Trademark dispute over Elk design

In an advisory opinion on trademark dispute over elk design, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) did not side with MOZ Sweden AB.
[Case no. 2023-600017, decide on December 15, 2023]

TM Reg no. 6582775

MOZ Sweden AB, an owner of Japanese trademark registration no. 6582775 for the MOZ mark with its iconic elk design (see below) in relation to electric blankets and other goods of class 11, attempted to stop distribution of wearable electric blankets (“disputed goods”) depicting 20 or 28 elk-motif silhouettes (“disputed design”) on the entire surface by NAKAMURA Co., Ltd.

Allegedly, MOZ sent a C&D letter to NAKAMURA on November 29, 2022 and demanded immediate cease and disposal of the wearable blankets based by claiming trademark infringement. NAKAMURA, for the purpose of settling the dispute, asked the JPO for an advisory opinion on April 14, 2023.

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Advisory Opinion Procedure

The Japan Trademark Law has provision for the Japan Patent Office to give advisory opinions about the scope of trademark right upon request under Article 28.

Proceedings of the advisory opinion system are almost the same as invalidation trials. Upon request from either party, the JPO appoints three examiners and orders the opposite party to answer the request in writing. Board seldom holds an oral hearing to investigate the case. In general, all proceedings are based on written statements and documentary evidence.

The advisory opinion by JPO does not have a binding effect, unlike the judicial decision. Accordingly, less than 10 trademark cases have been lodged with the JPO to seek the advisory opinion annually.

JPO Advisory Opinion

The JPO provided its advisory opinion to the case and decided the disputed goods would not be within the scope of right for TM Reg no. 6582775 by stating that:

  1. Unquestionably, the literal portion “MOZ” is dissimilar to the disputed design from visual, aural and conceptual points of view.
  2. Comparing the MOZ elk design with that of the disputed design, even though they share the same “elk” motif, there is a clear difference in the shape of the antlers, the outline of the face, the presence or absence of ears, eyes, and mouth. These differences give rise to a distinctive impression in the mind of viewers. Because of it, two designs are sufficiently distinguishable from appearance.
  3. Being that both “MOZ” and the elk design are respectively dissimilar to the disputed design, there is no reason to believe that the disputed goods shall be within the scope of trademark right and subject to enforcement even if both goods are identical.

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.

Louboutin 2nd Defeat in Litigation over Red Soles

By order of December 26, 2022, the IP High Court ruled to dismiss an appeal taken by Louboutin against the Tokyo District Court ruling that denied a source-indicating function of Louboutin’s red soles.

[Appeal court case no. Reiwa4(ne)10051]

Appellant, Christian Louboutin SAS, brought an appeal against the Tokyo District Court ruling decided on March 11, 2022.

In May 2019, Louboutin sued Eizo Collection Co., Ltd., a Japanese company that produced ladies’ shoes with red-colored rubber soles, and sought a permanent injunction as well as damages in the amount of JPY4,208,000 under the Unfair Competition Prevention Law. The Tokyo District Court did not side with Louboutin by finding an insufficient reputation of Louboutin’s red soles perse as a source indicator and thus unlikelihood of confusion.
See details here.

The IP High Court paid attention to the following factors to assess the likelihood of confusion in the case.

  1. Relevant consumers of high-heels (women from their 20s to 50s) are most likely to try on multiple pairs of shoes at a physical store and select the ones that fit them prior to the purchase.
  2. The market for women’s high heels can be divided into three categories: (1) luxury brand products, (2) affordable brand products, and (3) inexpensive no-name products. Undoubtedly, Louboutin’s high-heels priced at JPY80,000 and over are classified into category (1). In the meantime, Eizo’s shoes priced at JPY17,000 or less belong to category (2).
  3. Every high-heel bears a brand name or logo on the insole so that consumers can easily distinguish its supplier.
  4. E-commerce websites post not only images of ladies’ shoes but also the brand and condition of respective goods in advertisements.

Based on the foregoing, the judge found, irrespective of the resemblance in color on the outsole, no likelihood of confusion between both shoes.

As for the reputation of Louboutin’s red soles, the IP High Court admitted certain consumers may recognize the red soles as a source indicator of Louboutin, however, the judge questioned if the soles have acquired a remarkable reputation among relevant consumers in general based on the research targeted women, in their 20s to 50s accustomed to wearing high-heels, residing in major cities that revealed only 51.6 % of the interviewees answered Louboutin at the sight of a high-heel with red-colored sole and a fact that Louboutin has not been an exclusive supplier of red sole shoes for women.

JPO Status Report 2022

According to “JPO Status Report 2022” released on March 31, 2022, by the Japan Patent Office (JPO), a total of 184,631 trademark applications were filed in 2021. This number increased 2% compared to the previous year when the number of applications amounted to 181,072.

It is astonishing to see that SM Entertainment Co., Ltd., a South Korean record label and entertainment agency, became a top-ranking foreign registrant in 2021 who could successfully register 185 trademarks in Japan, drastically increased from the previous year.

