As we recognize our own capability, we realize the need very clearly to develop our own specialties, while relying on others to support our weaknesses. However, a major question arises: How should broad research and development be covered? And what should be relied upon from the outside? In addition, we have pollution problems, and technological assessment is now loudly discussed.
With such a range of problems, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to carry out the necessary research and development activity in large research organizations or countries. It may also be inefficient to carry out all research in one country.
Symbiotic competition is, I believe, the future trend of the open know-how market. This is the only way we can maintain healthy growth and a peaceful society. What does symbiotic competition mean? It is mutual support and reliance for survival and growth within the basic rule of free competition.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. In Japan, beginning in 1966, we have carried out many national research and development projects by organizing industrial consortia. In the early days, the projects were of the catch-up type. Their goal was to develop the most advanced product model as quickly as possible. Since the members of the consortia were strong competitors in the market, it was almost impossible to make them collaborate. They were strongly opposed to organizing joint research laboratories and carried out their research separately.
The first joint research laboratory was organized in 1976 by the VLSI Technology Research Consortium. The consortium received a 50-percent subsidy from the Ministry of International Trade and Industry for the term of the project. Companies approached about the consortium idea were initially opposed to it. But because of financial difficulties caused by the first oil embargo, they reluctantly organized the laboratory. It took almost a year before the facility started functioning.
Consortium activities were limited to research on precompetitive technologies; research directly related to products was conducted by each member company independently. It was a very painful process at first but fruitful in the end. Since VLSI, we have organized numerous joint laboratories to create new generic technologies. The research outcomes have been competitively applied to new product development by member companies and other firms as well. Through the mid-1980s, all collaborations were among Japanese companies, hence the term “domestic symbiotic competition.”
Since the mid-1980s, Japan has promoted “kyosei,” or cooperation and competition in the global community. Many consortia have added “international” to their names as part of an effort to encourage partnerships with non-Japanese firms. Foreign companies were at first skeptical about Japanese intentions. However, of the roughly 50 Japanese research consortia, about 10 now have international members.