Intellectual Property Rights:

U.S. Companies' Patent Experiences in Japan

GGD-93-126: Published: Jul 12, 1993. Publicly Released: Jul 12, 1993.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO compared patent protection for U.S. products in Japan to that in the United States and Europe, focusing on: (1) U.S. companies' experiences in obtaining patents in Japan; (2) the sources of U.S. companies' patent problems in Japan and recent changes in the Japanese patent system; (3) U.S. companies' enforcement of patents in Japan; and (4) progress toward greater international patent harmonization and U.S. companies' views on whether harmonization would improve their patent experiences in Japan.

GAO found that: (1) more than three times as many U.S. firms have patent problems in Japan than in the United States or Europe; (2) most of patent problems that U.S. firms experience include the length of time and cost to obtain patents, the relatively short period and limited scope of patent protection, and greater difficulty in obtaining patents for pioneering inventions; (3) U.S. firms file fewer patents in Japan due to the patent enforcement problems, but few firms reported that patent problems adversely affected their operations; (4) European firms have similar problems in Japan, but are generally satisfied with patent protection in the United States, Japan, and Europe; (5) Japan's patent pendency period is longer due to its pre-grant opposition system, the greater volume of applications, and fewer Japanese Patent Office (JPO) examiners; (6) some U.S. firms have improved and facilitated their patent filing practices; (7) U.S. firms have difficulty in enforcing their patents in Japan due to the lack of discovery under Japanese law, lengthy court proceedings, the Japanese courts' narrow interpretation of claims, difficulty in obtaining preliminary injunctions, inadequate damages, and logistical problems; (8) the United States is pursuing intellectual property rights protection through General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) negotiations and a patent harmonization treaty that will establish a minimum level of patent protection worldwide and simplify patent processing; (9) the EPO-based harmonization treaty will require some changes in the U.S. patent system; (10 Japan supports some GATT and harmonization provisions; (11) U.S. government officials and firms believe that the treaties' proposed Japanese patent system changes will improve their patent experience; and (12) the success of the harmonization treaty may depend on the outcome of the GATT intellectual property rights proposal.

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