08 May 2009  Working Papers

Capitalizing On Innovation: The Case of Japan

Executive Summary — How can Japan create a better business environment for innovation? Japan presents a unique case of industrial structures that have produced remarkable developments in certain sectors but seem increasingly inadequate to do the same in modern technology industries, which rely on ecosystems of firms producing complementary products. Robert Dujarric and HBS professor Andrei Hagiu present three case studies of software, animation, and mobile telephony to illustrate potential sources of inefficiencies. Like all advanced economies, Japan faces two interconnected challenges. The first challenge is rising competition from lower-cost countries with the capacity to manufacture midrange and in some cases advanced industrial products. At the same time, Japan confronts changes in the relative weights of manufacturing and services, including soft goods, which go against the country's long-standing competitive advantage and emphasis on manufacturing. If Japan is to continue to prosper in a world where its ability to rely principally on manufacturing will diminish, its policymakers will need to capitalize on its untapped innovative power. Key concepts include:

  • The Japanese hierarchical industry organizations can simply "lock out" certain types of innovation indefinitely by perpetuating established business practices. This is the case with software, an industry in which Japan is strikingly weak.
  • Even when vertical hierarchies produce highly innovative sectors in the domestic market—as is the case with animation and wireless mobile communications—the exclusively domestic orientation of the "hierarchical industry leaders" can entail large missed opportunities for other members of the ecosystem, who are unable to fully exploit their potential in global markets.
  • Private-sector initiative is critical in developing the venture-capital sector, which is a key and necessary ingredient for stimulating innovation in modern industries.

 

Author Abstract

Japan's industrial landscape is characterized by hierarchical forms of industry organization, which are increasingly inadequate in modern sectors, where innovation relies on platforms and horizontal ecosystems of firms producing complementary products. Using three case studies—software, animation and mobile telephony—we illustrate two key sources of inefficiencies that this mismatch can create. First, hierarchical industry organizations can "lock out" certain types of innovation indefinitely by perpetuating established business practices. Second, even when the vertical hierarchies produce highly innovative sectors in the domestic market, the exclusively domestic orientation of the "hierarchical industry leaders" can entail large missed opportunities for other members of the ecosystem, who are unable to fully exploit their potential in global markets. We argue that Japan has to adopt several key legislative measures in order to address these inefficiencies and capitalize on its innovation: strengthening antitrust and intellectual property rights enforcement; improving the legal infrastructure (e.g. producing more business law attorneys); lowering barriers to entry for foreign investment and facilitating the development of the venture capital sector. 39 pages.

Paper Information