Technology


With a touch of nostalgia I read the Wireless Watch Japan entry on mobile internet in Japan. The WWJ piece was critiquing an article in TechCrunch by on the success of mobile internet in Japan, particularly NTT Docomo’s i-mode.

The WWJ editors (rightly) point out that the success of mobile internet in Japan was mostly down to technological and business model innovation rather than cultural specificity in the Japanese market.

The WWJ editors are very dismissive of the Japan-specific story, and understandably so. This line has been carried by most analysts in the West and was long used as a reason why i-mode would never work outside of Japan. Regarding i-mode’s success,  they are spot on in identifying the importance of the relationships between handset manufacturer, operator, and content provider.

plus8star gives a good list of Japan firsts that help debunk the “only in Japan” approach used to dismiss much Japanese innovation:

  • Mobile email -1999
  • Camera phones and TFT colour screens – 2000
  • Commercial 3G  -2001
  • QR code reader – 2002
  • A big market for ringtones and song downloads (over 160 billion yen in 2005 according to Digital Content Association of Japan)

In a slightly more academic look at the success, this book chapter, Out of the Japanese Incubator (free download from ANU EPress) suggests a generalised 6 point model to the success of the platform.

  1. Collaborative business network between operators and manufacturers.
  2. Content aggregation.
  3. Micropayment mechanism.
  4. Independent content providers.
  5. Freedom of access outside aggregated content.
  6. Increased connectivity that results from these factors.

The book chapter also argues that rather than cultural specificity, the biggest barriers to exporting the i-mode model are likely to be 1) lack of the collaborative relationship between handset manufacturer and operator, 2) tendency for operators to enter exclusive arrangements with major content providers, and 3) the popularity of prepaid mobile phones outside of Japan.

So while western journalists and analysts got most fired up (and dismissive) about Japanese mobile telephony around 2001, Japan is still a resounding hotbed of innovation that – often years later – gets picked up in other markets. Leaving Tokyo again in 2007, I suffered major withdrawal symptoms after giving up the RFID contactless stored value card built into my phone. I didn’t know how I would be getting on trains or making payments at convenience stores.

But then again, I was coming to Canberra. I wouldn’t be using trains. Or convenience stores.

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A press release on the Indian Press Information Bureau has announced that Japan and India have signed a memorandum of understanding on Intellectual Property Rights in Tokyo.

The MoU covers three areas of capacity building, human resource development, and public awareness programs, with each government pledging to draw up annual action plans to implement the MoU.

If you take a look back through many of the Government of Japan’s Intellectual Property policy statements, the three areas mentioned in this MoU are some of the cornerstones of Japan’s IP reforms. Ever since Koizumi’s announcement of the ‘Nation Built on Intellectual Property’ policy in 2002, human resource development, public awareness, and even in it’s unstated form capacity building have carried through to one of the more recent policy documents, the 2006 Intellectual Property Strategic Plan.

The News (Pakistan) article also quotes an Indian Government official:

“The agreement consists of Japan’s support in areas such as the introduction of an electronic application system of intellectual property rights and education of Indian officials in the field,” the official said.

“Helping India in strengthening its policy on intellectual property rights is in the interest of Japanese companies considering investment in India,” he added.

This goes part of the way to answering the question why an MoU on IP with India? It would be interesting to know how much Japanese content IP is pirated in India and whether Japanese technology is also being used without paying royalties to patent holders.

Given Japan’s significant deficit in the terms of trade in copyrights, the government – and the industry – appear keen no prevent any unlawful use of Japanese copyrighted goods including content – just think back to JASRACYouTube incidents.

The protection agreement was Japan’s first with a developing country, he said.

Given that all ideas and knowledge often gain their value from having currency, they yield no value to the originator if they are not disseminated in some form.

Likewise from a more altruistic perspective, society – and the world at large – is unable to benefit from the knowledge of an innovator if they do not share it in some way.

The boundaries that deliniate the propagation and spreading of knowledge from its unlawful (or unfair?) misuse through theft are often not as clear as both the originators and re-users of knowledge may like it to be.

