Design Others Q&A



Q1What kind of designs can be registered in Japan?

A registerable design is one of the following which creates an aesthetic impression through the eye (Art. 2(1) of the Design Act), i.e., a visual aesthetic impression:

  • (i) a shape, patterns or colors, or any combination thereof, of an article (including a part of an article);
  • (ii) a shape and the like of an architectural structure (including a part of an architectural structure); or
  • (iii) a graphical image (including a part of a graphical image that is exclusively used for operation of a machine or displayed as a result of performing functions of the machine).
  1. Thus, a design needs to satisfy the following requirements:
    • (i) It must be a form or configuration of an article.
      An article means a tangible entity which can be distributed in a market.
      The design law provides for a partial design registration system which permits design registration for a part of an article. However, even in this case, it is necessary to specify the form or configuration of an article which includes the part.
    • (ii) It must be recognized by the eye. In principle, the article should be recognized by the naked eye.
    • (iii) It has to produce a visual aesthetic impression. However, no office action is issued for lacking an aesthetic impression in practice.
  2. Under the previous Design Act, real estate and immovable property did not fall under the definition of “article,” so buildings (except for prefabricated houses) were not registrable designs; however, under the revised 2019 Design Act, building designs became registrable subject matter. The types of protectable designs include not only the exterior designs of buildings but also the interior designs of shops, restaurants and offices, etc.
  3. Under the previous Design Act, only GUI images which are pre-installed on an article (e.g., a smartphone or tablet) were protected; however, under the revised Design Act, GUI images which are not pre-installed (e.g., images provided through the Internet) became protectable designs. Furthermore, images projected onto non-display devices (e.g., roads or walls) have also become protectable. For example, an image appearing in a display of a copying machine to notify the magnification rate falls under “an image which is provided for use in the operation carried out in order to enable the article to perform its function.” In addition, an image displayed by an OS (operating system) of a computer, previously excluded from protection, is now a registerable image. It should be noted that protection is not yet provided to images which have no functional relationship to the article of the design, such as paintings, characters, etc. for aesthetic purposes only.
    [Reviewed in January 2024]
Q2Under which criteria is a design not registered? And, is there any measure to register a design that has already been known to the public?
  1. The following cases are examples under which a design application is not granted by a known fact.
    • (i) In Japan or any other country, prior to the filing of the application, a design in the application is publicly known, or described in a publication distributed or made available to the public through electric telecommunication lines (Art. 3(1)(i), (ii));
    • (ii) a design similar*1(Note A2-A) to the design of the aforementioned (i) (Art. 3(1)(iii)); or
    • (iii) a design that could be easily created by a person who has ordinary skill in the art to which the design pertains, on the basis of publicly known design features *2(See Note A2-B) in Japan or any other country, prior to the filing of the application (Art. 3(2)).
  2. Even if a design has been publicly known before filing in Japan, in the following cases, the design is exceptionally deemed to be kept secret and can be filed.
    • (i) In the case where the act which caused the design to be publicly known was performed by a person who is entitled to file the design application (Art. 4(2)): or
    • (ii) In the case where the act which caused the design to be publicly known was performed against the intention of the person who is entitled to file the design application (Art. 4(1)).
      An applicant who seeks the exceptional handling explained above has to file the application within one year*3 from the date when the design was publicly known (Art. 4(3)).
      Regarding the case of (i), the applicant has to submit a document which explains why and how the design was publicly known within 30 days from the filing date.
  • *1 Note A2-A: “similarity” is defined as follows:
  • (i) In comparing two designs, the article is the same or similar and the design feature (See Note A2-B) is similar; or
  • (ii) In comparing two designs, the article is similar and the design feature (See Note A2-B) is the same.
    “Similarity” is determined as a whole, based on the aesthetic impressions extracted by individually assessing a common part or different part between two designs to be compared, from the viewpoint of a consumer (including a dealer).
  • *2 Note A2-B:
  • The design feature is a form or configuration of a design including a shape, patterns or colors, or any combination thereof.
  • *3 Changed from six months to one year under the 2018 Design Act.
    [Updated in January 2024]
Q3What documents and information are required for filing a design application in Japan?

