A trademark dispute for LE MANS in Japan and its association with the famous car racing

The Japan Patent Office has recently ruled in a trademark dispute that focuses our attention on the world’s well-known car racing “24 hours of Le Mans”.

Everything started with a national trademark application for “Le mans de elegance” in class 25 – clothing, garters, sock suspenders, braces [suspenders] for clothing, waistbands, belts [clothing], footwear, masquerade costumes, sports shoes, clothes for sports.

This application triggered opposition by AUTOMOBILE CLUB DE L’OUEST (ACO) based on several earlier marks for LE MANS  in class 25.

According to ACO, the earlier marks were famous amongst consumers in Japan in relation to the oldest car racing in the world “24 hours of Le Mans”. The company stated that de elegance part in the later mark was descriptive of the goods in class 25. This made the first part Le mans identical to the AOC’s marks. What’s more the company argued that there is a relation between clothes and car racing citing a previous Patent Office practice on that matter.

The Office, however, wasn’t impressed and dismissed the opposition. While it was true that “24 hours of Le Mans” was a popular event, the submitted evidence didn’t prove that LE MANS alone is famous too.

According to the Office, the signs were not similar enough from a phonetic, visual, and conceptual point of view, especially the fact that Le man associates with a town in France.

Source: Masaki Mikami, Marks IP Law Firm.

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