Trademark protection in Japan
Trademarks, like patents, also operate under a first to file system in Japan. The duration of a trademark is ten years, and it may be renewed. Since 1992 service marks also can be registered.
The important thing to remember about trademarks is that anyone can register a trademark, and use of the trademark is not required in order to file for one. This first-to-file system is actually the most prevalent type of system, world-wide, but it can lead to some interesting stories.
For example, I've heard of how some Japanese companies have huge inventories of trademarks which they are not using, but they want to be the first to have filed to use the trademark. One manufacturer is purported to have registered trademarks for the names of all of the mountains in the Alps. Although the trademarks are not in use yet, the manufacturer figures that they may come in handy one day.
Such antics may have some value, but if your trademark uses the name of a Swiss mountain, you may have two methods of recourse. First, any trademark unused for three years can be canceled. Also, you may have recourse under unfair competition rights.
But because of this first-to-file system, and because the granting of trademarks is slow - often taking three or four years - you will want to file for a trademark as soon as you consider that you might enter the Japanese market.