While a Power of Attorney (POA) or an Assignment is not required to file design applications with the JPO, the following information is necessary:

  • – Name(s) and address(es) of the applicant(s):
  • – Name(s) and address(es) of the designer(s);
  • – Article of the Design, Use of the building, or Use of the GUI image; and
  • – Pictures/drawings of the design (for design of articles, this usually includes pictures/drawings from six viewpoints: front, back, right, left, top, and bottom).
    [Updated in January 2024]
Q4How can you file a plurality of designs?

Please be aware that Japan follows the one-design-one-application rule. This means that each application can only include one design (embodiment), and in principle, separate applications are necessary for each design. However, since the revision of the act in 2020, it is now possible to file a single application for multiple designs. In such cases, each design within the application will be assigned an individual application number, and the JPO will conduct separate examinations for each design. Subsequently, a design registration will be issued for each design that meets the registration requirements.
[Reviewed in January 2024]

Q5How can you file for a plurality of similar designs?

The Design Act employs the Related design system (Art.10), which allows the applicant to obtain a series of design rights on similar designs, where if filed separately, later applications are rejected on the basis of similarity. In case of applications filed under the Related design system, the applications are not cited against one another. The applicant can file one or more applications for the Related designs within 10 years from the application date of the principal design*5 (Act.10(1)) and the expiration date of the design rights for the related designs will be within 25 years from the application date of the basic design (the design initially selected by the applicant as the principal design) (Act. 21(2)). As such, the related designs for multiple products which are designed based on a consistent concept, a “group design,” can be protected in accordance with the long-tern market trend. In addition, registration for designs similar only to the related design is allowable. Therefore, evolving designs over the years can be protected.

It should be noted that the related designs cannot be separated after registration, and therefore, they must be transferred together if they are transferred from one owner to another (Art. 22). It should also be noted that if the Examiner finds that the applications filed as related designs are not similar to one another, he/she will issue office actions. In this case, the applicant is entitled to amend the related design applications to independent applications. Further, if one of the independent applications is objected over another application on the basis of similarity, the rejection can be overcome by amending the independent applications into related design applications.

  • *5 The duration for filing has been extended under the 2019 revised Design Act. Previously, the duration was limited to before the publication of the design bulletin for the principal design – about 8 months from the application of the principal design.
    [Updated in January 2024]
Q6If filing a design application to Japan claiming Paris Convention Priority, will we need to submit the certified copy of the priority application?

Yes, we must submit the priority document to the JPO within 3 months from the filing date. The JPO now accepts the DAS code issued by WIPO. Therefore, if you inform the JPO of the DAS code of the priority application, there is no need to submit a certified copy of the priority document.
[Reviewed in January 2024]

Q7Is an ornament pattern in Locarno class 32-00 registrable in Japan?

An ornament pattern in Locarno class 32-00 that does not constitute an article is not registrable subject matter under the Japanese Design Act.
If you wish to protect an ornament design as a design registration in Japan, we must file the design by designating an article such as fabric, paper, leather, or textile, etc.
[Reviewed in January 2024]


Q1What are the procedures for obtaining a design right? And, how long does it take to obtain the design right from the filing of an application?

When an application is filed, it is subjected to a formality examination and then substantive examination. A request for examination is not necessary.
The average pendency before a first Office Action in 2018 was 6.2 months from the filing date. An accelerated examination is available if the application meets specified requirements e.g., the application has a counterpart foreign application. If the accelerated examination is approved, the applicant may expect the first Office Action to be issued within about 2 months from the request. The time period for obtaining a design right from the filing of the application depends on whether the first Office Action is a decision of registration or a notice of reasons for rejection. The average period from the filing date to the registration of a design right was 7.0 months in 2018.
If an Examiner issues a Decision of Rejection, the applicant is entitled to file an appeal to the Appeal Board.
The flow chart below shows the procedures from the filing to registration of a design application.
[Reviewed in January 2024]

A6 image
Q2What are typical reasons a design application may be rejected?
  1. The design lacks novelty (see A2.(1)(i) and (ii)).
  2. The design is easily created (see A2.(1)(iii)).
  3. The application lacks unity of design (see A4.).
  4. The application does not comply with the first-to-file rule.
  5. The partial design is identical or similar to a part of the whole design disclosed in another application having an earlier filing date but its Gazette was published after the application (Art.3bis).
    [Updated in January 2024]
Q3Are a whole design application and a partial design application judged in accordance with the first-to-file rule?

