Categories: General

The Unethical Japanese who Stole a Singapore Brand

Recently, there’s a big news about a Japanese company who stole a Singapore’s brand in Japan.

I didn’t know about The Tiramisu Hero until Dirty Shoes told me about it after the news came on TV. It turns out, because the brand is getting very popular, knowing that the brand wasn’t registered, this Japanese guy went ahead to register a company called Hero’s and also registered the trademark logo and had it approved. He then tried to force the original Tiramisu Hero to change it’s brand.

While watching a TV coverage, one host asked why the latter was allowed to register the trademark and logo even though another company started it years earlier. The expert on TV simply responded, “because patent people don’t know much about tiramisu.” Immediately, the host replied, “ダメでしょう!” which is exactly my thoughts.

How can you approve an application because you are not familiar with the industry? It is the patent office’s job to research and dig out such information to protect intellectual property. It’s like a doctor who operates on a man, eventually killing him and then say, “I don’t know much about the heart.” Ok, not a good analogy.

I recall an instance when I helped one company develop a solution on an e-commerce platform and later received emails and letters from another company who claim they patented the technology and want us to either stop using it or pay them a fee for it. I found that ridiculous because it wasn’t much of an invention. It was just making use of an API provided by the e-commerce platform to sell things in an unconventional method. On behalf of the company, I spoke with two patent experts and guess what? Neither of them understood what was going on even though they had the entire patent document downloaded from the patent office because neither of them are trained in IT. We had one meeting with each of them and then decided to not engage their service because they obviously do not know what they are looking at. I’m not sure if the person who approved the application understands what is being patented or not either.

Anyhow, since the revelation of this news, said company has been flamed online and they came out to apologize saying they will let the Singapore company use the logo. However, since the trademark logo still belongs to the company, it appears that the original Tiramisu Hero has to pay to use it. The Singapore duo has decided to rebrand their Japan product into Sir Antonio Hero and Tiramisu Star and announced it on their previous official website which has now been moved to The Tiramisu Star.

Now, this is not all there is to this company. The unethical company turns out to be gram, Inc., the famous fluffy pancake shop.

Or is it?

Turns out, rumour has it that they did the same to the original gram, a Japanese company from Osaka whose gram pancakes were getting very popular, but who also didn’t register their trademark. So this unethical Japanese guy, Takeda Takeshi, registered the company name and trademark logo and forced the original Osaka cafe to change their name. The Osaka cafe had no choice but to rebrand it to “bran cafe.” However, as their original name, gram, had grown so big, visitors continued to visit outlets opened by the despicable company without realizing it’s the unethical copy version. bran cafe eventually ceased operation and no longer exists now.

Apart from the above, Takeda has also shamefully patented other famous brand names such as Shiawase no Pancake, Tirapuri, and even Lawson’s Premium Roll Cake.

Granted, this guy may be in the wrong, but there is no way to completely eradicate unethical people and there’s just too many people to educate. How we can get to the root of the problem is to educate people at the trademark and patent office. If they had done up their research, things like that probably wouldn’t have happened.

Note: Lili brought to my attention that the term used should be “trademark” and not “patent.” For more details regarding this, please read her comment in the comment section below.

Update 4/26: Since this article is gaining a lot of attention now, I think it’s only fair that I write an update on the case. See here for the latest article.

gaijinhan

View Comments

  • Hi gaijinhan!
    Thank you for highlighting this unethical company! I think what they are doing is definitely terrible (and will not eat there!)
    I just wanted to give some suggested factual corrections, which you may or may not want to make to your post, because small inaccuracies like those at first made me doubt the truth of your post. But maybe it's just people who deal with intellectual property who would notice so maybe you wouldn't want to change it...
    Basically, this company isn't patenting anything, what they are doing is registering trademarks of other people's logos. It's still highly unethical, but the rules for patents and trademarks are different (and they are used for different things- patents are for inventions and trademarks are for logos and other stuff used to indicate something comes from a specific company), so actually there was nothing the trademark office in Japan (which confusingly is called the Japan Patent Office) could do to prevent the registrations. In patents, you cannot patent something that someone else has used or invented, whatever you are patenting has to be completely new or novel. In trademarks though, the requirement is that it must not be identical or similar to a previously registered trademark in that country. So even if the Tiramisu Hero was trademarked in Singapore, but it was not trademarked in Japan, the Japanese trademark office would generally not be able to prevent the trademark being registered in Japan. Similarly, the other cases where the company went to trademark logos which were already in use in Japan, if those logos were not already trademarked, then the company is not prevented from doing so. It's nothing to do with the expertise of the trademark office in that area, my understanding is that they cannot actually prevent it. However, in the case when there is a legitimate prior use of that logo by another person in that country, the registered trademark cannot be used against the prior user, aka even if the company with the trademark threatens a lawsuit, the prior user won't be infringing and the lawsuit will fail even if they embark on it.
    Separately there is a real issue of copyright infringement though, but I sense no one wants to hire a lawyer and do something about it...

    Separately again for patents, because actually you do need to have expertise in that particular field in order to determine whether it can be patented (is it new, is it novel etc), most people in the patent office actually doing the grant are indeed experts. Most of them are usually holding at least degrees in that area if not PhDs, and many of them come from research labs. Whether or not that granted patent actually would prevent that company from doing whatever the company you were helping was doing, is a matter for an IP lawyer. These do not generally have specific expertise in that area though. There are also what are called patent agents or patent lawyers, which are completely different type of people, who actually specialise in just writing the patent application, and these can be lawyers or not lawyers and generally so not have super deep expertise. So I'm not sure who you talked to, but I would be very surprised if JPO's patent office did not have people with great expertise as they are considered one of the top patent offices in the world. Again, the trademark issue is not an issue of expertise and is also unrelated to patents.

    TL:Dr patents are different from trademarks, maybe you want to change your description of pancakes gram 'patenting' anything to 'trademarking' and it would be more accurate.

    • Hi Lili, thank you for pointing it out. That makes perfect sense, I think I'll leave a note at the end of the article regarding the term rather than change the article ^^

  • Hi gaijinhan!

    Can you provide some sources and/or screenshots for all of these? I'm not doubting you but Gram seems to be opening in Singapore and people have been sharing your article to raise awareness, and it'd be great to have some concrete evidence so nobody would dismiss as fake news, and better to do so before they open shop.

    Thanks so much!

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