, the Appeal Board held that:

In appearance, there are differences in the third letter ‘p’, and lower case or upper-case letters. These would give rise to a distinctive impression visually in the mind of relevant consumers where the respective mark consists of five or six-letter words, anything but long.

Next, assessing the pronunciation between applied mark [ˈæpleɪ] and the cited mark [əˈpleɪ], the difference in the first sound would be anything but negligible in view of a few phonetic compositions of four sounds in total. Relevant consumers would be unlikely to confuse each sound when pronounced because of phonetical distinction in overall nuance and tone as a whole

Thirdly, the respective mark does not give rise to any specific meaning at all. If so, both marks are incomparable from the concept.

Based on the foregoing, the Board found no reasonable reason to affirm the JPO examiner’s rejection from visual, phonetic, and conceptual points of view as well as consumer perception and decided to reverse the examiner’s rejection.

JPO rejects “AIR NECKTIE” due to similarity to NIKE “AIR”

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) dismissed an appeal filed by a Japanese individual who sought registration for use of the wordmark “AIR NECKTIE” on neckties in class 25 due to the similarity to NIKE “AIR.”
[Appeal case no. 2020-4106, Gazette issued date: February 26, 2021.]

AIR NECKTIE

The mark in question, consisting of two English words “AIR” and “NECKTIE”, and its transliteration in a Japanese katakana character (see below), was filed for use on ‘neckties’ in class 25 with the JPO on July 6, 2018 [TM Application no. 2018-88482].

TM App no. 2018-88482

AIR

The examiner raised her objection based on Article 4(1)(xi) of the Trademark Law by citing senior registration nos. 502137 and 4327964 for the mark “AIR” owned by NIKE Innovate C.V. (see below) which cover clothing, shoes, neckties, and other goods in class 25.

TM Reg no. 502137
TM Reg no. 4327964

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

Regardless of the arguments made on a written response to the office action by the applicant, the JPO examiner entirely rejected the “AIR NECKTIE” mark based on the ground.

On March 6, 2020, the applicant filed an appeal against the refusal with the JPO and disputed that the applied mark “AIR NECKTIE” is dissimilar to the cited mark “AIR.”

JPO decision

The JPO Appeal Board referred to the tests established by the Supreme Court ruling in 2008 to determine whether it is permissible to take out respective elements of the composite mark when assessing the similarity of two marks.

“Where a mark in dispute is recognized as a composite mark consisting of two elements or more, it is not permissible to assess the similarity of marks simply by means of taking out an element of the composite mark and then comparing such element with the other mark, unless consumers or traders are likely to perceive the element as a dominant portion indicating its source of origin of goods/service, or remaining elements truly lack inherent distinctiveness as a source indicator in view of sound and concept.”

Based on the tests, the Board found that it is permissible to take out a literal element “AIR” from the applied mark and compare it with the citations by stating the following grounds:

  1. The applied mark can be seen as a composite mark consisting of ‘AIR’ and ‘NECKTIE’ because of the space between two words.
  2. “NECKTIE” is unquestionably recognized as a generic term in connection with ‘neckties’ in class 25.
  3. Relevant consumers at the sight of neckties bearing the mark “AIR NECKTIE” would conceive the term “AIR” as a prominent source indicator.
  4. “AIR NECKTIE” does not give rise to any specific meaning in its entirety.
  5. The above facts suggest that “NECKTIE” lacks inherent distinctiveness in relation to the goods in question, and it would not play the role of source indicator of the applied mark in view of sound as well as concept.

Based on the foregoing, the Board affirmed the examiner’s rejection and decided that the applied mark “AIR NECKTIE” is similar to the cited marks as a whole given the remarkable similarity in sound and concept, even if the word “NECKTIE” differentiates two marks in appearance.

“FS12” can’t be registered due to a lack of distinctiveness

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) affirmed the examiner’s refusal and decided to reject a wordmark “FS12” due to a lack of inherent distinctiveness.
[Appeal case no. 2019-650019, Gazette issued date: January 29, 2021]

“FS12”

Fette Compacting GmbH filed a trademark application with the JPO via the Madrid Protocol (IR no. 1349196) for word mark “FS12” (see below) for use on goods of ‘Compression tools (parts of machines for the pharmaceutical industry, chemical industry, food industry, and metal industry) for producing pellets and tablets; die-table segments (parts of machines for the pharmaceutical industry, chemical industry, food industry, and metal industry) for rotary presses’ in class 7

Article 3(1)(v) of the Trademark Law


The JPO examiner refused the “FS12” mark in contravention of Article 3(1)(v) of the Trademark Law.

The article prohibits any mark from registering if it consists solely of a very simple and common mark.

Trademark Examination Guidelines (TEG) stipulates that a mark consisting of one or two alphabetical letters followed by a numeral, e.g. “A2”, “AB2”, is unregistrable under the article.

Followings are also enumerated as unregistrable marks under the article.

  • Numerals
  • One or two alphabetical letters, e.g. “AA”
  • Two alphabetical letters combined with “-” or “&”, e.g. “A-B”, “C&D”
  • One or two alphabetical letters accompanied by “Co.”, e.g. “AB Co.”
  • A numeral followed by one or two alphabetical letters, e.g. “2A”

The applicant filed an appeal against the refusal and argued distinctiveness of the “FS12” mark.

