Patent licensing activities such as establishing an individual license, consolidated license, cross-license, etc. are very popular in Japan.  The provisions and conditions regarding patent licensing are regulated in the Japanese Patent Law.  However, I believe that some of them, such as registration of an Exclusive License, may be unique to Japan and differ from the systems of other countries.  Moreover, several points regarding patent licensing were amended by recent revisions to the Japanese Patent Law.  For example, Provisional Exclusive Licenses and Provisional Non-Exclusive Licenses which are based on a pending application(s) were introduced in April 2009.  The registration of Non-Exclusive Licenses was abolished in April 2012.  Therefore, I present an outline of the provisions and conditions regarding patent licensing in accordance with Japanese Patent Law.

An Exclusive License is stipulated in Article 78 of the Japanese Patent Law and a Non-Exclusive License based on a contract is stipulated in Article 77, both of which are based on a licensing contract between a licenser (patent owner) and a licensee.  Please be aware that other types of Non-Exclusive Licenses which are not based on contracts, such as for an employee’s invention(s) (Article 35 (1)), and a prior-use right (Article 79) etc. are also stipulated in the Japanese Patent Law.  However, I would like to focus on the Non-Exclusive License based on a contract to which Article 78 refers.

  1. Exclusive Licenses (Article 77)

Article 77 regarding Exclusive Licenses stipulates the following.  However, a registration of an Exclusive License before the Japanese Patent Office (JPO) is required in order to be effective, as prescribed by Article 98 (1) (ii).

Article 77 (Exclusive License)

  1. A patentee may grant an exclusive license on the patent right.
  2. An exclusive licensee shall have an exclusive right to work the patented invention as a business to the extent permitted by the contract granting the license.
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  4. An exclusive licensee may establish a right of pledge or grant a non-exclusive license on his exclusive license to a third party only where the consent of the patentee is obtained.
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Article 98 (Effect of Registration)

  1. The following matters must be registered to take effect.
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    2. the grant, transfer (except for a transfer arising from general succession including inheritance), amendment, lapse (except for a lapse arising from a merger or a lapse of the patent right) or restriction on disposition of an exclusive license;

An Exclusive License as defined in the Japanese Patent Law is so strong that only a licensee can work the patented invention and even a patent owner is not allowed to work it.  However, the licensee may sub-license to a third party only when the patent owner accepts it, in accordance with Article 77 (4).

  1. Non-Exclusive Licenses Based on Contracts (Article 78)

Article 78 regarding a Non-Exclusive License based on a contract stipulates the following.

Article 78 (Non-Exclusive License)

  1. A patentee may grant a non-exclusive license on the patent right to any third party.
  2. A non-exclusive licensee shall have a right to work the patented invention as a business to the extent prescribed by this Law or permitted by the contract granting the license.

As mentioned above, other types of Non-Exclusive Licenses, such as for an employee’s invention for the employer, which are not based on licensing contracts but are provided due to legal aspects are also stipulated in the Japanese Patent Law.

  1. Provisional Exclusive Licenses (Article 34-2) and Provisional Non-Exclusive Licenses (Article 34-3)

Provisional Exclusive and Provisional Non-Exclusive Licenses which are based on a pending application(s) before being granted were introduced by revisions to the Japanese Patent Law which took effect on April 1, 2009.  In actual practice in Japan, a license contract(s) may include not only granted patents but also pending patent applications.  However, in order to make unwritten conditions clear and encourage licensing activities in Japan, Provisional Exclusive Licenses and Provisional Non-Exclusive Licenses have been officially introduced into the Japanese Patent Law.  When the claims of a patent application are amended after a Provisional Exclusive or Non-Exclusive License is granted, it is assured that the Provisional Exclusive or Non-Exclusive License shall be valid for the amended claims within the contract.  When a divisional application is filed, a Provisional Exclusive or Non-Exclusive License shall be valid for the divisional application as well, unless otherwise agreed upon in the contract.  When a patent is granted, a Provisional Exclusive or Non-Exclusive License shall be deemed to have been granted as an Exclusive or Non-Exclusive License, respectively.

  1. Registration System (Articles 98 and 99)

As mentioned above, an Exclusive License as stipulated in Article 77 must be registered before the JPO in order to take effect, in accordance with Article 98 (1) (ii).

Article 98 (Effect of Registration)

  1. The following matters must be registered to take effect. (i) the transfer (except for a transfer arising from general succession including inheritance), lapse due to waiver and restriction on disposition of a patent right; (ii) the grant, transfer (except for a transfer arising from general succession including inheritance), amendment, lapse (except for a lapse arising from a merger or a lapse of the patent right) or restriction on disposition of an exclusive license; (iii) the establishment, transfer (except for a transfer arising from general succession including inheritance), amendment, lapse (except for a lapse arising from a merger or extinguishment of credit secured thereby) or restriction on disposition of a right of pledge of a patent right or exclusive license.

Before April 2012, we had a registration system for Non-Exclusive Licenses, too.  At that time, it was construed that a Non-Exclusive License should not have an effect on any person who subsequently acquired the patent or the exclusive license, unless the Non-Exclusive License was registered before the JPO.  Namely, there was a risk that the licensee could be sued if the patent was assigned, due to bankruptcy of the patent owner, to a third party who was a competitor of the licensee.  In order to avoid such a situation, the registration of Non-Exclusive Licenses before the JPO was requested.  However, in actual practice, the registration of Non-Exclusive Licenses was rarely carried out.  By way of the revisions to the Japanese Patent Law which took effect on April 1, 2012, the registration of Non-Exclusive Licenses was abolished, and Non-Exclusive Licenses have an effect on any person who subsequently acquired the patent or the Exclusive License without registration, as regulated in Article 99.

Article 99 (Effectiveness of a Non-Exclusive License) - effective on or after April 1, 2012 - A non-exclusive license shall have effect on any person who subsequently acquires the patent or the exclusive license, or the exclusive license on the patent right.

  1. Patents Owned by Joint Owners

The conditions for patent owners who own a patent jointly are stipulated in Article 73.  They are regulated in order to keep an equal balance among joint owners.  Namely, each owner may work the patented invention, in principle, as an individual patent owner, without the consent of the other owners, in accordance with Article 73 (2).  However, a license and/or an assignment to any third party are not allowed, unless accepted by all of the joint owners, in accordance with Article 73 (1) and (3).  I believe that this condition may be different from that of other countries.

Article 73 (Jointly Owned Patent Rights)

  1. Where a patent right is jointly owned, no joint owner may assign or establish a right of pledge on the said joint owner's own share without the consent of all the other joint owners.
  2. Where a patent right is jointly owned, unless otherwise agreed upon by contract, each of the joint owners of the patent right may work the patented invention without the consent of the other joint owners.
  3. Where a patent right is jointly owned, no joint owner may grant an exclusive license or non-exclusive license with regard to the patent right to any third party without the consent of all the other joint owners.

As mentioned above, the Japanese Patent Law regulates the conditions and provisions regarding patent licensing and may include some points which are different from other countries.  I hope that the above information will be considered before establishing a licensing contract based on a Japanese patent right and/or patent application.