English to Japanese
Legal Translation Services
and Intellectual Property Rights in Japan

Japanese to English IP Translation Services

We’ve blogged about English to Japanese legal translation services in the context of intellectual property in Sweden and in Korea. Japanese law allows for the registration and protection of patents, trademarks and designs. The Japan Patent Office (JPO) has jurisdiction over this area of law. One registers patents, trademarks or designs with the JPO. An important note for foreign companies wishing to register a mark in Japan: unless one has a Japanese registered company one must complete the registration process via a Japan-based attorney.

In general, Japan enjoys one of the world’s most sophisticated intellectual property (IP) systems. In fact, the largest number of patents in the world are granted to the Japanese residents. More so, Japan’s IP system is comparable to the US system, both in procedure and filing fees (although examination and renewal fees can be slightly higher). However, the Japanese law requires that all registrations be completed in Japanese, which would require professional English to Japanese and Japanese to English translation services.

To further enhance its laws, Japan is developing an Intellectual Property Strategic Program that aims to provide more protections to the entire ‘Intellectual Creation Cycle’, including the creation, protection and utilization phases. This strategy is based on the idea that IP happens in a virtuous cycle that consists of the creation of IP (such as R&D and cultural activities), the protection of the IP activity’s fruits as intellectual property rights, and the utilization of these rights through commercialization. The reinvestment of these profits (from commercialization) for the further pursuit of creation thus results in a positive cycle of continuous innovation.

Overview of the Japanese Trademark Law

Like most developed countries, Japan utilizes the first to file rule for obtaining trademark rights, meaning the first person to file an application for a trademark will have priority over any prior user of that mark within Japan. As a general rule, if considering entering the Japanese market, one should immediately file an application for a trademark registration. Japan further offers additional protections to what are known as ‘well-known’ marks. Under this provision, if a trademark that is well-known in the US is filed by a third-party in Japan (in bad faith), then that trademark will automatically be deemed unregistrable. On the other hand, if the trademark is already well-known in Japan, then it can be automatically protected under the Unfair Competition Prevention Act regardless of whether it is registered or not.

In general, the Japanese IP system does not protect such non-traditional marks as sounds and smells, although three-dimensional marks have been protected since 1997. The country also has a requirement that all registered marks be regularly used and, if not used over a period of three or more consecutive years, their registration may be removed by the JPO.

Overview of the Japanese Patent Law

The Japanese IP law allows for the protection of two types of patents: normal (with a 20-year protection term) and utility (with a six year protection term, generally used for patents with lower levels of inventiveness). Although the general requirements for registering a patent are similar to the US law, it can be said that Japan has a more stringent process of examining files, meaning more effort has to be put into demonstrating inventiveness.

Overview of the Japanese Design Law

The Japanese IP law further allows for the protection of various designs, typically for a 15 year period following formal and substantive examinations to satisfy the novelty. Unlike other systems, Japan does not have an option for renewal of the design. More so, under the country’s Unfair Competition Prevention Act, all unregistered product designs may be protected within three years from the date of the first sale of the product within the Japanese market.

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