Tech Transfer eNews Blog

New study suggests university researchers who seek patents aren’t driven by profit


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: June 24th, 2020

A new study suggests that university researchers who decide to commercialize their innovations are not primarily motivated by financial gain. That’s probably not a huge surprise to tech transfer professionals, but the study is instructive nonetheless.

The study’s authors — Henry Sauermann of ESMT Berlin, Wesley M. Cohen of Duke University, and Paula Stephan of Georgia State University — engaged with over 2,000 academics employed at U.S. institutions. According to their research, other motives besides profit, such as social impact and intellectual challenge, are more important to researchers who are attempting to take their technologies to market.

In fact, the report finds that there is virtually no association between an interest in money and academics’ patent applications.

“Our findings suggest that an emphasis on the revenue that patents can potentially generate does little to incentivize commercial activities by scientists and engineers,” says Sauermann. “Instead, other motives play an important role, although these motives also differ across scientific fields.”

In life science, for instance, academics are largely driven by societal impact. Those who participated in the study who showed a one standard deviation higher motive to contribute to society had an almost 60% higher patent count. In engineering, researchers are primarily driven by intellectual challenge and peer recognition. According to the study, those with a one standard deviation higher score on the two motives had 68% and 36% higher patent output, respectively.

“Policy makers and technology transfer offices need to recognize that academics’ motives differ across fields, and structure their support mechanisms and policies accordingly,” Sauermann concludes. “Most importantly, instead of hyping the amount of revenue earned from patents, they should stress other motives, such as social impact arising from commercial work.”

Source: EurekAlert!

Posted under: Tech Transfer e-News

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