Requests for accelerated examination consecutively increased to 11,450 by 2.2% in 2021, which enables applicants to obtain trademark registration within 2months.

As a background, it should be noted that the entire trademark process for general examination at the JPO (the total time of application from filing to registration) takes 11.2 months on average, which is 0.3 months longer than the previous year.

You can access and download the full text of “JPO Status Report 2022” from here.


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.”


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]

Isn’t it MIRACLE?

In recent administrative decision, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) decided TM Reg no. 6253344 for wordmark “Miracle Volume” is dissimilar to senior registered mark “MIRACLESUIT” and “MIRACLEBODY” and dismissed an opposition claimed by A&H Sportswear Co., Inc., the owner of senior marks.

[Opposition case no. 2020-900196, Gazette issued date: August 27, 2021]

Miracle Volume

Opposed mark, consisting of the word “Miracle Volume” in standard character, was filed by a Chinese company for use on clothing, footwear, headgear as well as swimsuits in class 25 with the JPO on June 4, 2019 (TM Application no. 2019-77831).

The JPO admitted registration on May 12, 2020 and published for opposition on July 9, 2020.

Opposition by A&H Sportswear

A&H Sportswear Co., Ltd. filed an opposition on August 11, 2020, and argued the opposed mark “Miracle Volume” shall be cancelled in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) of the Japan Trademark Law since the opposed mark is similar to its owned senior marks, “MIRACLESUIT” and “MIRACLEBODY”.

Allegedly, the word “Volume” has a low degree of distinctiveness since it just implies the goods in question voluminous. If so, a prominent portion of the opposed mark shall be undoubtedly “Miracle”.

Senior TM Reg no. 4789644 for wordmark “MIRACLESUIT” in class 25, consists of two words, “MIRACLE” and “SUIT”. It is obvious that the word “SUIT” lacks distinctiveness in relation to the goods in questions since it means ‘a set of clothes or a piece of clothing to be worn in a particular situation or while doing a particular activity’. Consequently, a prominent portion of “MIRACLESUIT” shall be “MIRACLE”.

TM Reg no. 5121472 for wordmark “MIRACLEBODY” in class 25, also consists of two words, “MIRACLE” and “BODY”. The word “BODY” has a low degree of distinctiveness in relation to the goods in question since it suggests the goods bearing the mark for consumers to put on. If so, likewise, a prominent portion of “MIRACLEBODY” shall be “MIRACLE”.

In so far as relevant consumers conceive of the literal element of “MIRACLE” as a prominent portion on both marks, they shall be confusingly similar accordingly, A&H Sportswear alleged.

JPO decision

The Opposition Board did not find a reasonable ground to believe that the consumers consider the word “Miracle” as a prominent portion of the opposed mark from visual and phonetical points of view. Besides, the word “Volume” per se would not entirely be descriptive in relation to apparels. If so, the opposed mark shall be taken for a coined word in its entirety.

Similarly, from visual, phonetical and conceptual points of view, the cited marks, “MIRACLESUIT” and “MIRACLEBODY”, shall be taken for a coined word in its entirety.

In assessing similarity of mark, the Board opined that the opposed mark “Miracle Volume” and the cited marks are sufficiently distinguishable because of difference arising from the word “Volume”, “SUIT”, and “BODY”.

Even if the goods in question are deemed similar to that of the cited marks, severe distinction in appearance and sound would be unlikely to cause confusion among relevant consumers.

Based on the foregoing, the Board did not side with A&H Sportswear and dismissed the opposition totally.

HUGO BOSS Unsuccessful in Blocking “BOSS”

German luxury fashion house Hugo Boss failed in their attempt to block Japanese TM Reg no. 6218609 for word mark “BOSS” on SaaS and order processing services.

[Opposition case no. 2020-900096, Gazette issued date: August 27, 2021]

Opposed mark

Opposed mark, filed on January 22, 2019, by Rakuten, Japanese electronic commerce and online retailing company, consists of the word “BOSS” in standard character (see below).

The services sought for registration are order processing services in class 35 and providing computer programs on e-commerce, software as a service (SaaS), and other related services in class 42. Rakuten is using the opposed mark “BOSS” as an abbreviation of ‘Back Office Support System’ to indicate their service for sales order management and automated shipping system.

The JPO admitted registration on June 22, 2020, and published for post-grant opposition on February 12, 2020.

Opposition by Hugo Boss

HUGO BOSS Trademark Management GmbH & Co KG filed an opposition against the opposed mark on April 3, 2020, and claimed the opposed mark “BOSS” shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(xi) and (xv) of the Japan 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.

Article 4(1)(xv) is a provision to prohibit registration of a trademark which is likely to cause confusion with the business of other entities.

HUGO BOSS argued that not only tradename “HOGO BOSS but also their mark “BOSS” has been well known for a luxury fashion brand and source indicators of the opponent by producing Deloitte’s annual list of the world’s largest luxury companies on which HUGO BOSS was ranked No.19(2015), No.21(2016), No.23(2017).

