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Welcome to the website of Inoue & Associates

Introductory Statement

Inoue & Associates (located within 1 minute walk from the Japan Patent Office) is an intellectual property (IP) firm having more than 35 years of experience in international IP business.

We are a modest-sized IP firm composed of members each having profound knowledge about the legal aspect of IP and the technologies involved therein as well as excellent skill in actual IP practice, such that high quality services can be offered constantly at a reasonable price.  Each one of our staff members is so trained as to be able to always provide high quality IP-related services including production of documents having a clear and logical construction whether they are in English or Japanese and irrespective of urgency or technical difficulties involved in particular cases.

Over the years, we have built up a solid reputation for our ability to efficiently acquire and protect IP rights in Japan.

We are confident that we can provide higher quality IP services than any other IP firms in Japan.


Features of Inoue & Associates

For acquiring and protecting patent rights, everything starts from the claims and specification of a patent application or a granted patent.  Whether a patent application can be granted with a desired protective scope or a granted patent can survive the challenge from a third party depends utterly on how good the claims and specification have been drafted in the first place.

Invalidation of patents, unexpectedly narrow scope of protection, defeat in infringement suit … all such undesired outcome could have been avoided only if the patent application had been better drafted. 

In the case of Japanese patent applications filed by non-Japanese entities, the claims and specification are usually translations from the non-Japanese texts of the first filed foreign applications or PCT applications. 

From this perspective, the translation of the patent claims and specification is actually more than just a translation and is practically tantamount to the preparation of a legal document which serves as a basis for seeking patent protection.  For this reason, the translation should be done with utmost care by IP professionals such as experienced patent attorneys or paralegals

And that is what we do and is not done by most of the IP firms in Japan

 

Problems related to traditional way of handling patent applications from outside Japan

In typical Japanese IP firms, applications from foreign clients are handled by a team of an IP professional (a patent attorney or a paralegal) and a translator. For example, the translation of a PCT specification for the Japan national phase entry is often carried out by one who is the least experienced in the IP firm or even by an outside translator.

The IP professions work on legal matters based on the translations prepared by translators which are not always so good or of a rather poor quality in many cases. This manner of handling patents is disadvantageous not only from the aspect of efficiency but also from the aspect of cost because poor translations of course make the entire procedure unnecessarily complicated and high translation fees are required even if the translations are not so good. Such inefficient and problematic practice as mentioned above has become customary because many Japanese IP professionals are not good at writing in English or even reading English documents, and the English-to-Japanese translations are generally assigned to beginners.

Consequently, many Japanese IP professionals have to rely on poor translations in their works, thus falling into a vicious cycle. It is not surprising even if patent applications from foreign clients are handled by those who do not fully understand what is disclosed in the original specification nor the clients’ instructions given in English during the prosecution of the application. For years, this has been a serious problem as far as the patent applications from outside Japan are concerned.

Our Solution

Such problems as mentioned above will never happen in the case of Inoue & Associates. Every one of our staff members has gone through very hard training and long actual experience to acquire ability to handle the IP cases alone from drafting patent specifications whether they are in Japanese or English to dealing with various procedures relating to patent applications or registered patents. We do not need and actually do not use any translator. Even in the case of foreign patent applications (in US, EP etc.) filed by Japanese applicants through our firm, the US or European patent attorneys often use our draft documents without any substantial change. That is, the documents drafted by Inoue & Associates as such are often submitted to the USPTO or the EPO.

There is no magic formula for acquiring good IP rights. This can be achieved only by hard work and skill obtainable through long and rich experience as always required in any fields for realizing high quality services.

Inoue & Associates is one of the very limited number of Japanese IP firms capable of constantly offering high quality IP services at a reasonable price. There has been and will be no compromise in the quality of services we provide to our clients and, for this very reason, we have been trusted by many foreign clients as well as domestic clients.

Our skill in IP business is highly esteemed by our clients including two famous Japanese professors emeriti, Dr. Nobuatsu Watanabe and Dr. Hidefumi Hirai, whose recommendations are shown in this web site. Further, if requested, we will be able to show you copies of some letters from various US and EP attorneys praising our abilities.

