Japan’s economic doldrums in recent years have triggered an outcry over the declining technological competitiveness of its industries, and the government has taken technology-promotion steps that would lead to the creation of new businesses or markets.
The government has set a legal framework for establishing an organization that would encourage technology transfers from academic circles to industrial sectors.
A special law aimed at reinvigorating Japanese industries incorporates measures modeled after the Bayh-Dole Act of the United States.
Another law enacted in April for beefing up Japan’s industrial technologies paved the way for teachers at national universities and researchers at state-run laboratories to concurrently work for private-sector firms so the fruits of their studies can be put into commercial use.
Will these steps promote the emergence of high-tech ventures in Japan?
It must be noted that no matter what public support measures are introduced, high-tech ventures cannot be created without the basic research power that breeds creative technological ideas.
In Japan, government sectors shoulder only 20 percent of domestic research and development expenditures — an extremely low level compared with other major industrialized powers. The fact that 80 percent of these costs are borne by the private sector means that R&D activity in this country is mainly focused on the application of basic research and product development.
Corporations must follow the rules of the market and are thus unable to put energy into research programs without taking into account cost-performance considerations.
However, the foundation of technological innovation is the basic research conducted at state-run universities and institutions who use taxpayer money and remain outside the framework of the market.
What I mean by basic research is the thorough study of innovation that will form a technological foundation in priority areas set by the government, such as population and the environment.
With an eye toward the next generation, the government must make an all-out effort to have advances in industrial technology put to work in its missions.
Of course, the government will first have to secure enough funding to entice decent researchers, but what is more important is to have a fair mechanism for distributing those funds. Researchers will be infuriated and discouraged if the government fails to provide sufficient funds and manpower to evaluate and duly allocate funding to those researchers who have produced excellent results.
Policymakers should also realize it is the government’s role to create demand for a new technology in its initial phase and to aggressively use innovative technologies when it tries to build social infrastructures. The government’s efforts to create markets through promotional efforts are expected to have a major impact, particularly in such fields as energy, environmental protection and information technology.
A university is both a venue for research and an organ for training human resources, and it should be a place where world-class innovations take place. Reforms in this area should include efforts to build a more competitive environment, as well as better research conditions for those in doctorate and post-doctorate studies.
Overall, much needs to be done to beef up the competitiveness of Japan’s industrial technologies.
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