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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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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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