Chapter 5: Academic Research and Development

Outputs of S&E Research: Articles and Patents

The products of academic research include trained personnel and advances in knowledge. Trained personnel are discussed earlier in this chapter and also in chapter 2. This section presents data on two knowledge-related additional indicators of scientific research output: scientific articles authored worldwide and patents received by U.S. academic institutions. In addition, it presents data on citations to previous scientific work contained in articles and patents.

Articles, patents, and citations provide indicators, albeit imprecise ones, of scientific output, the content and priorities of scientific research, the institutional and intellectual linkages within the research community, and the ties between scientific research and practical application. Data on articles, patents, and citations, used judiciously, enable meaningful comparisons across institutional sectors, scientific disciplines, and nations in terms of scientific output and research capacity.

Articles are one key measure of output for scientific research because publication has been the norm for disseminating and validating research results and is crucial for career advancement in most scientific fields.[37] Data on the authorship of articles also provide information on the extent of research collaboration and on patterns and trends in collaboration across institutional, disciplinary, and national boundaries.

Citations provide another measure of scientific productivity by indicating how influential previous research has been. Patterns in citations can show links within and across institutional boundaries. Citations to scientific articles in U.S. patents provide indications of the degree to which technological innovations rely on scientific research.

The number of patents issued to U.S. universities is another indicator of the output of academic science. In addition, it is an indicator of the relationship between academic research and commercial application of new technologies.

For a discussion of the nature of the data used in this section, see sidebar, "Data and Terminology."

Worldwide Trends in Article Output

The number of scientific articles cataloged in the internationally recognized peer-reviewed set of S&E journals covered by the Science Citation Index (SCI) and Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI) grew from approximately 466,000 in 1988 to nearly 700,000 in 2003, an increase of 50% (figure 5-34 figure.) . The growth of publications reflects both an expansion in the number of journals covered by the SCI and SSCI databases and an increase in the number of articles per journal during this period. The number of articles in a fixed set of journals that have been tracked by SCI/SSCI since 1985 has also risen, indicating that the number of articles per issue and/or issues per journal grew during this period. Other S&E journal databases that have broader and/or more specialized coverage of scientific fields in general show an increasing number of publications (appendix table 5-40 Excel table.).

Data on article authorship by country provide an indication of the knowledge and research capacity of regions and countries. Data by scientific discipline provide a comparative measure of national research priorities.

Trends in Three Major Publishing Regions

Strong increases in S&E articles published in the European Union (EU)-15, [38] Japan, and the East Asia-4 countries and economies (China, including Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan) accounted for 69% of the increase in world output between 1988 and 2003 (figure 5-35 figure.; appendix table 5-41 Excel table.).

The article output of the EU-15 grew by more than 60% between 1988 and 2003, surpassing that of the United States in 1998 (figure 5-35 figure.; appendix table 5-41 Excel table.). This rate of growth slowed, however, starting in the mid-1990s (figure 5-36 figure.). Japan's article output rose at a slightly faster pace than that of the EU-15 (figure 5-36 figure.), resulting in gain in output of nearly 75% between 1988 and 2003. Japan's growth rate, however, slowed in the latter half of the 1990s in a pattern similar to that of the EU-15.

The article output of the East Asia-4 rose more than sevenfold, pushing its share of the world's S&E articles from below 2% in 1988 to 8% in 2003 (figure 5-35 figure.; table 5-16 table.). By country, the increase in output was 6-fold in China and the Taiwan economy, 7-fold in Singapore, and nearly 18-fold in South Korea, up from only 771 articles in 1988 to more than 13,000 15 years later (appendix table 5-41 Excel table.). S&E article growth in China and South Korea resulted in these two countries becoming the 6th- and 12th-ranked countries by share of world article output in 2003 (appendix table 5-42 Excel table.). On a per capita basis, the article output levels of Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan were comparable to those of other advanced countries (appendix table 5-43 Excel table.). China's per capita article output, however, was far below this level.

