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Q&A: Agribusiness IP in Japan? Plants and Animals

posted 1 year ago

The Japanese people have developed a variety of highly valued plant and animal varieties, appreciated worldwide for flavor, size, and more. Much of this took place before or without corporate involvement (agribusiness), but the Japanese government has been trying to make it more difficult for Japanese varieties to be taken abroad, reproduced, and sold in competition with the original makers of some forms of “intellectual property.”

Have something in mind you might want to protect in Japan?

Can I protect a plant variety?

Japan’s Diet (parliament) passed the Plant Variety Protection and Seed Act (種苗法/shubyoh-hoh; hereafter, “Plant and Seed Act”) in 2020, and this has been in effect since April 2021.

Under the Plant and Seed Act, if a developer of a new plant variety successfully registers the variety with the government, no one may propagate that variety even from seeds without purchase or permission–and the government can take steps to punish or prevent exportation of the variety. The highly prized fruits of Japan, for example, often get registered and are at the center of consternation when those varieties pop up overseas (grapes, etc.).

Can I protect an animal breed?

Animals are not directly treated as intellectual property. Yet in 2020, the Diet did enact a “law for prevention of illegitimate competition over livestock genetic resources” (家畜遺伝資源に係る不正競争の防止に関する法律案), in response to alleged attempts to ship Japanese beef cattle (wagyu) semen to China.[2]

Hence, the Japanese government does try to treat animal genes as a quasi-IP, in order to enable Japanese breeders to have something of a monopoly on the kinds of animals they have bred.

What is the takeaway?

Be careful to avoid exporting a variety of exquisite fruit or popular beef if it is registered. Enjoy those in Japan, or those that are legally exported. And if you want to raise a new variety of something in Japan, there may be some ways to control their use.

* The information provided on this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.
** For questions or consultation, please contact Taro Yaguchi or our firm for more information.


[1] “種苗法 [Plant variety protection and seed act].” https://elaws.e-gov.go.jp/document?lawid=410AC0000000083_20220617_504AC0000000068 Digital Agency. Accessed February 27, 2023.

[2] “家畜遺伝資源に係る不正競争の防止に関する法律 [Act for prevention of illegitimate competition over livestock genetic resources].” https://elaws.e-gov.go.jp/document?lawid=502AC0000000022 Digital Agency. Accessed February 27, 2023.

Header image by Kohji Asakawa from Pixabay.

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