Academics, for example, often do not plan or stand to make a direct profit from the ideas that they hold. They publish their works, knowing well that it is past research combined with a unique set of experiences that has afforded them the background and knowledge to produce a potentially innovative idea.

Yet while the copying of physical goods (such as the pirating of CDs and DVDs, or counterfeit branded goods) seems to represent a more blatant infringement than would a movie director taking an idea from film she has previously seen, or a fashion designer using older designs as the basis for new ones, ideas themselves are still very much subject to litigation.

On the 8 March 2007, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun 3M in the US have brought a case of patent infringement to the US International Trade Commission (ITC) against 11 Japanese, American, and Chinese companies including Sony, Hitachi, Matsushita, and Renbo. According to the article (on page 3 of the evening edition), 3M had developed cathodes that allowed for the safe and stable recharging of lithium ion batteries, receiving 2 patents in November 2005. 3M believes the batteries used in the above firms laptop computers now infringes on this patent and are calling for their importation and sale to be stopped.

While high-tech/IT industries are bound to be fraught with IP litigation, the fashion industry provides an example of a sector that does not exhibit such a trend in protecting Intellectual Property Rights and litigating against its infringement (so far as the ‘ideas’ are concerned).

An article in the Taipei Times outlines a paper published by Raustiala and Sprigman, which explains how the fashion industry functions without much IPR protection.

The fashion industry can survive without intellectual property protection because of two interacting factors that they refer to as “induced obsolescence” and “anchoring.”

Raustiala and Sprigman argue that this very lack of intellectual property protection actually promotes the vibrancy of the industry.

So while it is bound to be context and industry-specific, the extent to which learning, referencing, and even ‘honouring’ can be separated from the acts of mimicking, copying, and stealing, is still an open question.

Japan’s Sony has passed the 1 million mark for PlayStation 3 sales in Japan, and has reached 2 million units for PS3 sales worldwide. Yet according to news articles, the milestone is 2 weeks short of the target set by Sony Computer Entertainment. This has led Nomura Securities to cut its predicted shippings of PS3 units by up to 25 percent.

There seems to be a lot of excitement over Apple’s announcement of iPhone, but really, what is the big deal? What is new?

The functions available on the announced model of iPhone, such as music downloads and web browsing, have been around in Japan for years.

This article form NewsDay tells the story: In Japan, iPhone is old news

It seems that the latest generation of high definition DVDs have already had their copy protection code cracked.

According to an article in Computerworld, a hacker going by the name of Muslix64 has cracked the HD-DVD code after becoming frustrated when trying to play a copy of Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket encrypted with HD-DVD technology, on his X-Box.

Is this tantamount to a violation of copyright acts? While the US Millenium Copyright Act prohibits users circumventing copyright controls without express permission of the copyright holder, is there some legitimacy to a user being able to customise and enhance their viewing experience after investing in new technologies that should be providing them with greater satisfaction? The Computerworld article muses:

…the software seems to have been written out of a legitimate sense of frustration with onerous copy-protection mechanisms, [Fred] von Lohmann, [senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation] said. “He went out and bought a fancy new product that he thought would improve his experience and despite the fact that he’s a legitimate buyer, it didn’t work.”

 

In the UK, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has released a report recommending that consumers should be allowed to copy/rip CDs they have purchased for use on music players such as iPods.

According to the BBC, the thinktank has called for a ‘private right to copy’, allowing people to copy for their own use CDs that they have purchased, stating that “it is not the music industry’s job to decide what rights consumers have – that is the role of the government” (the above article also has a link to the full report).

The author understands that the Australian Government has currently reviewed/amended copyright legislation. Most consumers tend to believe that they are within their rights to copy music for their own use – it is after all using the same music but simply changing the delivery mode or device. I am sure many consumers of music would be interested to learn just what their rights are when it comes to their use of purchased music, and whether the government is at all concerned with ensuring their rights are protected and preserved.