The way it has been in the past, if a US PCT applicant were to make use of the Japan Patent Office as an International Searching Authority, the applicant would need to make sure that the application falls within particular subject matter (“green tech”). The practical consequence of this was that as a general matter, US filers tended not to select ISA/JP. But things changed on July 1, 2018 and now it is much easier for US filers.
What changed is that JPO has switched from a subject matter limitation to a quantity limitation. Effective July 1, the limit is 300 applications per calendar quarter.
This means that as of a few weeks ago, RO/US has been keeping a count of the number of PCT applications in which ISA/JP is selected. If the limit of 300 were to be reached, RO/US would do two things — first, it would have to contact subsequent filers to let them know that they would have to pick a different ISA. Second, it would post this news on the USPTO web site. (And I would mention it in this blog, and on the PCT Listserv.)
Then at the end of the calendar quarter the count would reset and another 300 applications from the US would be eligible to select ISA/JP.
ISA/JP is not the only ISA which imposes a count limit on US PCT filers. ISA/AU and ISA/IL also impose a count limit.
As of now, the count limits for ISA/AU and ISA/IL have not been reached. My guess is that the count limit for ISA/JP will likewise not get reached.
The important take-home for this article, I think, is simply that the process for an applicant of selecting an ISA just got less complicated. There are eight options for US filers, and previously one of those eight choices had the “green tech” subject matter limitation. But now the choice is less complicated — the “green tech” limitation is gone.
Note: Even now there are subject-matter limitations at various ISAs. For example some ISAs will not examine claims directed to treatment of the human body by therapy. Check the PCT Applicant Guide sections for ISAs to see the limitations at particular ISAs.