System to Make Patents Closed to Public Starts; Govt Aims to Protect Inventions Sensitive to National Security

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo

The government on Wednesday started implementing a patent nondisclosure system under which the government can make patent applications for inventions sensitive to national security closed to the public based on the Economic Security Promotion Law.

The patent system is one of four pillars of the law, and the third to take effect. The fourth and final pillar, related to key infrastructure such as gas and electricity, will take effect on May 17.

In principle, patents are made public 1½ years after application. However, if a patent is deemed to have a significant risk of undermining national security, it will be subject to an examination for protection. If — through the examination process — a patent is designated for protection, the patent cannot be obtained and the government will compensate for the loss.

The government has designated 25 specific technological fields, including “disguise and concealment technology” for aircraft to have stealth performance and “technology related to scramjet engines,” as subject to examination for protection.

As for key infrastructure, 211 businesses in 14 industries are currently designated. Amendments to the law being deliberated in the House of Councillors include the addition of “transport via ports,” which would bring the total to 15 industries if the revision is approved.

Also, this pillar will require that if computer systems and other equipment are introduced, they will be subject to prior government examination to deter cyber-attacks.

The law’s other two pillars designate “specified critical goods” that are important to Japan’s economy and society, such as semiconductors, and provide support for “specified critical technologies” that the government aims to foster. These systems were both implemented in August 2022.