Some 35 years after the establishment of the first semiconductor plant in Kumamoto, a semiconductor industry cluster, including support industries, is being formed in the Kyushu Region. In the initial phase, the successive establishment of plants by major semiconductor device manufacturers served as the driver for the formation of an industrial cluster. This in turn encouraged the active entry or establishment of semiconductor manufacturing equipment manufacturers, makers of related materials and parts, and firms in various related services sectors.
Since the IT industry slump in 2001, however, the importance of industry-academic partnerships in research and development has been increasing, becoming a new driver for the sophistication of the industrial cluster. Among companies advancing into Kyushu, one finds examples of firms seeking partnerships with local universities. There have been a slowly increasing number of cases of successful commercialization through industry-academic partnerships, an indication that the semiconductor industry in Kyushu is beginning to evolve toward an innovative industrial cluster.
In particular, medium-sized companies that cannot easily conduct research and development based only on their own management resources are emerging as active participants in industry-academic partnerships, opening up a new chapter in the developments that led to the commercialization of technological seeds held by universities.
The results of our research show: (1) in the development of new businesses, inter-company and industry-academic “partnerships” are gaining in importance, with speed, cost and expertise being the primary motives for the “partnerships, ” (2) inter-company and industry-academic partnerships have different sets of purposes, with inter-company partnerships focusing on the marketization of newly developed technologies and the complementary mutual utilization of the expertise and marketing outlets, and industry-academic partnerships being geared toward the development of new technologies and advances into new fields; and (3) high expectations have been placed on universities, particularly in terms of ideas and insights for technological solutions, theoretical verification of technologies and clarification of fundamental principles, understanding of the latest technological trends, and their extensive personnel networks.
Moreover, large companies harbor strong expectations that industry-academic partnerships will yield results in the area of basic research, while small and middle-sized companies have high hopes in the area of applied research, which is closely linked to the commercialization of technologies. However, both groups emphasize the importance of geographical proximity within partnerships, attesting to the growing importance of industrial clusters in such partnerships.
On the basis of an analysis of a number of cases, we identified the following five factors as being important for the success of industry-academic partnerships: (1) selection of appropriate counterparts; (2) market-driven research themes; (3) private sector-led promotion of research; (4) clear differentiation of the roles of industry and academia; and (5) clear means for allocating the cooperation results.