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The Japanese patent office: exporting services to South East Asia


4th Mar 2013

The Japanese Patent Office (JPO) can now be chosen as the search and examination authority for international patent applications originating in a number of countries in south east Asia, including the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, as well as Singapore and South Korea. More information is provided on the JPO website.

Background

Japanese manufacturers, especially those in the Electronic and Automotive sectors, have steadily been moving R&D and production facilities into south eastern Asian countries, allowing them to benefit from lower local production costs, mitigate against the high Yen, and shorten the distance to local export markets. Although China has long been the favoured partner in this outflow of Japanese investment, rising wage costs in China and recent tensions between the two countries have made other locations increasingly attractive. As a result, Japanese R&D has also been making investment in-roads into countries such as South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore (the NIE 3 countries) as well as Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia (the ASEAN 4 countries). With increasing R&D investment, patent applications tend to follow.

Japanese regulators have therefore been giving thought to the problem of capturing intellectual property generated at overseas R&D facilities staffed with both Japanese and local inventors. The solution is to allow applicants filing international applications at their local patent offices to use the services of the JPO for the international search and examination, before making applications in other countries.

Future Tigers

The JPO is one of the big five patent offices (the others being the European Patent Office, the US Patent Office, the Chinese Patent Office, and the Korean Patent Office), and provides high quality search and examination services. Allowing international patent applicants in the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore (and Korea – itself one of the big five), to benefit from the JPO search and examination facilities is expected in the long run to further stimulate industry and investment. The JPO’s own aim is “to create a framework in which applicants in ASEAN and emerging countries will be able to obtain stable patent rights in emerging and other foreign countries”, in other words to encourage national applicants to invest and develop markets elsewhere.

According to WIPO statistics, Japan and South Korea have the highest number of International applications per GDP and per capita. What is interesting is that at the same time as many Japanese companies report stiff competition from countries like South Korea, the IP system, in this case championed by the JPO, is working towards cooperation between those same countries.

An old Japanese saying states that you can only catch a tiger cub by daring to enter the tiger’s lair (the Western version somewhat more prosaically refers to eggs and omelettes!).  It will be especially interesting to see in the next decade if the cooperation between the JPO and the patent offices of other Asian countries produces a new generation of economic tigers!

This article is for general information only. Its content is not a statement of the law on any subject and does not constitute advice. Please contact Reddie & Grose LLP for advice before taking before any action in reliance on it.

Author
Nick Reeve
Partner
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