Amid prolonged civil lawsuits over intellectual property such as patents, Japan is studying the creation of a high court devoted exclusively to dealing with such litigation more quickly.

In the first stage of related judiciary reforms, the Lower House passed bills in May to revise the Civil Procedure Code and open the way for intellectual property lawsuits to be brought only before the Tokyo and Osaka District courts starting next year. The Tokyo High Court will be the lone court to handle appeals.

“Judges specialized (in intellectual assets) will be assigned to Tokyo and Osaka . . . to improve the level of examinations,” said an official of the Cabinet’s Headquarters to Promote Reforms of the Judicial System. The courts will unify precedents to make it easy for corporations and others to predict judgments.

Last year, district courts received 352 lawsuits concerning intellectual assets.

Though the amount of time required to handle such suits has reportedly decreased, courts still spend about 15 months on each case because they need to hand down technically difficult judgments.

Another key Cabinet task force, the Strategic Council on Intellectual Property, chaired by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, is drawing up a plan to promote reforms of various fields concerning intellectual property.

The council proposed in May that legislation be enacted requiring the Patent Office to screen applications in a speedy fashion.

It also said the government should prepare a bill to promote the information distribution business on the Web, covering animation, games and music.

Koizumi told the council to “put together a useful plan.” The council hopes to decide on one in July and bring it into force in three years.

The strategic council was set up in March to promote the creation, protection and utilization of intellectual property rights, utility models and copyrights, and to boost the global competitiveness of Japanese industry.

It is charged with making decisions on the government’s basic policy.

The strategic council consists of all Cabinet members and 10 people from the private sector, including Canon Inc. President Fujio Mitarai and former Tohoku University President Hiroyuki Abe.

“It is important for a patent trial to comprehend technologies quickly and accurately,” said Kazumasa Abe, chief of the intellectual property division of Nippon Steel Corp.

“Swift and fair trials can be expected if all patent trials are held in a court where judges who understand technologies and research officials who assist them are concentrated,” Abe said. “The industrial sector is giving its positive support to the establishment of such a court.”

A committee of the judiciary reform team charged with studying intellectual property lawsuits is working on legislation separately from the strategic council.

The team is focusing on a range of matters, including creating a system for judges well-versed in technological issues and procedures to gather evidence to be examined in closed-door sessions to protect corporate secrets.

The industrial sector has expressed a strong desire for strengthening steps to collect evidence.

Some judicial experts are opposed to setting up courts to deal with intellectual property lawsuits. They say such suits could be handled by reinforcing existing special divisions.

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