Japanese Frontrunners of Intellectual Property Rights - vol.5
“Creating IP Vision for the World”: A Global Perspective on Intellectual Property
-Interview with Mr. Naoto Kuji

By Eunice Lee

Interviewed on July 11, 2016

(Published on May 22, 2017)

Currently serving in a leadership role for an intellectual property (IP) user group that is the largest in Japan as well as the world, Naoto Kuji provides insight into the mission and purpose of the Japan Intellectual Property Association (JIPA). He addresses present challenges of IP and the importance of moving towards greater international focus for the patenting system.

Naoto Kuji, Executive Managing Director and President Emeritus of the Japan Intellectual Property Association (JIPA)

Q: What are your responsibilities as Executive Managing Director of the Japanese Intellectual Property Association (JIPA), and how is the organization structured?

Mr. Naoto Kuji: Serving as the Executive Managing Director is a position with full-time responsibilities at the Japanese Intellectual Property Association. In addition, the Secretariat Office positions – of which there are 24 in total between the Tokyo and Osaka offices of JIPA – are full-time jobs. With the exception of the Executive Managing Director and Secretariat Office members, all other members working for JIPA belong to their own individual companies. JIPA has 21 board members, and they are each selected by various industry sectors such as mechanical engineering, electricity, automobile, pharmaceutical, medicine, chemical, construction, etc. Their term of working for JIPA is limited to several years. There are also about 40 committees, projects, and meetings within JIPA’s organization. Members for these various groups number over 800, and they belong to their own company – accordingly, their term for service to JIPA is limited. Under these conditions, one of the most important functions of the Executive Managing Director is to maintain business continuity within the organization.

Q: What is your background in IP, and what led to your current position at JIPA?

Mr. Naoto Kuji: Outside of JIPA, I was previously General Manager of the Honda Motor Intellectual Property (IP) Division. From 2005, I served as President of JIPA. The term of president is historically limited to only one year. One reason for this limitation is the burden of maintaining two positions – i.e., both at one’s company of employment and at JIPA. At the time of my retirement from Honda in 2012, I was asked by the former Executive Managing Director to be the next Executive Managing Director. He had once been an IP member of Toshiba, and the EMD before him had worked at Mitsubishi Chemical. Given my own background at Honda, we were therefore able to have a kind of rotation between various industry sectors: electrical, chemical, and automobile.

The mission of JIPA is global in nature, and it operates under the mission statement: “Creating IP Vision for the World” in recognition of the growing inter-connectedness of all countries.

Q: What is the overall mission of JIPA, and what are some of the key initiatives it is currently engaged in?

Mr. Naoto Kuji: JIPA is Japan’s largest IP user group, and it is also the largest IP user group in the world – it currently has a membership of around 1,300 companies. Although this may seem small in comparison to the total number of companies in Japan, which is well over 3 million, the 1,300 members of JIPA are large “global” firms such as major manufacturing companies and therefore represent a considerable proportion of industry. Established in 1938, JIPA is a non-profit, non-governmental organization dedicated to establishing a user-friendly IP system and raising awareness of IP around the world. We provide opinions and proposals from an industrial perspective on ways to develop and improve IP systems. During my tenure as President, I developed the organization’s current mission statement: “Creating IP Vision for the World.”

JIPA has various expert committees that focus on various IP-related topics, and the results of their research are then disseminated to JIPA members through monthly journals, research reports, and newsletters. In addition, we offer IP training courses and hold various events or meetings in cooperation with IP organizations and governments throughout the world. Some of our current initiatives include promoting the international harmonization of the patent system, implementing measures to deal with counterfeit and pirated goods, and providing support for WIPO GREEN by participating in the green technology transfer process.

Q: Arguably, the world today is progressively transforming into a “borderless society” as a consequence of increased information, knowledge, and technology flows. Amidst such change, what are the limitations of the current IP legal systems and practices?

