Network of Research and Policy Communities for Innovation: An Analysis of Co-Evolution of Technology and Institution
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Note: This is part of the panel presentation "Knowledge Use and Exchange for Policy and Society in Japan: Concepts and Practices." In this paper, we examine how collaboration networks involving academia, industry, and the public sector are formed and how technology and institution are co-evolved leading to innovation. A case study is conducted on the development of lead-free solders in the electric and electronic industry in Japan, Europe, and the United States. The structure and evolution of university-industry collaboration networks in Japan, Europe, and the United States are analyzed with expensive data on the participants in research and development projects and consortia as well as scientific papers, patent applications, and commercialization of products related to lead-free solders. Proposals to regulate the use of lead for soldering in products, including electronic equipment, were initially made in the United States. While the proposed legislation was not enacted in the end, the move to develop lead-free soldering technologies was started at the industrial level in Japan, through the initiative of university professors, who set up a working group on lead-free solders within academic society. Since then, several research and development projects have been established, with the later ones receiving financial support from the public sector. These have involved not only large manufacturers of consumer electronic products but also small firms producing materials and equipment for solders, as well as universities and public research institutes. Through these projects, technological development and evaluation were conducted cooperatively, with the formulation of roadmaps headed by university professors being particularly effective in coordinating the views and behavior of the diverse actors, with clearly specified milestones towards the development of lead-free soldering technologies. The establishment of extensive collaboration networks in Japan, linking academia, industry, and the public sector, was critical in promoting innovation on lead-free solders. On the other hand, although a legislative move toward regulating the use of lead was made earlier in the United States than in other regions, the formation of networks between universities, companies, and public institutes did not proceed quickly, as discussions on regulation ceased, although the U.S. networks have been growing rapidly, with several public institutes centrally positioned along with large electronic companies. Compared with Japan and the United States, the formation of networks in Europe has been delayed. While there are several European universities that have been very active in conducting scientific research on lead-free solders, the European networks have been created with universities and companies positioned in separate parts of the networks, which could have contributed to inhibiting close collaboration between universities and industry for the development of lead-free solders. One of the reasons for the delay in forming networks in Europe and the United States could be that university researchers in Europe and the United States did not play the critical role of taking the initiative, at least at an early stage of technological development, to create networks linking academic researchers, public institutes, and companies producing materials and equipment in industry for cooperation and coordination in technological evaluation and standardization. Technological progress which was promoted through the formation of university-industry collaboration networks, however, did not induce corresponding institutional changes in Japan. The university researchers who played a major role in the technological network for developing lead-free solders were not involved in the institutional network for discussing environmental regulations. This separation of technological and regulatory networks can also be observed in Europe and the United States. In that sense, technology and institution did not co-evolve through overlapping domestic networks. On the other hand, technological and institutional changes influenced each other beyond national or regional boundaries. The initiatives to introduce stringent regulations on the use of lead in the United States encouraged university-industry networks for technological development in Japan. The demonstration of the feasibility of lead-free solders through university-industry collaboration in Japan prompted the introduction of strict regulations in Europe. This regulatory development in turn encouraged further innovative activities in each region. In that process, the university researchers who made significant contributions to the development of lead-free solders through university-industry collaboration networks in Japan also initiated creating international networks for establishing technical specificities and standards at the global level.