Topcon Land Surveying Equipment for Construction Layout

Intellectual Property Strategy Lays the Foundation for Topcon’s Construction Success

Few countries have built more, faster, than Japan in the early 20th century. Rapid industrialization and a burgeoning population saw ambitious construction and infrastructure projects across the country, from the Tokyo subway to the National Diet Building, which stood as Japan’s tallest building for almost three decades.

Video: Topcon Surveying Equipment.

Another product of this building boom was Topcon. Founded in 1932, Topcon was created with the aim of manufacturing high-quality surveying instruments for the construction industry. Since then, the company has diversified to produce optical equipment for various sectors, such as state-of-the-art ophthalmology devices and satellite-guided agriculture tools. It has also expanded considerably. As Topcon enters its tenth decade of business, it is the owner of 74 companies and the employer of over 5,500 people around the world. More than four-fifths of the company’s income now comes from the international market.

Making infrastructure construction smarter

Despite diversifying, the design and manufacture of improved land surveying instruments remains at the heart of Topcon’s mission. Land surveying is an essential first step in the construction of any building. Before any foundations are dug, surveyors map out the topography of the construction site, stake out the corners of the new build and ensure a level surface for construction. Their work must be conducted with millimeter accuracy to ensure a building’s safety, quality and durability.

Because of its importance and precision, land surveying is a time-consuming process requiring specialist skills and experience. Nevertheless, the need to improve its efficiency has increased in recent decades as the Japanese construction industry races to improve the country’s aging infrastructure and disaster prevention measures – all while dealing with an aging workforce and labor shortages. “In construction, we are faced with the challenge of using technology to make infrastructure construction smarter and reducing costs through automation,” explains Topcon’s President and CEO, Takashi Eto. “Unless we focus on further increasing efficiency, it will be difficult to improve productivity.”

The Layout Navigator LN-100 land surveying device in use by a surveyor on a construction site to stakeout
Surveying is an essential but time-consuming process in construction. (Credit: Topcon)

As Topcon expanded and acquired new intellectual property (IP) and in-house expertise, particularly since the 1990s, it decided to tackle this challenge facing the construction industry. The result is the Layout Navigator (LN) series of products. These land survey instruments, such as the LN-100, are designed to improve the accuracy, speed and efficiency of staking out a site. 

Dispensing with manual observations, the LN-100 uses an automatic tracking function, displayed via a smartphone or tablet, to guide the surveyor to the exact location for each stake. This eliminates the need for personnel to operate the land surveying equipment, making it possible for one person to easily and accurately stake out an entire site. The LN-100 also saves time by automatically leveling itself on uneven surfaces – a well-known bugbear of surveyors. Furthermore, the LN-100’s compact design, which has been registered (Design Registration no. 1500402), makes it easy to transport the device around construction sites.

An award-winning 3D-positioning solution for construction layout

In recognition of these innovations, the Layout Navigator LN-100 was awarded the inaugural WIPO Award at the 2023 National  Commendation for Invention Ceremony in Tokyo. The event, organized by the Japan Institute of Invention and Innovation, celebrates inventions that have improved Japan’s scientific and technological sectors. The LN-100 now joins other award-winning Topcon products recognized by national and international bodies, such as the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the Good Design Awards.

The Layout Navigator LN-100 land surveying instrument with its case
Topcon’s LN-100 is designed to improve the efficiency and accuracy of staking out a construction site. (Source: Topcon)

Topcon’s success built on IP

Topcon understands that it cannot stake its success on innovation alone: it also needs to protect its unique technologies. This is why the company puts IP, especially patents, at the center of its activities and has developed a strategy to ensure that IP is rigorously protected and effectively managed. Even the company’s décor reflects this focus – published patents are proudly displayed on the walls of the company’s Tokyo office.

Cooperation and communication are at the heart of the company’s approach to IP. To promote the protection and use of IP, the IP department is in regular communication with the company’s inventors to best develop their ideas and ensure they contribute to Topcon’s success. As more than four-fifths of Topcon’s sales come from outside Japan, the company has development bases overseas in addition to the central development base at its Tokyo headquarters. When a promising invention arises, it is important for Topcon to quickly share information about the invention with its overseas bases to discover whether it infringes on existing IP. The company also shares the results of IP analyses throughout the company. In addition, Topcon actively promotes joint research by dispatching its engineers to research institutions both in Japan and overseas.

As a result of these activities, the company files approximately 200 IP applications a year, of which about 40 percent are overseas. Outside of Japan, Topcon focuses on protecting its IP in the United States, Europe and China, selecting the country of application based on the product, business and content of the invention. Topcon currently has over 3,000 patents. This valuable store of IP information is regularly shared with the overseas bases to optimize the company’s overall patent portfolio.

This ambitious approach to IP is summed up by the CEO, Takashi Eto. “If we want to take on new challenges, then it’s important to take care of intellectual property.”

Takashi Eto, CEO of Topcon posing in front of the company’s patent certificates
Topcon CEO Takashi Eto next to some of his company’s more than 3,000 patents. (Source: Topcon)

Last update:

January 11, 2024


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