A Japan-based dairy firm can register a trademark for its line of milk coffees after an opposing claim made by coffee giant Starbucks was thrown out by the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (Ipos).
Morinaga Nyugyo Kabushiki Kaisha, better known as Morinaga Milk, filed a trademark registration for its Mt Rainier line of milk coffees and lattes for sale in Singapore in October 2013. The black-and-white circular logo, with the Mt Rainier branding over a silhouette of the mountain bearing the name in the US city of Seattle, came under contention.
Starbucks opposed the registration on the grounds that it looked too similar to its circular, green-and-white mermaid logo. It said the use of similar concentric circles was central to its brand recognition.
The Seattle-based coffee company also said Morinaga's logo made a "direct reference" to Seattle, which is strongly associated with the coffee and cafe culture and is known as Starbucks' birthplace, according to judgment documents.
Morinaga was represented by lawyer Lim Siau Wen, while Starbucks was represented by lawyers Melvin Pang and Nicholas Ong.
In judgment grounds released last week, Ipos intellectual property adjudicator Lorraine Tay found no similarities between the two logos.
The concentric circles are not distinctive identifiers of Starbucks, she said. "It is a very simple device which is reduced to being part of the background and cannot on any count be considered to be a dominant feature." The "outstanding and dominant features" of Starbucks' logo "are the word 'Starbucks' and the mermaid device", which are more visually distinctive and associated with the company.
She also dismissed Starbucks' arguments that Morinaga's use of Mt Rainier was intended to deceive the public into thinking the company's milk coffee came from Seattle.
The association of the mountain to Seattle is not a direct one, she said. Instead, she said the logo title served an informative function of naming the mountain on the logo, rather than to evoke an association with Seattle.
It is also unlikely that coffee drinkers here will make the connection so readily. "Even if Mt Rainier is an iconic symbol of Seattle, the evidence does not establish that the average Singaporean would make this link or connection with Mt Rainier," she said.