National Academies Press: OpenBook
Suggested Citation:"Role of Government." National Research Council. 1999. New Strategies for New Challenges: Corporate Innovation in the United States and Japan. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5823.
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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 2 The picture which emerged is mixed. The Joint Task Force agrees that there is strong evidence that U.S.- Japan problem convergence, or increasing commonality in the problems addressed by corporate innovation in the two countries, is occurring.2 However, there are a variety of views among committee members over whether there is growing similarity in the institutions underlying innovation in the two countries, as well as in the strategies and approaches to innovation of U.S.- and Japan-based companies. Some practices appear to be growing more similar, such as the use of external sources of innovation and the relationships of original equipment manufacturers with suppliers and customers. Other practices, such as those of human resources utilization and development, are still different to the extent that ongoing change appears insufficient to alter the mismatch that in the past has created friction between the United States and Japan. Following are specific points of convergence and continued differentiation: Growing Similarities and Evidence for Convergence Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM)-Supplier Relations In the past, U.S. firms have been seen as choosing suppliers based on short-term price criteria, and promoting price competition among a number of suppliers. Japanese supplier relations have been seen as more stable. Some U.S. firms have been moving toward reliance on a smaller number of trusted suppliers while Japanese suppliers are beginning to expand business with firms outside their traditional business groups.3 Drivers of this phenomenon include increasing global competition and the search for cost reduction and quality through innovation. In the case of Japanese OEMs, the successful experience of transplant companies (which in many respects have been forced to use non-group suppliers), and exchange rate shifts have fueled a search for non-Japanese based suppliers to keep costs competitive. Inventiveness Companies in each country are focused on attaining innovation-related capabilities associated with firms in the other nation. For example, Japanese firms are putting greater emphasis on inventiveness, while U.S. firms are focusing more on being responsive to market needs, improving existing products, shortening product cycles, and improving manufacturing processes and quality. Focus on Core Business Activities Firms in both countries are focusing their resources on core business activities in the quest for greater efficiency and lower cost. Many lower priority activities are being outsourced. However, there is no consensus among Japanese and U.S. practitioners on the extent to which it is an effective general strategy. Role of Government The role of government with respect to innovation and competition is in flux in both the United States and Japan. In the United States, debates continue over the appropriate federal role in supporting the development and diffusion of precompetitive commercial technology.4 While support for basic research has been largely maintained across relevant agencies, the outlook for

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Innovation, "the process by which firms master and get into practice product designs and manufacturing processes that are new to them," is vital for companies wishing to remain competitive in today's rapidly changing high technology industries. American and Japanese firms are among the world's most technologically innovative and competitive. However, the changing dynamics of global competition are forcing them to rethink their technological innovation strategies. The choices they make will have great impact on their futures as companies as well as on the livelihoods of their employees and the communities in which they operate.

In order to understand the ways in which Japanese and American companies are changing their technological innovation strategies and practices, the Committee on Japan of the National Research Council and the Committee on Advanced Technology and the International Environment (Committee 149) of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) organized a bilateral task force composed of leading representatives from industry and academia to assess developments in corporate innovation strategies and report on their findings. Through a workshop discussion of the issues and subsequent interaction, the task force explored the institutional division of innovation in both countries: the structure and performance of technology-based industries, the role of the government in the support of science and technology, and the role of universities in the science and technology system. The task force was particularly interested in exploring the points on which the two systems are converging,-i.e., becoming more similar in strategy and practice-and where they continue to be distinct and different.

Although a comprehensive study of these trends in U.S. and Japanese innovation was not easily feasible, the task force was able to develop several conclusions based on its workshop discussion and follow-up interactions that were substantial in time and content. This report identifies a set of issues whose further elucidation should be helpful in guiding public policy in both nations. These issues include the role of external sourcing of innovation, transnational activity and globalization, the organization and performance of R&D, and the role of consortia, joint ventures and other joint activities. A call for greater international efforts to collect and analyze data on these important trends is the central recommendation of the task force.

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