A trademark, unlike a patent or a copyright, protects a recognizable sign, design or expression that identifies a service or product. The most famous of these trademarks are instantly recognizable images that not only identify with a particular product but also have become part of modern culture. Some instantly recognizable trademark examples include the silhouette of an apple with a bite out of it or golden double arches forming a capital M.
The trademark system in Japan does not discriminate between domestic or international applicants. The protections offered by the Trademark Law are equally open to foreign companies and people as they are to Japanese citizens. This encourages international investment in Japan by giving foreign companies an easy method to secure protection for their intellectual property prior to expanding their business into the Japanese market.
Japan’s Design Law provides protection for the shape, form and external appearance of an object. This protection is based upon the visual examination of the object, so objects whose form is too small to be recognized by the human eye (such as a single grain of powder) cannot be protected under the Design Law. The design also has to be of a type that can be replicated and mass produced.
The protections granted under the Japan Design Law last for 20 years. This protection of the design provides considerable benefit to the design’s creator. Having the monopoly right to exclusively market a product with a design, or license it out to others, can be a very profitable business.