Gov't Questions Japan Knowledge Cluster Results
TOKYO, July 14, 2006 -- A Japanese government program designed to incubate high-tech technology regions there to "rival Silicon Valley" is under pressure to produce more results, IHT/Asahi newspaper reported this week.
The Knowledge Cluster Initiative, an ambitious government project, has produced only one international patent since it was launched in fiscal 2002, the article said.
Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), which spends about 10 billion yen (about $80 million) in annual subsidies to the project, is being critically evaluated by its Finance Ministry, IHT/Asahi reported. At present, 18 regions annually receive 500 million yen each, over five years, for research and development. The initiative's Web site said its 2004 government budget was 9 billion yen ($81.8 million); in 2003, it received 6.9 billion yen ($62.7 million).
According to the IHT/Asahi article, the Finance Ministry said only one international patent, involving optical technologies, has been granted as a result of the project; it was obtained by Hamamatsu Photonics KK and other entities based in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture.
A Finance Ministry survey of 11 regions, for which government subsidies will end in the current fiscal year, found that on average only 14 applications for international patents have been made per region. By comparison, each region made an average 83 applications for domestic patents -- up to 155 in one region, IHT/Asahi said.
The Finance Ministry said the viability of the initiative is being assessed strictly from the viewpoint of international competitiveness; the Education Ministry has argued that revolutionary technologies cannot be nurtured overnight, IHT/Asahi said. A Ministry Official also reportedly said that obtaining an international patent is a long process. The newspaper reported that it takes an average of 28 months in the US and 41 months in Europe to be awarded an international patent after an application is filed.
MEXT launched the Knowledge Cluster Initiative in 2002 with the aim of creating Knowledge Clusters and revitalizing regional economies. A "knowledge cluster" is a local technological innovation system organized around universities and other public research institutions. Businesses inside and outside the regions are also expected to be involved, according to its Web site.
For more information, visit: www.mext.go.jp/english
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