IP protection in Japan

You can register intellectual property (IP) rights in Japan for patents, trade marks and designs. 

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) is the government body responsible for registering IP protection. The JPO website also provides searchable trade mark, patent and design databases. Foreign businesses must file trade mark, patent and design applications through an attorney or agent based in Japan. 

Japan has a very sophisticated IP system. The highest number of patents granted worldwide originate from Japanese residents. 

In general terms, the registration process and protection of IP in Japan is similar to Australia. Filing fees are comparable, but examination and renewal fees tend to be more expensive. Businesses should also factor translation fees into the total cost of filing, as applications must be submitted in Japanese. 

Trade marks

  • Japan follows the first to file principle for obtaining trade mark rights. This means the first person to file a trade mark application will generally have priority over a prior user of the mark in Japan. When considering entry into the Japanese market, trade mark applications should therefore be filed as soon as possible.
  • Additional protections are afforded to well-known trade marks. If a trade mark that is well known in Australia is filed by a third party in Japan in bad faith, the trade mark is considered to be unregistrable. If a trade mark is well known in Japan, the mark can be protected under the Unfair Competition Prevention Act, even if it is not registered.
  • Protection for three-dimensional marks has been available in Japan since 1997. However, other non-traditional marks such as sounds and smells are not yet registrable.  
  • Trade mark registrations may be removed if they are not used over a period of three or more consecutive years after registration.
  • Japan Customs provide cross-border measures for the protection of registered trade marks.  

Patents

  • Two forms of patent protection are available in Japan: patents (equivalent to Australian standard patents) and utility models (for lower level inventions). Patents have a 20 year term, while utility patents have a six year term.
  • The requirements for granting a patent are similar to those in Australia and many other developed nations. However, the Japanese system is often more challenging to deal with as the examination process is typically very rigorous.
  • Certain types of subject matter cannot be patented in Japan.

Designs

  • Design protection is available for a 20 year period after formality and substantive examinations are satisfied. There is no renewal option.
  • Under the Unfair Competition Prevention Act, unregistered product designs may be protected within three years from the date of first sale of the product in Japan.
Last updated: 
22 March 2016