As discussed in the preceding section, research coordination has the benefit of carrying individual research unit coherency and concurrency to an institute-wide level. This benefit, however, can also be expected to extend beyond AIST's confines.
The Science and Technology Basic Law of 1995 as well as the subsequent Science and Technology Basic Plan include provisions that strongly advocate cooperation between industry and academia. This is a global trend, as underscored by the "Science in Society and Science for Society" segment of the Declaration on Science and the Use of Scientific Knowledge issued at the 1999 World Conference on Science (in Budapest). Various events have been held in Japan, including Business-Academia Collaboration Summits. Cooperation between industry and academia has become an important goal, together with the incorporation of Japan's national universities. That is because close cooperation by academia and the business community is understood to be a realistic and effective way of returning public funds invested in basic research under the Science and Technology Basic Law back to society and individual citizens. However, this is not to imply we have a clear understanding of the forms of business-academia cooperation that are best suited to this goal, or how best to realize the cooperation.
According to FY 2002 data, research expenditures, including personnel costs, totaled 16.7 trillion yen that year. Of that total, 3.5 trillion yen was supplied by the government, mostly through funding allocated to universities and public research institutions. The rest, or 13.2 trillion yen, came from the private sector, and almost all of that was utilized by private institutions. These flows of research funds do not intersect. Except for research funding programs that have been set up exclusively to finance extremely short-term undertakings in joint research, there is no incentive for business-academia cooperation in the research domain. Overcoming this impasse will demand the introduction of a public research funding framework that encourages collaboration by the business community and academic sector (similar to the Intelligent Manufacturing System (IMS) international joint research set up by the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry). In addition, though, it will be necessary to devise mechanisms that guarantee that cooperation brings beneficial results. To this end, AIST has begun work on the following structures.
The structures are designed to spread Full Research beyond the confines of AIST. Full Research comprises the coherent and concurrent pursuit of three different types of research-Type-I basic research, Type-II basic research, and product realization research-by a single research unit, thereby leading to the formation of a process in which the achievements of basic research generate social value. An individual research unit needs to comprise at least several dozen researchers for this process to be implemented in complete form. At AIST, this is feasible because each research unit employs 52 (full-time) researchers on average. However, the situation at universities is different. Based on available statistics, Japan has a total of about 54,000 working professors. Including doctoral students, the number of researchers under a university professor's supervision averages about five. This accordingly suggests that to engage in Full Research undertakings, a university would have to create a special provisional organization for the purpose. That organization, moreover, would have to allow its member researchers to collaborate in a coherent and concurrent fashion; functioning purely for liaison purposes would be useless.
Within the university setting, organizations are usually created with an educational focus. For example, university departments are composed of professors with different research interests within a given academic field who join together to offer students a balanced curriculum. Accordingly, the professors who come together to form the faculty of a department have created an organization for the ultimate purpose of providing education; research is led by individual professors and cooperation with other professors in that research is not always possible. For this reason, research led by faculty members within the university setting is usually conducted for the purpose of receiving acclaim from academic societies in the same field. And in most cases, it is limited almost entirely to Type-I basic research. Generally speaking, universities may be described as organizations ideally suited for undertakings in Type-I basic research. In terms of fostering academic progress, this form of organization does not present any inconsistencies. Still, universities run into trouble when they seek social value for research accomplishments in keeping with the mission of a particular academic field. Engineering is a classic example.
When striving to create social value with the fruits of basic research, research papers written in the interest of earning acclaim from academic societies typically fall short. In our experience, this goal usually requires that Type-II basic research or product realization research also be performed. However, if that is not possible within the confines of the university, researchers then have the option of utilizing the intellectual property of their research accomplishments for joint research with private companies, or licensing it, or launching independent ventures of their own. That is certainly something to be encouraged. Nonetheless, the more original and novel the results of Type-I basic research, the more indispensable basic research in other areas-namely, Type-II basic research or product realization research-will be to the task of assigning those results real value. Furthermore, achieving balance with Type-I basic research will be a difficult undertaking for small groups of researchers. This reality has become an obstacle for many universities even in the U.S., a country known to be a world leader in promoting collaboration between business and academia. If university professors were to pour their resources too heavily into cooperation with industry or into their own private ventures while remaining members of a small-scale university research organization, they could risk compromising their educational obligations or their own highly original Type-I basic research within the university setting. It has been reported that the trend now is toward placing restrictions on such sideline ventures.
