Every year, the Japan Patent Office releases a thorough report, the ‘’JPO Status Report’,’ on recent intellectual property developments and trends in Japan and an overview of global intellectual property trends across the IP5 Oces.
This report is based around several segments which include reports on IP trends and examinations, trials and appeals, and international initiatives, but also JPO support measures and recent law amendments. We hereby outline the principal takeaways from this report.
1. Key figures in IP Protection in Japan
A. Newly filed patent applications in Japan continue to drop.
Patent applications led at the JPO decreased for the third time in a row, which symbolizes the crystallization of a trend which started back in 2001.
According to the JPO Status Report 2021, patent applications led in Japan dropped by 6.3%, from 307,969 newly led applications in 2019 to 288,472 newly led applications in 2020. This trend originates from a decline in the number of patent applications led by domestic Japanese applicants for over a decade. This constant decrease may be justied by the shift in IP strategy from a quantitative focus towards a qualitative one, as well as revision of budget allocation in the context of accelerated globalization.
B. Slight increase in international patent applications in Japan.
While domestic applications continue to shrink, conversely the number of international patent applications newly led at the JPO continues to grow. According to the JPO Status Report 2021, international patent applications led in Japan showed a slight increase of 1%, from 66,968 led applications in 2019 to 67,634 led applications in 2020. This marks a continuation of a ten-year-plus trend of increasing numbers of led patent applications in Japan by international corporations. As for the origin of PCT applications, the majority of cases are led by Japanese companies (26,963 applications) followed by companies from the U.S. (14,656 applications) and companies from China (5,330 applications). Nevertheless, China and the U.S. outperform Japan in reference to top ranking countries with most led PCT applications in 2020. In fact, China holds rst place in PCT lings since 2019 with 68,720 PCT applications led last year while 56,982 PCT applications were led at the USPTO and 49,314 PCT applications in Japan in the same year. Despite benetting from a general increase in globally led applications, the Japan Patent Oce diversied measures to both attract a wider community of applicants and facilitate the IP protection experience in Japan for non-Japanese entities. Among such measures can be found the shortening of prosecution time, patent cost reductions, and the supply of English materials.
C. Newly filed Utility Model applications in Japan unexpectedly increased.
After seven years of gradual decline and growing unpopularity, the number of newly led utility models in Japan increased by 14.8%, from 5,241 newly led utility model applications in 2019 to 6,018 in 2020. Two explanations can be given to justify this sudden increase: in view of the present tight economic situation, some applicants decided to opt for utility models. Indeed, utility models are a strategic choice for companies with the desire to save costs or get fast IP rights protection. One must remain cautious, as utility models also have disadvantages such as vulnerability to invalidation due to the lack of examination. Another possibility can be that Chinese applicants who are ling a big number of utility model applications in China increased their applications in Japan. The vast majority of utility model applications originates from Japanese companies (73%) followed by Chinese (13%) as well as Taiwanese companies (10%).
2. Key trends in IPR Enforcement in Japan
A. The number of opposition proceedings in Japan remains stable with around 1,000 cases every year.
After being suspended in 2003 to conserve a single system for invalidation patents, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) reintroduced Patent Opposition Proceedings in 2015 to any third party interested in revoking a patent within 6 months following its publication. This measure was in line with the idea that invalidation proceedings were sucient. However, from 2003 to 2015, the number of led nullity actions remained below expectations even well after the abolition of the opposition system. The stable number of nullity action proceedings in Japan may be explained by the fact that the use of a straw man is not allowed (which is allowed under opposition proceedings) and that the incurred costs for ling a nullity action are higher than those of opposition proceedings.
Five years after the reintroduction of oppositions, the number of led oppositions has stabilized at around 1,000 cases per year. We can observe that the number of oppositions led has substantially dropped compared to that under the old system, which saw an average of 4,450 cases led per year. The reason for this is believed to be a surprisingly low success rate of oppositions: in recent years, below 10% of opposed patents ended up being invalidated after opposition proceedings were concluded.
B. The number of led nullity actions slightly increased.
A slight increase can be noticed in the number of newly led Nullity Actions at the Japan Patent Office. Despite this small change, a general decreasing trend has been observed over the last couple of years. Indeed, 121 cases were led at the JPO in 2020, in contrast to 269 cases in 2011, which corresponds to a 55% drop. The reintroduction of the Opposition system, bringing a new way to invalidate a patent without identity disclosure, combined with a deterioration of success rate in nullity actions proceedings, play a signicant role in this overall trend. However the success rate of nullity actions was higher than ten years ago with 61.5% of disputed patents partly revoked in 2005 in contrast to 23.0% in 2019. As a result, given the high cost of invalidation proceedings, plaintiffs may be more reluctant to commit to a signicant investment due to the uncertainty of the outcome.
3. Overview of IP Trends at the IP5 Offices
A. The number of newly led patent applications worldwide has stabilized.
After over a decade of structural growth, the number of patent applications led worldwide has stabilized at around 3,200,000 applications per year. The number of newly led patent applications worldwide has skyrocketed by 61.4% in nine years; 1,997,000 newly led applications worldwide in 2010 and 3,224,000 in 2019. While the need to protect innovations has gained prominence among corporations worldwide, the explosion of led patent applications in China also plays a signicant role in the observed trend. Indeed, patent applications led at the CNIPA grew by 72.0% in less than ten years; from 391,000 newly led applications in 2010 to 1,401,000 newly led applications in 2019. The trend however seems to be reversed from 2019.
B. The number of registered patents worldwide continues to increase.
Similarly, the portion of registered patents continues to grow worldwide. The number of granted applications worldwide soared by 64.0% in nine years; 915,000 newly granted applications worldwide in 2010 and 1,501,000 in 2019. This signicant rise can be explained by the easing of patent requirements by Patent Offices as well as the increase in assistance to applicants through simplied proceedings. As an example, the number of registered patents has increased by 253% from 2010 to 2019 at the CNIPA, by 165.4% at the EPO, by 121.1% at the KIPO and by 112% at the USPTO during the same period.
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