Our highly-skilled staff members will surely be of great help to your establishment of strong and valuable intellectual property portfolio while reducing cost.

If you are not sure, try us and we promise that we will never fall short of your expectations. You will immediately realize that we are dedicated to efficient acquisition and protection of your valuable intellectual properties and have skills to achieve this goal.

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Privacy Policy

We recognize and respect the importance of maintaining your privacy and as a result have established this Privacy Policy in accordance to which your privacy is protected.

In services such as query in which you may choose to voluntarily participate, we may request your personal information.

Your personal information will not be disclosed to any third party without your consent or knowledge unless we are obliged to do so (for instance where we are so required by the Official Authorities or Regulations or where we provide your name and address to a transportation company for sending you documents etc.).

Your personal information collected will be kept strictly confidential and handled with utmost care by our staff member appointed to supervise the management of such information. Please rest assured that your personal information is safely stored in a manner that makes it inaccessible to general users.

Grant Procedure

Q1. Decision to Grant has been issued.  When will the granted patent become public? 

A1.  The granted patent will become public in about 3 to 4 months after the payment of the issue fee.  The issue fee must be paid within 30 days from the issuance of the Decision to Grant.

Q2. Could a third party file an opposition against a granted patent?

A2.  There is no Opposition procedure in Japan.  However, any third party can file a Trial for Patent Invalidation against a granted patent at the Japan Patent Office.  This Trial can be filed any time, and there is substantially no time limit for filing the Trial.  (Under certain circumstances, the Trial for Patent Invalidation can be even filed after the expiration of the patent term.)

Third Party’s Statement

Q1. We would like to submit prior art information which may be used for rejecting a pending patent application.  What type of prior art materials is accepted at the Japan Patent Office? 

A1.  Only printed materials are to be accepted. 

Q2. After the filing of the Third Party’s Statement, do we get any feedback from the Patent Office or the Applicant of the contested patent application?

A2.  Upon request from the Party filing the Statement, the Japan Patent Office will inform the Party about the use or non-use of submitted materials in the Office Action issued against the contested patent application. 

However, the Party will not be informed about filing of any comments or arguments by the applicant of the contested patent application.  We can perform periodic file inspection of the contested patent application to watch for the filing of any comments or arguments against the Third Party’s Statement.

Q3. Is it possible to file a Third Party’s Statement anonymously?

A3.  Yes, but in this case, we cannot obtain any feedback from the Patent Office.  However, we can perform periodic file inspection of the contested patent application to watch for the issuance of the Office Action.

Q4. A Third Party’s Statement has been filed against our pending Japanese patent application.  Is it possible for an Applicant of the contested patent application to file an argument against the Third Party’s Statement?

A4.  Yes.  Any arguments and/or comments on a Third Party’s Statement can be filed in the form of a Written Statement at any time before the issuance of a final Decision (i.e., Decision to Grant or Decision for Rejection) by the Japan Patent Office.

 

 

 

Design Registration

Q1. If a design application is to be filed in Japan claiming Convention Priority based on a non-Japanese application, is the priority period one year as in patent applications? 

A1.  No. For filing design applications in Japan claiming Convention priority, the priority period is for six (6) months, instead of one year, from the filing of the priority application.  Even if you have a design "patent" application filed at the USPTO, the priority period is 6 months for filing a Japanese patent application with a valid priority claim based on the degisn "patent" application filed in the US.  

You also have to be careful when filing a patent application in Japan claiming priority from both a patent application and a design application.  That is, for example, if you filed in your country a patent application on May 1, 2012 and a design application on October 30, 2012 and are now considering filing a patent application on May 1, 2013 in Japan claiming priority from both of the above-mentioned patent application and design application filed in your country, this date “May 1, 2013” is within one-year priority period based on the patent application but is after the expiration of six-month priority period (October 30, 2012 + 6 months = April 40, 2013) based on the design application.  Therefore, the priority claim based on the design application is not valid.  

