Industry-Academia Cooperation Up to the Present
By Hajime Yamada (GLOCOM)
In Japan, industry-academia cooperation has long been promoted in the form of private corporations sponsoring universities, as I briefly explained in the last report. I will report more detailed information in this and the next issues.
By the Joint Research system, researchers from national research universities and those from private enterprises cooperate in conducting research on themes common to both parties. In this way excellent research achievements are expected by combining research capabilities from national universities and techniques and skills from private enterprises.
Joint Research projects have begun operating in many areas, and the number of this kind of partnership is increasing year by year. According to statistics by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, only 56 Joint Research programs were reported in 1983, when this system started, but the number increased to 2362 in 1997. Researchers dispatched by private enterprises to universities also increased in number from 66 to 2394 during the same period.
According to statistics of 1995, material development consists of the biggest research category, with 422 projects. Other Joint Research areas include 307 projects for the study of hardware development, 221 software-related projects, 211 biotechnology studies, and 215 projects of civil engineering and construction.
In 1987 the Ministry of Education started to establish Centers for Cooperative Research at national universities in accordance with the increase of the number of Joint Research projects. Such Centers provide spaces for national universities to promote communications and cooperation with industry. Full-time and visiting professors are appointed, and laboratories for conducting Joint Research as well as seminar rooms and technical consulting rooms for exchanging information are equipped . In the beginning three Centers were established, growing to 56 Centers as of April 2000.
Although Joint Research seems to be growing steadily and establishing a reputation, this system has some problems. The first problem is that Joint Research has been funded only by private companies and not by universities. The system of matching funds due to be introduced in 2002, by which universities share research costs with companies, is expected to solve this problem. The second problem concerns intellectual property rights as an outcome of Joint Research. Efforts are being made so that private companies contributing to Joint Research are to gain priorities to the achievements. Also, patents for inventions are going to belong in principle to the individual professors who invented them. The third problem is complicated procedures for contract renewal at the end of every fiscal year, because the Joint Research programs are bound by the government budget system. Since 2000, when the Industrial Technological Ability Strengthening Law was enacted, contracts of continuing grants have become available.
Private companies sometimes entrust research in progress to national universities in order to make good use of their accumulated fundamental achievements for more effective research and developments. By this system, researchers of national universities conduct research, and private enterprises cover the expenses involved. The research achievements are reported to the sponsors.
Commissioned Research projects as well as Joint Research are increasing in number. In 1983, 1286 projects were carried out, and the number expanded almost four times by 1997, when 4499 Commissioned Research projects were conducted. The amount of money granted for Commissioned Research was approximately 2.6 billion-yen in 1983, which grew to 33.3 billion yen in 1997. In 1997, an average amount of 7.5 million yen per project was granted.
The intellectual property rights achieved from Commissioned Research used to belong to the university involved, but the situation is improving as is the case with Joint Research.
One major problem has to be solved in order to promote Joint Research and Commissioned Research. That is the low regard in which Japanese companies apparently hold Japanese universities.
According to an article by the Nihon Keizai Shimbun on July 26, 2001, Japanese private companies doubled their grant money for universities and research institutes abroad in the recent five years, and it reached 154 billion-yen in 1999. Although donations for domestic institutions had expanded to 73 billion yen, it amounts to only one half of outbound grants.
In short, Japanese private enterprises prefer universities abroad to those in Japan for providing research grants. In the estimation of Japanese private corporations the reputation of Japanese universities seems to be quite low.
Actually, of the total 12580 patents registered in Japan in 2000, only 161 belong to Japanese universities. The rest are patented mostly by private companies. Tokyo Institute of Technology, Tokai University and Nagoya University are patented the most, with 13 subjects each. Thus, the low rate of patent registration suggests the distance between studies conducted at Japanese universities and practical demands from industry.
The problem of time-consuming application procedures for the system dealt by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has been pointed out. It means that too many things have to be decided at the Ministry, while little has been left to the discretion of universities, and the result is a lot of paperwork and time.
In order to promote cooperative relationships between industry and universities, two drastic changes are needed: The intention of industry should be reflected in research conducted at universities, and clerical work should be more streamlined.
In the next issue, I will discuss Grants and Endowments.