Okayama Prefecture to strengthen protection of intellectual property rights abroad for its fruit brands

OKAYAMA, March 18 – The Okayama Prefectural Government will strengthen protection of intellectual property rights abroad for brands of peaches and grapes developed in the prefecture, amid the increase of usurped patent applications filed outside Japan.

Starting in fiscal 2019, the prefectural government will conduct research on cases of infringement of intellectual property rights and prepare to register fruit varieties and trademarks in foreign countries, especially in Southeast Asian nations, in addition to Taiwan and Hong Kong which are the key export destinations for fruits produced in Okayama.

Okayama Prefecture allocated 7.16 million yen for the project in the fiscal 2019 draft budget, more than triple the amount of 2 million yen set aside in the previous year’s budget.

In March last year, the Okayama government submitted applications in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong to register trademarks for peaches and grapes bred by the prefecture. Okayama government officials said the brand names will not be disclosed until the registrations are completed.

Okayama is taking the moves to tackle the increase of misappropriated patent applications of Japanese fruit brands overseas. In 2017, a third party applied to register in China a trademark for Hareo, a local specialty Shine Muscat grape brand of which the trademark is held in Japan by JA Zennoh Okayama, an agricultural cooperative in the prefecture.

After consulting with the prefectural government, the farm coop filed an objection with the China National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA). The trademark application is now being reexamined and the CNIPA is expected to come up with a conclusion by the summer of 2019.

“We don’t export Hareo to China, but the fruit is highly popular in Taiwan and Hong Kong,” said a JA Zennoh Okayama official. “We believe the brand became a target (of usurped patent application) since its name uses kanji characters with good image.”

To prevent further damage, the agricultural cooperative applied to register the Hareo trademark in Taiwan and Hong Kong in November 2017, and the mark was registered in Hong Kong in October 2018. The cooperative also filed a trademark application in China in December 2018 along with the objection.

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