I've finally tracked down some accurate info.
Donkey Kong was originally produced to be exported to the united states. That's why it was given an english title right off the bat. But it was also popular in Japan.
When Nintendo decided to get the export into full swing, they couldn't meet demand in their own country and continue to export the volume of games they wanted.
So, they decided to be clever.
They got in touch with Falcon, who had already grabbed early Donkey Kong code and ported it to cheaper hardware, and decided to give them a short duration license to manufacture and distribute their version in Japan, and collect royalties on it. Falcon was given licensing stickers to put on their circuit boards.
In theory, this was a win-win situation. Nintendo could focus their efforts on exporting this game into the US, where it was going to be a big hit, and they also got money from Falcon.
In practice, Falcon, true to their bootlegger roots, exported the game anyway, in violation of the license, and other companies of course bootlegged their now "official" bootleg.
The licensing itself is documented in this court case versus an importer of Crazy Kong in the US.http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=14413211357527714092&q=564+F.+Supp.+937&hl=en&as_sdt=2,5