DR: What are the differences between legal departments in Japan versus the U.S.? Are there any ways that Japanese lawyers operateor its systemthat you particularly admire?
AT: There are fundamental differences between the legal departments, both in terms of personnel and focus. In Japan the legal department "lawyers" can either be fully licensed advocates called bengoshi, or nonlicensed personnel. The latter is much more prevalent, and those individuals migrate to the legal department just as other young professionals might migrate to engineering, marketing or other business functions.
Further, the Japanese are not nearly as litigious a society as we have in the US. The result is that there is very little litigation activity. In the U.S., approximately 70 percent of our people and our budget relate to litigation or litigation-related activity. The result of these differences is that our team in Japan spends most of their time drafting documents and serving as general advisers. Most of the more sophisticated work that requires specialized training is often handled by my team or our European colleagues.
If there is one aspect of the Japanese legal system I admire most, it is the dedication to resolving disputes directly. That is not to say that companies shy away from enforcing their rights. They just prioritize discussion and negotiation before litigation. It is a much more productive and efficient process.
DR: What are the biggest challenges to intellectual property law?
AT: Quite simply, the explosion in patent activity and patent litigation. Specifically, in recent years our industry has seen a significant amount of intellectual property assets transferred to patent trolls and other non-operating holding companies. In many cases this was a direct result of the need for companies to monetize assets during the aftershock of the Lehman crisis.
Further, because of the proliferation of technology in today's automobiles, manufacturers are being dragged into intellectual property disputes that are generally common to electronic and Internet-based companies. Nissan is a technology leader in the industry, so we dedicate a lot of time to preserving and protecting our intellectual property rights and aggressively defending them.
DR: How do you handle litigation? How much does cost figure into a decision to litigate or settle?
AT: While there are variations in approaches depending on the nature of litigation, we generally assess our cases based on technical merits and brand impact, and are not pressured by the cost to litigate. I feel quite strongly that companies need to take a long-term view of the cost of litigation, and economic settlements are often the result of short-term, and short-sighted, thinking.
Companies that earn a reputation for economic settlements tend to earn more litigation as a reward. We see this in our own industry with some of our competitors. So generally, we will spend the money it takes to defend the company's interests. Our clients understand our long-term view and we do a good job of minimizing the impact of the litigation process on the company's operations and bottom line.
DR: How have immigration issues affected your company and department?
AT: As an international company, immigration and the need to move our team members across our various locations are important issues. A slow, bureaucratic environment hampers the ability of companies to import trained personnel, inventors and future leaders. It slows the pace of business and provides a competitive disadvantage as against other regions. While our legal department has not been impacted directly, every multinational company operating in the U.S. faces the challenges brought by these issues.
DR: What are your best practices concerning data management?
AT: The key to data management is ease of use and focusing on what data a legal department truly needs and regularly uses. Many systems or approaches are too cumbersome from the data entry perspective, and would take up too many resources without adding appropriate value. So we place a premium on evaluation of the true value of data from a historical context to shape a simple and targeted approach.
This article originally appeared in the Daily Report.