The impact of academic patenting on the rate, quality, and direction of (public) research output

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Citation: Pierre Azoulay, Waverly Ding, Toby Stuart (2006) The impact of academic patenting on the rate, quality, and direction of (public) research output.


Tagged: Economics (RSS) science (RSS), patents (RSS), innovation (RSS)


Azoulay et al. aim to settle a long-running debate about the effect of patenting by academic scientists (and university faculty in particular) on the rate and quality of academic output. A number of previous studies had shown that there was either no effect or that there seemed to be a positive association between patenting and publication. The authors use a better dataset and better methods than previously work to show that, indeed, patents have, if anything, a positive effect on the publication rate of academic life scientists.

The authors focus on two key questions from the literature on technology transfer, science, and intellectual property:

  1. In which direction and to what degree does academic panting affect the rate of production of scientific papers?
  2. Does patenting affect the quality or content of later research done by the patenting scientist?

Previous work had shown a positive effect of patenting on publication and these results shore that research up. In answering the second question, the authors present three pieces of evidence that seem to suggest that patenting affects the content of academic work:

  1. Patenting scientists are more likely to collaborate with researchers in firms.
  2. They are more likely to publish in journals that publish a higher proportion of papers from company-affiliated researchers.
  3. They publish work in more "patentable" areas as determined by a keyword measure created by the authors.

The authors build and use a dataset on 3,862 person random sample drawn from a database of all life science PhD holders and include longitudinal data from between 1968 and 1999. They include variables on both the flow and stock of patents and find that both have a strong significant effect.

The authors find both an elevated rate of publication among patent holders and very little effect on the quality of work. They argue that while they are not the final word on the subject, they suggest the better methods used in their model should "at least pin down the sign" of the effect.