Japanese IP Translation Services

Overview of Japanese Patent Law and the
First-to-File Rule

Japanese to English Patent Translation Services

There is a growing need for Japanese to English patent translation services. Japanese patent law protects inventions, defined as ‘highly creative technological ideas utilizing laws of nature’. Under this definition, the patent law’s jurisdiction protects such sectors as mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, electronics, biotechnology, computer programs and even business methods and processes.

All applications for a patent must be filed in Japanese or with a Japanese translation from a foreign language. Once received, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) examines the application utilizing a ‘first-to-file’ process. Essentially this means that if more than one person files a patent application for the same invention, only the first one to file the application will be awarded the patent.


Japanese patent law protects inventions, defined as ‘highly creative technological ideas utilizing laws of nature’. Under this definition, the patent law’s jurisdiction protects such sectors as mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, electronics, biotechnology, computer programs and even business methods and processes.

The first step in applying for or claiming a patent infringement is to determine an idea’s patentability. According to Japanese law, a patent is available only for such inventions that:

  • Satisfies the standards of industrial applicability, novelty and inventive step, and
  • Is not identical to any invention described in any application that had been filed prior to the application for the patent and disclosed in Japan’s official Patent Gazette after the application for the patent.

In order to satisfy the ‘industrial applicability’ standard, the invention must be utilized and exploited in industrial activities (ie, if it is utilized only in experimental or scientific activities, it cannot qualify for a patent). Further, the ‘novelty standard’ requires an invention to have a novelty at the time of filing the application and thus cannot be publicly known, publicly used or disclosed in a printed publication or available through electronic communications lines. However, if it loses its novelty as a result of experiment, voluntary disclosure in a printed publication or through electronic lines or at a study meeting for presentation by the person holding the right to obtain the patent, the invention may maintain its qualification for patent for six months following the incident.

In terms of the ‘inventive step standard’, a patent is not possible if, at the time of the filing, the invention could have easily been invented from prior art by a person having ‘ordinary skill in the pertinent art’. As this is relatively broad, the courts have supplemented it with numerous decisions that establish general guidelines. For example, it is generally considered that the inventive step standard is not satisfied by any collection or combination of prior art, replacement of materials in prior art, or change or limitation of numbers, conditions or shapes in prior art that fails to have unexpected effect.

Japanese law further states that any person who acquired the rights to patent the invention from the inventor or their successor also has the rights to file a patent application for the invention. Further, the law also allows employers to acquire the rights from their employee to patent for inventions created within the scope of their employment (i.e., in relation to their duties to the employers) so long as ‘reasonable consideration under the work rules or any other agreement with their employees’ is offered.

Foreign companies or individuals seeking a Japanese patent, if they have already filed a patent application in another Paris Convention Treaty country (PCT) will enjoy the benefit having the first filing date recorded in any of the these PCT countries for 12 months from the date with regard to the application for the Japanese application.

Contact our legal translation company www.languagealliance.com to obtain professional English to Japanese translation, and for other online multilingual translation services.

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