In view of a high degree of similarity between the opposed mark and the opponent’s mark “BOSS” (see below), relevant consumers are likely to confuse the source of services bearing the opposed mark with HUGO BOSS.

Board Decision

The JPO Opposition Board admitted a certain degree of the reputation of the “HUGO BOSS” mark as a source indicator of the opponent in connection with fashion items, e.g., clothing, watches, sunglasses, fragrances.

In the meantime, the Board questioned if the word “BOSS” has also acquired such popularity, stating that produced materials are insufficient to find the word perse plays the source indicator since the cited mark contains a famous mark “HUGO BOSS” adjacent to it.

Even if there is a high degree of similarity between the marks, the Board has a reasonable ground to believe the services in question, namely, order processing services (cl.35) and SaaS (cl.42) are less associated with fashion items, e.g., clothing, watches, sunglasses, fragrances.

If so, it is unlikely that relevant consumers at the sight of the opposed mark would conceive or associate it with HUGO BOSS or any entity who is systematically or economically connected with the opponent when used on the services in question.

Based on the foregoing, the JPO dismiss the entire allegations of HUGO BOSS and allowed the opposed mark “BOSS” to survive.

BEYOND MEAT defeats “Beyond Meat Burger”

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) sided with Beyond Meat Inc. and canceled TM Reg no. 6197193 for wordmark “Beyond Meat Burger” by free-riding on the business reputation of “BEYOND MEAT”.

[Opposition case no. 2020-900023, Gazette issued date: July 30, 2021]

Beyond Meat Burger

Opposed mark, consisting of a wordmark “Beyond Meat Burger” written in a Japanese katakana character (see below), was filed by a Japanese individual on July 23, 2018, for use on ‘meat products’ in class 29 and ‘clothing’ in class 25.

Subsequently, the applicant deleted the designated goods in class 29.

The mark was registered on November 15, 2019, and published for opposition on December 10, 2019.


Beyond Meat Inc., a US food processing company that specializes in providing plant-based meat, filed an opposition against the “Beyond Meat Burger” mark with the JPO on January 24, 2020, before the lapse of a two-month statutory period for the opposition.

In the opposition brief, Beyond Meat argued the opposed mark shall be canceled in contravention of Article 4(1)(xix) of the Japan Trademark Law.

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

It is interpreted that the “famous mark” under the article does not require a high reputation among Japanese consumers. If domestic consumers recognize such a reputation in foreign countries, it will suffice.

Beyond Meat alleged that the “BEYOND MEAT” mark has been well known for plant-based meat substitutes by the opponent to meat distributors as well as US consumers (It should be noted that Beyond Meat has yet to launch the business in Japan as of now). It is obvious that the opposed mark is confusingly similar to “BEYOND MEAT”. Presumably, the opposed party must have filed the opposed mark with a fraudulent intention to prevent registration of the “BEYOND MEAT” mark in Japan and gain unjust enrichment by doing so.

JPO decision

The JPO Opposition Board admitted that the “BEYOND MEAT” mark has acquired a remarkable degree of reputation among US consumers as a source indicator of plant-based meat substitutes by Beyond Meat Inc. even before the application date of the opposed mark

The Board assessed the opposed mark is confusingly similar to “BEYOND MEAT”. Relevant consumers with an ordinary care would see the term “Beyond Meat” as a prominent portion of the opposed mark because the consumers get familiar with the English word “Burger.”

A fact that the opposed party initially designated ‘meat products’ implies the applicant’s intention to use the opposed mark on the goods that are closely associated with meat substitutes. If so, the Board had a reasonable ground to believe the opposed mark was filed with an intention to take advantage of goodwill and business reputation associated with Beyond Meat’s tradename and trademark.

Based on the foregoing, the JPO decided to retroactively cancel the opposed mark “Beyond Meat Burger” in contravention of Article 4(1)(xix).

Coronavirus Force Japan to Eliminate Signature on POA

Both Hanko seals and paper documents have long been regarded as important parts of Japan’s working or administrative culture. Along with this, it has been an established practice that the country’s authority requires the original document signed by a foreigner to be submitted. By virtue of the COVID-19 pandemic, Japan has taken its latest step to bring government at all levels further into the digital age.
Recently, the Japanese parliament enacted six laws to promote electronic government, with steps such as ending Hanko seals on official documents and allow digital data to be used instead of paper documents.

On June 11, 2021, the new governmental and ministerial ordinances concerning registration procedures of intellectual property were promulgated.

Based on the new ordinances, from June 12, 2021, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) would not require an original Power of Attorney (POA) with the signature of a foreign company or individual who entrusts the case to an IP attorney in Japan anymore. As long as the POA clearly specifies the name and address of the foreign company and its representative, the JPO would accept it genuine and consider the entrusted attorney as an agent of subsequent action with the JPO even if the POA does not have a signature on it.

It should be noted that, as a result of the new ordinances, the JPO decided to eliminate Hanko seals or signatures on 764 paper documents among 797 in total. The remaining 33 documents pertaining to the ownership or license of IP right still require an original with inked-signature or Hanko seals to prevent harm by document falsification.

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]


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).


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.