Saturday, July 29, 2017

Sharp determined to use an alternative name in U.S. TV market

This is the update of the trademark dispute between Sharp and Hisense in the US television market. On July 24, it was reported that Sharp will use an alternative name, instead of "Sharp" and "AQUOS", for their televisions in the US market.

In July 2015, Sharp once decided to withdraw their TV business in the US, and signed a trademark license agreement with Hisense in January 2016 to permit Hisense to use the "Sharp" and "AQUOS" marks for televisions in the US. However, after acquired by Foxconn in August 2016, Sharp decided to re-enter the US television market. Then, they tried to terminate the license agreement with Hisense, but faced difficulty in the negotiation and filed a lawsuit after all.

Now, Sharp is planning to sell mainly high-end TVs with large-screen of 60 inches or above in the US. They didn't unveil the trademark, but just commented it is under examination for trademark registration.

When looking into the USPTO's trademark database, the candidate mark may be "REVEL8TION". It was filed in July 2015, where the designated goods include LCD television receivers, and the examination status indicates "A third request for extension of time to file a Statement of Use has been granted." And "8" in the mark seems to imply 8K resolution.

Anyway, this will be a good lesson for how to handle trademarks for products and services which you have a plan to withdraw your associated business in some countries. Sharp will be required to reconsider their brand strategy, especially the relationship between the new mark and "Sharp" and "AQUOS" brands outside the US. They may result in bearing a large burden to build a global brand.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Japanese companies falling behind in portfolio restructuring

The Japanese government recognizes rapid and flexible business restructuring as an issue for Japanese companies to improve international competitiveness.

The chart, which is included in the material distributed in the Industrial Structure Council, shows the distribution of profit rate in all business segments of Japanese companies, in comparison with American companies and European companies. Over 60% of businesses of Japanese companies have less than or equal to 5% in operating profit on sales.  On the other hand, for US companies, more than 70% of businesses have higher than or equal to 10% in operating profit on sales. It is pointed out that the Japanese companies cannot make a decision promptly to restructure their business even when it carries low margins, and they finally decide to restructure it  when they have to cut their losses. 

Restructuring of patent portfolio seems to fall further behind the business restructuring. A typical pattern is:
1. An organization dissolved by withdrawal from business.
2. No one remained in the company who can assess the value of the related technologies and IP assets.
3. IP department maintains the IP assets, because they can not decide to abandon or sell them out.
4. IP department asks an outside IP service company's advice, when a problem (e.g. budget cut) occurs or asset maintenance management draws the attention. 

A patent portfolio manager who is independent from a business division and well-established in the related technologies surely can solve such a problem. But if your company does not have the patent portfolio manager and faces the problem, contact me!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Sharp sues Hisense for patent infringement in the US

Sharp seems to be trying everything to get back the US TV operation they gave up once. In June, Sharp filed a lawsuit to get Sharp’s name back from Hisense for use in the US.

And now, according to the press release, Sharp filed a patent infringement suit against Hisense (Hisense Electric Co.,Ltd,  Hisense USA Corporation, and Hisense Electronics Manufacturing Company of America Corporation) in New York Southern District Court on July 17. Sharp alleges that Hisense produces and sells smart TV which infringes Sharp’s wireless LAN related patents in the US, and seeks damages and an injunction.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Japan aiming to enhance competitiveness by branding product designs

On July 5, the Japanese government announced that it has established a research group to discuss product designs to strengthen Japanese companies' competitiveness and publish a report by March 2018. 

The background is that it is recently difficult for Japanese companies to differentiate their products from competition in function and quality, and they tend to get caught in a price war with emerging countries' products. 

Apple and Dyson are mentioned in the press release as typical examples of successful companies in branding their products, where they put in design their  unique strengths and technologies to enhance the value of their products.

The media reported that the government considers amending the Design Act to protect a series of designs of a product series (e.g. iPhone) collectively, and also considers protection of store designs (e.g. Apple Store, Starbucks) in some way. It gives no further details but I'll watch the discussion and keep you updated.

For branding product designs, we need good designers who can design products in accordance with company's brand identity, and also need to make effective and unwavering marketing effort in accordance with the brand identity. 

For specifically Japan, first of all, maybe we should produce good designers in the field of industrial design. According to World Design Rankings, Japan is 7th place in overall ranking (cf. US ranks 1st, China 2nd, Germany 9th), but Japan is out of rank in the fields of "Digital and Electronic Devices" (cf. US ranks 3rd, China 2nd, Germany 9th) and "Home Appliances" (cf. US ranks 4th, China 3rd, Germany 5th). Just for information, in the field of "Vehicle, Mobility and Transportation" design, Japan ranks 15th (cf. US ranks 3rd, Germany 6th, China 23rd).

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Japan's SMEs increases patent applications

On June 29, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) released an annual status report (in Japanese). According to the report, 318,381 patent applications were filed in 2016, that is down 0.1% from the previous year. It has been on a downward trend since 2006.  But hopefully it may almost touch bottom, since it reduces the diminution.

In such a situation, the encouraging news is that SMEs actively file patent applications. In 2016, 39,624 patent applications were filed by SMEs, that is up 10% from the previous year.

I'm expecting SMEs to bring innovation. However, SMEs have limitations in resources, knowledge and skills of intellectual property. Therefore, they need good advisors and partners to develop IP strategy and utilize their IP assets. Also, SMEs don't have enough budget to build a large patent portfolio. A sovereign fund or others should consider to manage and utilize SMEs' good IP assets to increase their international competitiveness.