Trends in U.S. Article Output

In the United States, growth in article output was markedly slower than in the other major S&E publishing regions and remained essentially flat between 1992 and 2003, despite continued growth of research inputs.[39] Neither the full dimensions of this trend, a reversal of three prior decades of consistent growth, nor the reasons for it are clear (See sidebar, "Exploring Recent Trends in U.S. Publications Output.") As a result of nearly stagnant U.S. output and continued growth in other parts of the world, the U.S. share of all articles fell from 38% to 30% between 1988 and 2003 (table 5-16 table.).

This phenomenon of stagnant output is not limited to the United States. Five mature industrial countries with significant article outputs (Canada, the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, and Sweden) experienced a similar flattening starting in the latter half of the 1990s (figure 5-37 figure.).

The U.S. growth trend varied by field (table 5-17 table.). Biomedical research and physics, which together accounted for one-quarter of U.S. article output in 2003, declined between 1996 and 2003. During the same period, articles in clinical medicine, which accounted for 31% of all output in 2003, increased at the same average rate (0.6%) as overall annual output. The six remaining fields that constituted 44% of U.S. articles in 2003—biology, chemistry, the earth and space sciences, engineering and technology, mathematics, and the social and behavioral sciences[40]—had higher than average growth during 1996–2003.

Trends in Other Regions and Countries

Output increased sharply in many regions and countries between 1988 and 2003, but there were notable exceptions (appendix table 5-41 Excel table.):

  • The S&E article output of Latin America more than tripled.
  • The combined output of the Southeast Asian countries of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam nearly tripled.
  • The output of the Near East and North Africa more than doubled, albeit from a low base.
  • The output of India, the Asian country with the largest S&E article output after Japan and the East Asia-4, began increasing in the mid-1990s after years of stagnation, resulting in a 44% gain during this period.
  • The combined output of the Eastern European countries of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Romania followed a similar trend to that of India. Output began increasing in the late 1990s, resulting in a 41% gain during this period.
  • In contrast to the Eastern European countries listed above, Russia's output decreased 27% between 1994 and 2003.
  • The S&E article output of Sub-Saharan Africa, which accounted for less than 1% of world output in 2003, fell 7% between 1988 and 2003.

Field Distribution of Articles

The publications of the United States, the EU-15, and Japan are dominated by the life sciences (figure 5-38 figure.). Other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries also have a similar portfolio (appendix tables 5-44 Excel table. and 5-45 Excel table.). In the portfolios of the East Asia-4, however, the physical sciences and engineering and technology are more dominant. Among developing countries, the portfolios of countries in the Near East and North Africa (excluding Israel) and Eastern Europe and the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) are similar to those of the East Asia-4. Like the United States, the EU-15, and Japan, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa have portfolios dominated by the life sciences (appendix tables 5-44 Excel table. and 5-45 Excel table.).

Top of page.Top of page

Worldwide Trends in Scientific Collaboration

Patterns in coauthorship of S&E articles are an indicator of how research is organized. Trends toward more frequent coauthorship spanning national, sectoral, and institutional boundaries indicate greater globalization and interdependence in the science community. The rise in scientific collaboration has been driven by several factors:

  • The scientific advantages of combining knowledge, perspectives, techniques, and resources that extend beyond a single institution or discipline to advance scientific research

  • Lower costs of air travel and telephone calls, which have facilitated collaborative research and conference attendance, which can lead to coauthorship

  • The widespread use of new kinds of information technology, including the Internet, e-mail, and high-capacity computer networks that allow researchers to locate collaborators, exchange information, share data files, and even conduct experiments from a distance

  • National policies in many countries that encourage institutional or international collaboration and the end of Cold War barriers to collaboration

  • The participation of graduate students in study abroad programs

The rise in international collaboration has been driven by intensified collaboration among the major S&E publishing regions: the United States, the EU-15, Japan, and the East Asia-4. Other contributing factors are collaboration between these major publishing regions and the developing world and the development of an East Asian area of collaboration centered on Japan and, increasingly, China.

One indicator of increasing collaboration, the average number of author names and addresses on an article, rose between 1988 and 2003 (table 5-18 table.). A second indicator is the distribution of articles by type of authorship: articles authored by a single national institution, articles authored by multiple departments or institutions within a single country, and international articles, which are those with authors from at least two different countries (figure 5-39 figure.). Between 1988 and 2003, international articles doubled in share from 8% to 20%, and articles authored by multiple departments or institutions within a single country increased their share from 32% to 39%.

