• Kyodo

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The Intellectual Property High Court in Tokyo has ruled that Sharp Corp., which markets display panel technology for smartphones and other devices under the Igzo brand name, does not have exclusive rights to the term.

Sharp had sought the withdrawal of an earlier decision by the Japan Patent Office that nullified the company’s right to exclusive use of the acronym, which stands for indium gallium zinc oxide, a compound semiconductor.

But the presiding judge, Ryuichi Shitara, rejected Sharp’s claim, saying that the abbreviation IGZO is widely recognized to refer to the compound, which is used in the displays.

The patent on the semiconductor is held by the Japan Science and Technology Agency, or JST, which developed the material before licensing it to Sharp in January 2012 for mass production.

Sharp registered Igzo as a brand name in November 2011, but the JST asked the Japan Patent Office to withdraw this in July 2013, arguing that the names of raw materials cannot be trademarked and that researchers need to be able to freely refer to the material in their work. The office sided with the JST in March last year.

Sharp had argued the acronym IGZO was not widely known until Sharp helped it gain recognition in the market.

The manufacturer said it would study the ruling and then respond appropriately, possibly by appealing to the Supreme Court.

Sharp is still able to use related logos and the acronym in its marketing. The company said it does not expect the ruling to affect its earnings.

The inventor of the technology, Tokyo Institute of Technology professor Hideo Hosono, welcomed the ruling, saying the acronym is widely used in academia and “it would be wrong to make it unable to be used.”

But Hosono added that he holds Sharp in great esteem for having turned his research into a commercial reality.

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