Keywords: word processors, Japanese language processing, kana-to-kanji translation, Toshiba, personal computers, technological innovation, new product design, internal venturing, corporate venturing, intrapreneurship
The birth and growth of the Japanese language word processor: internal venturing in Toshiba Corporation
This case study describes the slow gestation, birth and rapid growth of the Japanese language word processor that has allowed Japan to catch up with the West in office automation, in spite of the formidable complexities of the Japanese language. In the seven years following the development of the first word processor, prices have fallen by 98%, and size has been drastically reduced. Sales in 1993 were about 3 million units, double the number of PCs. This project was carried out by a small team of Toshiba engineers, led by Dr. Ken-Ichi Mori, working on their own time, because of the indifference of headquarters and reluctance of management. We follow the internal venture from the initial invention to the first model, the transfer of the project from the research and development laboratory to the Ome factory, where a second team, led by Tetsuya Mizoguchi, the future father of the Toshiba laptop, developed the successful RUPO series. We review the emergence of 20+ competitors, many utilising Toshiba's invention without paying royalties. We discuss the critical factors that led to Toshiba's technical success and also to the partial loss of its hard-won competitive advantage, due to government interference. This case is based on seven half-day interviews held by the author in Tokyo in the Fall of 1993, with the father of the word processor, Dr. Mori, Mr. Mizoguchi, two members of the Toshiba Board of Directors, the project leader and the marketing manager.