Abstract: International Patent Control and Transfer of Knowledge: The United States and Japan before World War II

Shigehiro Nishimura


My aims in this essay are to clarify the role and effect of the international patent control carried out by the General Electric Company in the interwar period on knowledge transfer between the United States and Japan, and to examine the effects of this process on Japan's innovative behavior. In previous studies on GE's international patent control, I showed that in order to transfer technological knowledge safely, GE made its Japanese affiliated companies set up a patent department and transferred functional capabilities of patent control to them. After the organization of an international patent control system, GE transferred a good deal of technological knowledge continuously and utilized it in Japan until the outbreak of the Pacific War. In the interwar era, GE obtained about 12,000 patents that were applied for and registered in the United States. In Japan, GE applied for and registered about 3,000 patents in the name of affiliated companies. Therefore, GE transferred about one-fourth of its U.S. patented inventions to Japan, and made patent portfolios in both countries. In this essay, I will compare GE's U.S. and Japanese patent portfolios and analyze how they were linked.

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