The number of countries collaborating on an article also expanded. In 2003, more than 60 countries had joint authorship with at least 60 nations, compared with 32 in 1996 (figure 5-40 figure.; appendix table 5-46 Excel table.). Although international ties have greatly expanded, many countries, particularly in the developing world or those with smaller scientific establishments, tend to concentrate much of their collaboration with a relatively small number of developed countries.

International Collaboration by the United States

U.S. researchers collaborate with counterparts in more countries than do the researchers of any other country. In 2003, U.S. authors collaborated with authors in 172 of the 192 countries that had any internationally coauthored articles in 2003 (appendix table 5-46 Excel table.). Scientific collaboration in the United States increased between 1988 and 2003, particularly international collaboration. The average number of foreign addresses on U.S. scientific articles more than tripled during this period (table 5-18 table.). The share of U.S. articles with international authorship (articles with at least one U.S. address and one address outside the United States)[41] grew the fastest, rising from 10% of all U.S. S&E articles in 1988 to 25% in 2003 (figure 5-41 figure.). Such articles became more prevalent in all fields. By field, international collaboration in 2003 was highest in the earth and space sciences, physics, and mathematics, at a rate of more than 35% (figure 5-42 figure.). International collaboration rates were much lower in the social sciences, psychology, the health sciences, and the professional fields at 10%–14%.

The U.S. share of the world's internationally coauthored articles fell between 1988 and 2003, however, from 51% to 44% (figure 5-43 figure.). Its share of coauthorship on the international articles of the EU-15 and Japan fell from almost 50% in 1988 to below 40% in 2003 (figures 5-44 figure.and 5-45 figure.; appendix tables 5-47 Excel table., 5-48 Excel table., and 5-49 Excel table.). In turn, the East Asia-4 and the countries of Eastern Europe and the former USSR increased their share with these two regions (appendix tables 5-47 through 5-52). The United States also lost coauthorship share on the international articles of the East Asia-4 as these economies expanded their collaboration with the EU and other countries (figure 5-46 figure.). Finally, the U.S. coauthorship share fell in many developing countries (appendix tables 5-50 through 5-55). In India, both the U.S. and the EU-15 shares fell as India increased coauthorship with Japan and the East Asia-4 (appendix tables 5-47 through 5-49). In Latin America, the U.S. share declined from 45% to 37% between 1988 and 2003, and the EU-15 became the largest collaborating region (appendix tables 5-47 through 5-49).

Two regions increased their coauthorship share on U.S. articles: the East Asia-4 and Eastern Europe and the former USSR (figure 5-47 figure.). The increases were primarily due to China and South Korea in the former group and Russia in the latter. The patterns of international collaboration with the United States also appear to reflect the relationship between the number of U.S. foreign-born doctorate recipients and publications jointly authored by their country of origin and the United States (figure 5-48 figure.).[42]

International Collaboration by the EU-15

In the EU-15, articles with at least one coauthor from a non-EU-15 country accounted for 36% of all articles in 2003, up from 17% in 1988 (figure 5-49 figure.). The EU-15 countries, many of which had extensive ties during the previous decade, continued to expand their partnerships. There were 10 EU-15 member countries with ties to 100 or more nations in 2003, a clear indicator of this region's extensive scientific collaboration with other nations (appendix table 5-46 Excel table.). Much of the high degree of international collaboration within the EU (as measured by the share of member countries' articles coauthored with other EU-15 countries) reflects the extensive intraregional collaboration centered on France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom (appendix tables 5-47 through 5-49). The extent of intra-European collaboration reflects proximity, historical ties, and EU programs that encourage collaboration.

International Collaboration by Japan

In Japan, the share of articles with international coauthors increased from 9% to 22% between 1988 and 2003, as Japan broadened its collaboration with more countries (figure 5-49 figure.; appendix table 5-46 Excel table.). Japan's collaboration with the East Asia-4 increased considerably during this period, particularly with China (figure 5-50 figure.).

International Collaboration by the East Asia-4

In the economies comprising the East Asia-4, the share of articles with a coauthor outside the region increased slightly during the period 1988–2003 (figure 5-49 figure.).[43] The change in collaborative patterns was similar to that in Japan, with a decline in U.S. involvement, as measured by share of articles, an expansion in the number of collaborative partners, and a growing intraregional collaborative network centered in Japan and, increasingly, China (figure 5-50 figure.).

Top of page.Top of page

Trends in Output and Collaboration Among U.S. Sectors

The volume and share of article production by various U.S. institutional sectors (academic, federal and state government, private for profit, and nonprofit) offer a measure of the relative role of these sectors in U.S. research. Coauthorship among these sectors provides an indicator of the integration of U.S. sectors in the U.S. S&E community. Government policies have reinforced collaboration among U.S. sectors by funding research programs that require or encourage collaboration. International collaboration of U.S. sectors is an indicator of the globalization of U.S. sectors in the international S&E community.

Output Trends of U.S. Sectors

The growth in the academic sector, which generates most U.S. publications (74% in 2003), mirrored the overall pattern of U.S. S&E article output (table 5-19 table.). Growth trends did vary, however, among a subset of top 200 academic R&D institutions grouped on the basis of their R&D growth and 1994 Carnegie classification. At institutions that registered higher-than-average R&D growth between 1988 and 2003, the growth in article output was correspondingly greater than that of other institutions (table 5-20 table.; appendix table 5-56 Excel table.). By Carnegie class, the S&E article output of private academic institutions, which produce approximately one-third of the articles attributed to the top 200 academic R&D institutions, grew faster than that of public academic institutions between 1988 and 2001 (table 5-21 table.).

The combined article output of nonacademic sectors, which accounted for slightly more than one-quarter of overall U.S. output in 2003, also followed the pattern of overall U.S. S&E article output (table 5-19 table.). The growth trend, however, varied by sector. In the federal government, output declined after 1994, primarily because of a decrease in articles in the life sciences and physics (figure 5-51 figure.). The output of the private for-profit sector fell during the 1990s, with significant declines in the fields of chemistry, physics, and engineering and technology. The article output of the nonprofit sector grew nearly 30% between 1988 and 2003 due to an increase in articles in clinical medicine.

Collaboration Among U.S Sectors

Collaboration of the academic sector with other U.S. sectors increased between 1988 and 2003, as measured by the share of coauthored articles (figure 5-52 figure.; appendix tables 5-57 Excel table. and 5-58 Excel table.). Twenty-eight percent of academic articles in 2003 were coauthored with nonacademic authors, up from 22% in 1988. Collaboration among nonacademic sectors also rose during this period (table 5-22 table.; appendix tables 5-57 Excel table. and 5-58 Excel table.). The federal government and the private for-profit sector each nearly doubled their share of papers coauthored with other U.S. nonacademic sectors, from about 15% in 1988 to nearly 30% in 2003, realizing the highest gains in share of all nonacademic sectors.

The international collaboration of the U.S. academic sector increased significantly between 1988 and 2003. The share of academic articles with a foreign author increased from 11% to 24% during this period, a change in magnitude similar to the increase in the share of all U.S. articles with a foreign coauthor (figure 5-52 figure.; appendix tables 5-59 Excel table. and 5-60 Excel table.). As measured by the share of articles with coauthors from non-U.S. institutions, the international collaboration of nonacademic sectors more than doubled during this period (table 5-22 table.).

Top of page.Top of page

Worldwide Trends in Citation of S&E Articles

Citations in S&E articles generally credit the contribution and influence of previous research to a scientist's own research. Trends in citation patterns by region, country, scientific field, and institutional sector are indicators of the influence of scientific literature across institutional and national boundaries.[44] Citations may also indicate the accessibility of scientific research across national boundaries.

The volume of citations worldwide increased from 2.69 million in 1992 to 4.34 million in 2003, an increase of 61% (figure 5-53 figure.). During this period, the share of cross-national citations grew from 42% to 48%, another sign of the increasing globalization of science. With widespread use of the Internet and electronic databases, researchers increasingly are accessing scientific literature from around the world. The rate of foreign research citation varied by field in 2003, with higher-than-average shares in biomedical research, physics, and chemistry, and the lowest shares in psychology, the social sciences, the health sciences, and the professional fields (figure 5-54 figure.). The fields with the lowest shares of foreign research citation also have lower than average shares of internationally authored articles.

