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FAQ - Japan

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For more specific legal questions relating to the Japanese patent system, please contact International_legal_affairs@epo.org.


Questions

General information about patents in Japan

From filing to grant

Sources of information

After grant

Answers

General information about patents in Japan


What types of industrial property rights exist in Japan?

Japan has patents, utility models, designs and trade marks. Applications for all of these can be filed with the Japan Patent Office (JPO).

Japan Patent Office

If you require a more detailed answer, please send us your question using the contact form.


How long are the terms of protection of Japanese patents and utility models?

Before 1 July 1995, the term of a Japanese patent was "15 years from the date of examined publication but not in excess of 20 years from the filing date". On I July 1995, this was changed to "20 years from the filing date". This also applies to all patents already in force on 1 July 1995.

Before 1994, the term of a Japanese utility model was "10 years from the date of examined publication but not in excess of 15 years from the filing date". In 1994, this was reduced to six years from the application date. On 1 April 2005, however, the Japanese utility model law was revised, increasing the term of utility models to 10 years from the application date. The new 10-year term applies to all utility models filed on or after 1 April 2005.

If you require a more detailed answer, please send us your question using the contact form.


What inventions cannot be patented in Japan?

According to the Japan Patent Act and the JPO's Examination Guidelines for Patents, the following items are not patentable in Japan:

  • any invention that is liable to injure public order, morality or public health
  • laws of nature
  • scientific discoveries
  • inventions not using the laws of nature (e.g. economic laws, mathematical methods etc.)
  • inventions contrary to a law of nature
  • arbitrary arrangements (e.g. rules for playing a game)
  • mental activities
  • personal skills
  • mere presentation of information
  • aesthetic effects (e.g. paintings, carvings)
  • methods for medical treatment of the human body

For more information, see the Japan Patent Act and the JPO's Examination Guidelines for Patents and Utility Models.

Japan Patent Act (unofficial English translation)

JPO's Examination Guidelines for Patents and Utility Models

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Can computer software be patented in Japan?

Yes. Since the 2002 amendment to Article 2(3) of the Japan Patent Act, computer programmes are deemed to be product inventions.

Japan Patent Act (unofficial English translation)

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Is Japan a member of the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT)?

Yes. Japan joined the PCT on 1 October 1978. Since then, it has been possible to designate Japan in international patent applications filed via the PCT route.

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From filing to grant


As a foreign applicant, do I need to appoint a professional representative in Japan?

Yes. If you do not have a residential or business address in Japan, you must appoint a professional representative registered before the patent office to represent you.

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What language must I use for a patent application in Japan?

The option to file patent applications in English has been available to applicants since 1 July 1995. A Japanese translation must be filed with the Japan Patent Office (JPO) within 14 months (prior to April 2007: two months) of the date of filing.

If you require a more detailed answer, please send us your question using the contact form.


Can I claim priority for an application filed in Japan?

Yes. The priority period is 12 months from the earliest priority claimed, as stipulated in the Paris Convention. Japan has been a member of the Paris Convention since 15 July 1899.

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What do I need to do to get an early filing date in Japan?

It is not (yet) possible to file provisional specifications in Japan. This means that you will need to file the complete specification to get a filing date.

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Does Japan allow divisional applications?

Yes. In Japan, if your application comprises multiple inventions you may divide it into two or more applications. However, the scope of the descriptions and drawings of the divisional applications may not extend beyond that of the original application.

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Are Japanese patents and utility models subject to substantive examination?

Japanese patents are subject to a prior art search and a substantive examination for novelty, inventive step and industrial applicability. Utility models undergo a preliminary examination (compliance with formal requirements) only.

If you require a more detailed answer, please send us your question using the contact form.


How soon after filing an application in Japan do I need to file a request for examination?

You should submit this request within three years of the date of filing or (for PCT applications) the international filing date. It is also possible to request accelerated examination on certain specific grounds.

If you require a more detailed answer, please send us your question using the contact form.


Can I request that my application in Japan be published earlier than 18 months from the filing/earliest priority date?

A 1999 amendment to the Japanese patent law, which became effective on 1 January 2000, introduced an "early publication" system in Japan. Under this early publication system, an applicant may request that his patent application be laid open for public inspection within 18 months from the application date (or in cases where a priority or domestic priority is claimed, 18 months from the earliest priority date). Such early publication may be of interest for provisional protection or for claiming compensation from an infringing third party.

If you require a more detailed answer, please send us your question using the contact form.


Can I submit third-party observations on a Japanese patent application?

Yes. According to the Regulations under the Japan Patent Act, Article 13bis, any person may submit information at any time after a patent application or an application for a utility model is filed, or after the grant of a patent or utility model.

If you require a more detailed answer, please send us your question using the contact form.


When is the first office action usually issued in Japan?

According to the JPO's Annual Report 2009, the average time from the request for examination to the first office action currently stands at 28.5 months (2007: 26.7 months, 2006: 25.6 months).

If you require a more detailed answer, please send us your question using the contact form.


What is the time limit for responding to official actions in Japan?

In Japan there is a time limit of three months for responding to official actions (except for those relating to formal requirements only). It is also possible to apply for a three-month extension of the time limit. The same time limit applies to replies in opposition cases or responses in court cases.

For official actions relating to formal requirements, the time limit for filing a reply is 30 days (no extension possible).

If you require a more detailed answer, please send us your question using the contact form.


Can I apply for a patent and a utility model at the same time in Japan?

