1. Introduction of Protection System for Geographical Indications
The protection system for geographical indications (GI) has been widely known around the world. In Japan, acceptance of applications for GI registration was started in June 2015.
So far, the system has been established worldwide, particularly in more than 100 countries of various regions such as Asia, the Middle East, Europe, North America, Central and South America, and Africa.
In Japan, the geographical indication is defined as below. As of December 2017, geographical indications of 58 products have been registered in Japan.
Definition: The geographical indication refers to the indication of the name of an agricultural, forestry or fishery product or a foodstuff, which name allows identification of the place of production of the product and identification of an established characteristic such as a quality of the product being attributable to the place of production.
The geographical indication is protected under an aspect different from that of the regional collective trademark and the like. On this webpage, we would like to introduce the outline of the protection system for geographical indications and the advantage to be brought about by the protection of geographical indications.
2. Registration Requirements For Geographical Indications
2.1. Required Documents
The following documents are required by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MIFF) of Japan:
- (i) Application Form: The product name, the place of production, etc. are stated;
- (ii) Specification: The quality standard which each group of producers should meet, etc. are described*; and
- (iii) Production Process Management Rule: The production method equivalent to the specification, etc. are stipulated.
* The specification often requires the professional expertise for the product, and needs to be prepared in a manner similar to the specification of a patent application.
2.2. Examination Items
The following items are examined during the examination of geographical indications. Among them, importance increases particularly in the order of (i), (ii), and (iii) below:
- (i) Product: Examination is made as to attribution between the characteristic and the place of production, the production result*, etc.;
- (ii) Group of Producers: Examination is made as to whether the freedom to join is specified by the group of producers, etc.; and
- (iii) Name: Examination is made as to whether the name allows identification of the place of production, whether the name conflicts with a registered trademark, etc.
* The production result is strictly examined. Specifically, in order to be registered, the product needs to have been produced for approximately 25 years. In contrast, the use result of the name is more loosely examined.
2.3. Examination Procedure
The application for GI registration can be filed by a person who has professional expertise such as an attorney, on behalf of the applicant.
(Source: Website of Geographical Indication Protection System, Central Consultation Desk (Nickname: GI Support Desk))
3. After Registration
3.1. Registered products need to be labelled with GI marks. However, it should be noted that a processed product produced with the use of a registered product must not be labelled with a GI mark.
3.2. The producer of a registered product is obligated to strictly comply with the place of production, the production method, etc. that are stipulated in the specification. The group of producers of a registered product needs to conform that actual production is in line with the specification.
The group of producers is also obligated to submit an annual report to the government. It is said that the government conducts a local investigation, in which a representative from the government visits the group of producers, approximately once a year.
3.3. Registration of a graphical indication causes the government to start elimination of counterfeit products that imitate the registered product. Other than that, labelling of GI marks brings about some sort of advertising effect, which may in turn allow, for example, expansion of sales of the registered product and an increase in value of the registered product.
4. Distinction From Regional Collective Trademark System
Under the regional collective trademark system, which was established in April 2006, approximately 600 regional collective trademarks have been registered as of December 31, 2016.
In contrast, graphical indications of only 58 products have been registered as of December 2017.
From the international standpoint, enforcement of protection for geographical indications has recently been demanded potently in Japan. In view of the advantages brought about by the mutual protection between different countries, the number of GIs registered in Japan is considered to increase in years to come.
The distinction of the geographical indication protection system over the regional collective trademark system can be explained as follows:
- The geographical indication protection system is advantageous in that (i) the government keeps control over counterfeit products and the like, (ii) the scope of protection will extend to other countries once the mutual protection is realized, and (iii) it is possible to appeal that the product has a specific characteristic or quality.
- Protection of a product will be enforced by a combination of those systems.