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2014年7月17日 (木)

社員発明の特許 「企業所有」で競争力高めたい

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Corporate patent control essential to international competitiveness
社員発明の特許 「企業所有」で競争力高めたい

The government is faced with two parallel goals in developing and implementing new intellectual property policies—first, to encourage corporations to make better use of patent rights, and second, to motivate employees to create new inventions.

The government has assembled a plan for promoting greater utilization of patents and other intellectual property rights.

In revealing its new policy, the government has said that corporations will be able to receive rights to patents for employee inventions if they meet certain requirements.

Currently, companies must pay compensation to employees if they seek to obtain patents for their workers’ inventions.

The government’s new policy will rectify the status quo to grant corporations such patent rights when certain conditions are met.
For instance, companies will be required to ensure appropriate payments to employees for their inventions.

Japanese corporations must be able to fully utilize inventions and patents as vital tools to achieve growth.
Being able to do so is essential for reclaiming the upper hand over international competitors.

Domestic companies today are dedicating a great deal of time and financial resources to supporting employee efforts in creating new inventions.

These circumstances give the government good reason to try to adapt the current system so it can support intellectual property strategies within the corporate sector.

One driving factor behind the government’s latest policy is the seemingly endless number of disputes between corporations and employees over the size of fees paid for employee inventions made during work.

A scrap between Nichia Corp. and a former employee over his invention of a blue light-emitting diode serves as a strong illustration of the pattern. The two reached a compromise to settle the dispute in 2005, with the chemical firm paying the inventor a little over ¥800 million.

Even when corporations buy the patents for employee inventions, that does not necessarily mean that no dispute will erupt between the two sides. Inventors may choose to file lawsuits against the companies, asserting the payments received were not proportionate in light of the patents’ contributions to improved business performance, for example.

Balancing interests, incentives

If corporations still run the risk of being held responsible for massive payments for employees’ inventions, even after purchasing patent rights, there are potentially large hurdles to making progress. In fact, many companies have said, under such circumstances, it will be difficult to join hands with other companies in making new inventions and to sign licensing agreements with others.

If corporations are allowed to retain patent rights on new inventions from their employees, the number of disputes over the fees paid to inventors is likely to decrease. Companies will also have greater latitude in devising business strategies.

However, there is concern that the government’s new intellectual property policy could prevent individual employees from obtaining patents for their inventions, and thereby leave those employees less motivated to make new inventions. If the new policy undermines morale among corporate researchers and hampers technological innovation, it would be a complete loss for both corporations and their workers.

There is also fear that talented corporate researchers could be headhunted by companies in emerging economies that may offer to pay hefty sums. This could cause so-called “hollowing out” of technical experts.

Bearing this in mind, it is important that the envisaged system should be designed to sufficiently reward successful corporate inventors with payments, promotions and other work incentives.

The Japanese Trade Union Confederation called for patent-acquisition procedures to be implemented under the new policy to be studied in a manner satisfactory to employees, as they argue that “corporations have the upper hand over their employees.”

The government should listen to such voices and lay down standards for enabling companies to obtain rights to patents for employee inventions.

Some corporations have already adopted a system of monetary rewards for employee inventions based on sales, profits and royalties accrued from their accomplishments. Such systems are intended to avoid disputes with corporate researchers over their inventions.

We hope the government will work to design a new system acceptable to both corporations and employees, while studying and giving consideration to the measures already implemented in the private sector to reward corporate inventors.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 16, 2014)


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