(Official proposes data network to link firms)  (640)

By Jim Fuller

USIA Science Writer

Washington -- Industry officials have called for greater sharing of

scientific and technical information among corporate rivals to promote U.S.

economic competitiveness.

The officials told the House Subcommittee on Technology, Environment and

Aviation February 17 that the success of Semiconductor Manufacturing

Technology (Sematech) and other government-industry consortia have

demonstrated that fierce American competitors in the same industry can work

together for the common good.

The officials pointed out, however, that consortia membership represents

only a tiny fraction of all industry, and that ways need to be found to

encourage a broader flow of information among private companies.

Jean Mayhew, manager of Library and Information Services at United

Technologies Corporation, called for the creation of an electronic data

highway, or network, that would provide every manufacturer in the country

with immediate access to vital technical information.  The network would

encourage participation of small firms as well as giant corporations.

"It would link government and academia more closely with manufacturers," she

said.  "Theoretical knowledge would flow more freely to engineers in

industry.  This would encourage the translation of theory into new

1roducts...the kind that will sell in global markets."

Mayhew said that the largest obstacle to such a network is not technological

or financial, but the culture of corporate America.

"This culture is biased against cooperation with rivals and potential

rivals," Mayhew said.  "We need a culture change.  We need to value

information sharing among companies.  Competitors can cooperate without

losing their competitive advantage."

She called on Congress to promote the understanding that competitive

cooperation is now permissible within the bounds of antitrust and

intellectual property laws.

"In industry, we're removing the barriers to a broader flow of information,"

she said.  "But there's a lot of resistance.  This can be traced to a

lingering fear of antitrust restrictions that no longer apply."

William Spencer, president of Sematech, said that vital technology

information is transferred within the consortium by engineers and

scientists returning to their member companies.  Two-thirds of the

engineers and managers at Sematech are assignees who spend two to three

years at Sematech before returning to their home company.

"A decade ago I would have said there's no way U.S. companies would get

together and share information," he said.  "But I think the shadow of the

gallows frightened all of us.  The willingness to share information that's

not product-specific has been far greater than I would have imagined."

Mayhew and Spencer called on government and industry to cooperate in

"benchmarking" the technology of foreign competitors.

Mayhew said that while the government already collects vast amounts of

foreign scientific and technical data, the information is not forwarded to

private industry for analysis and application, and the collection effort

does not target subjects of vital interest.

She called for establishment of an Office of Technology Monitoring and

Assessment to coordinate the collection effort among government agencies.

Private industry would analyze and apply the information that is gathered.

Spencer said that Sematech, in conjunction with its member companies,

regularly sends scientists and engineers to Japan to visit manufacturing

sites, meet with equipment suppliers and talk with university researchers.

"One of the biggest problems faced by industry that is magnified for small

companies is the cost of benchmarking foreign competition," he said.  "For

example, it is very expensive to send a team of engineers and scientists to

Japan for the length of time it takes to gather good, solid information on

the competition."

He said that technology fellowships from the government to sponsor U.S.

industry researchers would be one way to address the problem.  He also

called for the declassification of foreign technical information held by

the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency.