The Japan Patent Office recently revised the rules relating to restoration of IP rights. Kazuya Sekiguchi discusses the implications.
Traditionally, it has been difficult to restore IP rights in Japan. There have been almost no cases where restoration was admitted after a failure to meet a deadline. To align with international harmonisation, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) recently revised the rules relating to restoration of IP rights and the requirements have been changed to be more applicant/proprietor friendly. However, it is still not clear whether it has actually become easier to reinstate lost IP rights or not.
Below, we examine the new requirements for reinstating IP rights in Japan and review the Guidelines for Restoration published by the JPO.
According to the revised rules relating to restoration of IP rights, failure to meet the deadlines of the following procedures can be saved:
- Filing a translation for foreign language application (Article 36-2 of Patent Law)
- Request for an examination (Article 48-3 of Patent Law).
- Paying patent annuities (with surcharges) (Article 112-2 of Patent Law, Article 33-2 of Utility Model Law and Article 44-2 of Design Law).
- Filing a translation for PCT nationalization (Article 184-4 of Patent Law)
- .Requesting a renewal for a trademark (Article 21 of Trademark Law).
- Claiming priority based on the Paris Convention (Article 43-2 of Patent Law).
The requirements for the restoration are as follows:
- There must be a justifiable reason for failing to comply with the time limit, in spite of the applicant taking the necessary measures required; and,
- Regarding the first five procedures listed above, the request for restoring the IP rights must be filed within two months of the date on which the justifiable reason ceased to exist, as long as this is done within one year (six months for the fifth point, requesting the renewal of a trademark) after the expiration of the period.
- With respect to the sixth procedure (claiming priority based on the Paris Convention), the request must be filed within two months of the expiration of the priority period (ie, within 14 months of the priority date).
As mentioned above, there needs to be a justifiable reason for not complying with the time limit in order for the lapsed IP rights to be restored. According to the JPO, ‘justifiable reason’ can be considered similar to the due care criteria adopted in the European Patent Office (EPO). In the Guidelines for Restoration published by the JPO, examples in which restoration is admitted or not admitted are exemplified.
Whether the reason for missing a deadline is a justifiable reason depends on whether the reason was predictable. If the reason is predictable it cannot be justifiable. That is, a lapsed IP right cannot be restored when the reason for missing the deadline was predictable. In this regard, the Guidelines mention that “absence of the representative due to scheduled hospitalisation”, “demolition of old company building and construction of new one”, “the absence of successor due to retirement of the predecessor”, and “impossibility of handling cases due to scheduled electricity outage” are deemed to be predictable and thus the restoration based on those grounds will not be admitted.
Taking the absence of the representative due to scheduled hospitalisation, it seems that, according to the Guidelines, the JPO will regard it as scheduled hospitalization if the person could inform his absence to someone in advance. That is to say, it is regarded as unpredictable only when the person (representative) is suddendly admitted to hospital and had no chance to inform his absence to any other person. On the other hand, there was a case by the board of appeal of the EPO in which the EPO admitted reestablishment of rights when the appellant’s legal representative suffered a sudden illness and underwent surgery within two working days. Also, his secretary was absent on one of those two working days (T525/91). In this case, the representative had two days to inform his absence to the applicant, but the EPO admitted restoration under this condition.
On the contrary, the JPO will not admit restoration of the IP rights in the same situation as T525/91 because the representative could let others know of his absence before his hospitalisation.
If the reason for missing the deadline is unpredictable, the lapsed IP right may be restored, provided that the applicant/ proprietor/representative took all necessary measures to avoid any mistakes. The guidelines illustrate in which cases the restoration will or will not be admitted as follows:
Cases where the restoration will not be admitted
- Wrong deadline was docketed due to incorrectly inputted data, wherein no substantial measure (eg, double check) was taken to avoid such a mistake.
- Instruction did not reach the receiver due to communication error in email or facsimile, wherein the sender did not confirm the receipt by the receiver.
- The person who failed to meet the deadline was not familiar with the deadline management system.
Cases where the restoration may be admitted
- There was a specific situation making it impossible to avoid docketing the wrong deadline due to incorrectly inputted data, although substantial measures to avoid such mistake had been taken.
- There was a specific situation making it impossible to avoid docketing the wrong deadline because there was an unpredictable system error.
- The deadline was missed because of natural disaster.
As mentioned above, restoration cannot be admitted if wrong data was inputted and no substantial measure was taken. This means that if the deadline was missed because of human error, such as incorrect data inputting, without substantial measures such as double checking, it would be impossible to restore the IP right. This criterion is similar to that of the EPO, wherein the re-establishment of rights cannot be admitted if no cross-check (substantial measure to avoid mistakes) was taken (J 9/86, T 1465/07, T 257/07 and T 1962/08, for example).
In the European practice, however, the reestablishment of rights can be admitted when a mistake is an isolated mistake in a normally satisfactory system (for example, T1024/02, T165/04 and T221/04), and when it is plausibly shown that a normally effective system for monitoring time limits was established at the relevant time (J2/86 and J3/86).
On the other hand, in Japan it seems that an isolated mistake in a normally satisfactory system will not be a ground for restoration because it is required that there was a specific situation making it impossible to avoid the mistake, according to the Guidelines.
With regard to the specific situation making it impossible to avoid the mistake, the Guidelines exemplify a situation such as “the applicant/proprietor or the representative is a small entity like a family-run firm, and the person who handled IP matters died suddenly. In the confusion of such a situation, the newly appointed person to handle IP matters sent the documents to wrong address and the deadline was missed”. The example of the specific situation listed in the guidelines is so special that the hurdle for the request of restoration to be admitted seems to be still high in Japan.
Finally, the Guidelines state that the applicant/proprietor/representative also needs to take all necessary measures once he recognises the incident that prevents him from complying with a deadline. For example, a responsible person suddenly becomes ill in bed and cannot work for a while (red period inFigure 1) and his colleague could know this fact (and thus the colleague could know the risk of missing a deadline). In this case, the restoration cannot be admitted unless the colleague tried to avoid missing the deadline accordingly even if the other requirements (necessary measures were taken in advance and the request for the restoration was filed in an appropriate period) are met.
The JPO states that the restoration may be admitted if there is a justifiable reason for not complying with the time limit and said justifiable reason can be considered similar to the due care criteria adopted in the EPO. However, according to the examples listed in the guidelines, it seems to be stricter in Japanese practice than in the European practice for the restoration to be admitted. Therefore, it is necessary to take care of deadlines in a specifically careful manner. The applicant/ proprietor should, for example, double check all deadlines with a second person as well as checking input data every few months.When the agent takes care of the deadlines, the applicant/proprietor should instruct him or her to adopt a careful check system and control the agent so that the check system works properly. Further, once the deadline is missed, the applicant/proprietor should take action for restoring his IP rights as soon as possible.
Mr. Kazuya SEKIGUCHI is Japanese and European patent attorney (弁理士（日本), 欧州特許弁理士, 学位: 工学修士（応用化学専攻) at Dennemeyer & Associates in Munich. He is active in the area of intellectual property law since 2004 and he is qualified as a M. Eng. (Applied Chemistry), and as a specific Infringement Lawsuits Counsel in Japan. His areas of expertise are chemistry, pharmaceutics, lasers (spectroscopics).You can contact Mr. Sekiguchi at: ksekiguchi(at)dennemeyer-law(dot)com.