Mr. Naoto Kuji: Each country has its sovereign jurisdiction and laws. The purpose of the intellectual property law system in a country is to protect and promote the prosperity of that specific country. No IP law of a developed country stipulates the health and welfare of an African child, for example, or the environment of the earth. The IP legal systems and practices that currently exist are largely dedicated to industry interests, and are merely a tool for the protection of human thought. As the world becomes increasingly “borderless,” we should aim to consider how society is changing and shift our paradigm from industry-oriented IP to human-oriented IP.

Q: What do you consider to be some of the other major problems of the intellectual property (IP) system, both within Japan domestically and on an international scale?

Mr. Naoto Kuji: An important set of topics that has becoming increasingly relevant is artificial intelligence, big data, and the “Internet of Things,” or IoT. The Internet of things refers to the network between various household objects, vehicles, or other devices that are capable of collecting and exchanging data through sensors and embedded software. For example, a toothbrush can be built with a sensor that sends information to a computer regarding the number of times someone brushes their teeth or the angle of brushing, and the computer can then send a message to the person recommending which areas to brush more thoroughly. So every person’s products can be connected to the Internet, and even toothbrush manufacturers must learn how to communicate with the tech industry. Personal vehicles, too, may one day become a kind of “smartphone style” automobile. We see this trend becoming apparent even now – for example, Google Android covers BMW, Honda, and GM while Apple covers Toyota and Nissan. Thus, controlling through the Internet will soon become the major industry of the world.

As such, a major problem both in Japan and on an international scale is the reconstitution of industry under the IoT. If every product and individual product part may one day be connected through the Internet, reconstitution includes not only transformation and collaboration within a single industry, but also among various different industries. Imagining such a future business situation, we must think about the new IP situation that will consequently arise. IoT will change anti-trust law, copyright law for big data, contract patterns for common use of information under cooperation under reconstitution, and much more.

Harmonization of the IP systems between different countries is a necessary precursor to the development of regional patent systems, with the final goal being the progression towards one single world patent system.

Q: One of the goals of JIPA’s 2016 Action Plan is the future establishment of a regional patent system in Asia. What are some of the potential benefits of such an outcome? What are the challenges that might impede its advancement?

Mr. Naoto Kuji: A regional patent system for Asia would be very convenient for IP owners, as one single IP owner could apply through a regional patent system that covers many different countries. It would be one application, one examination, and one patent. In 2005 while I was serving as JIPA’s president, our organization made a request to IP3 to harmonize patent application procedures. The members of IP3 consist of the IP offices of Japan, the US, and the EU. From that time, the IP offices of these countries have studied IP harmonization and the group has since expanded to become IP5 – the five largest IP offices in the world, consisting of Japan, the US, the EU, Korea, and China.

Of course, the difficulty lies in the fact that each country is sovereign and seeks to protect its own industrial prosperity. Already there are regional patents for Europe, Eurasia, the Gulf, etc. However, the final target is to have one world patent. Even prior to establishing regional patent systems, harmonization between different countries is necessary – this entails a series of steps that proceeds from formatting of IP systems, unification, mutual use, and finally, to a global patent system.

Q: As a leading intellectual property organization that seeks to address issues of international relevance – such as the harmonization of the IP rights system – in what ways do you collaborate with foreign NGOs or IP organization of other nations?

Mr. Naoto Kuji: JIPA is a very large IP owner organization – in fact, patent application numbers by JIPA member companies constitutes more than 80 percent of the total in Japan. In the US, there is the IP Owners’ Association (IPO), which is the counterpart of JIPA, and in the EU there is Business Europe (BE). Members of IPO and BE are big companies in their respective countries, but the membership is limited. Several years ago, JIPA asked Korean industry and Chinese industry to make their own version of an IP owner organization, in the manner of our own organization. This led to the subsequent establishment of KINPA, the IP organization in Korea, and PPAC, the IP organization in China. We actively communicate and collaborate with these organizations. Furthermore, we hold meetings amongst the IP5 member states for the purpose of information exchange – in fact, our most recent one was held this past May at the JIPA Tokyo office.

Interviewer: Eunice Lee

4th-Year Student, Department of History and Science, Harvard University (Class of 2017)