U.S.-Japan Project Could Be Model for Cooperative Technology Development. (Perspectives: News and Views of the Current Research Technology Management Scene)

Article excerpt

A seven-year-old project between the United States and Japan, just completed, has shown that international cooperation in R&D can stimulate the creation of marketable products in highly competitive industries. So successful has the project proven that a successor program is now underway, broadening the scope of the original.

The United States and Japan initiated the novel agreement on technological development a decade ago, when American industrialists and policymakers still regarded the Japanese way as the epitome of how to turn basic research into marketable products. The Joint Optoelectronic Project (JOP) aimed to improve the availability of R&D-prototype optoelectronic devices to researchers in computer systems, thus promoting advances in computing as well as commercialization of the devices.

Officially started as a two-year trial in February 1995, the project proved so successful that it was extended to seven years. Since then, U.S. participants alone have produced seven patents, 27 patent applications, and 147 scholarly papers. They have also supported 75 graduate students, most of whom will enter the industry without the need for expensive on-the-job training.

"All the stated goals of the project have been successfully achieved," notes the final report on the project, issued in 2002. In addition, the report continues, "the JOP has resolved several issues concerning implementation of international research collaborations and significantly promoted the prototyping service."

Demonstrating the success in practical terms, a follow-on project that focuses on photonics technology has recently started in the United States.

Overall, the project just completed has shown how collaboration among interested parties can accelerate the development of promising technologies.

"The JOP has provided a unique way to foster international cooperation and progress in a competitive high-technology field by researchers in academe, industry and government, while protecting intellectual property in each participating country," said Judson French, director emeritus of the electronics and electrical engineering laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and U.S. co-chairman of the JOP's joint management committee. "The JOP has offered, in effect, a virtual laboratory whereby advanced optoelectronic devices and components, still in the R&D stage, have been made available to systems researchers and designers eager to develop or demonstrate new application concepts."

How It Began

The original impetus for the project came from Allan Bromley, science adviser to President George H. W. Bush, in response to concerns expressed by representatives of the U.S. computer industry. In 1990, Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI, which recently changed its name to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) was sponsoring and overseeing significant research in the applications of computing to everyday life and was anxious for U.S. participation. Bromley asked Eugene Wong, associate director for physical science and technology in Bromley's office, to explore how the U.S. could fruitfully participate in MITI's latest computing initiative, called the Real World Computing Partnership. Wong's work led to the formal establishment of JOP in late 1992.

That gave the project a flying start. Over the next two years, the developers determined the objectives of the project and ways to administer their pursuit. In doing so, they bore two factors in mind: 1) Optoelectronics was a complex technology that had not yet reached maturity, and 2) researchers in the field--in industrial, academic and government laboratories--were in a situation resembling that of the blind men trying to identify an elephant; no scientist or laboratory had access to more than a small part of the developing technology.

To speed up the commercial application of optoelectronics, therefore, it was important to make current R&D on systems and devices available widely. …