University Reform and the Creation of Science and Technology Knowledge Platform
By Hajime Yamada (GLOCOM)
So far I have introduced three systems--Joint Research, Commissioned Research, and Grants and Endowments--to describe the current state of cooperative relationship between Japanese industry and academia.
I have explained how Japanese private enterprises rate Japanese universities extremely low. Because of these low expectations, companies give funds to universities as if it were some form of charity. The result is this regrettable situation in which such funds have so far generated no great achievement.
Technology Licensing Organizations (TLOs) have been established in order to remedy this sorrowful situation. The role of a TLO is first to discover and evaluate research achievements of university researchers. Second, if some valuable achievements are found, the TLO secures the research achievements by obtaining patent rights for them in order eventually to license them to private enterprises and to receive royalty on the licenses. Finally, the TLO distributes the money to researchers as research funds. In that TLOs regard research at universities as business opportunities, TLO activities can be considered to be profit making. It is expected that stronger business relations between the private sector and universities will be established through further activating TLOs.
In connection with the TLO movements, some government policies propose to link achievements of university research directly with creation of new businesses. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) is the first to propose such a policy. Takeo Hiranuma, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, has submitted "A Plan of 1000 Start-Ups Deriving From Universities" to the Headquarters for Industrial Structural Reform and Employment Measures, situated under the Prime Minister of Japan, in relation to infrastructure improvements concerning innovation. On June 26, 2001, this Plan was decided to be included in the ‘Interim Report' as indicating the basic direction of government policies, along with suggestions such as Regulatory and Institutional Reform for Creating New Markets and Job Opportunities, and Reform of Employment System and Establishment of a Safety Net.
A paragraph describing "University-Originated Start-ups; Acceleration of Creating New Business" in the interim report enumerates several policies. The first is to develop a means of recruiting businesspersons for university professorships in order to educate and train competent young persons to set up new businesses. Creation of more practical courses such as Business and Management of Technology (MoT) at all colleges of science and engineering as soon as possible is encouraged. Each university is urged to recruit and appoint MoT professors through open applications, and they are also encouraged to clarify a standard for appointment in order to promote recruiting from companies by means of such open system.
The second policy concerns a smooth supply of venture capital based on business needs. It has been decided that by more actively recruiting businesspersons as professors or researchers, and by fortifying matching mechanisms for Joint Research, company needs should be reflected as university research activities, and assistance for university-originated start-ups at their early stages should be promoted.
The third policy is facilitating incubation by fortifying functions of TLOs. It has been decided to relax control over usage of national university facilities by such businesses of university origins as well as to strengthen functions of TLOs and Joint Research Centers in order to raise start-up enterprises.
Other new policies included are stronger incentives for inventions by researchers, enacting rules concerning ownership and transfer of research achievements borne by industry-academia cooperative research, constructing profit returning means through equity schemes, systematizing university professors' leaves of absence for the reason of starting businesses, better environment in order to gain larger support from the private sector, promoting mutual understanding through discussions among industry-academia-government, and creating intellectual clusters.
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology also proposed suggestions related to this matter as if answering those of METI. These suggestions are characteristic for their numerated goals. Three such goals are stated as follows: increasing the numbers of patents attained by universities to 1500 yearly within ten years, licensing a total of 700 such patents to private enterprises within five years, and creating ten or more Japanese versions of ‘Silicon Valley' within ten years.
Thus, expectations have become greater for social contributions of Japanese universities by creating new businesses through research achievements. It will be necessary for universities to realize accurately and correctly the technology needs of industry, and to promote associated research in order to accomplish these policies.
Creating a Science and Technology Knowledge Platform is a project of forming an arena for researchers and businesspersons to freely exchange information in order to match market needs and research achievements. Therefore, it is natural that this project is used in the course of realizing "A Plan of 1000 Start-Ups Deriving from Universities". Thus, the Plan is characterized as a kind of practical user of achievements of the Creating Science and Technology Knowledge Platform project.