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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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Samples

The following is a list of some examples of US patents obtained through our firm.

We suppose that it might be rather difficult for most of the non-Japanese clients to evaluate the quality of our works done for Japanese IP rights.

For such non-Japanese clients, the US patents listed may be useful for evaluating our abilities. We always dedicate tremendous efforts to draft English claims and specifications properly. For example, in the case of PCT applications, we draft Japanese specifications for PCT based on Japanese patent applications which had often been prepared and filed through other Japanese IP firms or by Japanese applicants themselves.

We usually make considerable modifications to the original Japanese specifications and claims for filing PCT applications. Especially in the case where the basic Japanese application has not been filed through our firm, we thoroughly check the application and usually redraft the claims into a form which has more clear and logical construction and can cover a desired protective scope, and also redraft the specification by supplementing information necessary to enable the invention or information which might be useful in the later prosecution stage for overcoming possible rejections.

Therefore, it can be said that, in many cases, the US patents are our translations of the Japanese language PCT specifications drafted by our firm.

We sometimes ask US patent attorneys to check our drafts of English specifications, but they usually find that no substantial change is necessary.

In addition, during the prosecutions of the foreign patent applications, our draft responses (amendments and arguments) are usually submitted to the patent offices without any substantial changes or with only minor changes.

Consequently, we believe that the US patents listed here would be of great help for you to evaluate our skills in IP business.

The documents which we prepare have been highly esteemed by the foreign patent attorneys.

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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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Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH) Program

Q1. Is a prosecution under the Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH) program*1 available in Japan?

A1.  Yes.  The PPH programs have been implemented between the Japan Patent Office (JPO) and the Patent Offices of the following countries (as of August 2012):  Austria, Canada, China, Denmark, EPO, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Korea, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. 

The JPO also implements the PPH MOTTAINAI pilot program*2 with the following countries (as of August 2012):  Australia, Canada, EPO, Finland, Russia, Spain, United Kingdom, and United States.

*1 The PPH program is a framework in which a patent application with claims determined to be patentable by the Office of First Filing is eligible to go through an accelerated examination in the Office(s) of Second Filing, upon the applicant’s request.

*2 The PPH MOTTAINAI pilot program is a PPH program which enables an applicant to make PPH requests at the Office of Later Examination (OLE) by relying on the examination results of the Office of Earlier Examination (OEE), provided that the OEE and OLE have a PPH MOTTAINAI agreement.  In this program, OEE may not be the Office of First Filing, and accelerated examination can be filed based on the examination results of the Office(s) of Second Filing.

Q2. What are the documents necessary for filing a request for an accelerated examination under the PPH program in Japan?

A2.  Documents necessary for filing a request for an accelerated examination under the PPH program in Japan include:

(1)  Request for Accelerated Prosecution under PPH Program;

(2)  Amendment for bringing the Japanese claims in conformity with the claims allowed by the participating patent office other than the JPO (if necessary);

(3)  Table showing the relationship between the (amended) claims of the Japanese application and the allowed claims mentioned in (2);

(4)  All Office Actions issued by the participating patent office (omissible if available via an online file inspection sysmtem provided by the patent office);

(5)  Non-patent documents cited in the Office Action issued by the participating patent office (filing of patent documents is not required);

(6)  Copy of the allowed claims (omissible if available via an online file inspection system provided by the patent office); and

(7)  Japanese or English translations of documents (4) and (6) above when these documents are not in English.

Documents (1) to (3) must be prepared in Japanese.  Although some or all of the information included in items (4), (5) and (6) may be omitted, we usually request the applicant to provide us with such information since it is generally useful for preparing the Japanese language documents (1) to (3).

Q3. Is it possible to request an accelerated examination based on the PCT international work products?

A3.  The JPO has commenced the PPH programs based on the PCT international work products (PCT-PPH) on pilot basis.  According to current schedule (as of August 2012), this program will continue until January 28, 2014.  Participating in PCT-PPH (as of August 2012) are the following 14 countries and organizations: China, Denmark, the EPO, Finland, Iceland, Korea, Mexico, the Nordic Patent Institute, Norway, Philippines, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United States.

Under the PCT-PPH programs, an accelerated examination can be requested in Japan using search and examination results (namely, written opinion or international preliminary examination report (IPER)) established by the International Searching Authorities (WO/ISA) or International Preliminary Examining Authorities (WO/IPEA) of the above-mentioned countries or organizations when any one of the examination results indicate that at least one of the claims has novelty, inventive step and industrial applicability.

Detailed requirements for filing a request for PCT-PPH may vary depending on which country's ISA or IPEA has carried out search.  Therefore, please let us know if you are interested in PCT-PPH and need more information.

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