Shaoxing yellow liquor, a well-known type of Chinese liquor, was registered as a collective trademark in Japan earlier this month.
It marks the first time the liquor has been granted a collective trademark overseas.
The trademark will cover genuine manufacturers of the traditional yellow liquor, which is a local specialty of Shaoxing, Zhejiang province, and is believed to be one of the oldest alcoholic drinks in the world.
Japan is seen as an ideal place to register a trademark because the country "has always been a key market for the product outside China", said Ru Yongzheng, a marketing executive of renowned Shaoxing yellow liquor producer Gu Yue Long Shan Co, in an interview with local newspaper Daily Business News.
According to the statistics from the local yellow liquor industry association, around 21,000 tons of Shaoxing yellow liquor was exported to Japan last year, with a value of $25 million, accounting for 70 percent of the total export volume of the city.
But "in that attractive market, about 10 to 15 percent of so-called Shaoxing yellow liquor was actually fake", said Chen Zuliang, secretary-general of the industry association.
As early as the 1980s, many similar trademarks, such as "Shaoxing Old Liquor" were registered by Japanese companies. And there were also many Chinese liquor exporters outside Shaoxing who claimed their products were authentic.
In late 2011, the Shaoxing yellow liquor industry association decided to apply for a collective trademark in Japan. The process was "unexpectedly smooth", said the secretary-general.
"At first, we were afraid that they would regard Shaoxing as a brand, not the name of a place, so we prepared a series of materials to prove the origin of the yellow liquor," he said.
The Japanese trademark law forbids trademark applications made up of only the name of a place, unless the name has long been used and has achieved a certain level of renown among customers.
Shaoxing yellow liquor, as a geographical indication, was granted the status of China well-known trademark in 2007.
Since then, 15 local yellow liquor manufacturers have been given permission to bear the well-known trademark label, and they can now use the collective trademark in Japan.
Ru said that the successful registration is a good tool for expanding the liquor's presence in Japan.
"We will no longer be forced to sit idly by while we suffer from infringement like before," he said.
The association is planning to register the collective trademark in the European Union and in Southeast Asian nations, where there is also a large export market for yellow liquor.
It also has applied for the trademark in Hong Kong as a certification mark.
The first foreign geographical indication protected as a collective trademark in Japan is also a Chinese product - Chinkiang Vinegar from Zhenjiang, Jiangsu province. But that process was far more difficult.
In 2008, the vinegar association of Zhenjiang applied for the collective trademark in Japan for the first time, but it was rejected because the Japanese intellectual property administration believed that the trademark lacked prominence.
The application failed again in 2010, and then finally succeeded in 2011.
(China Daily 06/19/2013 page17)