Q2. I am planning to file a design patent application in Japan claiming priority from a US design patent application.  What are the major differences in practice between the United States and Japan that require particular attention?

A2.  Firstly, unlike the “design patent” in the United States which is one type of patents and is basically dealt with under the patent law, Japan has a design law separate from a patent law. 

Therefore, in Japan, an application for registration of a design is referred to as “design application”, not “design patent application” as in the United States.  

More importantly, this difference in legal system leads to some significant differences in design registration practice between the US and Japan representative examples of which are enumerated below.

Difference 1)  “Single design per application” system in Japan

It is understood that the US system allows an applicant to pursue two or more designs (embodiments) of a single inventive concept in a single design patent application.  This, however, is not the case in Japan.  According to the Japanese practice, each design application may include only a single design of single shape.

Therefore, in Japan, when a single priority application includes multiple designs, it is necessary to either:

-  file separate design applications with respect to the different designs, or

-  file an application including different designs and later file a divisional application(s).

In this connection, however, it should be noted that it is not allowed to file a divisional application on a “partial” design from a “whole” design application and vice versa.  Concerning the “partial” and “whole” designs, explanations are made below.

Further, there is an exception to the "single design per application" system, and the Japan's Design Law provides "related design" system for covering a plurality of similar designs.

1-1) Exception to the “single design per application” rule

The Japan’s Design Law exceptionally allows for discrete objects to be claimed in a single application if common sense indicates that such discrete objects are usually sold as a “set”, as in the case of, for example, a 3-piece set including a knife, fork and spoon. 

1-2) Related design applications

In the case where the priority US application contains a plurality of different but similar designs (e.g., minor variations of a certain design), such similar designs may be covered by utilizing the related design system in Japan.  Specifically, the similar designs can be covered by filing a principal design application and filing a related design application(s) by one day prior to the publication of the principal design. 

The design registered as the related design can be enforced independently of the registered principal design and other registered related design(s).  That is, a related design right can cover even a design similar to that related design, which, however, is not similar to the principal design. 

For covering such similar designs under the related design regime, it is possible to either:

-  file a principal design application and also file a related design application(s) simultaneously with the principal application or later (by one day prior to the publication of the principal design at the latest), or

-  file general design applications on the similar designs, and later amend the general applications into a principal design application and a related design application(s).

The JPO may find that the designs are not similar enough to be eligible for registration under the related design regime but there is no need to be so nervous about this point.  If the JPO denies the similarity, the JPO will issue an office action requesting the applicant to stop relying on the related design system and change the applications to normal applications.

 

Finally, the right of a registered related design is independent from the right of a registered principal design but there are the following exceptions.

1.   Synchronized protection term: 

The protection term for both of a registered principal design and a registered related design is 20 years from the registration date of the principal design.  This point, however, is substantially immaterial in the present case because the two applications will probably be registered almost simultaneously.  Further, the registered related design can be maintained even if the principal design is allowed to lapse due to non-payment of maintenance fee, and vice versa.   

 2.   Restriction of transfer of rights and licensing: 

The right of a registered related design cannot be transferred or licensed independently from the registered principal design.  That is, for transfer of design rights to a third party by assignment etc., the principal and related designs must be simultaneously transferred together to the same entity.  Further, also for licensing, the principal and related designs must be licensed simultaneously to the same entity.

 

Difference 2)  Partial Design System

The Japan’s Design Law has a “partial design system” which allows registration of parts of shapes or forms with distinct characteristics.  

The US system also provides a similar practice where dotted lines can be used to indicate non-claimed parts.  There is, however, one important difference.  That is, the Japan’s system requires that a partial design application should be filed with a clear indication that the application claims a partial design.  In the absence of such indication, the application will be recognized as claiming a whole design. 

Once filed with the indication of a partial design application, it is in principle not allowed to amend the application into a whole design application and vice versa.  Similarly, a divisional application on a partial design cannot be filed from a whole design application and vice versa. 

