Osha Liang on Important Aspects of Working with Japanese Companies
December 2009 -- Founded in 1997, intellectual property law
firm Osha Liang LLP opened a Japan office in September 2008 to
its services to Japanese clients. The Tokyo office is the latest addition to the firm, which has offices in Houston
(headquarters), Paris, Silicon Valley, and Austin. With some 20 languages spoken among the members of these offices,
and with plans to establish additional offices overseas, Osha Liang seems to be growing into a truly global firm. JETRO
spoke with Managing Partner, Mr. John Osha, about his experience establishing the Japan office, working with JETRO,
and working with Japanese clients.
Opportunities in Japan
Before establishing the Japan office, Osha Liang had been representing Japanese companies in U.S.-related
transactions and litigation for many years. But the only ways to work with these clients were to send associates to
Japan or work by telephone. To better serve these clients, Osha Liang decided to establish an office in Japan. "We felt
that by establishing an office in Japan, we would be able to more closely work with our clients there and provide a
higher level of service," said Mr. Osha. "It's certainly different to have people permanently on the ground in Japan."
Setting up the Office
As first steps in establishing the office, Osha Liang researched the different forms of offices that could be set up. The
firm decided on the Gaikokuho Jimu Bengoshi form, or registered foreign lawyer, which would enable Osha Liang
lawyers in Japan to advise Japanese clients on U.S. practice. This particular registration requires the support of a local
firm in Japan, which Osha Liang obtained from the firm Tatsumura. The founder of that local firm, Mr. Tatsumura, also
guided Osha Liang through the process for establishing the office. "We relied very heavily on Tatsumura-sensei
because he is very familiar with the rules and regulations and was instrumental in helping us go through those
processes," Mr. Osha said.
In addition to the guidance from Mr. Tatsumura, Osha Liang also received
help from JETRO in finding accounting and
legal expertise for the office set up. "JETRO played an advisory role with respect to the procedures for entering the
market," said Mr. Osha. "They assisted in dealing with the legalities of establishing the office." He added, "When I
contacted JETRO, I received a response immediately. JETRO was very interested in helping us, even though it wasn't
perhaps the typical example of the types of assistance that JETRO would provide, and they were able to get us in touch
with people who were very helpful for us."
Osha Liang established its Japan office, named Tatsumura/Osha Liang, in September 2008.
Results and Outlook
Having a Japan office has provided Osha Liang with the locality needed to provide its Japanese clients with services "in
their time zone and in their language," said Mr. Osha. "This is a real benefit that most of our competitors would not be
able to provide."
Another benefit differentiating the firm from its competitors in Japan is its Paris office. The attorneys of the Paris office
are licensed to practice in Europe, which enables Osha Liang to, for example, file patent applications for its Japanese
clients simultaneously in both Europe and the U.S. "This is a big advantage for the Japanese clients because they can
send a single letter, in Japanese, to us either in Tokyo or in Houston [the firm's headquarters], and we can handle their
needs in Europe and the United States at the same time and provide them with a single report of what happened on a
single invoice," Mr. Osha said. "This saves them the time, money, and aggravation of dealing with two different law
Furthermore, having its headquarters in Houston enables Osha Liang to provide additional benefits to Japanese
1. The area's relatively low cost of living enables the firm to keep its expenses at a reasonable level
2. Houston is located close to the Eastern district of Texas--a very popular place to file patent suits. Mr. Osha
shared, "Our geographic proximity, our familiarity of that court--because we are there often--and our ability to read
and review and process documents in Japanese, even here in Houston, is a significant advantage."
For the future of the business, Mr. Osha hopes to achieve "a higher level of service and a higher level of exposure for
our firm than we've had historically." He also expressed interest in opening offices in other overseas locations.
Business in Japan
Mr. Osha has been working with Japanese clients since near the beginning of his legal career in 1990, when he worked
for a law firm in Washington, D.C. that primarily represented Japanese clients. He spent a summer as a trainee in the
patent department of a Japanese company, living in a dormitory in Japan and working in the company. Since then, he
has been traveling to Japan two or three times per year and is conversational in Japanese.
From his experience, Mr. Osha shared some differences he has observed in doing business with clients in Japan versus
those in the U.S. He stressed, however, that these differences are generalizations and that ultimately, each client is
Systems within intellectual property are relatively similar. But Japanese companies in
general are much more resistant to engage in litigation, except for as a last measure. And therefore, Japanese
companies are sometimes quite surprised when they are sued very early in the process without there being a long
attempt at an amicable settlement.
In the U.S., typically companies are much quicker to file litigation.
Working with customers
Japanese companies tend to have researched issues and have a good understanding of
the basics of an issue.
Some companies in the U.S. are not as well informed about the laws in other
It takes some time, quite a bit of development of trust, to establish a relationship with a
Japanese company, but ultimately, once that relationship is established, it's a very strong one.
U.S. companies in general tend to be more inclined to give work to a service provider
who is giving the best deal at that moment and is less concerned with the working relationship and the people
As a law firm [in Japan], we're not allowed to advertise, so we're not doing business
development in the same way as a company would do. Primarily, we give speeches and write articles [to conduct
Insight and Advice
Mr. Osha also provided insight and advice from his experience establishing the Japan office and operating in the
- The most difficult thing about establishing the Japan office was establishing the name. There were very strict requirements about what we could name a Gaikokuho Jimu Bengoshi office that were surprising to me, and actually surprising to our team that was working in Japan to establish the office.
- If a company has not been working with Japanese clients, then spending some time doing that before making the investment [in an office in Japan] would be very sensible, because the culture is different. It's very important to understand that difference in culture and difference in expectations that result from that. Otherwise, I think it could be a very costly investment.
- Regarding the difference in culture and expectations: In addition to what I said about elationship management, which is very significant--and again, I'm generalizing because there are always exceptions--but in general, Japanese companies are very analytical, will spend a lot of time thinking about things, writing back and forth about very specific issues, and they expect the company or firm to be involved and responsive in that process. Sometimes to an American, it may seem like red-tape bureaucracy, but it's important to go through that process. Also, Japanese companies, in my experience, tend to be very strict when it comes to deadlines and budgets. Some U.S. companies, of course, are as well, but it's very important to very clearly set out what the goals and expectations are, what services can be provided, at what level, within what period of time, and at what cost, and then to make sure those are met.
- Having Japanese speakers is enormously helpful. Here in the Houston office, we have four native-level Japanese speakers, including two licensed Japanese attorneys. That ability really helps with representing the Japanese clients and giving us insight into what's expected and how to deal with requests and issues. Almost anyone in Japan--business people and lawyers--is going to be able to read and write in English. But being able to explain things in Japanese is such an advantage. Being able to read documents in Japanese so that everything doesn't need to be translated is an enormous advantage. And that's something that we've found to be very important and very much appreciated by our clients, an enormous convenience for them.
Japan Company Profile
||Intellectual property law
||Gaikokuho Kyodo Jigyo
2-1-1, Nihonbashi, Chuo-ku
Tokyo 103-0027, Japan
||Osha Liang LLP
*Note: The opinions contained in this article are based on the experiences of the interviewee. They are not
representative of all experiences in Japan or working with Japanese companies, and do not reflect the opinions of
More past clients
"Setting up a Business" flowchart