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This article was originally published in The Tan Sheet

Executive Summary

JAPAN PATENT REVIEW TIME IS RELATED TO COMMERCIAL VALUE OF TECHNOLOGY for which a patent is being sought, the General Accounting Office concluded in a report released July 13. The average patent pendency in Japan is six to seven years, compared to 19 months in the U.S., and the time for review appears to be especially long for technology perceived to have a high commercial value, the report suggests. "Many [U.S.] company officials told us that it is particularly difficult to obtain patents on broad, commercially valuable technologies in Japan or on those that involve important new technologies," the report states. "More than four times as many companies viewed their ability to obtain a patent for a pioneering invention as a problem in Japan as compared with that in Europe and the U.S." Problems most frequently cited in obtaining Japanese patents were "the length of time involved, the cost, the scope of the patent protection granted, and the difficulty in obtaining patents for pioneering inventions," GAO said. For instance, the report notes the Japanese Patent Office's requirement of "working examples" that are "supposed to demonstrate a one-to-one correspondence with the claims" made in the patent application. "According to a patent counsel at a U.S. biotechnology firm," the report continues, "this requirement [of working examples] makes it virtually impossible for pioneering inventions in the chemical, biotechnology and pharmaceutical areas to be adequately protected." Entitled "U.S. Companies' Patent Experience in Japan," the report was based on a survey of top patent-holding U.S. firms whose filing activities include the chemical, biotechnology and semiconductor fields. Of the 300 firms responding, 15.4% described themselves as biotechs, 7.7% as a pharmaceutical company and 16.1% as a chemicals and allied products company. Respondents also included firms from the biomedical device industry and the cosmetics, toiletries and fragrance industry. The study was requested by Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) and former Texas Democratic Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, the study found that 39% of the 300 responding companies were "dissatisfied" with their overall patent experience in Japan. By comparison, just 13% of responding companies were dissatisfied with their U.S. patent experience, and only 3% were dissatisfied with their European experience. Although the report clearly points to problems within the Japanese patent system, it notes that the patent practices of U.S. companies may be responsible for some of their problems. The report also acknowledges that the Japanese Patent Office (JPO) recently has adopted "some measures to improve the patent system." In a statement released July 13, Rockefeller discounted these steps, saying "little improvement has been made. . . . While the [JPO] hires a few more examiners each year, the problems persist." Rockefeller aide Bill Reinsch said at a July 13 press conference that JPO practices will be discussed at a Senate Finance Committee hearing within "the next couple of weeks."

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