Lovells has announced a merger with Japanese firm Kubota Law & Patent that will allow it to advise on domestic Japanese IP law for the first time.

Lovells’ Tokyo office will bring in bengoshi partner Eiichiro Kubota in addition to seven associates on 1 January 2008. The lawyers include Mizue Kakiuchi, Yusuke Inui, Masahito Imai, Daisuke Kumagi and Hirotaka Noguchi. Two others have accepted offers, but no formal contracts have been signed.

Kubota Law & Patent specialises in IP, with a focus on patent litigation. Lovells has worked with founding partner Kubota for some time and his appointment represents Lovells’ 23rd lateral hire so far in 2007.

Tokyo office head Lloyd Parker said he expects the IP team to grow to a total of 16 lawyers over the coming months.

“By next year we’ll be one of the top three IP practices,” he added.

Further expansion in the office is on the cards, particularly in the corporate, projects and dispute resolution sectors.

However, according to Parker, it has been difficult to find high-quality Japanese lawyers.

“There are very few Japanese lawyers in Japan,” he said. “It’s a hard bar exam, so the potential market is very small. If you take out all the domestic-orientated lawyers and the ones with poor English, it becomes very small indeed.”