COLUMBIA, S.C., OCT. 16 -- President Reagan's incoming Commerce Secretary, C. William Verity, referred during a speech today to an innovative American idea that "the Japs took and now we're going to take it back."

Verity used the term Japs, widely used during World War II and now considered a slur, while discussing the benefits of a Rapid Acquisition of Manufactured Parts program in Charleston involving the U.S. Navy and private industry.

"You have a reduction of inventory costs due to 'just in time' delivery, a new concept that we had, the Japs took and now we're going to take it back," Verity said.

"It was just a slip and I very much regret it," said Verity in a statement issued by his office in Washington.

Verity, who has lived in Beaufort for the past 18 months, will be sworn in as secretary of Commerce on Monday. Today he made the keynote address at the University of South Carolina's new $20.1 million John E. Swearingen Engineering Center.

In his new post, Verity said he will stress technology, innovation and quality as tonics for a trade deficit he called "the cancer on this country." Much of that deficit is in trade with Japan.

Verity said the nation must continuously retrain workers, promote competition in innovation among universities and private corporations and work toward greater computerization of manufacturing.

Most important, he said, the nation's manufacturers must make "a commitment to produce the highest quality at competitive costs."

Verity said Japan once had a reputation for producing "junk," but changed that image through a joint commitment by government and industry.

"We're beginning to understand that we have to have that same commitment," Verity said.