Intellectual Property Rights

In Japan, the sale of parallel-imported products is not illegal. Moreover, the sale of used goods is also allowed. Due to Japanese consumption habits and economic trends, there has been a substantial rise in the demand for such products and their circulation amount in recent years. In addition, since the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to use online sales channels has become essential, for both the brand right holders and other sellers. As a result, the Japanese online market is becoming the focus of worldwide attention, selling a mix of authentic brand-new products sold by authorized distributors or dealers in parallel imports, counterfeit products in the guise of “parallel imports,” as well as both authentic and counterfeits used products, and products that are clearly counterfeit.

The source of the counterfeit items is simple. As is the case in many other countries, China is the largest producer and exporter of counterfeit products distributed in Japan.

In 2022, about 880,000 counterfeit items were intercepted at the border by Japanese customs authorities. Given that it is impossible for customs to inspect all imported goods, this number likely represents only a small fraction of the total volume of counterfeit items imported into Japan.

Until recently, many Japanese consumers knowingly purchased counterfeit items. Consequently, websites that sell counterfeit products seem to have been taking action against the rights holders rather than against the customers. However, it seems that websites are gradually embracing the belief that it is crucial for consumers who intend to purchase genuine products to avoid buying counterfeit ones.

One reason for this change is probably due to the evolution of consumers’ sensitivity of counterfeit products, the end of consumers’ frenzy for brand-name products due to the economic recession, the emergence of AI and its potential use in the fight against counterfeit products, the feeling of wanting to correct one’s own situation through comparison to other situations (such as “China,” where many counterfeit products circulate), and other factors. These changes are positive in themselves.

However, most C2C online sales platforms, in general, have yet to implement effective measures against counterfeit goods. Maybe due to the mentioned shift in awareness, some of the major C2C sites operated by Japanese capital have begun using their proactive measures against counterfeit products as a means to attract consumers. In particular, some of them are appealing to the consumers with AI or image identification systems, but the ability of these technologies to identify or eliminate counterfeit goods is insufficient. And the term “AI” has taken on a life of its own (of course, there are also some sites that have partnered with used goods dealers and industry associations to promote human identification).

The practical countermeasures are often not the best way to appeal, though, we believe that the first step would be to review or strengthen basic measures such as strengthening the identification of sellers, collecting complaints from purchasers, utilizing infringement information obtained from removal requests from right holders, and blacklisting malicious users. If AI is developed on this basis, it may no longer be perceived negatively.

When it comes to Online B2C platforms, like, the major Japanese online B2C websites have long been proactive in their anti-counterfeiting These online platforms, for example,  in order to “clean up” their shopping websites, site operators conduct test purchases to verify the authenticity of products, with the cooperation of the relevant brand, when an item listed for sale is suspected of being a counterfeit because of its extremely low selling price or consumer-provided information. If the said item turns out to be a counterfeit, the dealer that listed the counterfeit product is banned from the online selling platform.

On the other hand, some foreign online B2C platforms are still lagging in the fight against counterfeit products, notably due to the non-application of measures to suspend counterfeit sellers and a reduction in human verification for the benefit of automated check.

Concerted efforts are thus being made by different sectors in Japan to set up a framework for eliminating counterfeit products. Some of their approaches are more advanced than those implemented in Europe or the USA. In particular, the close information exchange and cooperation built between the major B2C and C2C online platforms and rights holders deserves special mention.

Moreover, the revised Trademark Law, which came into effect in October 2022 is a new global measure against the Internet, as it makes illegal the act itself to sell counterfeit products from overseas to Japan and aims to effectively prevent the distribution of counterfeit products in response to the borderless society of the internet.

Nevertheless, there are still issues to be resolved and improvements to be made. The main challenges and recommendations for enabling significant future progress are listed below.

Key issues and recommendations


Mr. Laurent Dubois
Representative, Union des Fabricants
SK Bldg. 3F.
1-5-5 Hirakawacho
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 102-0093
Tel: +81-3-3239-3110
Fax: +81-3-3239-3224

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