You often hear the word “patent,” but unless you have a job related to it, you may not have a reason to think of it as something that concerns you personally.
Intellectual property management is an important task in the manufacturing and IT industries. If information on a core technology leaks, it is easy for others to make similar products. Even if you invest a lot of money into research and development for a technology, it will be difficult to recover the investment if it is stolen.
AI and technology are being used to improve operational efficiency in various industries. AI Samurai Co., Ltd. provides solutions for patent applications.
The company has developed a patent evaluation AI system, which has reduced the cost of searching by up to 40% by analyzing patent documents in a database. We talked to the CEO, Mr. Hajime Shirasaka, about how the company perceives the challenges in this industry and how startups should deal with patents.
・A patent search process that has remained unchanged for 20 years, and the innovativeness brought about by AI Samurai
・Consider a patent as “a sword to attack your opponent, not a shield to protect yourself”
・Local rules to remember when applying for a patent abroad
・We want to raise the level of Japanese industry through application support
CEO of AI Samurai Co., Ltd.
Patent Professional Corporation/Shirasaka/Founder/Patent Attorney
Hajime Shirasaka graduated from the Faculty of Science and Engineering of the National Defense Academy. He entered the academy after the Great Hanshin Earthquake, received rigorous training, learned military strategy, and has aspired to protect Japanese technology by combining intellectual property strategy with military strategy.
After the military stint, he conducted research on image processing using AI technology at the Department of Media and Environmental Studies, Graduate School of Environment and Information Sciences at Yokohama National University, and graduated from there. He worked at the Intellectual Property Headquarters of FUJIFILM Corporation; was involved in the creation, acquisition, and utilization of intellectual property; and established the Shirasaka International Patent Office (now Patent Professional Corporation Shirasaka) immediately after the Great East Japan Earthquake.
A patent search process that has remained unchanged for 20 years, and the innovativeness brought about by AI Samurai
What is the process for registering a patent?
When an invention is created and a patent application is being considered, the inventor or company generally consults with a patent attorney in order to confirm the novelty of the invention and make it easier to obtain a patent. The attorney will refer to the literature of existing patents before filing an application, and if he/she determines that the “novelty is insufficient,” he/she will give relevant advice, such as on making functional improvements. The Patent Office investigates the patent applications that are filed and grants the right after the patent is determined to be “unprecedented.” The patent attorney’s preliminary investigation process seems to have remained unchanged for the last 20 years.
Shirasaka：Existing patents are stored in a database, but the development of the search function has been delayed; when a keyword is entered, hundreds of candidate documents will appear. The patent attorney has to visually verify these one by one.
With AI Samurai, even if there are 100,000 patents in the database, the verification work that used to take a week can be done in about 10 seconds. AI Samurai not only identifies similar documents but also identifies where similar contents are described in the documents, and can make judgments just like an examiner of the Japan Patent Office.
I thought that many patent attorneys would be happy to use this product if it could reduce the time and cost of investigations. However, when I released it, the market responded unexpectedly.
Shirasaka：It was so speedy that the patent attorneys who became service users gave feedback such as “Is there any document that has been overlooked?” and the introduction sometimes didn’t go smoothly. This is an issue that IT products tend to face, but I think that many people will feel resistance if they create products that are too innovative without considering industry practices. In order to solve this issue, it is necessary to tune the functions separately for experts and non-experts.
At AI Samurai, patent acquisition search results are evaluated by using “ABCD” criteria. (A is the easiest to obtain, D is the most difficult, and supplementary points are highlighted.) Instinctively, one may think that everyone would prefer an A evaluation; however, it is interesting to see that inventors and companies prefer an A, and experts prefer a D. Experts think that the investigation has been done correctly only when a D appears.
As discussed in the innovator theory of marketing, the number of innovators and early adopters is limited. When launching an innovative product, it may be necessary to tune it to the recipient user to prevent resistance.
Consider a patent as “a sword to attack your opponent, not a shield to protect yourself”
Some readers may have problems with IP management. Mr. Shirasaka has been working as a patent attorney for a long time and is an expert who also has a patent attorney’s office, which he founded himself. We ask how startups should deal with patents.
Shirasaka：Among the problems that SMEs and startups tend to face in the IP field, common ones are cases such as “Our original technology will be imitated if we collaborate with other companies” and “A split among fellow companies will create competition for similar services.” In such cases, the problems can be avoided by holding a patent. It is said that a patent lasts 20 years from application to succession of rights, so you can protect yourself for that period.
Now, for which specific element is the patent granted? The answer depends on the business model. It will often not be granted for inventions based on an existing technology unless the essence of a different technology is introduced. For example, approval will not be obtained if we take a chat tool that already exists as a service and just try to apply it to other industries or fields. On the other hand, in the “blue ocean” field, a patent is sometimes granted on the basis of a concept alone.
