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On March 23, 2021, the Japan Patent Office rejected a trademark application by an individual in Shenzhen, southern China, for using the name of Japan’s indigenous Ainu people.
The application for “AINU” was filed in March 2020 for products such as smartphone cases and computer mice, according to JPO.
The move was criticized by the Ainu people, who are indigenous to Hokkaido, northern Japan, as an attempt to commercialize their culture.
JPO rejected the application on the grounds that the Romanized name would “easily” be confused with that of the indigenous people.
“An exclusive use of the trademark is against the benefits of our country’s society and the public, and may harm public order and moral standards,” stated JPO.
Stipulating for the first time that Ainu are indigenous people, a 2019 legislation protects and promotes Ainu culture as a way to right historic discrimination and socio-economic disparities.
In a separate case, China’s National Intellectual Property Administration has agreed to revoke the “Kyoto Uji” trademark that had been registered in China for tea products by Chinese companies, according to a tea cooperative in Kyoto, western Japan.
The Kyoto Tea Cooperative made the request with the administration in November 2019, arguing its “Uji” tea brand would be harmed.
The Chinese agency made the decision in January, 2020.
“The registration and use of trademarks in any country shall comply with the laws of that country. Thus, if a trademark application is against the local laws, it’s reasonable that the local authority rejects the application according to the laws. Chinese trademark law also clearly stipulates what kinds of signs are not allowed to be used or registered as trademarks in China. If trademark applications are filed with such signs, the CNIPA will refuse the applications according to the Chinese trademark law. For example, signs that are identical with or similar to the state name, national flag, etc. of China are not allowed to be used or registered as trademarks in China,” says Nina Li, a partner at IP March in Beijing. “There is no general stipulation on whether marks containing unique features of the local culture are allowed to be used or registered as trademarks in China. However, if the mark will have negative impact on political, economic, cultural, religious, ethnic or other social public interests and public orders of China, the CNIPA will refuse the trademark application. Besides, if the mark is likely to mislead the public in terms of the place of production or other characteristics of the goods, the CNIPA will also refuse the application.”
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