Citation Trends for Three Major Publishing Regions

The EU-15, Japan, and the East Asia-4, the same regions that drove the increase in S&E article output, also drove the increase in volume of citation of scientific literature between 1988 and 2003 (figure 5-55 figure.; appendix table 5-61 Excel table.). Citation of EU-15 literature grew by 87% between 1992 and 2003, pushing this region's share of the world's cited literature from 28% to 33% (table 5-23 table.). Citation of Japanese literature also rose substantially, increasing at roughly the same rate as the citation of EU-15 literature. Citation of literature from East Asia-4 authors in China, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan rose nearly sevenfold in volume during this period, with the collective share of these countries rising from less than 1% of the world's cited literature in 1992 to 3% in 2003.

Citation Trends for the United States

The volume of cited U.S. scientific literature grew 32% between 1988 and 2003, less than half the rate of the EU-15 and Japan, and flattened during the late 1990s. This resulted in the U.S. share falling from 52% in 1992 to 42% in 2003 (figure 5-55 figure.; table 5-23 table.; appendix table 5-61 Excel table.). This flattening in citation of U.S. literature occurred across almost all fields and mirrored the trend of flat U.S. output of S&E articles during this period (table 5-24 table.). Two fields diverged from this overall trend: Between 1992 and 2003, citations of physics literature fell 19%, paralleling the drop in publications, whereas citations of articles in the earth and space sciences rose more than 80%. Nevertheless, U.S. literature remained the most cited source of foreign S&E literature for the EU-15, Japan, and the East Asia-4.

S&E literature originating in the United States represents a much larger share of the literature cited by U.S. authors than the S&E literature of the three other major publishing regions represents for each of those regions. In 2003, U.S. literature accounted for 61% of the literature cited by U.S. authors, whereas Japanese literature accounted for only 36% of the literature cited by Japanese authors, the second highest share of domestic citation among the four major publishing regions (figure 5-56 figure.). The foreign literature cited the most by the United States in 2003 was that of the EU-15, accounting for a 23% share.

Relative Citation of S&E Literature

An alternative measure, the relative citation index , shows the comparative citation intensity of a country or region's research by scientists from the rest of the world.[45] This indicator showed less change in the citation patterns of the four major S&E publishing regions between 1992 and 2003 than simple citation volume. The U.S. relative citation index was considerably higher than that of the other three publishing regions between 1992 and 2003 and remained constant during this period (table 5-25 table.). U.S. relative citation indexes by field also remained stable (appendix table 5-62 Excel table.). The relative citation index of the EU-15 was the second highest, increasing slightly between 1992 and 2003. The relative citation index of the East Asia-4, which was considerably lower than that of the EU-15, also increased slightly during this period. The relative citation index of Japan was considerably lower than those of the United States and the EU-15 and showed little change.

Trends in Highly Cited S&E Literature

A country or region's share of highly cited S&E articles, as ranked by frequency of citation, provides an indicator of its position in highly influential research. Between 1992 and 2003, the U.S. share of the top 5% of cited S&E articles fell from 59% to 50%, whereas the shares of the other three publishing regions, particularly the EU-15, rose (figure 5-57 figure.; appendix table 5-63 Excel table.). The decline in the U.S. share of all cited S&E articles during this period, which occurred at roughly the same magnitude as the decline in highly cited articles, suggests that the erosion of the U.S. citation share was not confined to less influential research.

The trend during this period for the United States and the other three major publishing regions was similar when measured by share of citations in highly cited journals (the journals being ranked by the average number of citations to articles published in each journal) (appendix table 5-64 Excel table.). Despite the declining U.S. share of influential research, U.S. shares of highly cited articles and journals continued to be high relative to the United States' overall share of citations. In comparison, the other three publishing regions' shares of highly cited articles and journals were equal to or less than their overall citation shares.