Either way, the process is determined case by case, but think of a patent as a sword to attack your opponent, and not a shield to protect yourself. We patent attorneys have a common understanding that “patents are monopoly rights and exclusive rights.” Even if you are not the inventor, you can prosecute a latecomer if you have a patent. This helps you take the initiative to avoid being attacked. It is important to obtain a patent for the base idea and procure a self-defense weapon.
It is better to obtain a patent first in order to prevent others from using it to attack you. On the other hand, Mr. Shirasaka also says that it is good to keep the number of applications low because it costs money to apply for a patent, and the more times you apply, the more pressure is exerted on management resources.
Shirasaka：In the past, some companies spent too much money on patent applications and put themselves in financial difficulty. The word “startup” serves as some kind of magic word. Their reality is similar to that of micro enterprises, and if they invest too much money, they will run out of management resources. It is better to handle things in a well-balanced manner, giving priority to the acquisition of trademarks first and then patents.
You need a weapon to protect yourself, but don’t overdo it. The balance is difficult for an amateur to assess correctly. An increasing number of companies have a CIPO [Chief Intellectual Property Officer] to deal with such matters. If your company has intellectual property at the core of its business, you may want to ask an expert for help.
Local rules to remember when applying for a patent abroad
Considering the global market these days, some startups may be very aware of overseas markets. What should an entrepreneur who is considering applying for patents overseas be careful about?
Shirasaka：The basic criteria for obtaining a patent are the same, but each country has local rules. For example, if you obtain a patent in the United States, the first product must be released in the country. In India, the product launch must be reported after the patent is obtained. If you don’t understand the rules of each country, you will get into trouble. It is well-known that the United States is a litigious society, and you could be ordered to pay tens of billions of yen in damages. Compensation tends to be high even in China, so an IP strategy that takes into consideration the local environment is needed.
In general, many companies apply for patents in Japan first. Fortunately, for some countries, if you file the application within a year after the Japanese application, the filing date will be the same as in Japan, so it is advisable to consult an expert who is familiar with foreign matters.
Also, you should carefully consider the balance between costs and management resources. If you hire a foreign patent attorney, it may cost 1 to 2 million yen per case, and, in many cases, it costs about 3 million yen. It will be a trade-off, so make a decision based on the relationship between the business model and the patent.
I want to raise the level of Japanese industry through application support
The differences between overseas and Japanese rules have been mentioned earlier, but there are major differences in terms of scale too. Currently, China is at the top in terms of the number of applications, and Japan is far behind.
Shirasaka：n 2002, Prime Minister Koizumi established the policy of becoming an “Intellectual Property Nation.” At that time, Japan was second in the world after the United States in the number of patents. In recent years, about 320,000 patents have been filed in Japan, 600,000 in the United States, and 1.5 million in China, so Japan is far behind China. The number of patents is related to the growth of industry. Eventually, Japan will be overtaken by the Chinese industry.
Regarding the percentage of patent applications in Japan, SMEs account for 15%, and “Excellent Companies” account for the rest. When a foreign company acquires a major company, the number of applications in Japan decreases significantly, and the intellectual and creative activities of companies in Japan as a whole may decline.
AI Samurai trying to propose a solution to this problem using a patent evaluation AI system.
Shirasaka：Since chat tools first appeared, responses have become faster, interactions have been activated, and the amount of work has increased. Similarly, for inventions, if the evaluation time is shortened, the limits will be hit faster, and the speed of invention will increase.
Recently, AI Samurai released a small product for startups at an affordable price. In the future, we would like to support not only evaluation but also invention proposals and document preparation. If AI can be used to propose inventions and create tentative documents, the labor and cost for applicants can be reduced. Eventually, I want to make it feel like a game, so that even a child could apply for a patent. If a series of systems is realized, the variety of ideas should expand.
I think that technological innovation has declined in recent years. Great progress has been made in IT, but no dramatic development has occurred, such as making going to the moon easy or making the Shinkansen high-speed train five times faster. As more patents are filed and technological innovation progresses, innovation in the true sense of the word will occur. AI Samurai will raise the level of Japan’s technological strength through its products.
As Mr. Shirasaka said, patents become self-defense swords that protect oneself. One has to face many difficulties when running a startup, but it would be encouraging to have a weapon. Sometimes, unexpected incidents happen, and maybe your company will be attacked. You may need to be prepared to protect yourself with a patent “just in case.”
・ Beyond the context of patents, you may often encounter resistance if you innovate too much without considering industry customs; because of this, it is necessary to tune functions separately for experts and non-experts.
・ Among the problems that startups tend to face, common ones are “The original technology will be imitated if we collaborate with other companies” and “A split among fellow companies creates competition for similar services.”
・ “A patent is not a shield to protect oneself, but a sword to attack the opponent.” It is important to obtain a patent for the base idea and procure a weapon for self-defense so as not to be attacked.
・ First, prioritize the acquisition of trademarks and then patents, and handle them in a well-balanced manner.
・ Patent rules differ from country to country, and if you do not understand the rules of each country, you may get into trouble.
・ If more patents are filed and technological innovation progresses, innovation should be possible in the true sense of the word.