The applied value of public investments in biomedical research

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Science  07 Apr 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6333, pp. 78-81
DOI: 10.1126/science.aal0010

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Patents from papers both basic and applied

Public funding for research depends on the idea that the resulting knowledge translates into socially valuable outcomes, such as medicines. Such linkages are easier to assert than to prove. Li et al. studied 27 years of grant-level funding by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. About 10% of grants are directly cited by patents, suggesting some technological application, and 30% of grants are cited in research articles that are then cited in patents. Five percent of grants result in papers cited by patents for successfully approved drugs, compared with less than 1% that are cited directly by such patents. These patterns hold regardless of whether the research is more basic or applied.

Science, this issue p. 78


Scientists and policy-makers have long argued that public investments in science have practical applications. Using data on patents linked to U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants over a 27-year period, we provide a large-scale accounting of linkages between public research investments and subsequent patenting. We find that about 10% of NIH grants generate a patent directly but 30% generate articles that are subsequently cited by patents. Although policy-makers often focus on direct patenting by academic scientists, the bulk of the effect of NIH research on patenting appears to be indirect. We also find no systematic relationship between the “basic” versus “applied” research focus of a grant and its propensity to be cited by a patent.

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