Japan firms seek to register sounds as trademarks

From the shouts of superheroes to the rustling sound of ochazuke rice topping mix, a range of sounds and colors can now be registered as trademarks following the implementation of a revised Trademark Law in April.

After going through a screening process, some will be registered as trademarks in autumn.

Sounds play a key role in advertisements for corporate branding strategies. The first sounds to be registered as trademarks are expected to set a standard for similar applications in the future, according to sources, so the kind of sounds to be legally considered as trademarks will be closely watched.

Tokyo-based Tsuburaya Production Co. makes special effects movies and TV programs like the Ultraman series, and has been seeking to register four sounds including the voices of Ultraman and Barutan Seijin (Alien Baltan). For the first time, the company is aiming to register the voices not just in Japan but also in other countries.

A trademark application filed by Tsuburaya describes Barutan Seijin's voice as "low, deep male voice pronouncing imitative words of 'fo-fo-fo-fo' with reverberating sounds four times" and that of Ultraman as "shuwatchi," noting that some could interpret the sound like "shuwatcho."

With the implementation of the revised Trademark Law in April, sounds and colors can be registered as trademarks along with letters and diagrams. The Japan Patent Office has received 280 applications seeking to register sounds as of Aug. 21.

If a sound is registered as a trademark, the company or concerned entity that filed the application could be granted exclusive usage rights in TV commercials and other advertisements. Firms that want to use registered trademarks must seek permission from the owner and settle any necessary usage fees.

Many of the sounds seeking trademark registrations are musical pieces with lyrics and melodies, but they include short sound effects and voices that leave strong impressions like those of Tsuburaya Production Co.

Instant food maker Nagatanien Co. has filed applications for the sound of ochazuke rice topping mix being poured over rice, describing them as "kasa kasa" or the "sound of light objects contacting against each other twice."

Taisho Pharmaceutical Co. has been seeking to register "Fight" and "Ippatsu," or one shot - popular lines heard in its TV commercials for its Lipovitan D energy drinks.

According to the Japan Patent Office, trademark registrations will only be granted to "sounds reminiscent of particular products or services" and not "ordinary" ones, meaning voices selling stone-roasted sweet potatoes and trumpet sounds used by a ramen stand operator are unlikely to be registered.

Overseas, registered trademarks include the voice of a duck saying "Aflac" in advertisements by American Family Life Assurance Company of Columbus and the roar of a lion used in those of major film studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc.

Trademarks

Product features like their names and logos can be registered as trademarks under the law. Sounds, musical scores or written explanations are registered along with data files containing recordings of melodies and voices. In the United States, smells and tastes can be registered as trademarks.