No, this is not possible in Japan.

If you require a more detailed answer, please send us your question using the contact form.


Can Japanese utility models be converted into patents?

Yes. An application for a utility model registration may be converted into a patent application within three years from the date of filing of the application for the utility model registration.

If you require a more detailed answer, please send us your question using the contact form.


Sources of information


Where can I search Japanese patent information in English?

You can search this information on the English web pages of the Industrial Property Digital Library (IPDL) provided by the Japan Patent Office. The IPDL offers English-language databases for all major intellectual property rights, English abstracts for Japanese patent applications, basic legal status information and English machine translations. See also our step-by-step guides to searching on the IPDL.

Industrial Property Digital Library (IPDL)

Searching databases - Japan

If you require a more detailed answer, please send us your question using the contact form.


Where can I find English abstracts of Japanese patent documents?

You can find English abstracts of Japanese patent documents (Japan Patent Abstracts, JPA) on the website of the JPO's Industrial Property Digital Library (IPDL). The JPA include bibliographic information, the abstract and a representative drawing for Japanese unexamined patent publications from 1976 to date. Due to the translation work involved, the time delay between publication of an unexamined patent application in Japan and the availability of the corresponding PAJ abstract is approximately four months.

Industrial Property Digital Library (IPDL)

Information on Patent Abstracts of Japan

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Where can I get an English machine translation of a Japanese patent or utility model document?

The JPO's Industrial Property Digital Library (IPDL) provides a free machine translation tool which produces English machine translations of Japanese patent and utility model documents.

Industrial Property Digital Library (IPDL)

Searching databases - Japan

If you require a more detailed answer, please send us your question using the contact form.


Where can I find legal status information on Japanese patents in English?

You can find basic legal status information on Japanese documents free of charge via the Industrial Property Digital Library (IPDL) of the Japan Patent Office.  For each IP right, the IPDL offers a summary of the most important legal status events up to grant or refusal, in chronological order. You can find a step-by-step guide on how to retrieve legal status information in the IPDL on our website.

Industrial Property Digital Library (IPDL)

Searching in databases - Japan

If you require a more detailed answer, please send us your question using the contact form.


Where can I find official information about fees in Japan?

The official fees are listed in the fee schedule on the JPO website.

Fee schedule of the JPO

If you require a more detailed answer, please send us your question using the contact form.


Can I access the documents in the file of a Japanese patent application?

Yes. Japanese file histories are available for public inspection once an application has been published. The first publication of an application normally takes place 18 months after the application date (or in cases where a priority or domestic priority is claimed, 18 months after the earliest priority date). The public can access the file history either by doing a legal status search or by ordering a copy of the file wrapper.

Copies of file wrappers can be ordered from the Japan Patent Information Organization (Japio) via the EPO in Vienna.

File histories and the text of communications between the JPO and applicants dating from July 2003 onwards are available via the Japanese web pages of the JPO’s free Industrial Property Digital Library (IPDL).

Order file wrappers via the EPO

Industrial Property Digital Library (IPDL)

Searching databases - Japan

If you require a more detailed answer, please send us your question using the contact form.


Where can I find information about patent agents in Japan?

The website of the Japan Patent Attorneys Association provides detailed information on the role of patent attorneys and their services in English.

Japanese Patent Attorneys Association

If you require a more detailed answer, please send us your question using the contact form.


After grant


When do I have to pay annual fees in Japan?

In Japan the annual fees for the first three years have to be paid in a lump sum within 30 days of the decision to grant. Subsequent annual fees are payable yearly in advance. For patent applications filed up to January 1996 (pre-grant opposition system), annual fees are due for each year from the date of publication of the examined document. For those filed from January 1996 onwards (post-grant opposition system), they are due on the anniversary of the first payment.

If you require a more detailed answer, please send us your question using the contact form.


Is there a grace period for paying annual fees in Japan?

Yes. The grace period is six months from the expiry date of the original payment period, subject to payment of a surcharge.

If you require a more detailed answer, please send us your question using the contact form.


Can a lapsed patent be restored in Japan?

In Japan, if you miss both the deadline for payment of the annual fees and the six-month grace period, the patent lapses. However, if non-payment was due to reasons beyond your control, you have up to six more months from the lapse date in which you can have the patent restored, subject to payment of a penalty charge.

See also: Is there a grace period for paying annual fees in Japan?

If you require a more detailed answer, please send us your question using the contact form.


Can I request an extension of the patent term in Japan?

Yes. In Japan, supplementary protection certificates (SPCs) are known as "patent term extensions". In the pharmaceutical, veterinary and agrochemical fields, if an invention cannot be marketed until permission or registration under other laws and regulations has been obtained, multiple patent term extensions are possible, each up to a maximum of five years. Information about patent term extensions is available from the Japanese version of the Industrial Property Digital Library (IPDL), a free database provided by the Japan Patent Office (JPO).

An easy, step-by-step guide on how to find this information in the Japanese version of the IPDL can be found in the "Searching databases guide - Japan" on the EPO website.

Industrial Property Digital Library (IPDL)

EPO - Searching databases - Japan

If you require a more detailed answer, please send us your question using the contact form.


How can I challenge a granted patent in Japan?

Since 1 January 2004, the only way to challenge a patent in Japan has been via invalidation proceedings. Invalidation can be filed by anyone at any time after grant (including after the patent has expired) for one or more of the claims.

If you require a more detailed answer, please send us your question using the contact form.


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