Japan is considering expanding design protection beyond the definition of ‘design’ in the Design Law.
Since July 2017 there have been discussions aimed at strengthening Japanese companies’ competitiveness, and the report was finally published on 23 May 2018. From an IP perspective, the report suggests amending the Design Law in order to address increasingly diverse methods of design due to technological developments. Specifically, the government will consider the expansion of the scope of design protection to:
- projection designs (ie, the design of an image projected on to surfaces a wall or the human body – see image below); and
- spatial designs (eg, the interior and exterior design of buildings or stores).
The Design Law defines ‘design’ as associated with an ‘article’. However, the current definition does not include a design which is displayed anywhere other than the device itself (Article 2(2)). Further, Japanese law does not recognise real estate, including buildings, as constituting an article. Therefore, the definition of ‘design’ must be altered in order to protect projection and spatial designs.
(1) ‘Design’ in this Act shall mean the shape, patterns or colors, or any combination thereof, of an article (including a part of an article, the same shall apply hereinafter (except in Article 8), which creates an aesthetic impression through the eye.
(2) The shape, patterns or colors, or any combination thereof, of a part of an article as used in the preceding paragraph shall include those in a graphic image on a screen that is provided for use in the operation of the article (limited to the operations carried out in order to enable the article to perform its functions) and is displayed on the article itself or another article that is used with the article in an integrated manner.
The report also suggests amending the Design Law in order to improve the protection of a series of designs for a given product, taking into consideration the brand function of the design. The picture below shows a series of Sony digital cameras, and was used as an example in the discussion.
The current Design Law provides a related design system to allow the respective registration of similar designs, but the design applications for the related design must be filed by the publication date of the design bulletin for the original design. The government will consider relaxing this requirement.
The following items are also likely to be considered for amendment:
- an extension of the duration of design rights; and
- the requirement for only one design application where more than one design is being filed.
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