New Japanese Proposal for International R&D

By Swinbanks, David | Research-Technology Management, January/February 1993 | Go to article overview

New Japanese Proposal for International R&D


Swinbanks, David, Research-Technology Management


Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) has perplexed the Western world yet again with another attempt to promote its policy of "technoglobalism." In October MITI officials proposed at a meeting of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris that member nations should agree on guidelines to launch international industrial R&D projects. But U.S. government officials are skeptical about the practicality and true intent of the Japanese proposition.

Since 1990, MITI has been actively trying to open up its industrial research projects to participation by foreign companies to counteract moves by the United States to throw a protective net around U.S. industrial intellectual property rights. MITI's policy--called technoglobalism, as opposed to the perceived "technonationalism" of the United States--has raised fears in Washington and the capitals of Western Europe that this is yet another attempt by the powerful Japanese ministry to tap the industrial know-how of the West.

One of the cornerstones of MITI's new policy is the Intelligent Manufacturing System (IMS) project, an ambitious attempt by MITI to bring together some of the most powerful companies of Japan, the U.S. and Europe to develop manufacturing systems that are fully automated from design right through to delivery of the manufactured product (see RTM, March-April 1991, p. 2). But IMS evoked a hostile reaction when MITI tried to rush the project off the ground in 1990. The U.S. Department of Commerce stepped in to kill nascent links between giant U.S. companies such as United Technologies and Rockwell International and the Japanese project, and the European Community put forward a counterproposal.

After two years of heated discussions between Europe, Japan, the U.S., and other potential IMS participants, such as Australia and Canada, the project is only no entering the feasibility study stage. And IMS has undergone quite drastic revision in the process of this international debate. In an agreement reached in Toronto in February, 1992 gone are MITI's plans for a central international research institute funded 60 percent by Japan. Instead, IMS projects, if they ever get off the ground, will be decentralized and under the local control of the governments of Japan, Europe and the U.S.

But many problems still need to be sorted out before IMS can get underway; in particular, the contentious issue of how to deal with intellectual property rights arising out of the project has yet to be resolved. …

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