In a recent trade mark decision the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore, has rejected Starbucks' case against Japanese dairy producer Morinaga Milk and its Mt Rainier trade mark.
Starbucks Corporation ("the opponent") opposed Morinaga Nyugyo Kabushiki Kaisha's ("the applicant") trade mark application for its Mt Rainier Mark for goods in classes 29 and 30 including, among others, milk beverages, coffee, and coffee beverages" ("Mt. Rainier Mark"). The opponent argued the Mt. Rainier Mark was similar to the opponent's well-known "Mermaid Mark". A judgment was made in favour of the applicant.
In Japan, the applicant is a well-known manufacturer of coffee and coffee-based beverage products and has been selling such beverages using the Mt. Rainier Mark for more than 20 years. The opponent is one of the largest sellers of coffee products in the world and its Mermaid Mark has been used extensively in Singapore and in numerous countries.
In the opposition, four arguments were made:
The opponent argued the Mt. Rainier Mark was similar to the opponent's well-known green-and-white Mermaid Mark and thus under Sections 8(2) (b) and 8(4) (b) of the Singapore Trade Mark Act the Mt. Rainier Mark should not be registered.
In particular, the opponent made arguments that the green-black-white colour scheme and the layout of the respective trade marks within concentric circles resulted in an overall similarity between the marks.
While the IP Office of Singapore Adjudicator did acknowledge these similarities existed between the marks, it was found that the most prominent elements making up the respective marks were the words "Starbucks" and the "Mermaid Device" for the Mermaid Mark; and the words "Mt. Rainier"/"The Mountains Of Seattle" along with the picture of a "Mountain Range Device" for the Mt. Rainier Mark. It was found that these prominent textual and figurative elements were significantly different and as such the two respective marks as a whole were not similar.
2) Passing off
In addition, the opponent argued the grounds of passing off under Section 8(7) (a) of the Singapore Trade Mark Act.
The IP Adjudicator found the colour make-up of the opponent's concentric circle element lacked – by itself – source identifier qualities. Rather, it was again found the most prominent elements making up the respective marks were the word "Starbucks" and the "Mermaid Device" for the Mermaid Mark and the words "Mt. Rainier"/"The Mountains Of Seattle" along with the picture of a "Mountain Range Device" for the Mt. Rainier Mark. And, it was found that these prominent textual and figurative elements were significantly different and as such no misrepresentation in the nature of passing off would occur.
3) Misrepresentation as to geographical origin
Next, the opponent argued the applicant's mark was designed in such a manner that it would mislead consumers as to the geographical origin of the goods in violation of Section 7(4) (b) of the Singapore Trade Mark Act.
Here, the opponent argued the Mt. Rainier Mark would deceive consumers into believing the applicant's products were manufactured in Seattle when that was not the case.
For a finding of deception as to geographical origin, the IP Adjudicator found there needed to be clear evidence such deception would occur. The IP Adjudicator did not believe such clear evidence was present. Rather, the IP Adjudicator found the geographical reference was to "Mt. Rainier" and not to "Seattle." That is, the IP Adjudicator found the use of "Mt. Rainier", in combination with the phrase "The Mountain of Seattle," created geographical significance to Mt. Rainier as opposed to Seattle.
Further, since there was no evidence in the record to show Mt. Rainier has a reputation associated with coffee or coffee beverages of any kind, it was found that Singaporean consumers would see the reference to "Mt. Rainier" as a fanciful reference and not as an attempt to create a deceptive statement of origin.
4) Bad faith
Finally, the opponent argued the applicant's application was filed in bad faith under Section 7(6) of the Singapore Trade Mark Act and thus the Morinaga Mark should not be registered.
Here, the opponent argued that filing the mark with a reference to Mt. Rainier was a commercially unacceptable practice in that Mt. Rainier is a culturally important landmark. The IP Adjudicator didn't agree with this line of argument and thus the bad faith argument was rejected as well.
In summary, the opposition failed on all grounds and the applicant's mark will proceed to registration.
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