Intellectual property fight: A tale of two cookies

Last month, Hokkaido-based Ishiya Co. sued Yoshimoto Kogyo Co. for trademark infringement. Ishiya has been selling its “Shiroi Koibito” cookies since 1976, and Yoshimoto Kogyo began selling “Omoshiroi Koibito” cookies last year.

The name of the original cookies means “white lover.” The new cookies have nearly the same name, except that the addition of an extra character at the beginning changes “shiroi” (white) to “omoshiroi” (funny). Yoshimoto Kogyo is an Osaka-based entertainment company best known for its comedians. So if you might find a “white” lover in snowy Hokkaido, perhaps you’d find a “funny” lover in Osaka.

Shiroi Koibito cookies are famous in Japan. If one of your coworkers in this country takes a trip to Hokkaido, there’s a good chance they’ll bring Shiroi Koibito cookies back as an omiyage treat. According to an article in The Daily Yomiuri, the Shiroi Koibito name has been trademarked since 1980, and its packaging has been trademarked since 2004. The brand managed to maintain its popularity even after an expiration-date mislabelling scandal described in a Japan Times article from 2008. According to an article in the Mainichi Daily News, Ishiya sold 7.2 billion yen (more than 90 million U.S. dollars) worth of the cookies in fiscal 2010.

Ishiya says some people have accidentally purchased Omoshiroi Koibito cookies after mistaking them for Shiroi Koibito cookes. It is easy to see how this might happen. The name of the new cookies is nearly identical to the original cookies, and the packaging is extremely similar.

However, a spokesperson for Yoshimoto Kogyo said the company was “bewildered” by the lawsuit against it. Perhaps this remark was meant to be omoshiroi.

The packaging may be confusingly similar, but the cookies are surprisingly different.

One of my coworkers brought a box of each type to the office recently, and I sampled them both. Ishiya’s original Shiroi Koibito is the small square cookie in the photo above. It consists of two buttery langue de chat cookies, baked until brown at the edges, sandwiching a small tablet of either white or dark chocolate. Yoshimoto Kogyo’s Omoshiroi Koibito is the large round cookie. It consists of two thin waffle cookies sandwiching a layer of maple cream that smelled and tasted like it was artificial.

I don’t claim to be an authority Japanese intellectual property law, but I am interested in seeing how this case plays out in court. My gut tells me Ishiya should win.

My taste buds tell me they already have.

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2 Responses to “Intellectual property fight: A tale of two cookies”

  1. Leah Says:

    Those cookies are shockingly different. It seems like if 面白い恋人 had just stuck to a different package in the first place, there wouldn’t be a problem. (The package is not very Osaka-ish in my opinion, save for the castle.)

  2. genki Says:

    Hi, Tom!
    The Omoshiroi Koibito cookies look just like the Kobe Fugetsudo gaufrette cookies that I recall so fondly (could there be another law suit in the making?!?) They are yummy in their own way but nowhere near as yummy as Shiroi Koibito – it has everything to do with the butter and fat content making my taste-buds rejoice.

    I resist calling anything “white chocolate” since chocolate by definition has cocoa in it, but if I am going to eat “white chocolate,” please let it be Shiroi Koibito!

    Take care, and enjoy the holiday season!
    Lisa Hannabach (^:^)

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