Yes, they are judged in accordance with the first-to-file rule.
[Reviewed in January 2024]

Q4If an applicant files a design application and receives an Office Action which states that the design is similar to a design of an application that the applicant filed previously, what should the applicant do?

The applicant may file an argument contending that the designs are not similar. However, since an Examiner’s judgment of similarity is subjective, it is generally difficult to overcome the judgment by the Examiner simply by filing an argument.
Another possible measure is to amend the application into a related design application (See Q5 & A5).
[Reviewed in January 2024]

Q5When can we file a divisional application during prosecution?

A divisional application of a design application can be filed as long as examination, appeal and trial or retrial of the design application is pending.
[Reviewed in January 2024]


Q1How long does a design right last?

A design right lasts 25*6 years from the application date of the design, subject to the payment of annuities. A Related design right will lapse 25 years from the application date of the principal design.

  • *6 The duration of a design right has been extended from 20 years after filing under the 2019 revised Design Act.
    [Reviewed in January 2024]
Q2What countermeasure can be taken against copying of a pending design application?

Basically, no legal protection such as provisional protection is available for a pending design application, since, under the Japanese Design Act, a design according to a design application is published only after the registration of design right. On the other hand, with regard to an international application for design registration, if an applicant has given warning after the international publication, he or she may claim a compensation against an act of copying conducted after the warning and before the registration, under the provision of Art. 60-12 of the Design Act.
[Reviewed in January 2024]

Q3After having received a decision of registration, can the applicant defer publication?

Yes, the applicant can use the secret design system. After paying the registration fee, the applicant can make a request to the JPO by specifying a period of deferment not exceeding 3 years from the date of registration. The requested period of secrecy can be shortened or extended. If there is a need for deferment of publication at the time of filing, a request for deferment must be attached to the application with a prescribed fee.
[Reviewed in January 2024]

Q4When a registered design right is in conflict with another’s copyright, is there any measure that can be taken to avoid copyright infringement?

Art. 26 of the Design Act prohibits a design proprietor from commercially manufacturing or selling another’s copyrighted work if the copyright is senior. If the design proprietor wishes to work it, he or she must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
[Reviewed in January 2024]

Q5When a registered design includes another’s prior registered design, what measures are available for working our design without danger of infringement?

Three alternative options:

  1. Obtain a license from the design proprietor,
  2. Change or modify the design or
  3. Stop working the design.
    [Reviewed in January 2024]
Q6After a pending design application was allowed and the registration fee was paid, the design has been slightly modified so as to tailor to the latest fashion. Is this design preferentially registered as a similar design related to the registered design?

The modified design can be registered only when it is filed as a Related design of the registered design within 10 years from the filing date of a design application for the registered design (Art. 10).
[Reviewed in January 2024]

Q7When a proprietor has two design rights; that is, a Principal design registration and a Related design registration, is it possible for him/her to assign one of them to another?

It is not possible. Art. 22 of the Design Act prohibits mutually similar designs from being separately owned by different persons. In this case, the two design rights must be entirely assigned to the same person.
[Reviewed in January 2024]

Q8What types of licensing are available?

There are two types of licenses; one is non-exclusive and the other is exclusive. The exclusive license must be registered at the JPO because of its exclusivity. If a licensor owns two rights to a Principal design and its Related design, he or she must grant an exclusive license covering all of these design rights at the same time to one licensee (Art. 27).
[Reviewed in January 2024]

Q9Does the lapsing of the Principal design registration due to failure to timely pay an annuity fatally affect the Related design right?

The Related design right nevertheless can survive up to 25 years from the filing date of the Principal design, subject to payment of annuities.
[Reviewed in January 2024]

Q10A competitor has a design registration, but the prospective user has prior art possibly relevant to the competitor’s registered design. Is it possible to invalidate the design registration, and how?

