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Universities As Engines Of R&D-based Economic Growth: They Think They Can

I. Feller
Published 1990 · Economics

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Two issues raised by increased participation of universities in equity arrangements designed to commercialize faculty research are addressed: (a) the effects that an increased emphasis on patenting faculty research and on enhancing the commercial value of these patents has on the characteristics of academic research, net revenue streams, and existing channels through which academic research enters the market, and (b) processes of institutional change and imitation, whereby changes in the policies of elite research universities exert competitive and emulative pressures on other institutions. Increased efforts by universities to foster the commercialization of technological innovations erodes the singular position of institutions of higher learning in the United States. Based on past performance, there is little reason to expect that a substantial reallocation of faculty effort towards commercially oriented R&D will generate appreciable net revenues for other than a select number of universities. These ventures also serve to shift academic researchers from the social roles in which they are most efficient, as suppliers of a collective goodscientific and technological knowledge. “Just as very few men are both capable business managers and ingenious inventors, so few are at the same time ingenious inventors and exalted altruists. Some twenty years ago a university professor devised a method for measuring with accuracy the content of butterfat in milk. The device, if patented, would doubtless have yielded him a very handsome income. The inventor gave it freely to the public, saying modestly that to do so was but part of his duty as a servant of the people and it has come into use the world over. We call his conduct noble; but our very recognition of its nobility is an admission of its rarity” (F.W. Taussig, Inventors and Money Makers (1915) [58]).
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