Industrial Design Protection for “Graphic Images” in Japan
In Japan, a “graphic image” itself, separated from the article on which it would be displayed, can be registered as an industrial design although there are certain limitations on the kind of graphic images that can be registered. The drawings to be filed only need to show the graphic image itself (without any article), and the Article of Design can be specified as “graphic image for … [specific usage]” in the design application.
Such protection for graphic images is relatively new, as it was introduced by a law revision which took effect three years ago on April 1, 2020. Before then, only tangible articles were protected under the Japanese Design Act, and a graphic image had to be recorded and displayed on a tangible article to be registered as an industrial design. This did not provide enough protection for graphic images that could be projected anywhere (e.g., walls, streets, humans), or would be provided as non-downloadable images via cloud networks, independent of a tangible article.
Although the scope of protection for graphic images has widened now, as mentioned above, there are still limitations on the kind of graphic images that can be registered. To be protected as an industrial design, the graphic image needs to be:
(1) provided for use in the operation of a device (including the operation of screens displayed on the device) (“graphic image for operation”),
(2) displayed as a result of a device performing its function (“graphic image for display”).
An example of a (1) “graphic image for operation” would be a graphic image with purchasing buttons for online shopping, or an app button icon. An example of a (2) “graphic image for display” would be a graphic image for displaying heartbeat and blood pressure results measured by a medical device, or for displaying the current time provided by a clock device. Graphic images that do not fall under (1) or (2) above, such as images taken from movies and game contents, or PC/smartphone wallpapers, are not protectable as industrial designs under Japanese law.
The following forms of graphic images are also protectable as industrial designs in Japan.
A) Partially disclaimed graphic images – The disclaimed portions shall be shown in broken lines or color shading.
B) 3D images – Multiple views will be necessary to clarify the scope of the graphic image.
C) Images that change (over time, by user operation, etc.) – Multiple images showing image transitions can be registered as one design to the extent the images are all (i) for the same function and (ii) have relevance in appearance.
For reference, the JPO’s Examination Guideline (in English) for a “Design Including a Graphic Image” can be found at the following link: