7.3.4 Supreme Court
Under the Constitution of Japan, the Supreme Court is the highest court in Japan, and judicial power is vested in it and in such lower courts as are established by law.134 In the context of IP law, the Supreme Court’s role is to correct or modify the interpretation of IP laws of the IP High Court. In the past, the Supreme Court has delivered a limited number of judgments that have reversed decisions of the IP High Court.
The most recent decision of the Supreme Court that reversed an IP High Court decision was handed down in August 2019. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the patentee, finding that the claimed invention satisfied the inventive step requirement as the invention could not be easily conceived by a person having ordinary skill in the art.135
A party that is dissatisfied with the IP High Court’s decision may file a final appeal or a petition for the acceptance of a final appeal to the Supreme Court within two weeks from the date when an authenticated copy of the written decision is served.136 If the party is located in a foreign country, 30 days is generally designated as an additional period.137
The Supreme Court may accept a final appeal against a judgment issued by the IP High Court:
- as the court of first instance with respect to an administrative suit against a decision made by the TAD of the JPO; and
- as the court of second instance with respect to a patent infringement suit.138
The grounds for final appeal to the Supreme Court are limited under the Code of Civil Procedure. Article 312 of the Code of Civil Procedure provides that a final appeal may be filed on a number of grounds, including on the grounds that:
- a judgment reflects an error in the interpretation of the Constitution; and
- a violation of law or regulations has clearly influenced the judgment.139
For example, the Supreme Court may accept a final appeal if a judgment of the IP High Court involves a ruling that conflicts with Supreme Court precedent (or, if there is no Supreme Court precedent, a ruling that conflicts with IP High Court precedent). If the Supreme Court determines that there are no grounds for a final appeal, it will dismiss the petition without a hearing. Conversely, if it determines that there are grounds for a final appeal, it will hear oral arguments and then deliver a decision.
The Supreme Court only decides questions of law, and so questions of fact of a prior instance decision may not be contested at the Supreme Court.140 The Supreme Court examines questions of law based only on the records of the lower courts concerned.
220.127.116.11 Justices and other personnel
The Supreme Court is composed of a Chief Justice and 14 other Justices. It is divided into three petty benches. Most cases are adjudicated by one of the benches. Three Justices constitute a quorum for deciding a case within a petty bench. However, if a final appeal involves an issue of constitutional interpretation, the Grand Bench, composed of the Chief Justice and all 14 other Justices, adjudicates the case.
A number of elite career judges are assigned to assist the Justices of the Supreme Court as judicial research officials, including in IP-related cases.