Policy ForumResearch Funding

Government-funded research increasingly fuels innovation

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Science  21 Jun 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6446, pp. 1139-1141
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw2373

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Summary

Innovation increasingly relies on scientific knowledge (1, 2). Research to generate that knowledge has historically been funded by both industry and government. Although industry and government research spending was relatively equal in 1980 in the United States, by 2010 their shares had shifted to 60% and 30%, respectively (3). Yet, despite this increase in industrial spending, firms appear to be pursuing—or at least publishing—less basic science (4). If corporations are doing less basic research, then where do they find the ideas to fuel their innovation? Here, we detail individual bibliometric linkages across tens of millions of documents and quantify the broad sweep and impact of U.S. federally supported research on patented innovation over most of the past century. We illustrate how patentees, both U.S. and non-U.S., and corporations in particular, increasingly depend upon federally supported research as a source of scientific knowledge. Although multiple mechanisms interact and contribute to the trend, federal research increasingly appears to fuel the innovation that ultimately leads to jobs, industrial competitiveness, and entrepreneurial success.