Takashi Yamamoto

Back to Contents of Issue: November 2000

CEO and president, CASTI

by Chieko Tashiro

A third of Japan's 670,000 researchers belong to a university, according to MITI. Research funds in Japan topped ¥14 trillion last year, and 20 percent of that went to universities. Oddly, however, only 0.04 percent of all patent applications come from universities. What's wrong?

takafumi yamamotoTakafumi Yamamoto has been asking himself this question for a long time. He's been struggling with the issue of Japan's weakness in technology transfer between universities and businesses since he was a student at Chuo University -- long before corporations and technology startups became interested in the idea and professors started getting hopeful. What's been missing in Japan is the technology licensing office, or TLO. In the United States, such organizations allow cooperation between tech companies and university researchers by offering licensing and patenting services. At job-matching service Recruit, where he served over a decade, Yamamoto established a technology management division that helped professors market their technologies -- a sort of TLO before its time. This summer, he became the president and CEO of CASTI, the Center for Advanced Science and Technology Incubation. CASTI will serve as the primary TLO for Japan's top school, the University of Tokyo. I visited Yamamoto in his new offices in Tokyo.
-- Chieko Tashiro

Why have Japanese universities produced so few patents?
There had always been high tech research in Japanese schools, but not enough institutions or people to help with the transferring. And there were questions of legal status -- because the lands of the University of Tokyo belong to the state government, so too did the university's technology and knowledge. But in 1998 we started to think that it would take forever if Japan didn't have laws to allow academe and companies to cooperate. Based on this theory, the TLO bill was enacted in 1998. I was a board member for that bill. Since the bill passed, the outlook for Japan's technology transfer industry has been looking a lot more optimistic.

What made you interested in this area?
My first encounter was when I was a student and I participated in a tech-transferring college seminar at Chuo University. Professor Masaru Saito, who conducted that seminar, was the one who first tried to launch the domestic market for patents from academe.

After graduation, I joined Recruit, where I planned hiring. Then I became manager of Recruit Book, a job-information publication for Japanese college students looking for jobs after graduation. Japanese students tended to look for jobs at large corporations rather than ventures, so I added an introduction to venture companies. But in Japan there weren't many ventures, especially tech ones. When I asked students, "What are examples of some venture companies in Japan?" a good response was "Softbank;" the worst was "NTT Data." I thought it was one of the big reasons why not many tech ventures are born here, and that experience later led me to come up with a tech-transferring business plan.

How does your background help you as head of CASTI?
My job was to help students find jobs. Recruiting holds the meaning of technology transfer -- companies purchase people's knowledge. I thought that if universities' ideas and knowledge were better utilized, Japanese industries would blossom. I have done a lot of research on technology transfer, and I came to learn that America already has its systems. I contacted and signed up an exclusive consulting contract with Stanford University's Dr. Niels Reimers, who was already an expert in the area.

Then Recruit started a tie-up with the University of Tokyo's CASTI. Since there was no marketing person within the university, I was appointed marketer for the CASTI project, as well as for the transfer efforts of Shibaura Kogyo University, Chuo University, and others -- a total of 14 universities. Out of that, we had 17 cases of successful tech transfer in two years.

Based on that record, Recruit gained confidence that Japanese universities could make a big contribution to private corporations. In April, Recruit started a full-scale operation. I served as a division executive in the technology management division. In June, the University of Tokyo appointed me president and CEO of CASTI. I accepted the offer in July, right after the promotion in April.

Please tell me about CASTI.
CASTI was founded in August 1998 by some professors of the University of Tokyo, who founded it with ¥10 million [of their own money]. CASTI's shareholders are professors. The point is to assure intellectual property rights and establish fair representation.

CASTI's technology transfer procedure has five steps. First, the university discloses new inventions to CASTI. CASTI conducts interviews, consults, and looks for novelty, advantages, and practical industry use. Second, CASTI helps to obtain a patent. The next step is to research companies and do match-making. Then CASTI introduces the technologies to the companies. Finally, it sets conditions and awards the contract.

The ideal TLO is a good omiai obachan [marriage meeting specialist] who butts in when necessary, is able to say nice things about others, has a wide range of information, has professional knowledge, and does not want to be disliked by either side.

So far CASTI has succeeded with six cases of tech transfer, and five are expected to close soon.

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