The University of Tokyo

History of and Prospects for University-Industry Collaboration at UTokyo

Pasteur-type Scientists Who Possess “Use-inspired DNA” Creating Innovation for a New Era

What role has the University of Tokyo played in university-industry collaboration to date? What kind of role should it play in the future? We put these questions to Professor Yasunori Baba, who has analyzed the structure of Japan’s innovation systems and set out policy proposals. Below is Professor Baba’s concept for collaborative innovation.

Japan’s universities, and particularly the University of Tokyo, were once institutions primarily designed for absorbing the advanced technologies of Western countries and transferring these technologies to the private sector. Universities acted as the engine that powered national development; in the early years of Japan’s universities, collaboration between these institutions and industry was implemented actively as a matter of course. During the war it was also natural to collaborate with the industrial sector to create battleships and weapons for the nation. However, due to regret over aiding the nation in such wartime activities, university-industry collaboration declined in the postwar years. The university student protests of the 1960s also had an impact and it came to be viewed as taboo for universities to interact with companies, causing university-corporate collaborations to stagnate. The formulation of the Act on the Promotion of Technology Transfer from Universities to Private Business Operators (the so-called Technology Licensing Organization Act) in 1998 was the catalyst that finally sparked interest once more in university-industry collaboration and has brought us to where we are today.

The word “innovation” can conjure up images of the corporatization of universities. However, universities differ from companies in that in general they are not for-profit organizations. Rather than seeking to make a profit, universities should aim to make a contribution to society from their innovations. Only universities are able to engage in “grand challenges” from a long-term perspective and seek to find solutions to difficult social issues, such as sustainability, the eradication of cancer and a response to an aging society. The power and potential of universities are called for precisely at times when companies are increasingly risk averse due to economic stagnation.

There are presumably three types of scientists. The first type is a scientist who pursues natural phenomena from a scientific perspective, exemplified by the work of Niels Bohr. In a way, this is a scientist in the purest sense of the word. This type of scientist does not have any particular interest in utilizing the results of his or her research. In contrast, the second type of scientist is the Edison-type. This type of scientist is imbued with a passion to see how invented technologies can be put to use in society; however, he or she is not particularly adept at deepening theoretical understanding of phenomena. The type of scientist who represents a combination of the above attributes is the Pasteur-type. Louis Pasteur ascertained the existence of pathogenic bacteria and thus opened up a new era of modern science, but also saved many people through his development of a rabies vaccine. He was actively involved in both the search for scientific truth and making a contribution to society.

In today’s world, the type of scientist that is needed is the Pasteur-type. That is not to denigrate the work of Edison or Bohr-type scientists, but aren’t scientists who can bring the power of their knowledge to bear on major issues and also change society what the world needs in this day and age? There are many such Pasteur-type scientists at the University of Tokyo, which was founded as a public institution and has functioned to date as a distributor of knowledge and enlightenment. The strong awareness of working to make Japan a better place for the sake of the nation as a whole is embedded in use-inspired DNA. I believe this DNA to be the University’s core competence of which it should be proud.

In recent years American universities, which were once looked on as the model for university-industry collaboration, are becoming increasingly commercialized. Consequently, the awareness that universities should contribute to society tends to fade at times. However, in this area of social contribution, the University of Tokyo has tremendous potential. A university’s main purpose is to create the core components for science and technology from a long-term perspective, with the aim of resolving societal challenges, rather than moving towards commercialization and making individual contributions to industry. This main purpose is gradually being recognized around the world. Looking at the support provided by the Obama Administration for “grand challenges,” it wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to say that global trends have come full circle and are now following what the University of Tokyo has been doing all this time. Obviously, a single talented scientist cannot create innovation alone. Even at a university where there are many Pasteur-type scientists, unless appropriate organizations and systems are devised, it will be difficult to produce readily visible results. To that end, I believe it to be necessary for the University to learn from trends in global university management and to also reaffirm our own traditions and strengths to create an environment in which we can maximize the use of our inherent DNA.

Pasteur’s Quadrant Model (Stokes)

Pasteur’s Quadrant Model

Eminent UTokyo scholars who have left their mark on the history of innovation in Japan

 1884

Assistant Professor Ichisuke Fujioka of the Imperial College of Engineering (the forerunner of the Faculty of Engineering) worked in cooperation with the private sector to develop the first Japan-manufactured incandescent light bulb. He went on to establish Hakunetsu-sha (currently Toshiba Corporation).

 1885

Professor Nagayoshi Nagai of the School of Medicine (also affiliated to the Faculty of Science) of the University of Tokyo discovered ephedrine. He also served as chief engineer at Dainippon Pharmaceutical, working to realize the production of Western medicines in Japan.

 1890

Founder of K. Mikimoto & Co., Ltd., Kokichi Mikimoto received advice from Professor Kakichi Mitsukuri of Imperial University and engaged in the development of artificially cultured pearls. In 1893 he succeeded in creating a hemispherical cultured pearl.

 1900

Jokichi Takamine, a graduate of the Imperial College of Engineering (forerunner of the Faculty of Engineering), successfully extracted, isolated and crystallized a hormone from the adrenal glands of cattle, naming it adrenaline.

 1907

Professor Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University discovered that the source of umami (one of the five basic tastes) in konbu seaweed soup stock was glutamic acid. The following year Saburosuke Suzuki, who had acquired the exclusive usage rights to this discovery, launched the sales of “Aji-no-Moto” (otherwise known as monosodium glutamate).

 1910

Assistant Professor Kazuo Kumabe of Tokyo Imperial University produced Japan’s first-ever automobile engine performance testing equipment and cooperated with Kiichiro Toyoda in the planning of Japan’s first home-manufactured vehicle. He subsequently became Vice President of Toyota Motor Corporation.

 1926

Professor Umetaro Suzuki of Tokyo Imperial University was the first person in the world to extract Vitamin B1 (oryzanin). He subsequently invented synthetic sake, founding the company Riken-shu, which would become Kyowa Hakko Kogyo Co., Ltd.

 1931

Professor Tokushichi Mishima of Tokyo Imperial University made the ground-breaking discovery that by adding aluminum to non-magnetic nickel steel it was possible to create a permanent magnet called the MK magnet.

Yasunori Baba

Yasunori Baba

Professor, Department of Advanced Interdisciplinary Studies, Graduate School of Engineering
http://www.zzz.rcast.u-tokyo.ac.jp/