History of the Japanese patent system

Japanese history until 1868 (the ‘opening of Japan’ by the arrival of Perry) always involved reign by a shogun.  Shogun was the top military commander in the country, which used to be assigned by the Emperor until the military forces began to take over power of governance.  The first shogun to take power over the Emperor was Minamoto Yoritomo in 1192, and since then for 700 years the strongest military power would take over the government, the Tokugawa bloodline being the last and longest shogunate (15 generations for about 200 years) to rule Japan.  One of the strategies by the Tokugawa government to control the civilians was to prohibit luxury and make them live in a modest manner, which resulted in the ‘shinki gohatto’ law (1721) prohibiting people from inventing.  This culture still remains in Japan, represented by the proverb ‘a stake that is sticking out will be beaten back in’ (equavalent to ‘a tall tree catches much wind’).

After Meiji Restoration in 1868 the governmental power returned to the Emperor, in 1872 a group of over 100 Japanese delegates (called the Iwakuni Mission) were shipped to the US for 6 months and then to Europe for a year to initiate negotiation for free trade and to learn about their political system, industrial technologies, and culture.  At the time the Mission visited the US, their industrialization was still under development and the society yet to be balanced (‘Gilded Age’), whereas Europe, notably England, where the Mission spent 4 months, was in the midst of massive technological innovation (‘Industrial Revolution’).  Patenting of such technologies were also popular, which the Japanese took much interest in.  This was possibly the reason for Japan incorporating many policies from the well-established European countries, which built the foundation of the current political and industrial system in Japan.  The Patent Monopoly Act (senbai tokkyo jo-rei) issued in 1885 was designed from the French Patent Law, from which the current Japan Patent Act was issued upon major amendment in 1959.  Therefore most of the content of the Japan patent Act follows the European patent laws.  The Patent Monopoly Act was welcomed by many industrial inventors and private companies, but was opposed by civilians protesting that the Act took away the freedom to copy, which Japanese people were good at. The first patent issued under this law was on an anticorrosive paint and its use.  In 1905 the utility model law was introduced to accommodate smaller inventions, and in 1921 the basis of the current patent law was compiled, which included the ‘first-to-file’ rule.  Since then a major amendment was passed and issued in 1995 (which is the current patent law), and various amendments were consecutively made, including the elimination of the pre-grant opposition system and acceptance of English patent applications in 1994.


*All information taken fron patentlens.net*