Appeal Board decision

However, the JPO Appeal Board dismissed the entire allegations and held that a mark consisting of a numeral and one or two alphabetical letters is incapable of identifying the source of the goods since the relevant public would perceive, without further thought, it to indicate a value, code, type, model or standard of the goods in question.

As a matter of fact, the Board found the combination of alphabetical letters, and a numeral is frequently used to indicate a value, code, type, model, or standard of the goods in relevant industries.

Given the mark “FS12” consists of two alphabetical letters and two digits written in regular font, the Board considers it is unlikely to play a role of source indicator and shall be unregistrable in contravention of Article 3(1)(v) of the Trademark Law.

To my knowledge, “FS12” would be mostly considered distinctive in other jurisdictions. Please be noted that a combination of one or two alphabetical letters and the numeral is deemed descriptive in relation to any kind of goods in Japan. 
To register such a mark, it is required to add a descriptive element or demonstrate acquired distinctiveness as a result of substantial use in Japan.

Japan IP High Court ruled “AZURE” is unregistrable due to “AZULE”

On December 23, 2020, the Japan IP High Court affirmed a decision of the Japan Patent Office (JPO) finding that the “AZURE” mark is similar to senior trademark registration no. 5454302 for word mark “AZULE” in connection with medical services of class 44.
[Judicial case no. Reiwa 2(Gyo-ke)10086]

AZURE

A disputed mark is a wordmark “AZURE” in standard character. The mark filed by Willfarm Co., Ltd., a Japanese merchant on November 22, 2017, over cosmetics (cl. 3), pharmaceutical preparations, dietary supplements (cl. 5), retail or wholesale services for these goods (cl. 35), beauty salon, massage, providing medical information, health clinic services, rental of medical equipment, nutritional and dietetic consultancy, nursing home services (cl. 44). [TM application no. 2017-153742]

JPO decision

Initially, the JPO examiner refused the mark in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) of the Trademark Law by citing senior trademark registration no. 5454302 for word mark “AZULE” written in standard character. Among other things, the designated service of ‘providing medical information, health clinic services, rental of medical equipment’ in class 44 is deemed identical with that of the citation.

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

There is a 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) to the earlier mark and if there is a likelihood of confusion for the consumers.

The applicant sought to file an appeal against the examiner’s rejection and argued dissimilarity of both marks, however, the Appeal Board upheld the rejection for the same reason on June 8, 2020. [Appeal case no. 2020-1707]

To contest the administrative decision, the applicant filed a lawsuit to the IP Hight Court on July 21, 2020.

IP High Court ruling

In the lawsuit, the plaintiff argued the Board inappropriately found the “AZURE” mark would give rise to pronunciations of ‘æʒə’ and ‘a-zhə-reˈ, but it is precisely pronounced as ‘æʒə’ or ‘a-jü(ə)l’. Besides, the Board erroneously held “AZURE” is similar to “AZULE” in appearance. By virtue of the difference in the fourth letter “R” and “L”, relevant consumers of the medical services in question would easily distinguish them. If so, by taking account of slight conceptual association between the marks, the “AZURE” mark shall be considered dissimilar to “AZULE” from visual, aural, and conceptual points of view.

The Court upheld the Board decision by stating that relevant consumers at the sight of the disputed mark would pronounce the term “AZURE” as ‘æʒə’ or ‘a-zhə-reˈ since it is not a familiar foreign word among the general public in Japan. The cited mark “AZULE” also gives rise to a pronunciation of ‘a-zhə-leˈ. Therefore, both pronunciations are confusingly similar.

As for appearance, the court denied the plaintiff’s argument on the ground that the medical services in question are consumed not only by health care workers but also by the general public. As long as both terms are unfamiliar to the relevant consumers, a mere difference of one letter would be anything but sufficient for them to distinguish both marks.

Based on the foregoing, the Court dismissed the allegations entirely and ruled to reject the “AZURE” mark in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi).

To read a full text of the IP High Court decision (Japanese only), click here.

Mercedes-Benz StarParts vs Star-Parts

In an administrative decision, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) held the “Mercedes-Benz Star Parts” with a car device mark is dissimilar to the “Star-Parts” word mark.
[Appeal case no. 2020-650009, Gazette issued date: November 27, 2020]

Mercedes-Benz StarParts

Daimler AG applied for registration of a composite mark consisting of “Mercedes-Benz StarParts” in two lines, a car device overlapping with checkmark icon, and a blue horizontal line in between (see below), in relation to ‘Parts for vehicles for locomotion by land, air, water or rail’ of class 12 via the Madrid Protocol (IR No. 1402813).

On December 5, 2019, the JPO examiner refused the applied mark based on Article 4(1)(xi) of the Trademark Law due to a conflict with senior trademark registration no. 5806962 for word mark “Star-Parts” in standard character which designates retail services or wholesale services for automobiles, parts, and accessories thereof in class 35.

Daimler AG filed an appeal against the refusal on March 4, 2019.