Therefore, if it is important to cover both of whole and partial designs, it is recommended to file both a whole design application and a partial design application.

 

Of course, there are many other differences between US and Japanese practices; however, the above differences are believed to be the main differences which require particular attention when filing a design application in Japan claiminig priority from a US design patent application.

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Trademarks

Q1. If a trademark application is to be filed in Japan claiming Convention Priority based on a non-Japanese application, is the priority period one year as in patent applications? 

A1.  No. For filing a trademark application in Japan claiming Convention priority, the priority period is six (6) months, instead of one year, from the filing of the priority application. 

Q2. Are there any specific points to be noted for registering a trademark in Japan?

A2.  Some of the points to be noted for registering a trademark in Japan are as follows.

(1)  Goods and services acceptable in Japan:  In the case of trademark registration in Japan via Madrid protocol, the JPO may object to the indications of goods/services in the International Register as being too vague even if they should be acceptable under the NICE Agreement.  This is because the JPO relies on its own list of goods and services as prescribed in the examination standards.  For example, “Apparatus for locomotion by land, air or water” found in the NICE Classifications is not found acceptable by the JPO, and it should be amended to “Aircraft; automobiles; bicycles; motorcycles; rolling stock for railways; ships”.  The amendment of indications is possible as long as it is within the scope of the original Madrid protocol application. 

(2)  Requirement for use of trademark:  A registrable trademark in Japan is a trademark which is being used or which is intended to be used in the near future.  When the range of the goods and services listed in one class is too broad, the trademark will be rejected because the veracity of use or intention of use of the trademark becomes doubtful.

(3)  Registrable subject matter:  Currently, sounds, smells, colors, textures, tastes and movements are not registerable as trademarks in Japan.  (However, the JPO is planning to submit a bill to revise the trademark law to the Japanese Diet in 2013.  So, registration of the mentioned subjects as trademarks may become possible in the near future.)

Q3. Are there any means to accelerate examination of a trademark application in Japan?

A3. Yes.  A request for accelerated examination can be filed anytime after the filing of your trademark application, and the request should be granted as long as the following condition 1 or 2 is met .

Condition 1 : Actual use of trademark and need for quick registration 

You or your licensee is already using your trademark for the goods or services designated in your application, or are preparing to use the trademark, AND

The trademark rights need to be granted urgently due to any one or more of the following reasons:

   1) A third party is using a trademark which is the same or similar to your trademark without authorization from you or your licensee, in connection with designated goods or services that are the same or similar to the goods and services for which you or your licensee has been using the trademark, or for which you or your licensee has prepared to a considerable degree to use the trademark.

   2) A third party has given a warning with respect to the use of your trademark.

   3) A third party is demanding an agreement to their use of your trademark.

   4) You have also applied for the trademark registration at a Patent Office other than the Japan Patent Office (JPO), or to an intergovernmental organization.

Condition 2:  Use of trademark only for designated goods or services

Your application designates only the goods and services for which you or your licensee is already using the trademark or you or your licensee is preparing to use the trademark.

Q4. What are the documents necessary for filing a request for accelerated examination for a trademark application in Japan? 

A4.  A document entitled "Explanation of the Circumstances Concerning Accelerated Examination” should be filed together with evidence(s) showing that the above-mentioned Condition 1 or 2 is fulfilled by the trademark application. 

Q5. What are the specifics of the individual fee system for a trademark registration via Madrid Protocol designating Japan. 

A5.  The JPO has adopted an individual fee consisting of two parts in accordance with Rule 34(3)(a) of the Common Regulations under the Madrid Protocol.

First part of the individual fee:  This corresponds to an application fee, and is paid at the time of international registration or the subsequent designation. 

Second part of the individual fee:  This corresponds to a registration fee, and is paid within the prescribed period mentioned in the notification issued with the Notice of Grant.  Failure of payment results in cancellation of the designation of Japan in the international registration.

Both fees are to be paid directly to the International Bureau of the WIPO.

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