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Exceptions to Lack of Novelty of Invention

Q1. We understand that Japan has a grace period for avoiding certain public disclosures from constituting prior art against a Japanese application.  How long is this grace period?

A1.  The grace period defined under Article 30 of the Japanese patent law (Exceptions to Lack of Novelty of Invention) is 6 months from the date of public disclosure.

Q2. What type of disclosures is capable of taking advantage of the Exceptions to Lack of Novelty of Invention in Japan?

A2.  According to current Article 30 of the Japanese patent law (effective as of April 1, 2012), virtually any disclosure, including “inventions made public at meetings and seminars, which are not academic conference designated by the Commissioner of the Patent Office, inventions made public on TV and radio, and inventions made public through sales”, are covered by the Exceptions to Lack of Novelty of Invention.  However, a patent publication is not a non-prejudicial disclosure.

Q3. Is the grace period applicable to scientific articles published on the web? 

A3.  The 6-month grace period is also applicable to electronic publications of scientific articles.  When a scientific article is published in the form of an electronic publication in advance to the publication in print, the 6-month grace period will start from the date of the electronic publication.  This rule applies not only to a free electronic publication, but also to an electronic publication which requires registered membership and/or purchase of the publication for accessing the electronic publication.

Q4. An invention has been published as a scientific article and a basic patent application has been filed in the US within 6 months from the publication of the scientific article.  Already 10 months have passed from the publication of the scientific article, but is it still possible to enjoy the benefit of the Japanese 6-month grace period by filing a Japanese patent application claiming the Paris convention priority from the basic US application filed within 6 months from the publication date? 

A4.  No.  Claiming of the Paris convention priority does not allow the filing date in Japan to date back for the purpose of grace period.  In other words, when a basic application is filed in other country within 6 months from the date of public disclosure, and a Japanese patent application claiming the convention priority from the basic application is filed after the expiration of the 6-months grace period, the Japanese patent application cannot enjoy the benefit of the grace period.

For receiving the benefit of the 6-month grace period in Japan, the Applicant must file within the 6-month grace period either one of the following applications:

   (1) Japanese national patent application*, or

   (2) PCT application designating Japan as one of the designated states. 

* Either a Japanese patent application or a PCT application claiming the convention priority from this Japanese patent application can be filed after the expiration of the grace period and still enjoy the benefit of the grace period.

Q5. What are the steps necessary for obtaining the benefit of the Japanese 6-month grace period?  

A5.  Necessary steps are explained separately for Japanese national patent application and PCT application.

Japanese national patent application:

A patent application is filed simultaneously with a Request for Grace Period within 6 months from the date of public disclosure.  Alternatively, the Request may be omitted by stating such effect in the patent application.

Next, a Document Verifying the Request, which is signed by all applicants, is filed within 30 days from the filing date of the patent application.  Filing of a specific evidence material (such as a copy of the scientific article disclosing the invention) is not required, but it is most advisable to file the evidence material with the Document.

PCT application designating Japan:

When a PCT application designating Japan as one of the designated states is filed within the 6 month grace period, such a PCT application will obtain the benefit of the grace period even when the PCT application enters the Japanese national phase after the expiration of the grace period (i.e., within non-extensible 30 month deadline).  In this case, both the Request for Grace Period and the Document Verifying the Request are filed within 30 days from the entry into the Japanese national phase. 

[Filing of the Request for Grace Period can be omitted when “Declaration as to Non-Prejudicial Disclosures or Exceptions to Lack of Novelty” (PCT Rule 4.17(v), 26ter.1) is made at the international stage.]

The Document Verifying the Request can be prepared at our end and forwarded for execution by the applicant(s). 

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Utility Models

Q1. What are the differences between a patent and a utility model in Japan? 

A1.  The utility model system in Japan like in other countries having this system is for protecting minor innovations which are often called “small inventions”.

The distinct features of the utility model system are:  

     that a utility model registration is only for protecting “devices” related to shape or construction of articles or combination of articles (in other words, other inventions, such as methods, chemical compounds and pharmaceuticals, cannot be protected under utility model act);

     that a utility model is registered without substantive examination; and

     that a duration of a registered utility model is only 10 years from the filing date of the utility model application.

Differences between a patent and a utility model are summarized in the following Table.

  Patent Utility Model
Subject of protection Devices, methods, chemical compounds, etc. Devices related to shape or construction of articles or combination of articles (Methods, chemical compounds, etc. cannot be protected)
Application documents required Specification including Claims and Abstract; and, if any, Drawing(s) (optional) Specification including Claims and Abstract; and Drawing(s) (not omissible)
Substantive examination Request for Examination must be filed within 3 years from the filing date No substantive examination; Registered when basic formal requirements are fulfilled
Time period required for registration Possibly, several years from filing of the Request for Examination About 4-6 months from the filing date
Duration of protection 20 years from the filing date (may be extended in some cases) 10 years from the filing date (non-extensible)
Enforcement of right Enforceable based on granted patent Report of Utility Model Technical Opinion” is necessary for enforcing the utility model right

 

Q2. What is a “Report of Utility Model Technical Opinion”?

A2.  The Report of Utility Model Technical Opinion is an assessment report about the registrability (novelty, inventive step, etc.) of a utility model application or a registered utility model.  This report is prepared by an Examiner of the Japan Patent Office upon request and payment of official fees.  Anyone (that is, not only the Applicant of the utility model, but also any third party) can validly file a request for the Report.

As explained in item “A1” above, a utility model is registered without a substantive examination.  In this connection, for an owner of a utility model to enforce the utility model right against an infringer, firstly, a warning accompanied by the Report of Utility Model Technical Opinion must be sent to the infringer.  Therefore, the above-mentioned Report is necessary for instituting an infringement suit in Japan.

Q3. Is it possible to convert a patent application into a utility model application?

A3.  Yes.  Conversion of a patent application into a utility model application is allowed if an appropriate step is taken within 3 months (for Applicants residing in Japan) or 4 months (for Applicants residing outside Japan) from the mailing date of the Decision for Rejection, or within nine years and six months from the filing date of the patent application, whichever expires earlier.  Such a converted utility model application is entitled to the benefit of the filing date of the original patent application, and the original patent application is deemed to be withdrawn.

Q4. Is it possible to convert a utility model application into a patent application?

A4.  Yes.  Conversion of a utility model application (or a registered utility model resulting therefrom) into a patent application is allowed if an appropriate step is taken within 3 years from the filing date of the utility model application.  However, it should be noted that such conversion is not allowed after the applicant (or an assignee) has filed a request for the above-mentioned Report of Utility Model Technical Opinion, or after a 30-day period has passed from the date of a first official notice advising that a third party has filed a request for the Report of Utility Model Technical Opinion.  Such a converted patent application is entitled to the benefit of the filing date of the original utility model application, and the original utility model application is deemed to be withdrawn.  (Such a converted patent application cannot be converted back into a utility model application.)

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