In 1981, Sony announced the “Compact Disc” with co-development partner Philips. In the former studies, the strategic process of the CD was described as the great achievement of Norio Ohga (Sony's vice-president at the time), who seemed to have been the leader taking the initiative with the development of this product. However, in some publications written by certain engineers who actually developed Sony's digital recording technology, it is claimed that they had actually led the strategic process.
According to the analysis of various engineers' interviews, articles of audio industry magazines, and such engineer's publications, this paper found that the main strategic leader of this process was Heitaro Nakajima, who provided the motivation for this project as middle manager.
In fact, the very first digital recording equipment for consumer use (PCM-1) was gradually developed, promoted and approved by Heitaro Nakajima and his Sony Audio Technology Center (Sony Giken). Besides, from 1978, Sony Giken started technical sales and negotiations for approval of their digital recording format as a world standard by AES (Audio Engineering Society), which is the largest audio society in the USA. Through these activities, Sony Giken's engineers also identified new needs for a total digital editing support system. As a result, these activities prepared Sony's technological competence, which was especially welcomed by Philips.
Notably, these activities were not led by top management, but by the middle management. When engineers in enterprises plan to develop new technology using the company's resources, it is required that they provide proof of its legitimacy. The actors in this case study were also required to do this over and over, and they made great efforts to find the best answer each time. They do not only handle solutions of their engineering problems, but also actually seek proper proof of the legitimacy of their technology in various ways, among others they also have to persuade top managers, promote their technology overseas, and so forth. Taking these factors into consideration, it can be concluded that this strategic process is a process led by engineers.
Dr. Kikunae Ikeda discovered the “Umami” taste associated with glutamate. He then
went on to apply for a patent for a method of manufacturing a seasoning based on the
“Umami” taste associated with foods high in glutamate. Fortunately this patent has turned
out to have an uncommon high availability, making it possible for Ajinomoto Company to
establish and maintain a large new global enterprise.
Up to this present day, many technically outstanding patents have failed to succeed in
becoming the base of new businesses, even though these inventions and their patents
have been recognized and appreciated as representing useful technical novelties.
The purpose of this paper is to clarify the reasons that Dr. Ikeda’s patent achieved this
rare high availability over a long period. First, I examined the details and the nature of the
discovery of “Umami”, took a close look at the novelty, the technical uniqueness and the
deficits of his patent, and then, in the light of these considerations, investigated the reasons
for this success, by applying the NASA’s 3 step model developed to analyze barriers
to industry development. In 2003, NASA in U.S.A. released a plan development model.
This model identifies three barriers that need to be overcome during the course of successful
development. These are 1st: “the Devil River” R & D barrier, 2nd: “the Valley of
Death” barrier to getting a business started, and 3rd: “the Darwinian Sea” barrier to successful
competition in the market.
It is found that even though Dr. Ikeda’s patent had some deficits related to “the Devil
River” barrier step, which allowed developers in the U.S.A. to get a foothold in the monosodium
glutamate industry in U.S.A., it also contained strong elements to combat “the Valley
of Death” barrier, and so it was able to hold back the emergence of most competitors in
this industry for a long time.
Even though it may be difficult to place such a strong defense against “The Valley of
Death” barrier in many patents, this finding does surely provide some new suggestions
about how to launch highly available inventions and patents in the future.