Trademark dispute: RIVER vs river

In a recent decision, the JPO Appeal Board found TM Application no. 2021-5278 for the stylized “river” mark is dissimilar to earlier TM Reg no. 5704488 for the mark “RIVER” with design irrespective of designating the same consulting service in class 35.
[Appeal case no. 2021-17274, decision date: June 22, 2022]


TM Application 2021-5278

The dispute mark consists of the stylized word “river” depicted with the figurative element (see below right). The mark was filed in the name of Cultive, Inc for use in advertising and publicity services, business management analysis, or business consultancy service in class 35 on January 19, 2021.

The JPO examiner rejected the mark due to a conflict with earlier TM Reg no. 5704488 for the mark “RIVER” with a design (see above left) based on Article 4(1)(x) of the Japan Trademark Law.

Article 4(1)(xi) is a provision to refrain from registering a junior mark that is deemed identical with, or similar to, an earlier registered mark.

The applicant filed an appeal on December 15, 2021, and argued dissimilarity of the mark.


JPO decision

Astonishingly, the JPO Appeal Board found “By virtue of figurative elements, the disputed mark as a whole gives rise to an impression of distinctive and unified design that evokes the image of flowing water and green leaves. Furthermore, the color composition also gives the impression that the mark is designed to evoke the image of flowing water and green leaves. If so, even though the mark may give rise to a sound and meaning of “river”, it is reasonable to believe that the source of the services is identified based on the impression created by the distinctive appearance of the mark rather than its sound and concept in the course of transactions.”

Likewise, the Board found “being that the literal portion “RIVER” would not be deemed a prominent portion of the cited mark, even if the cited mark can give rise to a sound and meaning of “RIVER”, it is reasonable to consider that relevant consumers distinguish the source of the services bearing the cited mark by means of overall impression, rather than it’s sound and concept.

Based on the above findings, the Board concluded “it is obvious that there is a remarkable difference in the appearance of both marks. Even if the disputed mark and the cited mark are both pronounced “RIVER” and mean “river”, the similarity in sound and concept shall not outweigh the distinctiveness caused by a remarkable difference in appearance. Therefore, the disputed mark is unlikely to cause confusion and dissimilar to the cited mark.”

Consequently, the Board decided to disaffirm the examiner’s rejection and grant protection of the disputed mark.

JPO Rejected Colormark of Louboutin’s red soles

On June 7, 2022, the Appeal Board of the Japan Patent Office (JPO) decided to reject a red color mark used on the soles of high heels by Christian Louboutin due to a lack of inherent and acquired distinctiveness.

[Appeal case no. 2019-29921]

Louboutin’s Red Soles

Fast on the heels of the introduction to register color marks in Japan, Christian Louboutin filed a trademark application for a color mark consisting of a red (Pantone 18-1663TP) colored in soles (see below) for use on high heels in class 25 on April 1, 2015 (TM App no. 2015-29921).

The JPO examiner refused the color mark based on Article 3(1)(iii) of the Japan Trademark Law by stating red color has been commonly used on shoes to enhance the aesthetic appearance and attract consumers of high heels. Red-colored heels and shoes have been widely distributed before the launch of Louboutin shoes in 1996 in Japan and even now. Under the circumstance and trade practice, the examiner had no reason to believe the color mark perse has acquired distinctiveness as a source indicator of Louboutin among relevant consumers in Japan. If so, the mark shall not be registrable under Article 3(2).

Louboutin filed an appeal against the refusal and disputed the inherent and acquired distinctiveness of Louboutin’s red soles as a color mark on October 29, 2019.

To bolster the acquired distinctiveness of the red soles, Louboutin conducted an online brand awareness survey to target 3,149 females, aging from 20 to 50 and having a domicile in Tokyo, Osaka, or Nagoya where Louboutin have stores. The survey demonstrated that 43.35% of the interviewees conceived of Louboutin in the answer to an unaided open-ended question (Q1). 53.99% associated the color mark with Louboutin in the answer to a closed-ended question, where it mentioned Louboutin along with other close competitors (Q2). Louboutin argued, that from the survey, it is obvious that Louboutin’s red soles have acquired distinctiveness among relevant consumers and shall be registered under Article 3(2) even though lacking inherent distinctiveness.


JPO Appeal Board decision

The Appeal Board affirmed the examiner’s findings and found the color mark perse lacks distinctiveness in relation to the goods in question by taking into account of fact that a lot of shoes with red-colored soles have been distributed by other shoemakers in Japan.

In the assessment of acquired distinctiveness, the Board pointed out a fact that more than half of the interviewees who live in the region where Louboutin stores are could not conceive of Louboutin in the answer to Q1. The survey was insufficient to admit acquired distinctiveness of the applied mark among relevant consumers nationwide, the Board found.

Even among the consumers who could associate the color mark with Louboutin, the Board had an opinion that as a matter of fact, they will be unable to distinguish Louboutin high heels from competitors’ shoes simply by means of red-colored soles without the aid of another source indicator, a wordmark “Louboutin”, used on the shoes given a lot of red-soled heels and shoes have been distributed by competitors as follows.

Besides, under the current trade practice, the Board considered it will inevitably cause a severe disorder and excessive restriction to competitors if it allows registration of a red color that has been freely used in the relevant industry to enhance the aesthetic appearance of shoes.

Based on the foregoing, the JPO concluded the color mark shall not be registrable under Article 3(2) as well.

COCOGOLF vs COCO

On February 28, 2022, the Appeal Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) reversed the examiner’s rejection and decided to register the applied mark “COCOGOLF” in classes 25 and 28 by finding dissimilarity to Chanel’s earlier registration for the mark “COCO.”


COCOGOLF

The applied mark consists of the word “COCOGOLF” (see below).

Applicant, E-COME GROUP Co., Ltd., filed it for use on various goods in classes 18, 25, and 28 on November 27, 2022. [TM Application no. 2020-146448]

Confronting office action from the JPO, the applicant divided the application and filed a new trademark application on goods of ‘sports shoes; sportswear’ in class 25 and ‘golf bags; golf equipment in class 28 on July 2, 2021. [TM Application no. 2021-82743]

The JPO examiner rejected the mark in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) of the Japan Trademark Law on October 12, 2021.

The examiner cited earlier trademark registration nos. #6169514 (cl. 25, 35) and IR699469 (cl. 25) for the wordmark “COCO” owned by Chanel SARL, and found the applied mark “COCOGOLF” is confusingly similar to the cited mark “COCO” when used on the designated goods in class 25 and 28.

The applicant filed an appeal against the rejection on November 17, 2021, and argued for the dissimilarity in the marks.


JPO Decision

The Appeal Board found the applied mark shall be assessed in its entirety by stating:

  1. Visually, there is no reason to consider the term “COCO” as a prominent portion of the applied mark because of its configuration.
  2. The applied mark gives rise to the pronunciation of ‘coco-golf’. The whole sound can be pronounced easily in a breach.
  3. The Board has no reason to believe the term “GOLF” perse has been used to represent specific goods in relation to the goods in question.
  4. If so, relevant consumers at the sight of sports shoes, sportswear, golf bags, and golf equipment bearing the applied mark would see it as a whole, and are unlikely to consider the term “COCO” as a prominent source indicator of the applied mark.

Based on the foregoing, the Board found the examiner erred in finding “COCO” to be separable from “GOLF.” Consequently, the Board held the applied mark is dissimilar to the mark “COCO” and granted “COCOGOLF” registration.

[Appeal case no. 2021-15790]

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.