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After a five-year delay, the Japanese patent office has ruled in principle that the Idaho Potato Commission's "Grown in Idaho" trademarks can be registered in Japan.

Gov. Cecil Andrus got the news in a Feb. 25 letter from Michael Armacost, the U.S. ambassador to Japan. The trademark is expected to be formally registered this spring, following a public comment period in Japan."We are committed to dissolving obstacles to free trade of Idaho goods and services wherever we encounter them," Andrus said.

He called on the Japanese patent office last fall to end the delays and promptly register the Idaho trademarks, and at the same time asked the U.S. Embassy in Japan for help.

Five months later, the trademark application cleared its biggest hurdle.

Registration of the trademarks is important to the Idaho Potato Commission's efforts to develop the Japanese market, where over $30 million of Idaho potato products already are sold each year.

Japan also bought $43 million of Idaho wheat and $327 million of merchandise exports in 1990. Japan is Idaho's largest foreign market, with that nation's buyers purchasing about 43 percent of Idaho exports.

Idaho is working with the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo to persuade Japan to modify its regulations prohibiting the entry into Japan of fresh potatoes. Andrus called the rules "simply non-tariff barriers to trade masquerading as phytosanitary regulations."