Publicly funded research lays critical foundations for private sector

March 30, 2017

Nearly 10% of U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) research grants directly generate a patent, a new study reveals, and more than 30% generate articles that are then cited by patents. The results, from Danielle Li and colleagues, emphasize the critical service that research funded by the NIH, an institution facing a proposed budget slash of nearly 20%, provides toward broader technological and economic benefits. Critically, the results also reveal no substantial relationship between the "basic" versus "applied" research focus of a grant and its likelihood to be cited by a patent. While knowledge generated by public investments in science is meant to be freely accessible, keeping track of whether and by whom this knowledge is used is challenging. Two factors that make it even more difficult to appreciate the benefits of publicly funded Research & Development (R&D) are the lag time between discoveries and the realization of their applications, and the spillover effect of a discovery from one branch of science to others. To better grasp the benefits of such funding, Li et al. analyzed 365,380 grants the NIH funded between 1980 and 2007 (a number representing almost every NIH grant from that span of time). They found that 8.4% of these grants are directly acknowledged by U.S. patents and that 31% produced research that is cited by patents. These indirectly linked patents demonstrate the additional reach that publicly funded science can have by building a foundation for private-sector R&D, the authors say.

American Association for the Advancement of Science

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