|To break free of a protracted recession and the hollowing-out of domestic industry, Japan urgently needs to create and develop new industries. To this end, particularly high expectations rest on university-industry partnership as a means of using university research results in industry. The government is moving swiftly to establish the systemic framework for such partnerships, as evidenced by the 1998 formulation of the Law for Promoting University-Industry Technology Transfer (the Technology Licensing Organization Law), the introduction of a Japanese version of the Bayh Dole Act in 1999, and the 2000 relaxation of regulations on national university professors holding posts as directors in private enterprises. Policies are also being advanced to encourage regional university-industry partnerships toward the creation of new business and deeper technology development. In 2001, for example, METI launched its Industrial Cluster Plan, followed in FY2002 by MEXT' s 1 Intellectual Cluster Formation Project.
As the systemic framework and the momentum for university-industry partnership grow, what kind of partnerships are we actually seeing?
For some years now, one region has already tapped its great potential for university-industry partnerships to engage in a concrete program. Physically, the region lies around Route 16, embracing southwest Saitama, the Tama district in Tokyo, and central Kanagawa. This region has been labeled "TAMA" (Technology Advanced Metropolitan Area) by a local organization established there to promote university-industry partnerships and linkages among companies.
The region has: (1) research hubs for large companies in areas such as electric and electronic machinery; (2) a number of universities with science and engineering departments and other research institutions; (3) many product-developing SMEs which have strong product planning and development capacity backed by the ability to capture market needs; and (4) many supporting SMEs working in basic processing technology in manufacturing which are able to fill orders from product-manufacturers with high precision and to short delivery times. Clusters of such economic agents have outstanding potential in terms of creating the new technologies and products to spur new industries.
Recognizing the development orientation of the region's industrial clusters, the Kanto Bureau of Economy, Trade and Industry (the former Kanto Bureau of International Trade and Industry) conducted a study in cooperation with the local governments of Tokyo, Saitama and Kanagawa, as well as local chambers of commerce and industry, and, based on the results, called for the formation of an organization to strengthen regional university-industry partnerships and ties between companies.
In response, key persons from local private enterprises and universities, etc., launched the Preparatory Committee for Greater Tama Industrial Activation Association (provisional title) in September 1997, and in April 1998, the TAMA Industrial Activation Association was officially launched by numerous leading SMEs and universities together with a number of key large companies, municipal bodies, and chambers of commerce and industry. The Association was promoted in April 2001 from a voluntary organization into an incorporated body named the TAMA Industrial Activation Council (referred to below as the TAMA Initiative, including its Association days). The TAMA Initiative has grown from an original membership of 328 (190 company members) to 453 as at 1 March 2002 (273 company members), and is already beginning to produce results-the mediation of numerous university-industry partnerships, for example 2 .
The key players in the TAMA Initiative's university-industry partnership promotion activities are product-developing SMEs (SMEs with design capacity which also have their own products). These SMEs are receiving active cooperation from local science and engineering universities and public research institutions, as well as support from numerous large companies, municipal bodies and chambers of commerce and industry. These smaller firms have the capacity to plan and develop products backed by the ability to capture market needs. They may be small, but while large companies battle with restructuring, such SMEs have grown into key local players in recent years, with the strength to absorb research results from universities and national and public research institutions.
In the 1990s, the news for the Japanese economy seemed all bad. A closer look nowadays, however, reveals signs of light for our economic future in the emergence of these product-developing SMEs and the realization of TAMA's region-wide university-industry partnerships.
1. MEXT: Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology
2. The results of a study on cases of university-industry partnerships and tie-ups among companies in TAMA are scheduled for release in the near future.
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