Toward Effective Promotion of Industry-Academia-Government Collaboration

TOMITA Hideaki
Senior Fellow, RIETI

Why is industry-academia-government collaboration important?

The ideas and knowledge that trigger innovation are created by those who are intellectually stimulated by the exchange of information, whether official or unofficial, among people. Although such exchange may start with the give-and-take of information in small talk between researchers, as the innovation advances through the development, design, testing, and test-manufacturing phases and approaches the practical application stage, information exchanges and transfers of intellectual stimulation that transcends businesses, universities, and the government (and public research institutions) tend to increase. Technical knowledge has public property propensities with the so-called "spillover effect," spreading to the outside world through various routes and, in some cases, can be copied by others. Therefore, in order to internalize such external economic effects, it is important for those from industry, academia, and the government that constitute the team to collaborate and pursue efficient research and development (R&D) (*1).

In particular, the mainstream areas of innovation at present are thought to be the so-called science-based industries such as life sciences led by the biotechnology, information and communication technology, and nanotechnology sectors. These cutting-edge sectors not only connect the fruits of scientific research to industrial development, but also lead to cases where the knowledge identified in the technological development and production process is applied back to science. In that sense, they have strong two-way ties with science. Moreover, these areas are expected to require significant R&D investment in terms of both human resources and funds and are thought to have many elements of basic research-like projects.

In order to promote R&D efficiently in the science-based industry sectors and produce results, it is more necessary than ever for all of the players from industry, academia, and the government to demonstrate their strengths in their respective fields and pursue innovation by complementing each other.

Upcoming decade will determine the true value of industry-academia-government collaboration

In the United States, efforts to strengthen industrial competitiveness were initiated in the 1980s against the backdrop of its declining international competitiveness that started in the latter half of the 1970s. One such measure was the Bayh-Dole Act introduced in 1980, which allows universities and businesses to own the patents arising from R&D carried out with government funding. This act is said to have been the trigger that led to the recovery of industrial competitiveness in the United States by accelerating the technological development originating at universities and businesses and increasing the number of startups of venture businesses (*2). Currently, the royalties from research results at U.S. universities are said to be in excess of $2 billion (*3).

Meanwhile, the 1990s in Japan that followed the bursting of the bubble is dubbed the "lost decade," and the country more or less began implementing measures aimed at strengthening competitiveness only in the 2000s. Japan thus launched its program about two decades behind the United States and formulated its own version of the Bayh-Dole Act in 1999 in addition to enacting the Industrial Technology Enhancement Act (easing of regulations to allow university professors to take side posts at businesses) in 2000. The figure below is based on excerpts from the data on the status of implementation of industry-academia collaboration in universities, etc. put together by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). It shows that the number of patent licenses and patent licensing revenue both have been in an upward trend since 2005, although it has only been a little more than 10 years since the program started in earnest. It has just started and still has a long way to go compared with the results, etc. of the United States (*4).

Figure: Trends of Number of Patent Licenses, etc. and Patent Licensing Revenue
Figure: Trends of Number of Patent Licenses, etc. and Patent Licensing Revenue
(Note) The number of patent licenses, etc. denotes the number of patents which have been licensed or transferred.
(Source) Prepared based on "Status of Industry-Academia Collaboration at Universities, etc. for Fiscal 2010" by the University Technology Transfer Promotion Office, MEXT (November 30, 2011)

Urgent need to nurture industry-academia-government collaboration coordinators

While innovation cases are expected to increase in science-based industries, the area where industry-academia-government collaboration will play a key role, the urgent need right now is to nurture industry-academia-government collaboration coordinators (or managers) who understand both the incentives of researchers at universities and public research institutes (open science-oriented, focused on priorities) and those of engineers from private companies (exclusivity-oriented, focused on missions) and perform a coordination role (*5).

