Technology and Innovation in Japan: Policy and Management for the Twenty-First Century

By Martin Hemmert; Christian Oberländer | Go to book overview

8

REORGANIZATION OF R&D IN JAPANESE MANUFACTURING FIRMS

Preserving competitiveness for the twenty-first century

Martin Hemmert

Introduction: challenges for Japanese industrial R&D in the 1990s

Japan has stunned the world over decades with its successful economic catch-up process to the Western industrialized countries. A prerequisite for this was the technological catch-up. In order to improve the technological level of the Japanese economy, equipment and know-how was imported through several channels and by various means. This meant not simply the imitation of existing technology, but required the ability to adapt it to the Japanese environment and to distribute it among individuals and institutions. As a consequence, a sophisticated framework of technology transfer and technology utilization developed (Francks 1992; Odagiri and Goto 1993; Odagiri and Goto 1996). The profound success of these continued efforts is best indicated by the fact that Japanese companies in the 1980s took the lead on world markets in several fields of high technology.

As in many cases, however, the success itself finally tends to render obsolete the system it was based on. The very fact that Japanese firms have reached world level in most technologies relevant for industrial manufacturing also implies that the potential for technology transfer from abroad has now become very limited, or, in some areas, almost nonexistent. Therefore, the need to strengthen the domestic system of technology generation is felt stronger than ever in the 1990s. Policy is already changing in order to redirect the Japanese innovation system: public investment in R&D is significantly increasing, venture capital programs for innovative small and medium enterprises are being launched, and universities are striving to increase capacity for postgraduate studies.

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