2016 Japan Patent Office Annual Statistics Report

By: Shinya Kimura







On June 30, 2016, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) released the JPO Annual Report 2016.*  The annual report provides a comprehensive compilation of statistics on Japanese intellectual property (IP) rights, and introduces the JPO’s initiatives to improve the IP system in Japan.  The report also includes statistics on patent filings at the five largest IP offices known as IP5, which consists of the JPO, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the European Patent Office (EPO), the State Intellectual Property Office of China (SIPO), and the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO).

According to the annual report, the number of patent applications filed at the IP5 has been increasing steadily since 2010, especially because of a significant increase in Chinese patent applications filed by Chinese applicants.  In 2015, approximately 88% of Chinese patent applications were filed by Chinese applicants, and the number of Chinese applications has significantly increased by approximately 19%, reaching more than 1.1 million applications, when compared to figures from the previous year.  This indicates that the number of patent applications filed at the SIPO in 2015 is approximately 1.9 times greater than the number of patent applications filed at the USPTO and approximately 3.5 times greater than the number of patent applications filed at the JPO, raising the total number of patent applications in the world.

As shown in Fig. 1-1-17 of the annual report reproduced below, in which the X axis represents years and the Y axis represents the number of patent applications (1=10,000 applications), the number of patent applications filed at the SIPO has more than doubled over the last five years.  On the other hand, only slight increases have been observed for patent applications filed at the USPTO, the EPO, and the KIPO.


Figure 1-1-17


In Japan, unlike the other offices, the number of patent applications has been gradually decreasing since 2005 (data not shown), and according to above figure from the annual report, this decreasing trend persisted in 2015.

However, as shown in Fig. 1-1-27 from the annual report reproduced below, while the number of patent applications was reduced, the patent allowance rate at the JPO significantly improved between 2010 and 2014. While it is difficult to know the exact reason for this increase, it is likely due to a combination of changes in JPO examination policy and an increased selectivity on the part of applicants in choosing which applications to file in Japan.  In the following figure, the X axis denotes years and the Y axis denotes the allowance rate (%).


Figure 1-1-27


In 2015, according to the annual report, the allowance rate at the JPO reached 71.5%, meaning only 28.5% of patent applications were rejected by the JPO.

Because the SIPO does not release the allowance rate in China, it would be difficult to compare trends in Japan and China.  However, it is likely that Japanese applicants are prioritizing quality over quantity when it comes to their applications.  At the least, Japanese applicants, who file more than 80% of Japanese patent applications, appear to have adopted strategies to reduce unnecessary filings and continue to reduce the number of applications filed in Japan.

In addition to the improvement of the allowance rate at the JPO, the average patent examination period has also improved in Japan.  According to the annual report, the JPO achieved a long-term goal proposed in 2004, shortening their average first action period to 11 months by the end of fiscal year 2013.  Moreover, the JPO is heading towards realization of “the World’s Fastest and Utmost Quality in Patent Examination.”  Now the goal has been set to shorten the first action pendency to 10 months or less and the final action pendency to 14 months or less by fiscal year 2023.

As a result of such efforts, the JPO was recognized in 2014 as the patent office to most quickly provide final actions (e.g., decisions to grant or to refuse).  The table below shows “first action pendency” and “final action pendency” at the IP5 in 2014.**

First Action Pendency Final Action Pendency
JPO 9.3 months 15.2 months
USPTO 18.1 months 27.0 months
EPO 9.1 months 22.8 months
SIPO 12.5 months 21.8 months
KIPO 11.0 months 16.7 months

In 2015, the JPO reinstated the Post-Grant Opposition (PGO) system which had been abolished in 2003.  According to the annual report, the number of PGOs filed at the JPO was only 364 in 2015, and the JPO has recently announced on their website that a total of 861 cases were filed as of June 3, 2016.***  However, under the old PGO system, more than 3,000 cases were filed every year before 2003.  Therefore, the PGOs under the new system may not be filed as much as under the old system.

The average examination period for invalidation trials in Japan was 10.5 months in 2015, whereas the average examination period for the PGOs was only 2.4 months.  It thus appears that the PGOs can be conducted very swiftly, but only five cases were used for calculating the average for the PGOs.  Therefore, this would not represent the entire population of the PGO cases in Japan, and the JPO did not provide any specific comments or analysis regarding this matter.

The PGO system is expected to reduce the number of bad patents registered at the JPO.  It is likely that the JPO will include their analysis for the PGOs in their next annual report, and in 2017, we will have a better idea of how frequently the PGOs are filed and how effectively this system is used in Japan.

* Only Japanese version is available. The same or similar statistical data are also presented in “JPO Status Report 2016,” in which English translations are provided.

** For more detailed information of the allowance rates and the pendencies at the IP5, please also see “IP5 Statistics Report 2014 Edition.”

*** Please also see the JPO’s website for more information (Japanese only).