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Ryo Maruyama of Kyosei International Patent Office reports on the new protection offered under the recently amended Japanese Design Law.
The amended Japanese Design Law, effective since April 1, 2020, has drastically changed the design registration system in Japan.
The various amendments expand the scope of protection to images, buildings and interiors, enhance the related design system, and extend the duration of design rights (changed to 25 years from the application date from the previous 20 years from registration date).
This article outlines the expansion of the scope of protection to images, buildings and interiors that drastically changes the conventional definition of design.
According to convention, design is protected by the Japanese Design Law. A “design” in this act “means the shape, patterns or colours, or any combination thereof, of an article” (article 2 ).
As images, buildings and interiors cannot be said to be an article, a shape in real estate such as a building and an image indicated on website therefore fell outside of the scope of protection in Japanese Design Law.
However, prefabricated buildings and certain images are sometimes protected conventionally. Following conventional practice, exceptional protection was only provided for a movable prefabricated building (as movable property). An image related to the function of goods and recorded or indicated in the goods, was also covered, according to the definition of design in Japanese Design Law.
"As for shapes related to real estate, the exterior of the building can be protected along with the interior of the building."
Objects protected by the amended law, however, include real estate building exteriors and interiors, and images indicated on a website (not only recorded in goods). As for shapes related to real estate, the exterior of the building can be protected along with the interior of the building, if the interior “evokes a unified sense of beauty as a whole”. Interior objects such as chairs, walls, and pillars are included as protected objects.
Also protected by the amended Design Law are images applied as a graphical user interface (GUI) stored in a company’s server and indicated on a user’s mobile phone through a network, for example.
Further, a recently-developed technology allows for the projection of images onto walls which can be manipulated by one’s fingers. Such images are protected by the amended Design Law. In both cases, the protected designs are limited to images used to operate devices, or images that are indicated as a result of performing the function of the devices.
As stated above, some objects that were not previously within the scope of protection can now be protected by the amended Design Law, enlarging the range of use of the design system.
We have to be careful, however, as a prior design search is necessary to avoid the infringement of third-party design rights.
Ryo Maruyama is a Japanese patent attorney, vice-president and chief patent attorney at Kyosei International Patent Office. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Japanese Design Law, Kyosei, designs, design rights, protection, graphical user interface