Japan Patent Office > Design-Driven Management:
Japan Patent Office Strives to Bridge
Invention and Innovation through
Design-Driven Management

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Is Japan really innovative or just advanced in invention? The Japan Patent Office (JPO) identified the gap between invention and innovation and strives to incorporate design mindsets and methods to bridge them in Japanese industry.

by Kokoro Kuroiwa

Challenge: Invention and Innovation

How can we measure how innovative a country is? The Japan patent office (JPO), an external entity of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, observed a gap between invention and innovation in Japan. Invention refers to the creation of new technologies, products, processes, or devices through research and experimentation. It can be ​​a physical object or a conceptual idea. Innovation, on the other hand, means putting inventions into practical use to create value for society. After an invention, applications for patents can be filled. When an invention is ready to be commercialized and brought to market, it can be applied for design. The JPO discovered that while the number of patent applications has been increasing, the number of applications for designs has stagnated.

Why does Japan remain static between inventions and innovation? The JPO points out two challenges the Japanese industry faces in the current market. Firstly, in today’s consumer-centered market, consumers have various values and needs. Although one of the Japanese industry’s strengths is high quality and functionality, those are not the only things today’s consumers look for. They seek products that match their various values and needs. Secondly, the quality of user experiences is important in this IoT, big data and AI era. In order to provide better user experiences, it is essential to listen to users’ needs and desires. However, the strong field capability, another strength of the Japanese industry, makes this difficult. Field capability is the ability to cooperate when dealing with challenges and problems, based on implicit social norms, even without a firm manual and in the midst of social upheaval. Due to the strong ability in the field, planning and implementation tend to be top-down and make it challenging to incorporate users’ voices.

Two challenges the Japanese industry faces in the current market

Two challenges the Japanese industry faces in the current market

Ideate: Design to Bridge the Gap between Invention and Innovation

Seeking a solution, JPO looked at how other countries operate in the current market. In foreign countries, companies that invest in design are successful and competitive. In contrast, in Japan, managers do not recognize design as an effective management tool, which is a weakness in a globally competitive environment.

  • Companies that invest in design

Therefore, JPO issued a declaration of design-driven management to encourage the Japanese industry to incorporate design-driven management and improve the brand and innovation power and competitiveness. What JPO means by “Design-driven Management” is a management style that utilises design as an important management resource to enhance corporate value.

  • Design-driven management model
    The JPO imagined design-driven management functioned like this.

Prototype: Design-driven management in the JPO

Prior to the full-fledged introduction of design-driven management, young staff members in JPO traced a series of customer experiences, so-called “customer journeys”. Through this, they noticed that the JPO still lacks users’ perspectives. Thus, they decided to implement design-driven management in itself with the hope that it would make a big difference at the JPO.

The JPO is supposed to be user-oriented, but when I put myself in the user’s shoes, I realised that we still have a long way to go.- A staff at the JPO after tracing the customer journey

Design driven management project at the JPO

Design driven management project at the JPO


The JPO has demonstrated a glimpse of the project. 

Participants 60 members from various departments
Groups 6 groups (around 10 members per team)
Duration 6 months
Interviewed users 240 users
Generated ideas in the ideation 59 ideas
Ideas planned to implement 12 ideas


60 members worked on the following six challenges.

Six challenges of the design-driven management project

Six challenges of the design-driven management project

Key findings in the process

The JPO teams went through the following process and in their report, they shared what worked well for them. 

The starting point of this project was the mindsets. The members tried to incorporate these mindsets, such as “actively go outside to observe users” to identify the needs of users and “be adventurous and have fun” and “welcome bold ideas” to encourage themselves to unleash their creativity.

For the overall approach, they used the so-called double-diamond model, which repeats the diverging and converging of problem identification and solution development.

They set one hour for each interview, and one interviewer and one note-taker joined in each interview. In order to use the one hour effectively, the team prepared the interview questions and mapped them out in a roadmap. For the interviews with children, the members used a picture story show which enabled children to understand the question and answer honestly. It was challenging for the team that worked on an overseas challenge to secure many interviews. However, the members tried to understand fewer users deeply by asking “why”-questions several times.

Problem Identification – Ideation
The team grouped their findings from interviews into similar categories, then created a clear image of the target user by understanding their activities, values, needs, and challenges. As an example, the team working on improving user interaction identified a specific user: an intellectual property officer in a small company. They found that this user was content with filing applications without a patent attorney, but worried about maintaining their practice in the event of illness or departure. To identify challenges, the team mapped out the users’ experiences and identified a key challenge that was at the root of the problem. They then brainstormed potential solutions.

Depending on the idea, the members created digital or physical prototypes. They tested the idea by themselves and improved it before testing it with users.

