IG Kogyo Co., Ltd., boasts the top domestic share in metal siding (heat insulating metal material for home exterior walls), and also exports the material overseas. President Takashi Ishikawa hypothesized that cold winter temperatures accounted for the high death rate from cerebral apoplexy observed in the region where he lives. So he quit his work as a carpenter specialized in building shrines and temples, and launched a venture business.
Mr. Ishikawa thought that the inside of a house would become warmer if strong iron plates with some added heat insulating functionality were used for the exterior walls. He wondered what should be combined with the iron plates to make them insulate heat. One snowy morning, as he was lying in his "futon" (Japanese bedding), the mattress laid under the "futon" caught his attention. He realized that the inside of the "futon" was warm because of the mattress.
He knew that the stuffing of the mattress was made from a material called urethane, but nothing more.
Mr. Ishikawa left for Tokyo, dashed to Japan Patent Office and consulted publications of unexamined patent application*, where he was able to obtain much valuable information on urethane. Urethane is made by adding a foaming agent to resin materials called polyol and polyisocianate, and mixing them by machine. Its basic patent was owned by an overseas manufacturer, but its term was to expire in June 1971, while the term of its related patents were also to expire in June 1973, making urethane patent-free (the invention can be used without paying a license fee due to the expiration of the patent term). Although mattresses use soft urethane, it is possible to produce hard urethane by changing the catalytic agent (a medium for speeding up the chemical reaction).
Mr. Ishikawa became convinced that a "construction material combining iron plates with urethane will produce a revolutionary exterior wall material," and immediately introduced his idea to a number of companies including large steel manufacturers. However, none of them showed any interest; his idea was too eccentric for the steel and construction material manufacturers at the time.
Left with no other option, Mr. Ishikawa started up his own company to commercialize the new construction material. At first, his attempts repeatedly failed, nearly causing him to give up on several occasions. After a long period of trial and difficulty, in 1976 he finally developed a technology to significantly accelerate the solidification speed of urethane and succeeded in cutting costs. When he released the product, it was a great hit. Since then, the company type continues to work to improve the product's performance and design. It has established a new category (metal siding) in the field of home construction material, and has grown into a nationally known construction materials manufacturer.
"The sales grew out of nowhere while we were absorbed in product development," says Mr. Ishikawa casually. However, his success was in fact backed by his accurate market insight and strategy. His strong weapon was patent information. Mr. Ishikawa says, "We no longer need to visit the Patent Office to acquire patent information, but can just access it via the Internet. By combing through patent information, one can grasp the trends of not only of industry, but also of society. As long as one gathers information in an organized manner, there is no handicap to a company's being located in a provincial area."
The number of industrial property rights owned by IG Kogyo exceeds 10,000, including those pending before the Patent Office. This is an amazing number for a company located in a provincial area with capital of 150 million yen (1.25 million dollars). IG Kogyo has become renowned as a "patent strategy type company."
The important point is that one can learn about inventions of forerunners by consulting patent information. He/she can then conceive new ideas and knowledge from it, pondering what he/she might do as an inventor.
* Case study taken from "Experience of Japan" published by the Institute of Intellectual Property (Tokyo)