Top of page.Top of page

Citations in U.S. Patents to S&E Literature

U.S. patents cite previous source material to help meet the application criteria of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (U.S. PTO).[46] Although existing patents are cited the most often, U.S. patents have increasingly cited scientific articles. This growth in citation of S&E literature, referenced by scientific field, technology class of the patent, and the nationality of the inventor and cited literature, provides an indicator of the link between research and practical application.[47]

U.S. patent citations to S&E articles on an average per patent and volume basis rose rapidly between 1987 and 1998, when growth slowed (figure 5-58 figure.; appendix table 5-65 Excel table.).[48] The growth in citations through much of the period 1987–2002 was driven, in part, by increased patenting of research-driven products and processes, primarily in the life sciences, and changes in the practices and procedures of the U.S. PTO. (See next section, "Patents Awarded to U.S. Universities.")

The rapid growth in the volume of citations throughout much of the period 1995–2004 was centered in articles authored by the academic sector (61% share of total citations in 2004), primarily in the fields of biomedical research and clinical medicine (appendix table 5-66 Excel table.). Academic-authored articles in these two fields accounted for 41% of the increase in total citations across all fields between 1995 and 2004. Citations to academic articles in physics and engineering and technology also increased during this period and became a larger share (40% to 61% in physics and 44% to 53% in engineering and technology). This increase coincided with a decline in the share of patent citations of articles authored by the industrial (private for-profit) sector in these fields and the stagnating publications output in that sector.

Industry was the next most widely cited sector (21% share in 2004), with articles in the fields of physics and engineering and technology prominently represented. Industry, however, lost share in these two fields between 1995 and 2004 (appendix table 5-66 Excel table.).

The bulk of U.S. patents citing scientific literature were issued to U.S. inventors, who accounted for 65% of these patents in 2003, a share disproportionately higher than the 51% of all U.S. patents issued to U.S. inventors (table 5-26 table.). The three other major S&E publishing regions accounted for most of the patents citing S&E literature issued to non-U.S. inventors. These regions' shares of patents citing S&E literature, however, were equal to or less than their shares of all U.S. patents.

Examination of the share of cited literature of each of the four major publishing regions, adjusted for their respective share of the world output of scientific literature (relative citation index) and excluding citation of the literature of the inventor's country or region suggests that, relative to its share of publications, U.S. scientific literature is cited in U.S. patents more frequently than that of the EU-15, Japan, or the East Asia-4 (table 5-27 table.). Thus, in both patents and scientific articles, U.S. literature is cited more frequently than would be expected based on the U.S. share of world article output.

Top of page.Top of page

Patents Awarded to U.S. Universities

The results of academic S&E research increasingly extend beyond articles in S&E journals to patent protection of research-derived inventions.[49] Patents are an indicator of the efforts of academic institutions to protect the intellectual property derived from their inventions, technology transfer,[50] and industry-university collaboration. The rise of patents received by U.S. universities attests to the increasingly important role of academic institutions in creating and supporting knowledge-based industries closely linked to scientific research.

Growth in Patenting by Academic Institutions

Patenting by academic institutions increased markedly between 1988 and 2003, quadrupling from about 800 to more than 3,200 patents (appendix tables 5-67 Excel table. and 5-68 Excel table.). (See also NSB 1996, appendix table 5-42 Excel table..) The academic share of patents also rose slightly during this period, even as growth in all U.S. patents increased rapidly (figure 5-59 figure.).

Several factors appear to have supported the rapid rise in academic patenting:

  • The Bayh-Dole University and Small Business Patent Act. This 1980 law (Public Law 96-517) established a uniform government-wide policy and process for government grantees and contractors to retain title to inventions resulting from federally supported R&D (whether fully or partially funded) and encouraged the licensing of such inventions to industry.

  • Emerging and maturing research-based industries. During the 1990s, industries emerged and matured that used commercial applications derived from "use-oriented" basic research in life sciences fields such as molecular biology and genomics (Stokes 1997).

