Ingenuity Spans Nine Decades

A walk through the Technology Hall at Sharp's Advanced Development & Planning Center in Nara highlights the company's creative and entrepreneurial roots. Tokuji Hayakawa founded the company in 1912 to make belt buckles. When he invented a mechanical pencil three years later, he began selling them under the brand name "Ever-Sharp Pencil" (from which the company would take its name in 1970). In 1925 the manufacturer became the first in Japan to develop a radio. Other firsts included the first Japanese company to build televisions. Similar to other Japanese entrepreneurial groups, Hayakawa Electric Industry Co., as Sharp was then known, built its organization by adopting technologies after they had been abandoned by their originators (often U.S. companies). When RCA announced the creation of liquid crystal displays (LCDs) in 1968, Sharp hoped to persuade the corporation to produce them for its calculators. Turned down, Sharp bought a patent license for nearly $3 million and began making them in Japan. In 1973 Sharp unveiled its first calculator with an LCD screen. The Technology Hall also displays recent creations such as the personal digital assistant Color Zaurus that receives and sends e-mail and holds a digital camera. Then there's the 2.7-lb Mobilon Pro computer with a vibrant color screen flashing views of Mt. Fuji. Despite its ultralight weight, it packs a 33.6K data fax modem; its battery power lasts eight hours. Other innovations underway include a handheld electronic book. Two types of televisions in development promise to turn ordinary living rooms into home theaters. But unlike traditional cathode-ray-tube-based screens, both use LCDs, making them almost as thin as a window pane. One operates on a technology called PALC (plasma-addressed liquid crystal), which Sharp developed with competitors Royal Philips Electronics NV and Sony Corp. "Sharp has never been considered a major player in high-tech television, but the company is looking to digital TV as a way to improve its profile in the [audio-visual] market," observes Marjorie Costello, editor and publisher of Consumer Electronics Online News. She also commends the company's portrait-sized high-definition continuous-grain silicon LCD rear-projection TV.

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