Table Speech

Development of the Patent System and Great Inventors

July 19, 2017

Mr. Yoshikazu Tani
Patent Attorney, Representative Partner
and CEO, Tani & Abe Patent Office

 The first system for patenting inventions was developed in Venice during the Renaissance period. Leonardo da Vinci’s aerial screw and Galileo Galilei’s water pump were patented. Later in the 15th century in England, the Letters Patent were issued to woolen cloth weavers from Flanders to attract skilled artisans who helped nurture the nascent cloth industry. In 1624, England enacted the Statute of Monopolies to protect inventions and technological introduction especially during the Industrial Revolution, which stimulated epoch-making inventions such as the water frame by Richard Arkwright and steam engine by James Watt.

 The Constitution stipulated by the newly-independent United States ensured that inventors had exclusive right to their inventions. Under the pro-patent policies introduced by President Abraham Lincoln, the country transformed into the most industrialized country by revolutionary inventors including Samuel Morse, Thomas Edison, George Eastman and the Wright brothers.

 Here in Japan, the patent system was established by the Patent Monopoly Act proclaimed in 1885. In 1985, the Japan Patent Office selected the 10 Great Inventors in Japan. Among them, Sakichi Toyoda (father of Kiichiro Toyoda, the founder of Toyota Motor Corporation) was born in 1867 in Shizuoka Prefecture, as a son of a poor carpenter. He invented numerous weaving devices, including the world’s first automatic power loom in 1924, which contributed to the advancement of the Japanese textile industry in a worldwide-scale.

 Kokichi Mikimoto was born in 1858 in Mie Prefecture. Having a talent for business, he focused on protecting and cultivating stocks of native akoya oysters depleted by over-harvesting of natural pearls. Under the guidance of Dr. Kakichi Mitsukuri, an authority of fisheries research, Kokichi succeeded in obtaining a patent for cultured “semi-spherical pearl” in 1896. Based on this success, he carried on his research on producing a perfectly round cultured pearl and became the first entrepreneur to commercialize the sale of cultured pearls around the world.

 Hiroshi Ando was a great inventor following Thomas Edison in the field of electronics. Born in 1902 in Shiga Prefecture, he was fascinated by science from his early childhood. He obtained a patent for the multi-grid electron tube at the age of 17, which formed the basis of the radio industry. When Konosuke Matsushita, the founder of Panasonic, launched the manufacturing of radio sets in 1931, he negotiated directly with Mr. Ando and bought all related patents and made them available free of charge to manufacturers in the industry.

 Numerous original inventions have accelerated Japan’s industrial and technological development in the post-war period, such as transistor radios, Esaki diode, WALKMAN, blue LED and karaoke machines. I sincerely hope that revolutionary inventions will keep expanding Japanese industries and revitalize our country.