  • Strengthening of patent protection. Changes in the U.S. patent regime strengthened overall patent and copyright protection and encouraged the patenting of biomedical and life sciences technology. The creation of the Court of Appeals of the Federal Circuit to handle patent infringement cases was one factor in the strengthening of overall patent protection. The Supreme Court's landmark 1980 ruling in Diamond v. Chakrabarty, which allowed patent-ability of genetically modified life forms, also may have been a major stimulus behind the recent rapid increases.

The rise in U.S. academic patenting has been accompanied by a growing number of patents awarded to institutions. The number of institutions awarded patents increased by more than 60% between the late 1980s and 2003 to 198 (appendix tables 5-67 Excel table. and 5-68 Excel table.).[51] Both public and private institutions participated in this rise. Despite the increase in institutions receiving patents, the distribution of patenting activity has remained highly concentrated among a few major research universities. Among the top 100 R&D institutions, the top 25 recipients between 1994 and 2003 accounted for 55% of all academic patents in 2003, a share that has remained constant for two decades. Including the next 75 largest recipients increases the share to more than 80% of patents granted to all institutions since 1987 (appendix tables 5-67 Excel table. and 5-68 Excel table.).

The growth in academic patents occurred primarily in the life sciences and biotechnology (Huttner 1999). Patents in two technology areas or utility classes, both with presumed biomedical relevance, accounted for a third of the academic total in 2003, up from less than a fourth in the early 1980s. The class that experienced the fastest growth, class 435 (chemistry, molecular biology, and microbiology), doubled its share during this period (figure 5-60 figure.). Its share, however, fell from a peak of 21% in 1998 to 15% in 2003.

A survey by the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM), which tracks several indicators of academic patenting, licensing, and related practices, shows the expansion of patenting and related activities by universities (table 5-28 table.; appendix table 5-69 Excel table.). The number of new patent applications more than quintupled between FY 1991 and FY 2003,[52] indicating the growing effort and increasing success of universities obtaining patent protection for their technology.

Invention Disclosures and Licensing Options

Two indicators related to patents, invention disclosures and new licenses and options, provide a broader picture of university efforts to exploit their technology. Invention disclosures, which describe the prospective invention and are submitted before a patent application or negotiation of a licensing agreement, rose sharply during this period. New licenses and options, indicating the commercialization of university-developed technology, grew by more than 40% between FY 1997 and FY 2003 (table 5-28 table.; appendix table 5-69 Excel table.).

The majority of licenses and options are executed with small companies, either existing or startups (figure 5-61 figure.). In cases of unproven or very risky technology, universities often opt to make an arrangement with a startup company because existing companies may be unwilling to take on the risk. Faculty involvement in startups may also play a key role in this form of alliance. The majority of licenses granted to startups are exclusive, which do not allow the technology to be commercialized by other companies.

With the continuing increase of revenue-generating licenses and options, income to universities from patenting and licenses grew substantially during the 1990s and the early part of this decade, reaching more than $850 million in FY 2003, more than twice as much as the FY 1997 level.[53] Licensing income, however, is only a small fraction of overall academic research spending, amounting to less than 3% in FY 2003.[54] Licensing income is highly concentrated among a few universities and blockbuster patents. Of the institutions reporting data on royalties from patenting and licensing in FY 2003, less than 10% received $25 million or more in gross income, whereas more than half received less than $1 million (table 5-29 table.).

Because licensing income has been highly concentrated among relatively few universities, technology transfer has not been financially lucrative for most universities (Powers 2003).[55] Universities are motivated by factors other than profitability, such as signaling the technological capability of their research, encouraging collaboration with industry, and helping their professors disseminate their research for commercialization.[56]

Because university-industry collaboration and successful commercialization of academic research in the United States contributed to the rapid transformation of new and often basic knowledge into industrial innovations, other nations are trying to strengthen innovation by adopting similar practices. (See sidebar, "Academic Patenting and Licensing in Other Countries".)

Top of page.Top of page

Top of page.Top of page

Top of page.Top of page

Top of page.Top of page


[37] The field of computer sciences, in which scientists disseminate much of their research through peer-reviewed conference proceedings, is one exception.

