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The Government Role in Civilian Technology: Building a New Alliance
The U.S. experience with cooperative industrial R&D programs involving multiple firms extends to the early post-World War II era.87 Research ventures in large, military-related projects—supercomputers, aircraft development, and semiconductors—joined U.S. businesses in efforts to develop technologies for defense purposes. Most collaborative ventures without direct federal involvement prior to the 1970s included arrangements among companies in vertical industry sectors—automobile manufacturers and petrochemical firms collaborating to develop ceramics for use in auto bodies, for example. In other cases, horizontal associations of firms within a single industry formed cooperative research organizations. Many of these promoted technology adoption and the diffusion of information and technology within member firms and were not focused on basic research. Three well-known examples, involving firms that by and large are not direct competitors, are the Electric Power Research Institute (formed in 1973), Bell Communications Research (Bellcore, founded in 1984), and the Gas Research Institute (founded in 1976).
A number of private research consortia have been organized during the past decade in other sectors.88 These arrangements involve cooperation between companies without direct government encouragement or financial incentives. For example, the Semiconductor Research Corporation, formed in 1983, sponsors research at U.S. universities and includes 33 industrial members, such as AT&T, DuPont, and Eastman Kodak. The Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation operates in-house R&D facilities and sponsors research on semiconductors and advanced computer technology outside the consortium. The Software Productivity Consortium focuses on computer software for military applications. These are all cooperative efforts that join competitors in similar product markets. Although most recent assessments of cooperative R&D have focused on programs in high-technology industries, collaborative ventures have been established in “mature” industry sectors, as well. The Textile/Clothing Technology Corporation and National Apparel Technology Center, for example, were created to improve the technological capabilities of U.S. textile manufacturers.
Congress has attempted to promote the formation of these alliances through the elimination of perceived barriers to collective R&D. This was the purpose of the National Cooperative Research Act (NCRA) of 1984, which eliminated the threat of treble damages in private antitrust suits for cooperative ventures that register with the Justice Department under NCRA. (Even for ventures that file with the department, it may determine that projects have changed in a substantial manner, and thus protection is no longer warranted.) The law also states that cooperative R&D ventures should not automatically be judged anti-competitive but rather should be evaluated, if challenged in court, on a rule-of-reason basis.89
The U.S. government also has directly supported research collaboration