They tested their ideas through prototypes with those who are close to their user images, such as employees who are in their 20th or children.

They repeated the process and phases needed to generate ideas that solve challenges. For example, the team working on the challenges for Japanese SMEs proposed a service that would enable prioritisation of management issues for companies that were too busy with their business operations to face the essential management issues. However, the service did not resonate with users, and a mentor pointed out that it would take a huge budget and time to build the service. The team changed the solution with the users and was able to arrive at a new solution.

  • Mindset


As an example, these are two of the challenges and implemented ideas of the JPO project.

Support IP Officers who deal with IP tasks alone

Target User
  • SMEs that file IP applications without a patent attorney or other representative staff.
  • Staff who are solely responsible for IP within a company.
  • Those who can only use free tools for IP-related work due to lack of budget.
Challenges for users
  • They want to obtain a patent, but they would like to do it without a patent attorney or other representative due to a lack of budget.
  • They receive a “Reason Notice of Refusal”, which states reasons why they cannot obtain a patent as a response to an application for a patent. The content of the notice is difficult to understand. They also do not know what they should do next.
  • After receiving the “Reason Notice of Refusal”, it is a lot of work for them to look for information and research what to do next to resolve the refusal reasons.
Solution QR code printed on the postcard of the “Reason Notice of Refusal”

Users can scan it with their smartphones and it leads them to a webpage that provides clear information on how to respond, following users’ thought processes. This is easy to access and saves users the hassle of looking for information.

  • Solution by the UI team
    Solution by the UI team

Reduce the risk of ignorance about IP for SME business owners

Targeted User
  • SME business owners who are indifferent to IP. 
  • They want to continue doing business with peace of mind without inconveniencing their business partners.
Challenges they face
  • They do not know the benefits of acquiring IP rights.
  • No one can make them aware of or consult with them about IP. 
  • They don’t check the patent office website because it looks too difficult.
  • Trademarks are the most familiar to them regarding IP.
  • They feel resonate the most when the risks of not having trademarks are pointed out, along with examples of SMEs.
Solution Awareness-raising video on the risk of unacquired trademarks that reaches even business owners who are indifferent to IP

The JPO noticed its PR department struggled to reach companies that are indifferent to IP. Therefore, they developed videos that business owners and their families can watch on their smartphones and share on social media. The content of the videos makes audiences aware of the risk of unacquired trademarks, which are relatively familiar regarding IP to business owners. The JPO also launched a specific website that provides easy-to-understand information. The website includes an example in which a trademark solved the issue of fake products and links to basic information, free counseling and more examples.

  • Awareness-raising video on the risk of unacquired trademarks
    Awareness-raising video on the risk of unacquired trademarks

Impact: Design-driven management in the Japanese Industry

Design-driven management helped the JPO to be more user-centred. How did it make an impact on Japanese industry? In a survey conducted in May 2018, six months after the release of the declaration of design-driven management with 3347 companies in Japan, 65,4% of them answered they did not know design-driven management. Only 14,9% answered that they incorporated design-driven management or design thinking in their businesses. However, as many as 73,8% of the companies that incorporated design-driven management or design thinking responded that “sales and profits increased or improved”. In June 2022, the Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry proposed a common Key Performance Indicator (KPI) to measure the impact of design-driven management. They also indicated a support model that encourages SMEs to incorporate design-driven management after examining the difference in how big corporations and SMEs incorporate design-driven management.

The original meaning of innovation is not the invention itself but the practical application of the invention and the resulting change in society. Innovation does not occur simply by developing innovative technologies but rather by identifying the needs of society from the user’s perspective and linking them to a new value. In other words, innovation is realised only through the intervention of design. – in Declaration of “Design Management, Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry / Japan Patent Office, Study Group on Industrial Competitiveness and Design

Design bridges invention and innovation

Design bridges invention and innovation

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Image Sources


Nishigaki, A., Numamoto, K., Harada, T., Hirayama, Y., Washida, Y., & Higo, A. (n.d.). Building a Support Model for Design Management for SMEs. RIETI Discussion Paper Series, 22, 2022–07. Retrieved January 29, 2023, from https://www.rieti.go.jp/jp/publications/pdp/22p017.pdf
Vivivit, Inc. (2018, November 15). Survey on corporate awareness of “design-driven management” and “design thinking”. 株式会社ビビビット(Vivivit, Inc.). https://vivivit.co.jp/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/2018.11.15_%E5%A0%B1%E9%81%93%E7%94%A8PR.pdf
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The Authors

Kokoro studied law in Tokyo. She worked on design thinking projects at HPI School of Design Thinking in Potsdam and Innovation & Entrepreneurship projects as a University Innovation Fellow at Stanford University Hasso Plattner Institute of Design.

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