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National Patent Application in Japan

Q. Is it possible to file a patent application in Japan with an English specification?

A.  A valid filing date in Japan can be obtained by filing English versions of a specification (including claims and description), an abstract and drawings (if any) together with a duly filled-out application form (in Japanese language).  However, Japanese translations of the English specification etc. must be filed within 1 year and 2 months from the filing date or, if the Japanese application claims the convention priority, from the priority date.  Failure to do so results in the application being deemed to be abandoned.

Appeal against the Decision for Rejection

Q1. We understand that an Appeal can be filed against the Decision for Rejection.  What are the steps necessary for filing an Appeal?

A1.  Firstly, a Notice of Appeal, which is a formal document requesting the initiation of Appeal Proceedings, is filed by the deadline which is three months (for Applicants residing in Japan) or four months (for foreign Applicants) from the dispatch date of the Decision for Rejection. 

Further, any amendment  (if any) must be filed simultaneously with the filing of the Notice of Appeal.  (In the case of patent applications filed on or before March 31, 2007, divisional applications can be filed only simultaneously with the filing of the Notice of Appeal.  In the case of parent patent applications filed on or after April 1, 2007, divisional applications can be filed either before, simultaneously with or after the filing of the Notice of Appeal as long as it is before the expiration of the above-mentioned deadline for filing the Notice of Appeal.)  With respect to the amendment, please note that there is a restriction to the permissible claim amendments.  Please see section “Restriction to Permissible Claim Amendments after Final Rejection” for more details.

Next, any arguments, reference materials and/or experimental reports are filed as an Appeal Brief (i.e., Reasons for Appeal).  The Appeal Brief can be filed either simultaneously with the Notice of Appeal or after the filing of the Notice of Appeal.  When the Appeal Brief is not filed with the Notice of Appeal, the due date for filing the Appeal Brief will be set by the Japan Patent Office, and it is usually about 2 months from the filing date of the Notice of Appeal.

Q2. Is it possible to obtain any extension of deadline for filing the Notice of Appeal or the Appeal Brief?

A2.  No.  The deadlines for filing a Notice of Appeal and an Appeal Brief are non-extensible

Q3. Is it possible to submit new experimental data in the appeal stage?

A3.  Yes.  Any experimental data can be filed together with the Appeal Brief except that effectiveness of data may vary depending on the purpose of the data.

Submission of data for demonstrating novelty and/or inventive step of an invention over prior art is effective if the data itself is appropriate for this purpose; whereas data submitted at the appeal stage cannot compensate for the lack of enabling disclosure or lack of support in the specification, and such data are usually dismissed as late filed.

The Japanese patent system does not allow for applicants to establish the enabling disclosure requirement and/or supporting disclosure requirement through later-filed evidence. That is, these requirements must be satisfied by the patent application as filed, and later-filed data for making up the deficiency in this respect will not be admitted by the JPO.

Q4. Is there an opportunity to file additional amendments and/or divisional applications after the filing of the Notice of Appeal?

A4.  Concerning additional amendments after the filing of the Notice of Appeal, such additional amendments are admissible only when the applicant responds to a Notice of Rejection which may or may not be issued in the appeal stage.   That is, the applicant may not be given any opportunity to file an amendment after the filing of the Notice of Appeal.  Therefore, it is safer to consider that the time of filing of the Notice of Appeal is substantially the last chance to file amendments.

On the other hand, as mentioned in A1 above, in the case of patent applications filed on or after April 1, 2007, divisional applications may be filed even after the filing of the Notice of Appeal as long as it is before the expiration of the deadline for filing the Notice, i.e., three months (for Applicants residing in Japan) or four months (for foreign Applicants) from the dispatch date of the Decision for Rejection.

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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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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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