The issue of university patenting has moved to the forefront of economic analysis due to the impressive growth registered in the number of patent applications by US universities over the 1980s. Compared to that, European research on academic patenting is much more recent. The largest part of it has dealt with the institutional differences between the European and the academic systems. Among these institutional differences, two are of particular interest:
a) The legal ownership of IPRs over academic research, epitomized by the so called “professor’s privilege”, which exempts academic personnel from attributing the rights over their inventions to their employers
b) The European universities’ limited expertise in self-financing and IPR management, which follows from a tradition of reliance on governmental regulation and block grant funding.
The professor’s privilege used to be a typical institution to be a typical institution in Germany, Austria and the Scandinavian countries. Policy concerns over the little use professors made of it have recently led to its abolition in all countries but . More generally, most European universities have for long being prevented, or have themselves resisted being involved in IPR management, thus leaving patent matters in their scientists’ or research sponsors’ hands. It is only recently that European universities have changed attitude, also in response to changes in legislation. Still, most patents covering inventions by academic scientistists belong to business companies or, to a lesser extent, individual scientistis and governmental funding agencies. As a consequence, official statistics, which classify patents according to the identity of the grantees or applicants (not of the inventors) largely underestimate the number or European academic patents.
Following this clue, different recent studies have re-classified patents by inventor, and matched the inventors’ names with those of university faculties, thus producing the first estimates of academic patenting in some European countries (e.g., Finland, Italy, Norway, France, the Netherlands and Sweden).
In all of these countries a significant percentage of domestic patent applications at the European Patent Office is found to cover inventions of academic scientists, so that the gap between US and European universities in terms of contribution to patentinf turns out not to be as big as it seems by looking only at universities’ patent portfolios.
Ongoing European research is now focussing on whether the different property regime of academic patents affects their commercial value and exploitation possibilities. Additional research lines aim at investigating:
- the impact of involvement in patenting activity on academic scientists’ scientific performance, as measured by the number, quality and basic science contents of publications.
- the economic incentives of academic inventors, mainly on the basis of surveys;
- the social ties and knowledge exchanges taking place between academic and non-academic inventors;
- the effects of the abolition of the professor’s privilege.
APE-INV-Website of this Research Network Programme (RNP)-project of the European Science Foundation (ESF).
05.2009 - 09.2013