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No. 352, January 1999

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Japanese Companies in the US


Attempting to better position itself in the electronic messaging field, SOFTBANK HOLDINGS INC. merged three companies in this business to form MESSAGEMEDIA INC. The holding company for SOFTBANK CORP.'s extensive U.S. activities and various affiliates owns about 56 percent of the outstanding stock of San Diego, California-headquartered MessageMedia. It started off as FIRST VIRTUAL HOLDINGS INC., the developer of a system for relationship-based transactive messaging. Right before the merger, this firm took over EMAIL PUBLISHING INC., which helps customers handle large-scale e-mail content delivery and subscriber management, and DISTRIBUTED BITS, L.L.C., which came up with a system that makes it easier for companies to manage large volumes of incoming e-mail inquiries initiated by customers. On its launch, MessageMedia was doing business with more than 60 companies in the financial services, publishing, direct marketing and e-commerce industries.

By its own count, SOFTBANK CORP. and its affiliates have invested in more than 70 Internet companies in the United States and Japan. That total now is one higher. Venture capital funds managed by Softbank invested $30 million in INSWEB CORP. The Redwood City, California company provides insurance on-line, offering free, multiple rate quotes on automobile, term life, homeowners, renters, individual health and short-term medical insurance from 26 participating carriers. As part of this alliance, Softbank and InsWeb will form a company in Japan sometime in 1999 to provide insurance products to individuals over the Internet. The Japanese partner will own 60 percent of the venture. It will start off offering information on nonlife policies, but other types of insurance coverage will be added as the insurance market is liberalized.

Through its primary American subsidiary, SONY CORP. invested an undisclosed amount of money in NTRU CRYPTOSYSTEMS, INC. and received a nonexclusive license to use the Providence, Rhode Island start-up's encryption and authentication technology. NTRU's encryption software is based on a powerful mathematical model that simplifies and speeds the creation of the encryption "keys" required for secure digital transactions. Perhaps the software's greatest strength is that it needs far less memory than current encryption systems. That allows it to generate new, disposable keys in real time for every secure transaction. This means, in turn, that the technology can be applied to Internet telephony and video and audio streaming techniques.

The drive for convergence between digital consumer electronics products and computer networking technologies received another boost when MATSUSHITA ELECTRIC INDUSTRIAL CO., LTD. and SUN MICROSYSTEMS, INC. signed a memorandum of understanding to work together on "network- aware" digital consumer electronics equipment using Sun's Java programming technology. Under the MOU, Sun will license its PersonalJava to MEI. The two also will attempt to develop a common Java API (application programming interface) and adapt it for digital TV products. The third area covered by the MOU involves collaboration on a smaller-footprint Java platform and associated API for use with a wide range of products for the home. Like several other big Japanese electronics companies, MEI also is exploring the use of MICROSOFT CORP.'s Windows CE operating system for the next generation of consumer devices (see Japan-U.S. Business Report No. 347, August 1998, p. 7).

By midyear, KISSEI COMTEC CO., LTD., a medical software developer affiliated with KISSEI PHARMACEUTICAL CO., LTD., hopes to have a marketing subsidiary in operation in Hackensack, New Jersey. The Nagano prefecture firm has developed more than 20 medical analysis software titles. The new U.S. unit also expects to conduct R&D and to export American-developed medical software. Kissei Comtec has had a liaison office in New Jersey since 1997.

Another Japanese trust bank has selected SUNGARD DATA SYSTEMS INC.'s Global Plus system to support its North American custody business. MITSUI TRUST & BANKING CO., LTD. will install the Year 2000-ready, multicurrency, accrual-based asset management and accounting system at its New York City subsidiary. Last fall, the number-three trust bank announced that it would withdraw from international banking and focus on custody and securities lending operations (see Japan-U.S. Business Report No. 350, November 1998, p. 5). Global Plus gives Mitsui Trust's U.S. subsidiary the ability to link electronically with its clients and subcustodians worldwide.

An exchange rate of ¥117=$1.00 was used in this report.aaaaaa

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