08/04/2016 – How to protect GIs in Japan

Since March 2012, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) of Japan has been working to establish a sui generis system for agricultural GIs. “The Act for Protection of Designated Agricultural, Forestry and Fishery Products and Foodstuffs” (the GI Act) – promulgated in June 2014 (Act No. 84, 2014) – entered in to force on 1 June 2015.

The main features of the GI Act are as follows:

  • GIs are defined as a names used to identify agricultural, forestry, fishery, food and beverage products (with the exception of alcoholic beverages, drugs and cosmetics), originating from a place, a region or the all country. Such products must have a specific quality, reputation or other characteristics attributable to their geographical origin;
  • Groups of producers can submit GI applications to the MAFF. An opposition procedure is provided;
  • Once registered, any member of the group of producers which submitted the application can use the GI;
  • The effect of registration is indefinite in time, provided that relevant group of producers remains operational and the specific product’s quality maintained;
  • Based on the Ministerial Decree implementing the GI Act, the level of protection for registered GIs will be similar to article 23 of the TRIPS Agreement, reflecting an ongoing trend in national legislations;
  • Some level of administrative enforcement is provided, with the MAFF empowered to issue administrative orders in case of unlawful use of GIs;
  • Finally, based on the English translation art. 13 of the GI Act, the coexistence between GIs and pre-existing trademarks is not allowed without the consent of trademark owners (even though art. 3.3(2) of the same Act might suggest otherwise).

The GI Act is available on the House of Representatives website (in Japanese) @ http://www.shugiin.go.jp/internet/itdb_gian.nsf/html/gian/honbun/houan/g18605081.htm

An English translation of the GI Act is included in a Report of the USDA Foreign Agricultural Affairs

Detailed information on the new Japanese GI system is available @ http://www.maff.go.jp/e/japan_food/gi_act/index.html

Since the Act for Protection of Designated Agricultural, Forestry and Fishery Products and Foodstuffs (the GI Act) entered in to force in Japan on 1 June 2015 (see oriGIn Alerts 11 June 2015), 10 Japanese GIs have been registered, among them: Aomori cassis from Higashiao region, Tajima Beef and Kobe beef from the Hyogo Prefecture, Yubari melons from the northern of island of Hokkaido. The Ministry of Agriculture of Japan (MAFF) is actively promoting the recognition of GIs to increase demand for premium farm products inside Japan and in foreign markets. The Registry is also open to foreign GIs. 



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