Trademark Dispute over Side Stripe on Footwear

In a trademark dispute along the side of shoes between Vans Incorporated and Revenge X Storm Limited, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) did not side with Vans Incorporated.

[Invalidation case no. 2021-890049, Decision date: September 29, 2022]

REVENGE shoes

Revenge X Stream Limited filed a device mark representing a shoe for the right leg with a thunder-shaped line along the side of the shoe for use on ‘sports shoes’ in class 25 with the JPO on June 5, 2018.

The mark was successfully registered on October 2, 2020 (TM Reg no. 6299288).


Invalidation action by VANS

VANS INC. filed an invalidation action on September 16, 2021, and argued the mark shall be invalidated in contravention of Article 4(1)(x), (xi), and (xv) of the Japan Trademark Law by citing earlier trademark registrations for the iconic Vans Side stripe used on OLD SKOOL (see below) since 1977.

VANS alleged the appearance of Vans OLD SKOOL perse has become famous to indicate VANS’ shoes among relevant consumers of sports shoes in Japan.


JPO Decision

To my surprise, the JPO Invalidation Board denied a certain degree of reputation and popularity of the Vans Side stripe as a source indicator of VANS’ shoes from the totality of the produced evidence.

Besides, the Board negated the similarity of both marks by stating:

The mark in question represents a thunder-shaped sideline along the side of sports shoes. On the other hand, the Vans Side stripe consists of a gently wavy curved sideline along the side of the shoes.

Therefore, the appearance of the two marks clearly differs in the shape of the sideline on the side of the shoe and is clearly distinguishable.

In this way, even if both marks cannot be compared in terms of concept, they are dissimilar and unlikely to be confused in terms of appearance and pronunciation, and therefore, the degree of similarity shall be quite low.

Given a low degree of similarity between the two marks, the Board has a reason to believe that relevant consumers are unlikely to confuse a source of sports shoes bearing the mark in question with VANS.

Based on the foregoing, the Board found the entire allegations of VANS groundless and decided to dismiss invalidation action accordingly.

Trademark Opposition or Invalidation, Which Is Useful in Japan?

Opposition

A trademark opposition is a proceeding in which a third party can oppose a newly registered trademark under Article 43bis of the Japan Trademark Law. For example, once a trademark is newly registered by JPO, this fact is published in the Official Gazette of Trade Marks immediately after it is actually registered. This kicks off a two (2) month period known as the ‘opposition period’ during which other parties are then given an opportunity to ‘oppose’ the registration of the trademark.


Invalidation

Trademark invalidation is an inter-partes proceeding in which a party has a legal interest in the result that can null a trademark registration under Article 46 of the Japan Trademark Law. If the registration is less than five years old, the party challenging the trademark rights can rely on any ground that could have prevented registration initially.


Comparison

Conflict with earlier registration (similarity of mark and goods/service), a likelihood of confusion with famous mark, and descriptiveness are the most common grounds asserted both in opposition and invalidation action.

 Trademark OppositionTrademark Invalidation
Statute of limitations2 months from the publication date5 years from the registration date
Official feeJPY11,000 for 1 class
JPY19,000 for 2 classes
JPY55,000 for 1 class
JPY95,000 for 2 classes
StandingLegal interest is not requiredLegal interest is required
CounterargumentNo obligation to counterargue unless the JPO notifies a cancellation ground to a registrant.Mandatory for a registrant to counterargue, otherwise it may adversely affect.
Pendency period7.9 months11.5 months
Appeal to decisionOnly the registrant can file an appeal against an unfavorable decisionEither party can file an appeal against the JPO decision

Which action to take?

From a cost-saving point of view, opposition undoubtedly looks more attractive than invalidation, however, when you look at the success rate of opposition (see below table), it may change your mind. There has been a big gap in the success rate between opposition and invalidation for years.

YearThe success rate of the OppositionThe success rate of Invalidation
201513%32%
201616%42%
201711%33%
201811%34%
201911%56%
202011%35%

Therefore, in terms of probability theory, invalidation action is by far preferable to opposition for the purpose of removing trademark registration in Japan.