NHK playing the name game


TOKYO -- A subsidiary of public broadcaster NHK has registered the name "Atsuhime," the title of a drama it plans to air next year, in an attempt to collect fees on the merchandise that often accompany popular dramas in Japan.

Atsuhime was the wife of Iesada Tokugawa, a 19th century Shogun who was responsible for treaties that opened Japan to the world after 150 years of isolation.

NHK Enterprises has trademarked the name "Atsuhime" and eight variations with the Japanese Patent Office, saying it will charge 3% royalties on any products that are sold using the name.

It lodged the application in July 2006, four days before announcing its plans for the drama. Since then, the Patent Office reports it has received 18 applications from firms in the Kagoshima area on the southern island of Kyushu, where the drama is set, to register products with names using "Atsuhime" or variations on it. An official from the Patent Office said all of them are likely to be rejected, along with any similar applications it receives in the future.

Kagoshima is famous for shochu, a spirit that can be made from barley, buckwheat or sweet potatoes. Many of the applications were from local shochu makers, most of whom are unhappy with NHK's actions.

NHK, which reported a profit of ¥23.4 billion ($195 million) in 2006, has been making waves recently among its commercial rivals for its more aggressive approach and some politicians have been calling for a cut in its viewer fees.