We all know the basic principle of trademark law that is applicable in most jurisdictions regardless of whether the jurisdiction has the common law tradition or the civil law tradition, which is that a word or words indicating the quality or quantity of goods (or services) are not registrable as trademark. This principle is incorporated in Article 6 of the Trademark Act of Korea:
Article 6 Requirements for Trademark Registration
(1) Trademark registration may be obtained except in any of the following cases:
(i) where the mark consists solely of a sign indicating, in a common way, the usual name of the goods;
(ii) where the mark is customarily used on the goods;
(iii) where the mark consists solely of a sign indicating, in a common way, the origin, quality, raw materials, efficacy, use, quantity, shape (including the shape of the packaging) or price of the goods, or the method or time of manufacturing, processing or using them;
(iv) where the mark consists solely of a sign indicating a conspicuous geographical name, an abbreviation of a conspicuous geographical name or a map;
(v) where the mark consists solely of a sign indicating, in a common way, a common surname or name of a legal entity;
(vi) where the mark consists solely of a very simple and commonplace sign; or
(vii) in addition to the cases mentioned in subparagraphs (i) to (vi) of this Article, where the mark does not enable consumers to recognize the person whose goods are indicated by the mark.
To paraphrase, a word or words that are descriptive of the quality/quantity of a good is not registrable.
It is easier stating the principle than making a judgment on registrability. It seems that the level of descriptiveness (or non-descriptiveness) required for registrability really depends on the consensus among judges and/or examiners and on the tradition within the jurisdiction.
There was a decision given by the Patent Court of Korea on the registrability of “Luxury 秀 노래방” in December 2006. The court held that the mark was not registrable because it was a technical mark (a way of saying ‘descriptive mark’ in Korean law).
The decision is interesting for one reason. As you see, the mark is composed of three words, one is English, the other is Chinese, and the last Korean.
We all know what ‘luxury’ is. The Chinese letter ‘秀’ means excellent. The Korean word ‘노래방’ means karaoke. If translated in English, it is ‘Luxury Excellence Karaoke,’ which will probably not registrable in many jurisdictions.
However, it’s a combination of three different languages. Shouldn’t it count? “Luxury” will probably mean luxurious to many younger generation Koreans because they learn English in middle and high schools. However, many less-educated Koreans aged over 50 might not instantly know the word ‘luxury’ upon seeing it.
On the other hand, many younger generation Koreans can’t read Chinese letters, while most older generation Koreans are pretty good at reading Chinese letters.
Shouldn’t this fact count in making registrability judgment?
I’m quoting the summary of the decision below. (in Korean of course)
이 사건 출원상표 “Luxury秀노래방” 이 지정서비스업인 ‘노래방 서비스업’ 의 품질을 보통으로 사용하는 방법으로 표시한 표장이라고 본 사례.
from 우리법원 주요판결 by 특허법원
사건 : 2006. 12. 28. 선고 2006허8323 판결 [거절결정(상)]
판시사항 : 이 사건 출원상표 “”이 지정서비스업인’노래방 서비스업’의 품질을 보통으로 사용하는 방법으로 표시한 표장이라고 본 사례.
판결요지 : 이 사건 출원서비스표는 주로 ‘사치, 호사, 사치품, 고급품, 사치(품)의, 고급(품)의’라는 의미로 사용되는 비교적 쉬운 영어단어인 ‘Luxury’와 ‘빼어나다, 뛰어나다’라는 의미로 사용되는 역시 비교적 쉬운 한자인 ‘秀’ 및 지정서비스업의 명칭인 ‘노래방’을 결합한 표장이고, 문자서비스표인 이 사건 출원서비스표의 각 글자는 변형이 거의 이루어지지 않았는바, 이 사건 출원서비스표가 그 지정서비스업인 ‘노래방 서비스업’에 사용되는 경우 일반 수요자들로 하여금 ‘고급스럽고 빼어난 노래방’을 직감하게 할 개연성이 농후하므로, 이 사건 출원서비스표는 그 지정서비스업의 품질을 암시하는 정도를 넘어 직접적으로 표시하는 기술적 표장으로서 상표법 제6조 제1항 제3호에 해당한다.
참조조문 : 상표법 제6조 제1항 제3호