Since fiscal 2001, MEXT has been posting coordinators at universities around the country through the industry-academia-government collaboration assistance project, and starting in 2008, their roles have become more specialized, such as those in charge of local knowledge clusters, those functioning as judges of technology, and those as liaisons between systems. In other words, coordinators now are expected to play roles that are even more sophisticated than in the past. Some regions have prepared a list of local industry-academia-government coordinators in an effort to identify collaboration opportunities with other regions (*6). In order to improve on the situation in which its activities tend to be limited to those at the individual organization levels, Hiroshima University is now aiming for collaborations on a wider scale, thus trying to build new combinations that would lead to new innovation. The Center for Collaborative Research & Community Cooperation, which is responsible for promoting industry-academia-government collaborations at Hiroshima University, has been implementing international industry-academia collaborative activities through a MEXT project. The center has been successful in posting abroad international industry-academia collaboration coordinators and has been successful in setting up collaborative and commissioned research projects with overseas businesses as well as in licensing revenues.

Moving forward, there is a need to nurture coordinators who facilitate innovation in science-based industries. In this endeavor, there is probably a need to enhance the programs at universities aimed at developing high-level human resources and at the same time increase the number of such coordinators. One option would be to provide government certification as industry-academia-government collaboration coordinators to those who have fulfilled certain standards, register them in honorary posts, and dispatch them as required. One problem faced by the coordinators is that, even as their necessity is being loudly advocated in certain quarters, coordinators as human resources have yet to earn recognition from the general public. In addition to publicizing widely the necessity of industry-academia-government coordinators, the government may need to offer further support through implementing measures such as assisting the development of programs to nurture such human resources at universities.

July 31, 2012
  1. ^ Motohashi (2004, 2005) confirmed empirically the effect of such industry-academia collaboration through a fact-finding survey on such collaborations as well as external R&D cooperation. He concluded that Japan needs to strengthen industry-academia collaboration in order to convert its closed innovation system centered on large corporations into an open, network-based system.
  2. ^ However, there are many empirical results in the world of academia showing that the effect of the Bayh-Dole Act was limited regarding the United States regaining competitiveness. See Okada (2006).
  3. ^ See Hatori (2011) for details.
  4. ^ Hiroshima University, to which the author is affiliated, has a rather good track record with 283 patent licenses, etc. (ranked third in Japan) and approximately 14 million yen in patent licensing revenue (ranked 15th; the ranking is among universities and other organizations in Japan that were the subjects of the survey for fiscal 2010).
  5. ^ Okada (2006) stresses that how to harmonize and integrate the different incentive structures between scientists and engineers is the key to successful innovation through industry-academia-government collaboration.
  6. ^ The Kyushu Bureau of Economy, Trade and Industry has picked up major universities in the Kyushu area and has posted a list of industry-academia-government collaboration coordinators from each university on its website.
  1. Motohashi, Kazuyuki (2004), "Economic Analysis of University-Industry Collaborations: The role of new technology based firms in Japanese national innovation reform," RIETI Discussion Papers Series 04-E-001.
  2. Motohashi, Kazuyuki (2005), "Industry-University Collaboration and the R&D Network of SMEs in Changing Japan's National Innovation System," RIETI Discussion Papers Series 05-J-002.
  3. Okada, Yosuke (2006), "Industry-Academia-Government Collaboration and the Role of the Government-From the viewpoint of a national innovation system" [Sangakukanrenkei to seifu no yakuwari-national innovation system no shiten kara] in Suzumura, Nagaoka and Hanazaki, Spontaneous Evolution and Rational Design of Economic Institutions [Keizai seido no seisei to sekkei], University of Tokyo Press, pp.337-374.
  4. Odagiri, Hiroyuki (2006), Economics of Biotechnology [Biotechnology no keizaigaku], Toyo Keizai Inc.
  5. Hatori, Ken?fichi (2011), "Current Situation and Challenges of Industry-Academia Collaboration and Intellectual Property Management" [Sangaku renkei to chiteki zaisan management no genjo to kadai], Tokugikon Vol.261, May 27, 2011.

July 31, 2012