Hitachi builds patent search engine
TOKYO, Japan (CNN) -- Hitachi has developed a search engine to navigate the swelling number of patents made public by Japan's Patent Office.
Hit by a decreased demand in PC components, Hitachi is banking on software services to restore its prosperity. The electronics giant plans to start selling the engine to research and development centers by June.
Japan has seen a patent boom in recent years, and Japanese firms are being generously rewarded. For the first time, the country is expected to post a surplus this year on its patent account balance.
The Hitachi search engine has been designed to efficiently navigate 4 million patents made public by the patent office, according to the Nihon Keizai Shimbun.
Hitachi downloaded 2.5 terabytes of patent data to develop the search database. One terabyte is equivalent to one trillion bytes.
Japan's biggest electronics manufacturer is known as one of the world's leading makers of mainframes, PCs and microchips. However, a drop in PC demand has prompted Hitachi to focus more on software services.
From its array of advertised software services, Hitachi offers enterprise applications, network monitoring software, and document conversion to translate paper drawings into Computer Assisted Design (CAD) digital files.
Software services is a division of Hitachi's greater Information systems and electronics business, which accounted for 32 percent of Hitachi's sales last year.
On Friday, Hitachi reported a rise in net profit in the year to March 31 of $846.3 million, but fell short of its target of $1 billion due to a late-year slump in sales.
Japan's patent boom
Japan is currently experiencing a surge in patents, largely facilitated by an efficient legal infrastructure that promotes national industry.
The country is expected to post a surplus this year on its patent account balance, the balance sheet for royalties received from overseas against those paid abroad.
The Ministry of Finance said Japanese firms are expected to bring in more payments in the high-tech, auto, and manufacturing sectors than they pay out for year 2001.
During the postwar period, Japan relied on the West for access to production technologies, paying substantial royalties to U.S. and European companies.
But now increasingly more Japanese firms are putting a high priority on intellectual property. According to the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, five of the top 10 companies that secured U.S. patents in 2000 were Japanese.
Even Hitachi, who plans to sell its patent search engine in a few months' time, saw a net patent balance of $260.6 million in 1999.
Currently, only the U.S. and Europe see patent surpluses. The U.S. posts an annual surplus of more than $20 billion.
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