TOKYO, Sept. 6 ― A wave of Chinese trademark registrations that use Japanese agricultural brand names has raised fresh concerns among growers here.
The Chinese trademark office recently approved an application of “Skyberry” requested by a Shanghai-based online shopping company.
In Japan, Skyberry is a registered trademark for a strawberry variety, which was developed by growers in Tochigi prefecture after nearly two decades of work. It has nothing to do with the Chinese internet company.
The trademark registration is vital for Japanese farmers to ensure that their brand names are reserved exclusively for products from their regions to give greater protection from misuse of the names overseas.
So, the Tochigi growers have filed trademark applications to safeguard their product name — Skyberry — in exporting to markets such as Southeast Asia.
But they did not submit an application to China because Beijing bans Japanese strawberry imports due to its food safety and plant health regulations.
“Once granted, the exclusive right to use the name to others, it is difficult to request or deny their claim to own the name and prevent them from profiting from the name,” said a prefectural official in Tochigi, expressing regret.
There are also the likelihood cases of confusion arising with Japanese farm trademarks.
For instance, Japan has top wagyu Matsusaka beef (松阪牛) from the city of Matsusaka in Mie prefecture. Recently in China, two trademarks were registered with slightly different versions of Chinese characters; 松坂牛and松板牛.
The Japanese agriculture ministry has set up a consortium on intellectual property protection to monitor trademark applications and fake products in overseas markets, including China.
Still, it costs farmers to file oppositions to trademark applications as well as lawsuits alleging trademark counterfeiting and infringement.
In a budget request for the next fiscal year, the agriculture ministry has included financial supports for farmers to cover legal costs in response to third parties attempting to register Japanese brand names in overseas markets.