Patenting "Academic" Science
Why Academic Scientists Should Use the Patent System
Academic scientists often regard the patent system as beyond their reach. I recently communicated with a few hundred members of the American Chemical Society, encouraging them to make better use of the patent system. An overwhelming majority considered the patent system to be something reserved for finished, commercialized technology. Not true.
Academic scientists should embrace the patent system for a variety of reasons. The post below outlines a few of them, including benefits to reputation and funding sources.
Patenting Academic Research – Background
After a decade of economic stagnation US Congress passed the Bayh-Dole Act in 1980 as an attempt to tie university-based innovations to the private sector. Among other things, the legislation provides ownership rights for inventions developed with government support may be granted to directly to the inventor or university. The Bayh-Dole act incentivizes academic scientists using federal research grants to bring their products to market. Response to the act has been impressive; In 1980, 390 patents were awarded to university-based entities, by 2009 the number increased to 3088.
Historically, the vast majority of university-based patent applications were associated with the country’s elite research institutions, but university-based patent activity is becoming increasingly widespread. Bibliometrics – the analytics of patent and publications records – provides clear evidence that academic scientists are reaping the rewards of engaging the patent system, and the rewards are numerous.
For Academic Scientists, Patent activity and publication productivity are positively correlated
‘Publish or perish’ is the mantra of the scientific community for a reason: journal submissions are the metric by which academic scientists are measured. Bibliometric studies at both the national and international level indicate that inventor-scientists (academic scientists with one or more patent applications) publish significantly more than their non-patenting colleagues who work in similar fields and who have similar career characteristics.
In addition to increased publication rates, there is a direct relationship between patent-activity and publication-impact factors; inventor-scientists are more frequently cited by their peers, and their work is more frequently accepted in top-tier journals.
“Even after controlling for individual heterogeneity, the event of a patent is likely to alter the natural flow of publications produced year-by-year. In this particular point, all available studies agree that the relationship between patent and paper scores is a positive one.”
For Academic Scientists, Patenting Benefits Funding, Networking, Collaboration
Data collected from the curriculum vitae of more than 1200 US academic scientists provide further insight into the benefits of engaging the patent system. Relative to their non-patenting colleagues, inventor-scientists receive more private-sector funding. The contributions are significant; in 2009 industry contributed more than $3.2 billion to academic research and development in the United States.
Ties to industry are also associated with enhanced career mobility. Inventor-scientists spend more of their between academia and industry, typically in consultant or directorship roles. These activities are associated with the development of broad career networks and increased potential for interdisciplinary collaboration.
For Academic Scientists, Patenting Provides One Indicator of Better Science
Of course, many scientists are driven less by external factors like funding and promotion, and more by the intrinsic rewards of problem solving and discovery. At this level, publication and patenting activities present similar intellectual challenges. Great patents and publications arise from the same foundations: creativity, originality and novelty. Many inventors feel they improve the quality and the state-of-the-art character of their fundamental research questions as a result of the insights they obtain from engaging with the patent system.
Given the increasing number of university-based patent applications, it is likely that the number of inventor-scientists will continue to rise. Arguably, the scientific community will be stronger for it.
Patenting Provides a Potential Revenue Stream for Academic Scientists and Institutions
Another potential upside arising from patents is that the academic community could incur a significant monetary benefit. By using the patent system, these pioneering, academic scientists could claim their advances. By claiming their contributions, they can create intellectual property in those contributions. If commercially applied, that property would create a revenue stream–directly benefiting the inventor-scientists and their academic institutions.
**This post was co-authored with Houston Brown, PhD
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