JPO Appeal Board’s decision

The Appeal Board overturned the examiner’s rejection by stating that the respective element of the applied mark shall be separably conceivable in view of a low degree of phonetic and conceptual association between figurative and literal elements. In the meantime, “StarParts” shall not be perceived as a dominant portion appealing its source of origin of goods, given “Mercedes-Benz” unquestionably plays an impressive role in identifying the source known for Germany luxury car maker. If so, it is not permissible to assess the similarity between the cited mark “Star-Parts” and the applied mark by dissecting the literal portion of “StarParts” from the applied mark.

Based on the foregoing, the Board concluded the refusal shall be disaffirmed since the examiner erroneously assessed the similarity between the marks.


I am of the view that the JPO’s decision looks unreasonable. From this viewpoint, any composite mark containing a famous or strong source indicator can be deemed dissimilar and eligible for registration.

El Clasico Scores a Goal in Trademark Race

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) overturned the examiner’s refusal and decided to register the “El Clasico” mark in connection with sporting activities, production of sports events, sports information services, and other services of class 41 by finding the term shall not be recognized as football matches between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid C.F.
[Appeal case no. 2019-650060, Gazette issued date: October 30, 2020]

El Clasico

“El Clasico” is a magical phrase to make football fans passionate, emotional, and excited. The meaning of El Clasico is the Spanish name that is given to any football match between fierce Spanish rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona FC. The literal translation of El Clasico is ‘The Classic’. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, “El Clasico” is defined as ‘any of the games played between the football teams Real Madrid and Barcelona’. Being that this rivalry can be dated back to the 1930s and ever since then, it is one of the most viewed annual sporting events.

Liga Nacional de Fútbol Profesional, the administrator of the Spanish football league, aka LaLiga, applied for registration of the “El Clasico” mark (see below) in relation to sporting activities, production of sports events, sports information services, and other services of class 41 via the Madrid Protocol (IR No. 1379292).

On August 15, 2019, the JPO examiner refused the applied mark due to a lack of distinctiveness in contravention of Article 3(1)(iii) of the Trademark Law. Examiner asserted that the term “El Clasico” gets to be known as football matches between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid C.F. If so, relevant consumers would conceive that services bearing the applied mark just relate to football matches between two teams. In this respect, the applied mark shall not be registrable based on Article 4(1)(xvi) as well since the consumers would mistake its nature when used on service unrelated to football matches between two teams.

LaLiga filed an appeal against the refusal on November 15, 2019.

JPO Appeal Board’s decision

The Appeal Board overturned the examiner’s decision by stating that relevant consumers and traders at the sight of the applied mark are unlikely to see the mark to represent football matches between indicate FC Barcelona and Real Madrid C.F. immediately when used on services in question.

Taking into account less familiarity with the Spanish language among relevant consumers in Japan and the literal meaning of ‘The Classic’, the Board found the term “El Clasico” would be conceived as a coined word in its entirety. Furthermore, the Board could not identify any fact that the term is commonly used to represent a specific nature or quality in connection with the services in question.

Based on the foregoing, the Board concluded the refusal shall be disaffirmed since the examiner erroneously found the applied mark “El Clasico”.

PGA

In a recent administrative decision, the Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) disaffirmed the examiner’s refusal and held a composite mark, consisting of words “PERFECT GEAR AGENCY” and a monogram “PGA”, is dissimilar to the senior registered word mark “PGA” owned by Professional Golf Association.
[Appeal case no. 2019-10638, Gazette issued date: September 25, 2020]

“PGA/ PERFECT GEAR AGENCY”

Disputed mark, see below, was applied for registration in relation to retail or wholesale services for various goods, e.g. foods and beverages, footwear, bags, automobiles in class 35 on January 24, 2018.

The disputed mark consists of the “PGA” monogram and the words “PERFECT GEAR AGENCY” on the right. The initial letter of the respective term is colored in red. Apparently, the monogram comes from an initial letter of each word “PERFECT”, “GEAR” and “AGENCY”.

JPO Examiner rejected the disputed mark by citing several senior trademark registrations for a wordmark “PGA” in various classes owned by Professional Golf Association.

In Japan, retail or wholesale service in respect of specific goods is deemed similar to the goods or its equivalent. For example, retail service in respect of sporting goods (class 35) and sporting goods (class 28) is deemed similar.

That being the case, the applicant filed an appeal against the refusal and contended dissimilarity of the mark.

JPO decision

The Appeal Board found that the “PGA” monogram and words “PERFECT GEAR AGENCY” can be separably seen from a visual point of view. Besides, the “PGA” monogram per se does not give rise to any specific meaning. It is unknown whether relevant Japanese consumers have been familiar with the words “PERFECT GEAR AGENCY” as a whole. If so, the words do not give rise to a specific meaning as well.

By taking account of the above, the Board pointed out the disputed mark shall be pronounced as “PERFECT GEAR AGENCY”, but has no meaning.

Based on the foregoing, the Board concluded the refusal shall be disaffirmed since the examiner erroneously found that the disputed mark gives rise to a pronunciation of “PGA” from the “PGA” monogram.