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22 March 2021
On 1 April 2020 the reformed Design Act came into force. This act expanded the scope of protection for graphic images.
Under the previous Design Act, only graphic images which had been recorded or displayed on articles (eg, computers or smartphones) were considered protectable designs. Since the scope of 'protectable designs' was limited to the designs of articles, graphic images themselves were considered unprotectable.
The reformed Design Act expands the scope of 'protectable designs' to include graphic images which are not:
The reformed Design Act protects two types of graphic image:
Accordingly, graphic images which are unrelated to machine, apparatus, device or system functions or operations (eg, computer wallpapers, video game contents or films) are unprotected under the reformed Design Act.
On 1 April 2020 the Japan Patent Office (JPO) began accepting design applications for graphic images that are protectable under the reformed Design Act. According to JPO statistics, as of 4 January 2021, 685 such applications had been filed.
On 23 October 2020 the JPO registered the first design for a graphic image. On 9 November 2020 the image was published.
Below are examples of the two types of graphic image which can be protected as a registered design.
Graphic images which result from machine, apparatus, device and system functions
The following design (1672383) displays information about a vehicle. According to the design's description, the image is shone onto a road surface from a vehicle equipped with a projection device to ensure that it is easily seen. When the vehicle changes direction, the image is changed, as shown in Figures 2 and 3.
Figure 1: vehicle design
Figures 2 and 3: different states of the vehicle design
Figures 4, 5 and 6: reference views of the vehicle design
The following design (1678241) indicates that people should refrain from passing through a gate when somebody else is already there to maintain social distancing.
Figure 7: various views of social distancing design
The following design (1677061) indicates that there is congestion on a train.
Figure 8: train congestion design
Graphic images which relate to machine, apparatus, device and system operations
The following design (1675966) is an icon that is used to launch an app. Icons that have no function cannot be registered under the Design Act. The protection of icons as registered designs does not cover those without functions.
Figure 9: app icon design
The following design (1676367) displays and enables the user to operate content such as a video.
Figure 10: content operation design
The reformed Design Act also protects webpages. This means that the unauthorised use of an existing webpage's design may constitute design infringement. To avoid this, parties should:
For further information on this topic please contact Noboru Taniguchi at Nishimura & Asahi by telephone (+81 3 6250 6200) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org). The Nishimura & Asahi website can be accessed at www.nishimura.com.
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