In 2011 Google’s acquisition of Motorola’s mobile device division made headlines for the high price that was paid. Apparently, Google was after Motorola’s patents and IP (intellectual property). Japan’s strong technology and content capabilities are essential prerequisites for international competitiveness, but alone are not enough. An IP strategy is crucial for advancing the globalization of its technology and content industries.
1. Make patent application procedures faster and more efficient
Speeding up patent application procedures will be vital for boosting Japan’s international competitiveness. If the examination process drags on and rights have not been awarded, companies will have to put the development of businesses based on the technologies they have developed on hold. It will therefore cause delays in the recovery of the capital they have invested in development. In 2010 the wait time until the commencement of the patent examination process averaged 28.7 months, and had been getting longer year by year. The Japan Patent Office responded by increasing its staff, expanding preliminary screenings by registration investigation organizations, and so on. As a result, the period until the start of the examination process was sped up to 1.9 months on average, provided that the fast-track examination application scheme was used.
Regarding the period from the commencement of the examination process until the award of rights, under Japan’s patent system, once an application is made, an examination is performed to decide whether to recognize a patent only if a request to do so is made within three years. As a result, the time taken, 29.6 months, from the application to the acquisition of rights is much longer than in other countries. The government has therefore declared that it will reduce the examination period to 14 months or less by 2023. Steady progress in achieving this goal is now required.
2. The government should strengthen IP protection through international cooperation and companies should adopt international standards
Amid fierce international competition, it will be essential to promote international harmonization of patent systems through cooperation with overseas patent offices. It will also be especially important to strengthen measures to tackle counterfeit products in Asian countries.
In addition, Japan will need to select and focus on fields in which it possesses superior technology, and with an “all Japan” approach (i.e. one involving government, industry, and academia) international standards will need to be adopted. The government must provide comprehensive support for international standardization initiatives. This will include not just conventional “de jure standards” set by public standard-setting organizations, but also “forum standards” set by international forums comprising companies involved with specific technologies. An example of a forum standard was the DVD standard.
3. Establish a copyright system that’s suited for the Internet era
Copyrights such as TV dramas, animated movies, music, and books were established in a world before the Internet. The current copyright system overly protects “existing markets that are in decline.” This “shrinking-oriented” legal framework not only impoverishes the domestic content industry as a whole, but also prevents new platforms, such as the iPad, which excites users worldwide, emerging from Japan.
Going forward, rights will be need to be clarified based on the existence of the Internet. The establishment of a copyright system that enables various types of content to be distributed online will lay the foundations for the emergence from Japan of content industries that are globally competitive.
4. Create an environment in which intellectual property is created by startups, SMEs, universities, etc. in large quantities
Following the example of Euglena, a famous startup from the University of Tokyo, it will be necessary to create a cycle in which universities and startups create large quantities of IP that is then used to create new industries.
Japanese universities already have strong track records in R&D. The algae technology of the aforementioned Euglena is the result of research performed over many years by the University of Tokyo in collaboration with organization such as the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. To turn the “knowledge” found in universities into innovation, i.e. to commercialize it, initiatives that bring universities and startups together will be important.