Amid the prolonged recession, more people are trying their hand at inventing in the hope of making a fast fortune.
However, the surplus of new inventions has also seen an increase in the number of people trying to rip off inventors’ ideas.
To address this problem, the Japan Women Inventors Association has been holding seminars on how to fill out patent requests and specifications, helping inventors to avoid having their ideas stolen by large firms.
“The seminars draw at least 100 people per meeting,” said JWIA Vice Chairwoman Itsuko Kudo, expressing amazement at the growing interest in patents.
To demonstrate the need for patent documents, Kudo recounted the story of an inventor who came up with the idea of attaching a decorative string to a plastic suction cup that could be stuck onto the glass doors of cabinets to make them easier to open.
The inventor pitched his idea to a company. Several months later, he was disheartened to learn the firm had stolen his idea and was selling the suction-cup door knobs without consulting him, according to Kudo.
There has similarly been an increase in the number of people visiting patent offices.
“On a busy day, our office is visited by 10 to 20 people seeking advice on patent application procedures,” said an official with the Tokyo branch of the Japan Institute of Invention and Innovation, which offers free consultations on patents.
But while inventors must register their creations to maintain legal control over their ideas, the procedures and paperwork required are long and costly.
The application fee for a patent is 21,000 yen. Requests for examinations, technical opinions, arbitration and re-examination can run from 40,000 yen to 80,000 yen in total.
After a patent is granted, thousands of yen in annual fees must then be paid to maintain the patent. Inventors must also pay to register the design and trademark, and pay more than 100,000 yen in patent attorney fees.
“Most patent applications are rejected in examinations as lacking novelty and innovation, such as new technology and invention,” said an official with the Japan Patent Attorneys Association. “Most applicants request a re-examination.”
The number of patent applications in 2001 hit an all-time high of about 439,000, according to the Patent Office.
On the other hand, there has been an annual decline in applications for minor patents.
Since 1994, all minor patents are registered without an examination if the application is in the proper format.
“This may be convenient for individuals with few funds, but the minor-patent right is less protected than the full patent right,” an official of the Japan Patent Attorneys Association said.
Minor patent rights last for six years, while those for regular patents last 20 years. Inventors who cannot afford to spend much time and money can then sell their ideas to a company.
People with no production technology or sales channels can have a hard time becoming successful inventors, industry analysts say.
But Mutsuko Miki, chairwoman of the Japan Women Investors Association, said: “Some of our members are over 80. But they show interest in anything and stay young at heart.”
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