Startups in Japan to be enabled to tap dormant patents

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Prime Minister’s Office

Startups will be allowed to use dormant patents jointly held by universities and large corporations under a new system detailed in the 2022 Intellectual Property Promotion Plan, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

Under the framework, universities would be able to offer unutilized patents that they jointly own with companies to third parties’ at their discretion.

The system is aimed at aiding the smooth commercialization of cutting-edge technologies developed by universities, such as those involving artificial intelligence.

Japanese universities file about 6,000 to 7,000 domestic patent applications every year in such fields as space, robotics and biotechnology, which are considered to be growth sectors.

It is said that more than half of these applications are filed jointly, based on research conducted by academic institutions and the private sector, and companies often bear the expense of the applications.

The Patent Law stipulates that in the case of a joint application, a third party cannot use a patent unless there is consent from all applicants, in principle.

Major firms often hold patents to prevent rival companies from using the relevant technologies, and it has been said that many jointly owned patents are not being used.

Under the government’s plan, when a patent-holding company does not use a patent for a certain period of time without due reason, if a university jointly holds the patent, it will be allowed to license it to a third party at its discretion.

Guidelines on the governance of university-developed intellectual property, including the new framework, will be compiled by the end of the year.

The government will urge companies and universities to conclude contracts based on the new system when they conduct joint research.

The plan also states that restrictions on the acquisition of shares by national universities should be eliminated to enable startups with limited funds to pay for the use of patents through investment options instead of cash.

Other measures included in the plan are strengthened support for universities applying for international patents and the creation of a copyright database.

Sense of urgency sparks intellectual property initiative

By Akihito Goshima / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

A government initiative to promote the use by startups of dormant patents jointly owned by universities and companies is thought to have been triggered by a sense that Japanese competitiveness in innovation is lagging on the world stage.

Japan was ranked 13th on the World Intellectual Property Organization’s 2021 Global Innovation Index, which is based on such indicators as business environment and research and development investment.

Switzerland took the top spot in the annual rankings, followed by Sweden in second place and the United States in third. South Korea was ranked fifth.

The Japanese economy has been blighted by stagnant growth, and it is difficult to expect an upturn unless Japan leverages its research achievements in cutting-edge technologies.

The government’s plan calls for the full utilization of Japan’s intellectual property.

Rather than sitting on patents, major firms need to be aware that they can contribute to the growth of Japan as a whole by using their intellectual property to nurture startups.