Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2009

Capitalizing On Innovation: The Case of Japan

by Robert Dujarric and Andrei Hagiu


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, all the while recognizing that hierarchical ecosystems have played a major role in Japan's success in manufacturing-driven industries (e.g. Toyota in automobiles and Nintendo with videogames). First, hierarchical industry organizations can "lock out" certain types of innovation indefinitely by perpetuating established business practices. For example, the strong hardware and manufacturing bias and hierarchical structures of Japan's computer and electronics firms is largely responsible for the virtual non-existence of a standalone software sector. 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. For example, Japan's advanced mobile telecommunications systems (services as well as handsets) suffer from a "Galapagos effect"—like the unique fauna of these remote islands they are only found in the Japanese archipelago. Similarly, while Japanese anime is renowned worldwide for its creativity, there is no global Japanese anime content producer comparable to Disney or Pixar. Instead, anime producers are locked into a highly fragmented domestic market, dominated by content distributors (TV stations and DVD companies) and advertising agencies.

We argue that Japan has to adopt legislation in several areas 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 corporate lawyers); lowering barriers to entry for foreign investment and facilitating the development of the venture capital sector.

Keywords: Globalized Markets and Industries; Government Legislation; Innovation and Invention; Industry Structures; Horizontal Integration; Vertical Integration; Manufacturing Industry; Japan;


Dujarric, Robert, and Andrei Hagiu. "Capitalizing On Innovation: The Case of Japan." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 09-114, April 2009. (Revised October 2009.)