Putting Patents in Context: Exploring Knowledge Transfer from MIT
Management Science, Vol. 48, No. 1, January 2002
17 Pages Posted: 27 Apr 2007
In this paper we explore the degree to which patents are representative of the magnitude, direction, and impact of the knowledge spilling out of the university by focusing on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and in particular, on the Departments of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering. Drawing on both qualitative and quantitative data, we show that patenting is a minority activity: a majority of the faculty in our sample never patent, and publication rates far outstrip patenting rates. Most faculty members estimate that patents account for less than 10% of the knowledge that transfers from their labs. Our results also suggest that in two important ways patenting is not representative of the patterns of knowledge generation and transfer from MIT: patent volume does not predict publication volume, and those firms that cite MIT papers are in general not the same firms as those that cite MIT patents. However, patent volume is positively correlated with paper citations, suggesting that patent counts may be reasonable measures of research impact. We close by speculating on the implications of our results for the difficult but important question of whether, in this setting, patenting acts as a substitute or a complement to the process of fundamental research.
Keywords: Patents, University Science, Knowledge Transfer, Technology Transfer
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