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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.