U.Va. building Japanese partnerships
Patent Foundation opens licensing office in Kobe
(above), a central Japanese city of 1.5 million people, is
interested in exploring educational and research opportunities
with U.Va. Vice President and Provost Gene Block (below left),
along with other U.Va. representatives, visited Kobe last
September to meet with Japanese officials.
Jan. 17, 1995, a deadly earthquake rocked the city of Kobe, Japan,
killing thousands of people and destroying vital port facilities.
seven years later, the port is nearly rebuilt, but the city still
is struggling to reach firm economic ground. Port traffic and
heavy industry, previously the bedrock of the regional economy,
might never be fully restored.
city government hopes that biotechnology can serve as the foundation
for a new economy along with new port facilities, a new
international airport, an advanced information technology infrastructure
and eight industrial parks and that partners, such as the
University of Virginia and its Health
System and Patent Foundation,
fact, the Patent Foundation already has inked an agreement with
a Japanese marketing and consulting company, C.U.E. Management
Consulting Ltd., to open an office next door to the RIKEN Center
for Developmental Biology from which to market U.Va. technology.
The office opened for business last summer.
live in a global world and can market U.Va. products to many multinational
companies almost as easily as we can market to modest-sized companies
in the United States, said Robert MacWright, executive director
of the U.Va. Patent Foundation. But marketing to modest-sized
companies in a particular country, such as Japan, can be difficult
because we may not be sensitive to the cultural environment or
speak the language. Having an office in Kobe with a Japanese staff
will allow us to show off U.Va. technology to companies of all
sizes in Japan. It also will make it easier to connect with multinational
companies headquartered in Japan, and develop relationships with
business associates who can speak to the Japanese leadership on
September, a group of U.Va. administrators, including Gene Block,
vice president and provost; Dr. R. Ariel Gomez, vice president
for research and public service; Dr. Erik Hewlett, associate dean
for research with the School of Medicine; and Dr. Barry Gumbiner,
chair of cell biology, traveled to Kobe to explore ways in which
the University could support the central Japanese citys
efforts to rebuild while advancing its research and educational
interests. In addition to speaking with city officials and visiting
Kobe University, U.Va. representatives expressed an interest in
establishing ties with the RIKEN Center, which is pursuing research
similar to that outlined by the Universitys Virginia 2020
Science and Technology initiative, involving stem cell research,
biodifferentiation (a set of complex processes regulating the
development of tissues and organs) and tissue engineering.
leaped at the opportunity to collaborate with an institution that
has a focus very similar to what we want to do at U.Va.,
and the city of Kobe would like to establish a broad-based relationship
that would include undergraduate and graduate educational exchanges
and cultural visits, Block said, noting that such interests are
mutual as the University seeks to expand its international programs.
For its part, the University would like to extend its Japanese
contacts beyond Kobe.
is our first entree into the central Kanzai Region of Japan, where
there may be opportunities to establish exchanges not only with
Kobe, but with the cities of Kyoto and Osaka, which also have
major, world-class universities, Block said. We will
be following up.
the visit to Kobe, its mayor and city councilors visited Charlottesville
in May 2000 to explore potential areas of cooperation. The Japanese
officials were particularly interested in opportunities for intellectual
property transfer through the U.Va. Patent Foundation and proposed
the establishment of a Patent Foundation office in a Kobe industrial
park, Block said. They believed that an office in Kobe would make
it easier for Japanese companies to investigate and license U.Va.
technology, which in turn could supply the intellectual property
needed to stimulate the growth of an advanced medical industry.
U.Va. connection to Kobe started with a chance meeting of David
Kalergis, director of Virginia Gateway, and Katsumo Sakoh, a Japanese
professor at George Washington University. Sakoh put the University
in touch with Shun-ichi Shimizu, managing director of C.U.E.,
a consulting firm that advises the city of Kobe.
promoted the idea of developing a relationship with a U.S. university
in connection with Kobes new research park to open a pathway
to U.S. university technology, Block said. While U.S. universities
often spin out intellectual property that leads to local economic
development opportunities, that is not the case in Japan, he said.
So there was considerable interest in experimenting with the U.S.
model, by encouraging the licensing of technology to small businesses
and striving to rejuvenate Kobes economy by nurturing the
growth of these companies, he said.
is a sense in Japan of U.S. companies being much more entrepreneurial
of course, a greater availability of venture capital helps,
Block said. But Kobe officials thought this opportunity
might allow their city to set an example for all of Japan.