The government plans to restrict access to information about patent applications for advanced technologies that could be used to develop next-generation weapons, if deemed necessary for security reasons, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.
A system to keep the applications secret for a certain period of time is planned to be introduced in 2022.
The goal is to prevent technology leaks to countries or companies that could pose a security threat.
So-called secret patent systems have been introduced by all of the other Group of Seven nations, as well as major countries such as China and Russia.
The National Security Secretariat’s (NSS) economic team has begun designing the system by referring to those in other countries, and aims to submit a revision to the Patent Law and other related legislation during next year’s regular Diet session.
The cutting-edge technologies the system will cover will be screened by the Japan Patent Office in collaboration with the NSS, Defense Ministry and other government entities.
Based on this screening, the content of an application could be withheld from the public for reasons such as it being “related to national security,” regardless of whether the patent is granted.
The government intends to establish penalties to ensure the applicant does not disclose its achievements without permission during the secrecy period.
However, in contrast to regular patents, an applicant cannot earn income on the patent during the period it is secret. If similar technology is developed independently overseas, the applicant may not be able to make a patent claim.
The government is considering providing some kind of compensation to ensure applicants are not disadvantaged by keeping applications secret.
The government expects the system will apply to technologies including uranium enrichment technology that could be used to develop nuclear weapons, technologies for manufacturing next-generation weapons such as rail guns, which use strong electromagnetic force to launch projectiles that destroy targets, and technologies related to biological or chemical weapons.
Under Japan’s patent system, the content of an application is disclosed to the public 18 months after it is submitted, regardless of whether the patent has been granted.
Because this information can be viewed for free online and is accessible to anyone, it could potentially be used by foreign countries and terrorist organizations to develop weapons of mass destruction.
The government is particularly wary of China, which advocates military-civilian integration. China is believed to be extending its tentacles to other countries’ advanced technologies by making full use of corporate acquisitions, cyber-attacks and other means.
The government is reviewing the patent system because the realm of national security has expanded to include fields such as outer space and the cyber realm, and due to the growing importance of cutting-edge technologies.
The United States, which is battling China for technological supremacy, has also called on Japan to be more thorough about overseeing its technology.