Takahashi Korekiyo, the first Commissioner of the Japan Patent Office
Takahashi Korekiyo was born into the Kawamura family in Edo (modern day Tokyo) on July 27, 1854. He was adopted by the Takahashi family at the age of two, and at the age of fourteen (1867) he went to the United States to study English but due to unfortunate circumstances was forced to work as a slave there. After returning to Japan at the age of 15, he became an English teacher in the Higo Karatsu domain.unt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.
In 1872, at the age of 20, he joined the Ministry of Education; in 1878, he became a lecturer at the Tokyo English School (now Nihon Gakuen); in 1878, he became a lecturer at the University of Tokyo’s College of Liberal Arts; in 1878, he became the principal of the Kyoritsu School (now Kaisei Junior and Senior High School); among his students were the haiku poet Masaoka Shiki, the great writer Natsume Soseki, and the naval commander Akiyama Saneyuki. He joined the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce in 1881.
At the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce, he worked in the Research Division, drafting the Trademark Registration Rules and the Invention Monopoly Rules. In 1884, he was the Director of the Trademark Registration Office, and at the age of 32 (1885), he became the first Director of the Patent Office. In 1886, he traveled to the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany to investigate the patent system. In New York, he was surprised to see the printing on a typewriter. After returning to Japan, he worked on the drafting of the Patent Law, and in 1887 established the Patent Office as an independent bureau. In 1890, he went to South America to work on the development of silver mines in Peru, but his efforts ended in failure, and he returned to Japan in 1891 penniless.
In the same year, at the age of 38, he was employed as the chief clerk in the construction office of the Bank of Japan’s main building. At the age of 46, he was appointed Deputy Governor of the Bank of Japan in 1898, Governor of the Bank of Japan in 1911, and Minister of Finance in 1913. In 1921, he became the 20th Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, and at the same time the 4th President of the Seiyukai political party. In 1934, at the age of 81, he became Minister of Finance for the sixth time in the Okada Cabinet, and in 1936, at the age of 81, he was assassinated in the February 26 Incident.
Industrial Property System
Takahashi Korekiyo’s interest in patent and trademark registration began around 1874. At the time, he was working as an interpreter for Dr. Murray , an American who had been hired by the Ministry of Education to establish an educational system.
Dr. Murray asked him for advice on how to obtain the copyright for a dictionary that Dr. Hepburn was reprinting. Mr. Korekiyo went to the Ministry of Home Affairs to find out and was told that foreigners at that time had so-called extraterritorial rights, and that Japanese law did not extend to them, so there was no way to protect them. Dr. Murray pointed out that Japan had copyrights to protect writings but no provisions to protect inventions or trademarks, and that it was not appropriate for Japanese to imitate foreign goods, steal trademarks, and sell imitations as if they were imported goods. He called out that Japan needed a similar system as in the United States where inventions, trademarks and copyrights were the three most important intellectual properties. While talking to Dr. Murray, Mr. Korekiyo felt the importance of industrial property rights and decided to conduct a research based on the outline of the British Encyclopedia.
In the following years, Mr. Korekiyo worked to establish a trademark and patent system but encountered a lot of difficulties. In case of the trademark system, there was a problem of confusion between goodwill (trade name) and trademarks. According to the Tokyo Chamber of Commerce, it was against business custom to register a trade mark that was the exclusive property of the owner and that it could not be used at all by others.
It was not until sometime later that the Tokyo Chamber of Commerce finally understood the distinction and agreed to enact the Trademark Ordinance, which was published in 1884. As for the patent system, the patent ordinance was enacted in 1885, although there was a strong opposition to it, as it had previously been suspended because there was no one to examine inventions and it was costly to employ a large number of foreigners.
Later, Mr. Korekiyo went to Europe and the United States to research foreign systems. During this visit, he was actively collecting materials on the patent system, and wanted to obtain a copy of the U.S. Patent Office’s weekly publication of decision records and other materials for the past five years. However, as five years’ worth of materials would be a huge amount of money, he negotiated for a free copy and agreed to exchange it for five years’ worth of the Japanese edition. However, as the book had not yet been published in Japan, it was decided that the five years would be sent once it was published.
While in Berlin on a tour of Europe and the United States, Mr. Korekiyo met a Kyoto textile manufacturer named Kawashima, who traveled around Europe with his family’s textile samples to take orders. He shared his experience by pointing out that Japan needs to establish a design system and that the emphasis should be on both the protection of the arrangement of colours and designs. He mentioned his designs for textiles and fabrics were stolen in Germany and France, and he offered to send samples of stolen designs to compare with the originals. It is often said that it was Kawashima’s samples that made Korekiyo aware of the importance of designs and inspired him to establish a design system in Japan.
It is not clear what was the outcome of Dr. Hepburn’s copyright case, but extraterritoriality regarding copyrights became an issue in the revision of unequal treaties. When Mr. Kaoru Inoue, who became Minister of Agriculture and Commerce in 1888, instructed Mr. Korekiyo to create a law to protect new machines imported from abroad by granting exclusive patents to the first importers, Korekiyo replied as follows:
“During my stay in England, I was told that in the revision of treaties, there is a lot that Japan asks of foreign countries, but not as much that foreign countries ask of Japan. It is better for Japan not to decide on the protection of inventions, but to make good use of it when the treaty is amended”
After this conversation, Mr. Inoue was convinced not to proceed further with the law establishment. Later, with the conclusion of the Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Commerce and Navigation in 1894, patent applications from foreigners were accepted in 1896, and the country became a signatory to the Paris Convention in 1899.
(Photo: Takahashi Korekiyo, Takahashi Korekiyo autobiography (AL) (Chuko Bunko)
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the patent system in 1936, NHK radio invited Mr. Korekiyo to appear on a program ” The Beginning of the Patent System”, but he did not like the idea and declined the request. Instead, he said he would give a lecture to an audience of about 300 people and agreed to let the radio crew place some of the equipment on the seats. However, when he arrived at the lecture hall on the day of the event, he found that a radio microphone had been placed there so he had no choice but to comply, and so his first radio lecture was given. It was so unusual for Mr. Korekiyo to give a talk on the radio that NHK had to cancel the fishing boat report, a very important broadcast at the time. The notes were taken in shorthand and distributed immediately at the exit of the hall, much to the surprise of the audience.
The JPO also holds “Takahashi Korekiyo’s posthumous manuscript on the patent system”, a collection of documents from 1885 that had been stored at the residence of Takahashi Korekiyo and was donated to the JPO for research for the 50th anniversary of the patent system.
All materials at the Patent Office were destroyed in a fire during the Great Kanto Earthquake, and it is only because some of the documents were stored at Korekiyo’s private residence that they survived, making them extremely valuable. Teiichi Nagamura (the 35th Commissioner of the Japan Patent Office), who was the JPO’s chief administrative officer at the time, interviewed Takahashi Korekiyo during this research. There were some interesting moments shared in the interview, such as a case of a fanatic applying for a patent for a coffin and being rejected then later protesting against Patent Office and chasing after Mr. Korekiyo. Another case involved two applicants protesting against the Patent Office, and the police officer following them all the way to the Soba noodle shop. After the officer overheard them saying they wouldn’t protest anymore, he reported to his team that there was nothing to be worried.
Japan Patent Office, “First Commissioner of the Japan Patent Office, Korekiyo Takahashi”
Japan Patent Office website: www.jpo.go.jp/introduction/rekishi/shodai-choukan.html