Panel Paper: What Individual and Institutional Factors Affect the Licensing of University Inventions?

Saturday, November 10, 2012 : 3:30 PM
Chesapeake (Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Yonghong Wu, University of Illinois, Chicago, Eric Welch, University of Illinois at Chicago and Wan-Ling Huang, Tamkang University

Economic development has become one of the missions of higher education institutions, and there have been high expectations on the role universities may play to stimulate economic growth. One well recognized mechanism through which universities may contribute to economic growth is to convert scientific inventions to innovation through the commercialization of patents. While prior research has investigated the production of university patents, less research has examined the factors that facilitate university patents to be commercialized – those inventions that have the greatest potential to contribute to economic growth.

In this study we examine the patent as the unit of analysis. University patents represent only one intermediate step toward commercialization of academic research output. The post-patenting activities are more important to transfer university based research to the market place, and ultimately make an economic contribution. So it is important to understand what patents are likely to be commercialized, what entities are likely to be licensees of university patents, what university researchers are likely to produce licensed patents? What institutions are likely to facilitate licensing of university patents, etc. The main research question is what institutional and individual factors may affect the production of licensed university patents.

The paper uses data from a 2010 national survey of 1,055 inventors of university patents granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2006. We focus on 552 university patents awarded in 2006 of which the respondents were the primary inventor. Because some of the patents had been licensed, whereas others have not, we intend to explore the factors driving the licensing of university patents. The survey asked specific questions about the patents, underlying research, inventers, and the institutions they worked in. Licensing outcomes (whether a patent has been licensed or not) will be modeled as a function of individual and institutional factors including (1) inventor’s characteristics such as collaboration with industry, and prior patenting and licensing experiences; (2) invention’s characteristics such as knowledge base, and source of research funding; and (3) institutional characteristics such as TTO’s professionalism and resources devoted to licensing, and university policy on royalty income distribution. Based on the existing literature, we develop the following five hypotheses:

  • Patents with higher proportion of industry funding are more likely to be licensed.
  • Inventor’s collaboration with industry on the underlying research project makes university patents more likely to be licensed.
  • University scientists with prior patenting and licensing experiences are likely to produce licensed university patents.
  • Some relevant characteristics of TTO (professionalism, resources devoted to licensing) are positively related to the propensity for university patents to be licensed.
  • Favorable university policy on royalty income distribution is positively related to the likelihood of licensed university patents.

The contribution of this study is to better understand how to exploit economic potential of university patents so as to better fulfill the economic development mission of research universities in the U.S. The findings will provide empirical evidence to assist policymaking at university level or higher with regard to facilitating commercialization of university inventions.