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Economy

Japan steps up branded farm product protection overseas

Tokyo government foots product registration costs, offers advice as part of export push

Shine Muscat

TOKYO -- As a growing number of imitations threaten the rights of Japan's branded agricultural products, Tokyo has stepped up measures to encourage farmers to register branded produce abroad, including by covering the costs of registration and legal advisory assistance.

Japanese farmers are keen to boost sales of high-quality, branded agricultural products which are widely recognized in overseas markets. The government aims to boost Japan's agricultural exports to 1 trillion yen ($8.78 billion) by 2019 from the estimated 750.3 billion yen in the year ending March 2017, and hopes branded produce can play a key role.

The latest program aims to enhance competitiveness by protecting the intellectual property rights attached to the products.

The measures include the provision of subsidies to entirely cover the 1 million yen to 2 million yen required to register products under the international system granting patents on seeds and seedlings, which provide the basis for litigation in cases of infringement.

The measures also include a service assisting farmers to put together application documents, including a help desk where attorneys and patent lawyers provide advice on how to address infringements.

Branded agricultural products are high value-added products with quality enhanced through breeding or enhanced cultivation techniques. The government sees them as an area of high competitiveness for Japanese produce. Popular products include fruits with high sugar content.

Copycat products in other Asian markets, where awareness of intellectual property protection is low, have been appearing at discount prices. They include products purporting to be leading brands such as Benihoppe strawberries and Shine Muscat grapes.

These fakes are believed to have been produced in China and South Korea from seeds or seedlings obtained from Japan.

A key strategy to protect the products is for Japanese farmers to register seeds and seedlings overseas so that they can be recognized as a variety. But doing so is expensive, and must be done within four years of a new variety being first produced in Japan.

The problem has been that many farmers are not aware of the overseas registration system, and that the prohibitively high costs and overbearing preparation process have discouraged them from taking advantage of it.

Under the new program, the government invites agricultural cooperatives and individual farmers to apply for assistance in overseas registration.

Candidates are screened so that only those deemed worthy of support, in terms of international competitiveness, for example, are selected. Successful candidates qualify to receive the entire cost for their overseas registration.

The agricultural ministry helps farmers through the process from preparing necessary registration documents, to the completion of registration.

A manual explaining steps to address patent infringement is also under preparation.

(Nikkei)

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