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New incentive for Japanese workers

Janet Babin Oct 17, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Scientists and engineers in Japan are probably breaking open the champagne. That country’s Supreme Court has ruled employees who invent products are entitled to the intellectual property rights. That hasn’t been the case over there, where the team is usually rewarded over the individual.

From the Marketplace Innovations Desk at North Carolina Public Radio, Janet Babin has the story.

JANET BABIN: The ruling involved a worker at Hitachi. Seiji Yonezawa invented a technology for reading CDs and DVDs. He asked the $81 billion company to compensate him for his contributions. But Hitachi argued that it had already paid him.

The court ruling upheld an earlier decision that awarded Yonezawa $1.4-million for his invention. His attorney called the ruling a first for Japan.

Visiting Brookings Institution fellow Mashahiro Matsumura says, in Japan, scientists and engineers are regarded as craftsmen. They often stay at one company for their entire career. He says Japanese workers have different priorities than their American counterparts:

MASHAHIRO MATSUMURA:“American people like to take risk, but also like to get the more reward when you get successful. But Japanese want to have stable opportunity. They want to have some monetary compensation but not horrendously expensive one like you have here.”

Hitachi called the ruling disappointing. Company spokesman Jerry Corbett says the case has changed intellectual property — or I.P. issues at Hitachi.

JERRY CORBETT:“We will pay the employee what we’ve been ordered to pay, and we have put in an I.P. policy in place. And we believe it will be more than adequate to avoid these type of things in the future.”

The ruling could signal a shift in Japan’s traditional respect for teamwork over individual accomplishments. Earlier this year, Toshiba settled an employee patent lawsuit for more than half-a-million dollars.

I’m Janet Babin for Marketplace.

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