Suntory Holdings Limited is a global corporation that focuses mainly on the manufacturing of alcoholic beverages and soft drinks. They have also diversified into the health business – with food supplements and skincare products – and into hospitality – with restaurants and cafés. Founded in Japan in 1899, the company has steadily expanded outside its borders into other countries in Asia, North and South America, and Europe, and continues to grow.
Suntory is committed to their mission of "Mizu To Ikiru", which can be translated as “to create harmony with people and nature”. For generations they have been making daily life richer for people by providing high quality drinks and products. Looking towards the future, the company will continue to fulfill their dream of “Growing for Good” as they put it, through “Yatte Minahare” – the spirit of ambition to dream big, take challenges, and never give up.
Suntory believes that courage is the key to great success and that the future belongs to those that dream big. This spirit is embodied in their value, "Yatte Minahare", a saying that reflects the pioneering spirit and bold pursuits and dreams of founder, Shinjiro Torii.
Suntory's story begins in 1899. Shinjiro Torii started out with a vision to bring Western-style wines and liquors to Japan. His idea was ambitious though and, despite his hard work, the wines did not sell well; Japanese consumers were not used to the flavors of Western wine. Shinjiro did not give up and continued working towards his vision, developing original wine. It took almost ten years to develop and create Akadama Port Wine in 1907. Akadama Port Wine was a sweet wine that appealed to Japanese customers, and eventually became one of the most popular wines in Japan. However, Shinjiro's story did not end there.
In 1923, Shinjiro envisioned a whisky filled with the essence of Japanese nature, and handcrafted by artisans through a patient process to enhance the work of nature. He dreamt of creating subtle, refined, yet complex whisky that would suit the delicate palate of the Japanese and improve their dining experience. Many people thought this was impossible, but Shinjiro was different. He was driven by passion, determination, and daring.
He chose the region of Yamazaki, on the outskirts of Kyoto, as the birthplace of Japanese whisky. After many challenges, he finally launched Suntory Whisky Kakubin, with its iconic square bottle, in 1937. This whisky quickly became very popular, and gained Suntory recognition as the pioneer of Japanese Whisky.
Since then, the company has launched a wide range of products that are highly appreciated worldwide, such as the blended whisky “HIBIKI”, the single malt whiskies “YAMAZAKI” and “HAKUSHU”, the gin “ROKU” or the vodka “HAKU”.
For Suntory, brands have been an important asset since its foundation. They believe that protecting them is also a way to provide safety and security to their own customers, which is why the company has always acquired and used registrable trademarks for their products, whether in Japan or abroad.
Thanks to mergers and acquisitions with a number of foreign companies, their overseas business has grown, leading to an increase in the number of international trademark rights that Suntory need to acquire and manage. For this, they actively use the Madrid System, an indispensable tool for managing an increasingly large portfolio of trademarks.
The Madrid System process is simple, allowing Suntory to file one international trademark application in several countries simultaneously. It also significantly reduces costs, and those cost benefits increase with the number of Madrid System members that they designate. Each time an IP office registers one of their trademarks, Suntory receive a Statement of Grant of protection. All the administrative procedures, such as the recording of changes and renewals, are straightforward and can be performed online through eMadrid. When Suntory became Suntory Holdings for example, they were able to change holder name in all their international trademark registrations in one go.
The increase in the number of Madrid System members in Southeast Asia – one of Suntory’s major markets – has also been very beneficial for the company. They can use the process of subsequent designation to extend the protection provided by their existing international trademark registrations into any of those new members.
Suntory has filed international trademark applications through the Madrid System for various brands, including their corporate mark “Suntory”, their world-renowned whiskies, “HIBIKI” and “YAMAZAKI”, as well as their new spirits products. Currently, they have some 150 international trademark registrations, with protection in almost a hundred countries.
Against the backdrop of a worldwide growing interest in craft gin, the company subsidiaries Suntory Spirits Ltd. and Beam Suntory Inc. combined their knowledge to develop a gin that would represent Japan. They launched their Japanese craft gin “ROKU” in 2017. It is made with six botanicals sourced in Japan (cherry tree blossoms, cherry tree leaves, sencha tea, gyokuro tea, sansho pepper and yuzu fruit), plus eight traditional gin botanicals. Suntory always intended “ROKU” to be a global product and today it is sold in Japan, the United States of America, Europe (e.g. United Kingdom and Germany) and in other parts of Asia including China.
Suntory designated more than 20 Madrid System members – including countries where they planned to launch in the future – in their original Madrid System application for the “ROKU” trademark. They have steadily expanded the scope of protection into new Madrid System members as the business has grown.
The Japanese craft vodka “HAKU” was launched in 2018. Like “ROKU”, it was developed in collaboration with Beam Suntory Inc. “HAKU” is made with 100% carefully selected Japanese rice, using a unique and patented filtration technology that retains the flavor of the original ingredients while maintaining the characteristic mixability of vodka. The name “HAKU” (“white, brilliant and pure”) expresses the white rice (hakumai) ingredient as well as the clean brilliance of the notion of “pure white” (junpaku). Like “ROKU”, “HAKU” was launched globally, using the Madrid System for protection.
The Madrid System is a great instrument for acquiring trademark rights internationally. In recent years, more and more countries in Southeast Asia—one of Suntory’s target areas—have acceded to the Madrid Protocol, making the Madrid System even more convenient to use.
The Madrid System can help large or small- to medium-sized business alike expand and manage their brands efficiently in the global market.
Suntory has been trusting the Madrid System for over twenty years, the two working hand-in-hand to help the company keep expanding into new markets. The results today show how the Japanese company has successfully followed their premises and never given up on their dreams.