Patent Records Show Surge in Japanese Advancements

By Jeff Nesmith and Elliott Jaspin | THE JOURNAL RECORD, February 26, 1993 | Go to article overview

Patent Records Show Surge in Japanese Advancements


Jeff Nesmith and Elliott Jaspin, THE JOURNAL RECORD


By Jeff Nesmith

and Elliot Jaspin

Cox News Service

WASHINGTON _ Americans are being out-invented by the Japanese in the contest to develop a wide swath of advanced technologies which promise to yield millions of jobs for decades to come.

In 1981, patent records reveal that Japan excelled in only three areas: Instruments to measure time. Internal combustion engines. Photography.

Each of these sectors, however, served to foster enormous trade surpluses for the Japanese throughout the 1980s.

By 1991, the patent data show, Japanese companies had surged ahead in 30 technologies. They led in such areas as photocopying, magnetic information storage and retrieval, radiation chemistry, office machines, image analysis, solid state electronics and television.

The rapid growth of Japanese filings with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office became evident through a Cox Newspapers computer-based analysis of the government's most recently available records. Over the decade, the analysis tracks a clear pattern of concentration by Japanese firms on innovations in high technology fields.

The Cox study underscores warnings from a broad range of economists who see Japan moving to control an ever-larger share of world trade in industries which hold the highest income potential.

If these trends continue, they could cause wholesale shifts of wealth that are now controlled by U.S. industries to Japan in the coming decade. Such shifts would be similar to those which occurred in areas like watches, automobiles and cameras during the 1980s and which have cost the United States hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in lost income.

"If they're increasing in patents, then products are not that far behind," said Vince Smith, vice president of CHI Research Inc., a New Jersey consulting firm that advises corporations on competitive issues.

Economists largely agree that high technology industries, usually defined as those where ideas are the chief resource, will be critical to countries seeking to maintain world-class standards of living in the next century.

For the past several years, four Japanese companies _ Hitachi, Toshiba, Mitsubishi and Canon _ have led all American firms in obtaining U.S. patents. That fact has been noted in annual announcements from the Patent and Trademark Office in Washington.

The Cox analysis examined this pattern from another vantage point. It looked at how various patents by Americans and Japanese inventors were distributed among the technology classes recognized by the patent record-keepers.

When approached in this way, the computerized analysis provided a consistent answer: a soaring interest by Japanese firms in those technologies with high-income potential.

The data did not picture the U.S. inventors as second raters. Of more than 100,000 patents filed in 1991 with the Patent and Trademark Office, more than half went to Americans. Thousands of American inventions were patented in such areas as solid state electronics, television, new materials and computers.

Even so, the analysis appears to contradict the widely held notion that Japan is not an innovative society but one that exploits ideas first made in America.

Smith, the corporate consultant, said his company's own study of patent records backs up the thesis that Japanese industry has become more inventive.

"We see Japan moving from an engineering society to an innovative society," he said, adding that he finds himself warning American clients that they are not investing sufficiently in research and development to keep pace with Japanese competition.

By contrast, Japan has a growing commitment to research and development, said Kenneth Courtis, senior economist in the Tokyo office of Deutsche Bank, a German-owned financial institution. …

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