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Article: International knowledge transfer in a multinational enterprise: General Electric’s patent system in Japan until the 1950s


Associate professor of business history - Kansai University


When and how was General Electric’s international patent transfer system to Japan changed? At first, General Electric (GE) controlled its Japanese patents directly. Since the 1920s, however, GE entrusted patent administration to its affiliated companies and GE patents were filed and registered in the names of affiliated companies. This type of patent transfer system depended upon affiliated foreign companies’ patent departments. The organization of patent transfer was provided by pre-war international agreements, which arranged exchanges of exclusive licenses, defined respective territories, and covered broad product lines. However, pre-war contracts were voided by antitrust lawsuits and, more decisively, U.S. government foreign policy and government-aided research. Changes in the contracts forced the patent and technological transfer organization to change. After World War II, GE patents were registered in the name of GE. Although GE entrusted patent administration to the patent department of an affiliated company, GE began using external patent agents and directly controlled Japanese patents once again beginning in 1958. The patent transfer organization developed with the evolution of the global economy and the growth of state power.


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