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New study shows university research critical to industry innovation

A new study of the relationship between basic research and the patent process indicates that publicly financed scientific research plays a major role in industrial innovation in the United States.

The study found that 73 percent of the papers cited by U.S. industry patents are written at academic, government and other public institutions; only 27 percent are written by industry scientists.

Fully half of the papers cited originated at academic institutions. When broken out by research discipline, Stanford was one of the top sources. The campus ranked third after Harvard and the University of California in biomedical papers; first, ahead of the University of California and MIT, in physics; and third, behind the University of California and MIT, in engineering and technology. In the fourth category, chemistry, Stanford ranked 21st.

"Regardless of how the data are arranged, it is quite clear that public science plays an overwhelming role in the science base of U.S. industry," the study said.

The study was prepared by CHI Research Inc. for the National Science Foundation as part of an ongoing effort by the agency to examine the economic impact of research. A May 13 article on the study in the New York Times characterized the new analysis as "the most thorough examination to date of the scientific foundation of American patents." The paper is to be published in Research Policy, a leading journal for this kind of analysis.

The study also found that the importance of basic research to industrial innovation appears to be increasing. The researchers looked at all the patents issued in two different periods -- 1987-88 and 1993-94 -- and found that the number of references to U.S.-authored research papers in U.S. patents tripled over six years while the overall number of patents increased by only 30 percent.

From 1965 to 1985, the investments in research on the part of the federal government and industry remained neck-and-neck while increasing from less than $20 billion a year apiece to $60 billion. In the last 10 years, however, federal funding has stagnated -- this year it will total about $65 billion -- while industry spending has continued to grow to nearly $120 billion per year. To balance the federal budget in five years, the Clinton administration proposes cutting research spending by 14 percent, while the Republicans want to shrink it by about 20 percent after accounting for inflation.

A May 15 editorial in the New York Times pointed out that the study belies the assertions of many in Congress that the federal government can safely cut back its research funding as industry investment in research and development grows. "The implication is that proposed cutbacks in federal research would damage the economy," the editorial said.


For more information on the World Wide Web go to:
CHI Research, Inc. Home page at

By David F. Salisbury