The prospective user may invalidate the design registration by filing an Invalidation Trial with the Appeal Board of the JPO, where the prior art proves the lack of novelty and/or obviousness of the design.
[Reviewed in January 2024]

Q11A product expected to be marketed has been found to include another’s registered design. In such a situation, is a declaratory judgment action available in Japan?

Yes, a declaratory judgment is available. Also, anyone can request the JPO to provide an opinion as to whether the product falls within the scope of a registered design under Art. 25 of the Design Law. If the request is made, a panel consisting of three Examiners compares the requester’s design with the registered design at issue. The official fee is reasonable (JPY 40,000 as of January 2024), and the time is relatively short, as compared with a judicial declaratory judgment action in a court. This system is called “Hantei” and is accepted as an “administrative judgment” which is not enforceable or appealable. However, judicial judges would respect the results of “Hantei” as an officially recognized opinion.
[Updated in January 2024]

Q12A competitor has a registered design similar to a prospective seller’s product, but the seller’s design was once placed on the market by another distributor in Japan. Can the seller qualify for any advantages due to the prior use?

Yes. The seller may assert a non-exclusive license based on prior use under the Design Law Art. 29. The fact of prior use may also be used as a ground for invalidating the registered design.
[Reviewed in January 2024]

Q13If a registered design has not been implemented in Japan for a long time, is there a possibility of a compulsory license or invalidation due to non-implementation?

No. The Design Law has no provision for a compulsory license or invalidation due to non-implementation.
[Reviewed in January 2024]

Q14How can the proprietor of a secret registered design warn an alleged infringer?

The warning must be made by showing a copy of the registered design certificate authenticated by the JPO. The Design Law provides no presumption of negligence for a secret design.
[Reviewed in January 2024]

Q15What remedies for infringement of a registered design are available?

The remedies that can be enjoyed are an injunction, compensation for monetary damages, and an order for apology in print media, such as newspapers and magazines (Design Law, Art. 37 to 41).
[Reviewed in January 2024]


Q1What considerations should be made when a Japanese design application is filed claiming priority based on a U.S. design patent application?

(A) Drawings

  1. As explained in A3(2), a set of drawings from six directions is no longer required as far as one or more submitted views suitably identify the design.
    • (i) However, if the overall appearance of a design to be protected cannot be specified by only the views in the U.S. design patent application, it may be necessary to submit a sectional view(s) without introducing new matter. For example, in a case where a design has a cylindrical shape provided at its top surface with a recess, a sectional view taken along a vertical line passing through the recess would have to be submitted.
    • (ii) If an article, to which a design relates, can change its shape in use or a portion of the article is releasable or deployed in use, it may be necessary to submit a view showing the article in its changed state without introducing new matter. For example, if an article, to which a design relates, is a container with a removable lid, a bottom view of the lid and a top view of the container body may have to be submitted.
  2. The above views should be submitted upon the filing of a design application. It might not be allowed to submit the same in a later stage.

(B) Explanation of Article

If it would be difficult for an Examiner to understand a function of an article and/or how to use it, an “Explanation of Article” stating such a function, etc. may be required. For example, if a design relates to an article which has not yet been known, submission of the above “Explanation of Article” may be necessary.

(C) The number of designs to be included in a (single) design application

As explained in A4, multiple designs in a single design application are no longer prohibited under the revised Design Act, and a single design application can be filed even if the earlier U.S. application includes therein more than one design (embodiments).

(D) Grace period for loss of novelty

If, before the earlier U.S. application is filed, a design has already been publicly known anywhere, a Japanese design application should be filed within one year from the date on which the design was publicly known, while claiming priority based on the earlier U.S. application.
[Updated in January 2024]

Q2What considerations should be made when a Japanese design application is filed claiming a priority based on a Community Design (CD) application?

