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Published science begets commercial innovation, study finds

Majority of papers are linked to U.S. patents

by Cheryl Hogue
August 10, 2017

After scrutinizing the connections between scientific papers and U.S. patents, researchers conclude that most published studies, notably those in some areas of chemistry, eventually support marketable technological advances (Science 2017, DOI: 10.1126/science.aam9527).

Inquiry and innovation

Institutional affiliations of authors of scientific and engineering papers published 1945–2013 that are directly cited in U.S. patents issued 1976–2015.

• 80%: Universities
• 12%: Companies
• 8%: Government laboratories

Source: Science 2017, DOI: 10.1126/science.aam9527

Although this link may seem obvious to many scientists, a quantitative analysis of this type has never been carried out before. It shows that basic science experiments “seem to pay off in the flow of knowledge forward to some future marketplace application,” says coauthor Benjamin F. Jones, a Northwestern University economist who specializes in research about the field of science.

Jones and lead author Mohammad Ahmadpoor, a postdoc at Northwestern, looked at references cited in all 4.8 million patents that the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office issued between 1976 and 2015. They traced those references to the 32 million journal articles published from 1945 to 2013 that appear in the Web of Science, a citation indexing service.

The researchers determined that 60.5% of the patents included references that connected to papers in science and engineering. Patents in combinatorial chemistry, molecular biology, and superconductor technology were among those most closely tied to published research papers, they found.

Of the papers in science and engineering that were cited by at least one other published article, 79.7% could be traced to a patent that was issued after the study was released, they found. Papers in nanoscience and nanotechnology, materials science, and biomaterials were the most closely linked to patents. In contrast, mathematics papers were the least tied to patents.


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