[38] The EU-15 are the 15 EU countries before the expansion of EU membership on May 1, 2004: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

[39] Changes over time in journal coverage could distort U.S. output for reasons that have little or nothing to do with publishing intensity, such as coverage of new non-English journals. To control for changes in SCI/SSCI journal coverage that may have occurred for these extraneous reasons, we also performed analyses on a fixed set of journals indexed in 1985. These analyses found the U.S. trend relative to other publishing centers to be accentuated, with U.S. output falling 10% between 1992 and 2003, whereas output grew in the EU-15, Japan, and the East Asia-4.

[40] The social and behavioral sciences consist of psychology, the social sciences, the health sciences, and professional fields.

[41] International articles may also have multiple U.S. addresses.

[42] A moderately high correlation (r 2 = 0.66) exists between the number of U.S. doctorates awarded to foreign-born students, by country, in 1994–98 and the volume of papers coauthored by the United States and those countries in 1997–2003.

[43] Articles jointly authored exclusively between or among the economies of the East Asia-4 are not counted as international articles.

[44] Citations are not a straightforward measure of quality, for the following reasons: authors' citation of their own previous articles; authors' citation of the work of colleagues, mentors, and friends; and a possible nonlinear relationship between a country's output of publications and citations to that output.

[45] The relative citation index is the share of a region or country's S&E literature cited by the rest of world adjusted for its share of published S&E literature. A region or country's citations of its own literature are excluded from the relative citation index to remove the potential bias of authors citing their own research, institutions, or national literature.

[46] The U.S. PTO evaluates patent applications on the basis of whether the invention is useful, novel, and nonobvious. The novelty requirement leads to references to other patents, scientific journal articles, meetings, books, industrial standards, technical disclosures, etc. These references are termed prior art.

[47] Citation data must be interpreted with caution. The use of patenting varies by type of industry, and many citations in patent applications are to prior patents. Patenting is only one way that firms seek returns from innovation and thus reflects, in part, strategic and tactical decisions (e.g., laying the groundwork for cross-licensing arrangements). Most patents do not cover specific marketable products but might conceivably contribute in some fashion to one or more products in the future. (See Geisler 2001.)

[48] Citations are references to S&E articles in journals indexed and tracked by the Science Citation Index and Social Sciences Citation Index . Citation counts are based on articles published within a 12-year period that lagged 3 years behind the issuance of the patent. For example, citations for 2000 are references made in U.S. patents issued in 2000 to articles published in 1986–97.

[49] Research articles also are increasingly cited in patents, attesting to the close relationship of some basic academic research to potential commercial applications. See the previous section, "Citations in U.S. Patents to S&E Literature."

[50] Other means of technology transfer are industry hiring of students and faculty, consulting relationships between faculty and industries, formation of firms by students or faculty, scientific publications, presentations at conferences, and informal communications between industrial and academic researchers.

[51] The institution count is a conservative estimate because several university systems are counted as one institution, medical schools are often counted with their home institution, and universities are credited for patents on the basis of being the first-name assignee on the patent, which excludes patents where they share credit with another first-name assignee. Varying and changing university practices in assigning patents, such as to boards of regents, individual campuses, or entities with or without affiliation to the university, also contribute to the lack of precision in the estimate. The data presented here have been aggregated consistently by the U.S. PTO since 1982.

[52] Universities report data to AUTM on a fiscal-year basis, which varies across institutions.

[53] Licensing income for 2000 was boosted by several one-time payments, including a $200 million settlement of a patent infringement case, and by several institutions' cashing in of their equity held in licensee companies.

[54] See Academic Research and Development Expenditures: Fiscal Year 2001 (NSF/SRS 2003). This is a rough estimate because of the lack of data on the R&D expenditures of a few smaller institutions.

[55] Data on costs are not available, but can be considerable, such as patent and license management fees (Sampat 2002). Thursby and colleagues (2001) report that universities allocate an average of 40% of net income to inventors, 16% to the inventor's department or school (often returned to the inventor's laboratory), 26% to central administrations, and 11% to technology transfer offices, with the remainder allocated to "other."

[56] Patenting by U.S. universities appears to have had no impact on publishing output, a concern voiced by some policymakers and researchers. S&E article output trends by top patenting universities between 1981 and 2001 were consistent with those of nonpatenting universities and the entire U.S. academic sector.

National Science Board.