April 18th is designated as “Invention Day” in Japan in and patent and invention-related events are taking place throughout the country. This day commemorates the promulgation of Japan’s Patent Monopoly Act which later became the Japanese Patent Law that we know today. A key figure attributed in establishing the patent and trademark system in Japan was a bureaucrat by the name of Korekiyo Takahashi (1854-1936). His studies in London impressed upon him the importance of protecting innovations and after his return to Japan, he asked for a meeting with Emperor Meiji, drew him the sign of the soy sauce maker “Kikkoman” and said “This unique mark should be protected so that those who see [it] can properly conjure up the maker.” He was to become the first commissioner of the Patent Office in 1885.
The first patent under this system was granted to a lacquer ware craftsman who developed an anticorrosive paint to protect ship hulls. His ingredients included lacquer, powered iron, red lead, and ginger and persimmon tannin among others. The second patent was given to a tea processing machine invented by a man named Kenzo Takabayashi.. These patents were granted in a record 6 weeks. Today, the average pendency period before a patent can even be examined is 30 months.
It is interesting to note that the Japanese patent system was established 100 years after the US and a surprising 260 years after the British. Needless to say, they have been successful in playing catch-up: 120 some years after the system was introduced, it now boasts more patent applications per year–400,000 compared to 240,000 in the US and 80,000 in at the EPTO–than any other country.
(Posted on April 18, 2007)