It is basically the same as that to Q1. Additionally, the following considerations should particularly be made:
It is often found that CD applications are filed with color photographs. Nevertheless, the applicant of such CD applications may provide a Japanese patent attorney with drawings without colors for a Japanese design application.
Similarly, the applicant may send a Japanese patent attorney a priority certificate before the filing of a Japanese design application together with photographs, which are attached to the priority certificate, in black and white.
However, in the case where a CD application is filed with color drawings or color photographs, the same should be confirmed before the filing of a Japanese design application. Accordingly, appropriate information should be provided to a Japanese counsel.
[Updated in January 2024]

Q3To whom (applicant or representative) does the JPO sends notifications regarding Hague International Application?

The JPO sends notifications regarding Hague International Applications as indicated below.

  • (1) Notifications regarding reminders for non-submission of priority certificate:
    -> Directly to the applicant (Not to the legal representative before the IB)
  • (2) First Notifications of Refusal, Statements of Grant of Protection:
    -> To the applicant or a legal representative before the IB (if any) (via WIPO) (Not to the legal representative before the JPO)
  • (3) Notifications of non-submission of priority certificate, Subsequent Notifications of Refusal, Notifications of Allowance, Decisions of Refusal, Registration Certificates:
    -> To the applicant or a legal representative before the JPO (if any) (directly) (Not to the legal representative before the IB)

Notifications from the JPO to legal representatives before the International Bureau are limited to those sent via WIPO as provided in the Hague Agreement, and other notifications are generally sent directly to applicants.
[Reviewed in January 2024]

Q4If an Office Action asserts that multiple designs are similar to each other to a Hague International Application, how should we overcome the rejection?

If multiple designs in a Hague International Application are considered to be similar to each other, the JPO will issue an Office Action asserting that the corresponding multiple applications will not be allowed under the Japanese Design Act, as Article 9 thereof prohibits so-called double registration of identical or similar designs filed on the same day.

In response, you may select one of the applications to be an application directed to a “principal design,” and amend the other applications to be directed to “related designs.” For your information, a “principal design” and “related designs” provide the same protection against third parties, as if they are individual and independent registrations. However, once these designs are made related on the JPO Registry, the designs cannot be transferred to a third party independently, and all of the related designs must be transferred to the same third party together.
[Reviewed in January 2024]


Mediation Proceedings Related to Intellectual Property Rights

1. Services Provided by the Japan Intellectual Property Arbitration Center

When a dispute related to intellectual property rights arises and it is difficult to resolve the dispute by discussion between the parties to the dispute, such dispute may be resolved mainly by filing an action with a court or by means of an alternative dispute resolution (hereinafter referred to as “ADR”). An example of ADR is mediation. Parties to a dispute may have mediation proceedings related to intellectual property rights at the Japan Intellectual Property Arbitration Center (hereinafter referred to as “JIPAC”). JIPAC is a private ADR organization that has been operated jointly by the Japan Patent Attorneys Association and the Japan Federation of Bar Associations since April 1998. Its services include not only mediation services but also various other services related to intellectual property rights such as consultation, arbitration, JP domain name dispute resolution, the Center’s advisory opinion, the Center’s essential patent evaluation, advisory opinion on operability, and evaluation of the level of contribution of a patent to business. JIPAC is an ADR organization certified under the ADR Act (Certification No. 119). The JIPAC website ( shows a detailed explanation of services provided, examples of dispute resolution cases and other matters.

2. Characteristics of mediations by JIPAC

The characteristics of mediations by JIPAC are (i) expertise, (ii) being closed to the public, (iii) neutrality and fairness, (iv) voluntariness, (v) flexibility and (vi) speediness.

(i) Characteristic 1: Expertise
The persons who may serve as mediators when an application for mediation is made (mediator candidates) consist of experienced attorneys-at-law, patent attorneys and academic experts. In JIPAC mediations, mediators exhibit their very high expertise and present a persuasive mediation proposal by forecasting the result of a lawsuit that may be filed if the dispute is not settled by mediation. Mediators are appointed by the Director of the Center of JIPAC, and the parties are also allowed to appoint the mediators whom they want to appoint if the parties agree on such appointment.