As a way to help avert difficulties of this nature, AIST is planning to open up Full Research to the outside. In effect, this will be collaboration between universities and AIST. People engaged in Type-I basic research in a university setting would engage in joint research with researchers pursuing Type-I basic research at AIST. That approach would lead naturally to a fusion with AIST-led Type-II basic research and product realization research. Private industry would then be the next step. From the university perspective, this approach would provide a bridge to collaboration with private business and help lower the costs associated with such collaboration. Although these costs would be essential to drawing corporate expectations and obtaining information for engineering research, they must be kept within reasonable limits. Furthermore, in their effort to lower these costs, if universities prove too eager to satisfy corporate expectations, they may lose sight of their fundamental research goals and compromise the originality and novelty of their research. Conversely, from AIST's perspective, cooperation is possible as long as the university is engaged in Type-I basic research on common themes.
And, needless to say, for the collaborative bridges to be worthwhile from the university perspective, Full Research at AIST must lead appropriately to industrial applications or benefits for society at large. That is the fundamental goal of Full Research and although I will not elaborate here, let me underscore the connections. Through Type-II basic research or product realization research, Full research by individual research units leads to connections with society in the broad sense, that is, through the products of research that each research unit shares with society. However, when collaboration is with private business in the narrower sense, practical approaches range from joint research and consigned research to licensing agreements, personnel transfers, personnel exchange, and the startup of venture companies. To facilitate these forms of collaboration, it is imperative that AIST, as a public institution that conducts mainly publicly funded research, have a transparent relationship with cooperating companies, which, as private institutions, are driven by the profit motive. For example, in joint research undertakings, relationships between research progress and injections of public research funding must be clearly defined. Also, problems will arise in determining the extent of public funding that can be provided for the launch of high-tech startups that will capitalize on the fruits of publicly funded research. These issues are difficult to quantify. However, to frame it in simpler terms, as noted earlier, the greater the originality or novelty of the accomplishments of Type-I basic research, and consequently, the stronger the impact those accomplishments are expected to have on private industry, the less likely collaboration will be. Heavy and sustained injections of public funding will conceivably still be necessary after the results of Type-I basic research have been obtained. In the case of high-tech startups, the accomplishments of basic research will presumably be at too basic a level to translate into anything worthwhile. However, if those accomplishments are considered to have value in facilitating a shift of industrial infrastructure toward sustainable industrial pursuits, sharing them with corporations would conceivably be meaningful as a way for a public institution to support startup ventures. Further, experience with that process would presumably provide knowledge of ways to convert the accomplishments of basic research into actual value. Accomplishments that can be expected to translate easily into successful venture startups need not have support from public institutions.
In this way, universities, AIST, and private industry could establish clear relationships with one another. In fact, AIST has already established cooperative relationships and begun cooperating with several universities on the basis of these concepts. Additionally, it has already entered into collaborative ventures with private corporations based on a variety of models, including comprehensive agreements with large companies, theme-specific agreements with smaller companies, and institute-wide plans for the promotion of high-tech startups. The AIST-industry-academia project I touched on earlier constitutes a crucial trial undertaking aimed at integrating these approaches into one.
AIST is now in the process of drafting plans for the nationwide creation of suitable schemes for collaboration with universities and private industry through a synthesis of these varied tie-up formats. Given that other public research institutions in addition to AIST are likely to possess comparable research frameworks, these models could conceivably be explored for purposes other than research on industrial technologies. As a device for facilitating the generation of social value from basic scientific research, this would constitute a network model for innovations that evolve into new Japanese inventions-in other words, a network of excellence. AIST is committed to serving as a "hub of innovation" within that network.