In a report released in July 20191, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) identified the global threat posed by influenza viruses of animal origin, particularly from Southeast Asia, which had been the source of previous outbreaks (Asian Flu 1957, Hong Kong Flu 1968, SARS 2003).
With COVID-19 dominating global headlines at the start of 2020, trademark data may provide insight to the challenges faced by the Asia-Pacific region.
Trademark activity in the pharmaceutical sector can be identified by looking at Class 5 in the Nice Classification. For applicants from a number of major Asia-Pacific countries, Class 5 is a key “export” class:
- Japan – third most frequently used class for exports in 2019 (after Class 9 and Class 3)
- South Korea – fourth most important export class in 2019 (after Classes 3, 9 and 35)
- Australia – fourth most important export class in 2019 (after Classes 35, 9 and 41)
- India – leading export class in 2019
- New Zealand – leading export class in 2019
However, the overall Class 5 numbers hide a fact that may be important for future developments emanating from Southeast Asia. While Class 5 is predominantly viewed as the ’pharmaceutical’ class, it also covers other related products, such as vitamins, baby food and nutritional supplements.
The major export users filing in Class 5 from most Asia-Pacific countries are not filing for pharmaceutical products in Class 5, but for supplements and nutritional foodstuffs.
Since 2015, the leading exporters from Australia using Class 5 on trademark registers around the world are supplement/vitamin producers such as Blackmores, JBX, Max Biocare and infant milk formula company Gotop Australia.
From New Zealand, the major Class 5 exporters are dairy companies producing infant formula and powdered milk, especially into Mainland China – The A2 Milk Company, Blue River Dairy, Fonterra – or involved in the Manuka honey industry.
The most prolific South Korean filer around the world in Class 5 is Korean Ginseng Corporation, which had a monopoly on the sale of red ginseng in South Korea from 1899 until 1996 and has since expanded rapidly around the world.
India has a more traditional Class 5 export sector, dominated by pharmaceutical companies such as Dr Reddy’s, Glenmark Pharmaceuticals and Sun Pharmaceuticals.
The Japanese export sector in Class 5 is similarly comprised of traditional pharmaceutical companies such as Daiichi Sankyo, Kabayashi Pharmaceuticals, Otsuka Pharmaceutical and Hisamitsu Pharmaceutical.
Trademark activity strongly suggests that although the Asia-Pacific region has much to gain from investing in and commercializing novel pharmaceutical products, the current focus is on nutritional supplements. This is in direct contrast to major European countries and the United States, where pharmaceutical trademarks have dominated supplement trademarks even in recent years.
Figure 1: Trademark applications in Class 5 (2015 to 2019)
Even in the two major countries where traditional pharmaceutical companies dominate the sector, there have been challenges. In India the pharma sector has been built on a strategy of producing generic medicines cost effectively rather than through expensive R&D and investment in product innovation. And Japan has missed opportunities to commercialize research breakthroughs – for example the class of drugs known as statins were isolated by a Japanese researcher in the 1970s but never marketed, allowing U.S. based companies such as Merck and Bristol Myers Squibb to reap the benefits.
Due to difficulties with the allocation of general subclasses to Mainland Chinese trademark records, it was not possible to include the Chinese trademark register in this analysis. Mainland China has devoted unprecedented resources in recent years to providing Chinese brands a platform for global expansion. So far this has mostly involved consumer electronics, textiles, clothing and household items, but the world could benefit greatly if we see innovative Mainland Chinese pharmaceutical brands start to appear on trademark registers around the world.