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Japan to Launch Drastic Reforms


On January 10, 2002, the National Forum for Intellectual Property Strategy ("Forum") issued a report calling for an immediate and drastic change of intellectual property systems in Japan. The Forum, consisted of 11 members and 6 staffing people, is a non-profit, non-governmental organization headed by Mr. Hisamitsu Arai, former commissioner of the Japanese Patent Office. While appealing the need for an extensive overhaul of the existing systems, the Forum proposes, in its 59-page long report, 100 items for prompt intellectual property-related reforms in the fields of university, education, private business, public service, diplomacy, law-making and judicial system. With a recognition that strengthening the national intellectual property scheme is a key to the survival of Japanese industry faced with global competition, the Forum emphasizes the need of strong political leadership.

A month later, Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi announced in his policy speech to the National Diet that he would establish an IP strategy committee within the cabinet. The committee was formed in mid-February, consisting of major cabinet members and outstanding business leaders and university professors. The first meeting was held on March 20, where members discussed desirable forms of intellectual property systems to enhance the international competitiveness of Japanese industries.

At the same time, the Cabinet Office, one of the ministerial departments responsible for science and technology, organized a study group of experts on intellectual property issues. The group held the first meeting in March 2002. After a series of discussion, the group will submit a report within a few months for policy-making and legislation. It is highly likely that the IP strategy committee will hear from the expert group about the scheme to be introduced as a national IP policy. Mr. Arai, chair of the Forum, has already been appointed as a member of the IP strategy committee and a member of the expert group.

In its final report, the Forum proposes a number of specific changes which may significantly affect the practice of technology transfer from university. For example, the report emphasizes the necessity of deregulation and law amendment thereby to allow university-affiliated TLOs to freely engage in the transfer of university inventions. Such reform, the report says, will transform universities into sources of many basic and value-added inventions, and of new venture business for effective commercialization.

The Forum report also includes many proposals relating to the Japanese Patent Office. For example, the Forum suggests the use of scientific doctorate degree holders as assistants for sweeping out the piled-up files and speeding up examination. Hiring them temporarily or permanently as assistants to or even as examiners will improve examination in quality and speed. It will also create jobs for scientists and engineers with highest scientific degrees.

On the enforcement aspect, the Forum proposes the establishment of a special court for intellectual property cases as well as a quick review of intellectual property litigation. The Ministry of Economic and Industry has recently released that the government considers necessary law amendments to provide a first instance court with powers to judge the validity of a patent as well as infringement and damages. Under the current law, the Patent Office is the only venue for review of patent validity.

The Forum is now preparing an English version of the report, which will be available through the Internet at the address: http://www.smips.jp/.

(By Jinzo FUJINO; Published in the LES Japan's Newsletter "WINDS from Japan" April 2002)

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