(ii) Characteristic 2: Being closed to the public
In the case of a lawsuit, court proceedings take place at an open court on the date for oral argument and the judgment and records thereof are generally disclosed to the public. On the other hand, mediation proceedings at JIPAC, including whether or not an application for mediation is made, are not disclosed to the public and the result of mediation proceedings is also not published. For this reason, a dispute may be resolved without the existence of such dispute being known to third parties.

(iii) Characteristic 3: Neutrality and fairness
JIPAC is an organization established jointly by the Japan Patent Attorneys Association and the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, and its neutrality and fairness are guaranteed. In addition, the Rules for Mediation Proceedings of JIPAC provide for the exclusion or challenge of mediators, and JIPAC always confirms that mediators have no interest in the relevant case before appointing the mediators.

(iv) Characteristic 4: Voluntariness
In mediations by JIPAC, the parties to a dispute can have advanced discussion with the mediators, who are third parties with abundant experience and knowledge. As a result, if the parties can find a point of compromise, they can reach a settlement. If the parties think there is no room for compromise, they can refuse to reach a settlement and terminate the mediation proceedings. Because of this voluntariness, mediation by JIPAC is considered to be the more sensible response to a dispute compared with simply continuing to ignore the other party’s demands, with a risk of being sued.

(v) Characteristic 5: Flexibility
Mediations by JIPAC are a purely voluntary method of dispute resolution by a private organization and therefore have the advantage of being flexible. For example, when a party makes a claim for the payment of money, the party is not always required to specify the amount in the application for mediation, and there is no problem with stating “we claim an appropriate compensation” or the like in the application. Unlike court settlements where the parties feel pressured from being subject to a judicial decision if they cannot reach an agreement, mediation by JIPAC is commenced only after the other party agrees to commence mediation proceedings. Therefore, mediation by JIPAC is flexible with regard to the progress of proceedings. In addition, mediations by JIPAC allow the parties to discontinue mediation proceedings partway along the process to return to voluntary negotiation, file an action, or take other options.
JIPAC also provides arbitration services (a dispute resolution system under which the parties to a dispute are assumed to agree in advance to appoint arbitrators, who are neutral third parties, to make a decision on the dispute and follow such decision) in addition to mediation services. For this reason, JIPAC may start with mediation proceedings and, if the parties in the medication proceedings reach an agreement to commence arbitration proceedings, move on to arbitration proceedings, thereby taking the proceedings successively in order to exploit the advantages of both mediation and arbitration proceedings. In this case, mediators may continue to serve as arbitrators, or new arbitrators may be appointed depending on the will of the parties.

(vi) Characteristic 6: Speediness
The average time period required to resolve a dispute through JIPAC mediation is 176 days (the median is 162 days) and the minimum number of days required for proceedings is 65, although it depends on the level of cooperation between the parties and the details of the case. When the parties want to resolve a dispute speedily, it is possible to perform examination in a concentrated manner in a shortened period of time. With respect to the dates for mediation proceedings, we expect that about three dates will be required for resolution and aim to complete the proceedings within six months from the first date of mediation proceedings, although it will differ depending on the nature of the case. Looking at past cases of dispute resolution, the average number of dates is 4 (the median is 4) and the minimum number of dates is 2. This indicates that the proceedings until the resolution of disputes proceeded almost as expected.

3. Advantages of mediations by JIPAC

As stated above, mediations by JIPAC are characterized by their expertise, being closed to the public, flexibility, and speediness, and therefore can be an excellent means of dispute resolution when the parties have the intention to resolve the dispute by discussion and want to resolve the dispute soon or at a place closed to the public.
In addition, intellectual property-related mediations in court do not allow the parties to appoint the members of the Mediation Committee, but mediations by JIPAC allow the parties to appoint the mediators whom they want to appoint if the parties agree on such appointment. For example, the parties may appoint the same mediators as the mediators for a past mediation case or appoint attorneys-at-law or patent attorneys who are specialized in the relevant field. They may also appoint, for example, a former judge who was in charge of famous lawsuits in the past or an academic expert who has published many papers. The fact that the parties are allowed to appoint mediators whom they can trust is considered to be a strong point of JIPAC mediations.
As stated above, mediations by JIPAC have various advantages that lawsuits do not have.

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