Jennifer L. Morey
WASHINGTON -- The long-standing science and technology relationship between the US and Japan provided the backdrop for a report released in July by the National Research Council's Competitiveness Task Force. The focus was on the future and what US government, industry and research institutions can do to maximize the economic benefits of their relations with Japan.
The congressionally mandated report showed that Japan has experienced economic and technological sluggishness in recent years, while the US economy and high-tech industries have surged. However, the Japanese government is expected to increase its research funding to the equivalent of $34 billion over the next five years, while US spending is likely to either decrease or remain flat.
Despite these projections, the report noted that relative technological strengths are often shaped by factors within a particular business environment rather than by the country as a whole. Japanese companies, for example, have traditionally been strong in the electronics industry and their innovations hold great promise in blue laser development. In turn, success has spurred these companies to allocate more money to research and development of the enabling materials for such devices.
Technology market link
The report also stressed the importance of links between the Japanese market and US technological capabilities, citing active-matrix liquid crystal displays as an example. In 1994, Japanese companies held a 98 percent share of this market. However, Corning Incorporated, a Corning, N.Y.-based company, is the leading supplier of substrate glass for the production of these displays and has, therefore, depended heavily on participation in the Japanese market.
The US also has outperformed Japan in information industries such as computers and telecommunications. The report noted that even though Japanese markets for telecommunications products are more open and competitive than they were just a few years ago, there still are cost and regulatory barriers that keep Japan from having an edge in this market. In contrast, deregulation in the US has led to increased competition and lower costs.
Looking at the science and technology market as a whole, the report regarded the US' current state of economic and technological health with cautious optimism. "Although Japan is facing some real economic challenges and the United States is experiencing a resurgence in developing and marketing high-technology products and services, we should not expect this trend to last indefinitely," said Erich Bloch, chairman of the council's Committee on Japan. "If the United States is complacent and underestimates Japan's ability to bounce back, we could find ourselves facing some of the same problems we faced in the early 1980s when complacency was rampant."
With this in mind, the task force established several recommendations designed to build US approaches to cooperation and competition with Japan in the science and technology realm. Among them are protecting US intellectual property, keeping up with Japanese advances, renewing efforts to engage Japan in science and technology relationships, and increasing economic benefits from US science and technology.