Creation of Science and Technology Knowledge Platform: One Year Report
By Hajime Yamada (Professor, Toyo University and Deputy Executive Director, GLOCOM)
In this series I have reported on the progress of the Creation of Science and Technology Knowledge Platform project promoted by the Ministry of Economy, Technology and Industry. This report is an update of activities that began about one year ago.
This project has made full use of the Internet. A number of virtual meeting rooms have been established for discussions among those interested from industry, academia and government services. As of February 2003, a total of over 5,200 participants have joined in these on-site conferences. The number of active cyber-conferences exceeds 340, in which ideas and views are exchanged in a variety of fields. The number of opinions coming and going through these conference rooms a day is between 20 and 50. Even if the daily average is estimated as low as 30 opinions, yearly exchange of views comes to over 10,000.
Discussions have gradually concentrated on how new start-ups should be materialized. This project provides services such as fund-raising, marketing research, initial public offering, sales promotion of new technology or new products, and placing and receiving sample orders to support start-ups. The whole project is operated with strong awareness of start-ups, and in a way it is natural that discussions center on that subject as a result. At the same time, academic exchanges seem to be losing anticipated enthusiasm. That could be because the main role of the project has shifted from providing discussion arenas at the research stage to pursuing more practical implementation.
Companies are providing support for the services described above. For example, NC Network cooperates in sending out and receiving sample orderings. It is a virtual shop on an Internet site operated by more than 12,000 medium and small-sized business firms processing or manufacturing machinery with Numeric Control throughout Japan. When a researcher places an order on this site for processing, the participating manufacturers send back estimates. Two or three companies work together sometimes so that they receive an order. In this system, researchers can easily find organizations to make samples for them. On the part of the manufacturers, this system brings mutual interest because it leads to potential expansion of customers.
Handling practical business affairs for marketing research is another example provided by a firm called Venture Link. This company conducts more than 5,000 market surveys of all sizes in a year. When a manufacturer plans to launch a new product, the marketing research data will be available for comparatively low cost by utilizing the know-how of Venture Link. Needless to say, Venture Link can accumulate its data and know-how in return.
In this way, organizations of various operations involved with start-ups have joined forces with the Creation of Science and Technology Knowledge Platform project on a give-and-take basis. That is one of the major changes of the project that has taken place in its first year.
In relation to supporting start-ups, discussions are also very active about how to transfer technology from a TLO of a university to the market. TLOs tend to merchandise a single patent for which a university professor filed an application as if it were a new technology itself. However, only one patent is never enough to launch a new product in the market. Rather, technology transfer involves a series of processes that starts from obtaining licenses for other patents related to the product and completes with entering into alliance with other companies to form the market. Discussions are coming to reach a mutual understanding that a TLO means not merely licensing patents but producing new technology and new products from an integral point of view. Improvement of the TLO activities is also under consideration based on such consensus.
As described above, the Creation of Science and Technology Knowledge Platform is now moving toward inauguration of start-ups based upon the new technology. In due course, it is expected that new enterprises actually will be born as practical achievement of the project in the near future.