The Japan Patent Office on Wednesday said an individual in China had recently applied to trademark the name of a Japanese indigenous group for products including cell phone cases and computer mice, Japan’s Kyodo News reported on Wednesday.
According to documents disclosed by the patent office, the Chinese individual filed an application in March to trademark “AINU” for electronic accessory products. “Ainu” is the name of a Japanese ethnic minority indigenous to Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. As of Tuesday, the filing was still “pending” according to Japan’s patent office, which said it will make a decision on whether to approve the application “based on trademark law.”
According to the report, the trademark application has sparked speculation in Japan that the move could be an attempt by a Chinese business to profit off of Japanese culture. It remains unclear if the trademark applicant was aware of the significance of the name “Ainu” in Japan at the time of the filing.
The Chinese applicant’s agent in Japan confirmed to Kyodo News on Wednesday the trademark request was submitted through a patent office in China.
“I don’t know if [the applicant] had considered a specific ethnic group,” the agent said. “I think the patent office will reject it if it is considered offensive,” he added.
Hiroshi Hirono, a member of the Ainu community and the director of an organization that oversees the development of products using traditional Ainu designs, commented on the trademark filing on Wednesday.
“We believe that it is an attempt to profit off our community. We want the government to object,” he said, according to Kyodo News.
According to the report, news of the trademark application comes shortly after the Japanese government announced measures to expand its recognition of the Ainu, including a new law last year officially designating the people indigenous to Japan for the first time.
In April, the government said it would increase the number of public school textbooks mentioning the Ainu people in an effort to teach more young Japanese about the community’s history and culture.
Late last year, the government announced it would open a new National Ainu Museum and Park in Hokkaido in 2020 to promote a wider understanding of the ethnic group and its culture. The museum was scheduled to open in April, but the ceremony has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.