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Japan: Geographical Indication Act Promulgated

(Sept. 24, 2014) Japan’s Geographical Indication (GI) Act was promulgated on June 25, 2014. (Act No. 84, 2014, Tokutei Norin Suisan Butsu to no Meisho no Hogo ni Kansuru Horitsu; text of the legislation, which became law without change, available on the House of Representatives website [in Japanese].) The Act aims to protect producers of certain agricultural products, promote local agricultural and food brands, and protect consumers. (Id. art. 1.) The Act will become effective within one year. (Id. Supplementary Provisions, art. 1.)

The products protected under the Act are those produced in a particular region, using a method unique to that area, thus linking a product’s quality and reputation to its geographical origin. (Id. art. 2 ¶ 2.) To be protected under the Act, registration of the product by a local producers’ association is required. (Id. art. 6.) The local producers’ association must establish a quality standard for the product, with such factors as the production method, geographic area, and minimum sugar content. (Id. art. 7.) Producers’ associations will be responsible for checking whether products marketed under registered brand names meet the standard. (Id. arts. 2 ¶ 6 & 13 ¶ 1 item 2.) Registered products will be allowed to bear a logo to indicate they are certified. (Id. art. 4.)

There is already in place a regional collective trademark system that allows registration of marks consisting of a regional name and a generic name. (Trademark Act, Act No. 127 of 1959, art. 7-2, inserted by Act No. 56 of 2005.) Under the trademark system, producers are not obliged to set any criteria to register a product, and only members of the organization that registered the product have the right to use the trademark. (Geographical Indication Law – A Push for Local Brand Promotion, JAPAN AGRI NEWS (June 19, 2014).)

Under the new system, “only the products which meet the quality standard will be allowed to bear the brand labels, the use of labels will not be limited to certain organizations, and the government will be responsible for dealing with misuse and counterfeiting.” (Diet Enacts Geographical Indication Law, JAPAN AGRI NEWS (June 18, 2014).) Producers can use both the GI system and the regional collective trademark system.