Basic Implications

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Science  26 Aug 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6046, pp. 1073
DOI: 10.1126/science.333.6046.1073-b

In 1980, the United States adopted the Bayh-Dole Act, which allowed researchers to retain intellectual property rights to federally funded research, as a way to encourage the development of technologies that might otherwise languish in labs. Since then, the number of university technology transfer offices has boomed, along with patent applications and licensing income. Despite this apparent success, some argue that the act has co-opted universities and undermined the overall scientific and economic enterprise, with long-term academic pursuit of knowledge through basic research abandoned in favor of nearer-term profits. Thursby and Thursby examined whether basic research has indeed suffered relative to applied research since Bayh-Dole. They analyzed data on thousands of science and engineering faculty from eight major U.S. research universities spanning the years 1983 to 1999. The “basicness” of faculty research was explored via publication analysis, on the reasoning that “basic” journals are cited more heavily by “applied” journals than vice versa. They assessed faculty interest in commercializing research by tracking the history of formally disclosing potential inventions. Their model also accounted for research funding, age, tenure, and other influences. They found no evidence that interest in commercialization detracted from basic research, and in fact saw that basic research effort increased in light of the incentive of potential commercialization profits.

Res. Policy 40, 1077 (2011).

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