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Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010
Some recent adventures in intellectual property
Much has been made in the Japanese press about the commercial ramifications of the research in palladium- catalyzed cross couplings in organic systems that won Eiichi Negishi and Akira Suzuki the Nobel Prize in chemistry this year. The long-term studies by the pair and an American colleague, Richard Heck, have been used in a wide range of applications in both the electronics and pharmaceutical fields.
When asked why he never applied for patents for his discoveries, Negishi told Japanese reporters that he believed these technologies should be freely used in order to benefit society.
Suzuki, however, had a slightly different take on the matter. "Patents require a lot of time and money to maintain," he told Asahi Shimbun, and basically he was too busy, and too broke, to pursue them. Age before beauty: Aging pompadoured rocker Joji Takahashi has lately secured a comfortable position as a TV personality. As with many such tarento, he didn't gain attention because of his main gig but rather through ancillary image-tinkering. In 1999, Takahashi married Mika Mifune, the daughter of late actor Toshiro Mifune. Mika is 24 years his junior. In fact, she was 16 when they wed. They eventually became a topical couple who say their affections are still as strong as they were when they first met, and are thus irresistible to producers and advertisers.
Takahashi has acquired the aura of a lucky guy, a washed-up singer who was granted a second chance in showbiz thanks to a stroke of romantic serendipity that lends him a bankable celebrity cachet.
But it turns out that Takahashi doesn't have to work on TV, as he explained at a seminar last month on the subject of "Yume no Inzei Seikatsu," or "The Dream of a Life of Royalties." The singer makes ¥12 million a year from the song "Road," which he wrote and performed back in 1993 with his band Tora Bu Ryu (a compound of three kanji whose pronunciation is meant to mimic the English word "trouble"). This song, which is divided into "chapters," sold 2.2 million copies in the year after it was released, netting him ¥1.6 billion. Takahashi spent it all over the next several years partying. By the time he met Mika, he only had ¥5 million to his name. He credits marriage with straightening him out, but, as showbiz columnist Yoshiko Matsumoto has pointed out, the steady flow of royalty checks since then has probably also kept his marriage stable. Sticky mouse: Hideki Matsuzaki, the mayor of Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, is running for a fourth term, and his campaign literature contains a photo of him standing beside Mickey Mouse. The Tokyo Disney Resort complex happens to be in Urayasu, and last January, the Disney mascot visited the mayor's office for a promotional event.
Disney is notoriously strict about the use of its characters, and Matsuzaki was clearly exploiting Mickey for political benefit. When Asahi Shimbun contacted Oriental Land, the company that manages the Disney Resort complex, a publicity person said that Oriental Land gave permission for the photograph to be used in promotional materials but that Disney does not support any political candidates or positions. The PR person also implied that the Walt Disney Co. in the United States did not specifically give permission for use of Mickey in the campaign brochures, meaning that they probably weren't informed. In that regard, Matsuzaki isn't pushing his luck. Mickey doesn't appear anywhere on his home page.
Royal(ty) couple: On Sept. 21, 24-year-old model-actor Hiro Mizushima announced that he was leaving his talent agency to pursue a writing career.
It was the second time Mizushima shocked his fans and handlers. In April 2009, he and popular singer-songwriter Ayaka announced that they had wed the previous February. Mizushima's workload dropped considerably, presumably due to the fact that, no longer single, his appeal was diminished. In a recent interview with Fuji TV, he confided that he actually wanted to continue working as an actor, but implied it was difficult. It's an undiscussed truth in Japanese showbiz that once you leave the agency that nurtured you, few people will hire you.
But it isn't the end of the world. Since her 2006 debut, Ayaka has released two original albums, one greatest hits package and 10 singles, two of which were hits. Her earnings from recordings so far are about ¥300 million, and because she writes or cowrites most of her material, her publishing royalties have earned her another ¥200 million.
These royalties will help, since Ayaka herself has taken early retirement at the tender age of 22. The singer suffers from Graves' disease, an autoimmune disorder, and it's believed that Mizushima is taking time off for her sake. As one anonymous showbiz reporter told Aera magazine, it's touching when a man quits his job to take care of his wife, "but regular people usually can't afford it." Mic check: Daisuke Inoue, the man who invented the karaoke box system, never patented the machines he started making in 1971, and, according to a 1999 Time magazine article, which named him one of the most influential Asians of the 20th century, he subsequently lost out on ¥100 million a year in royalties.
Last May, Inoue published a 15-page "memo" that described his original karaoke device, complete with diagrams, and had it copyrighted. He "split" this copyright (chosakuken) into 20,000 "shares," which he began selling for ¥1 million each. A ¥1.5 million investment will supposedly return ¥2 million in three years.
The Cultural Agency, which oversees copyright issues, has frozen the sale after about 50 people who bought the shares complained. The investors were led to believe, either by securities brokers or their own vivid imaginations, that they were buying into the lucrative karaoke market, but actually what they were buying were merely shares of a copyright on the memo, which appear to be worthless. Inoue claims he never meant to fool anyone and plans to invest the money in a nursing home that he assumes will make a profit.