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Putting Patents in Context: Exploring Knowledge Transfer from MIT

Author

Listed:
  • Ajay Agrawal

    (Queen's School of Business, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada K7L 3N6)

  • Rebecca Henderson

    (Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02142)

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Ajay Agrawal & Rebecca Henderson, 2002. "Putting Patents in Context: Exploring Knowledge Transfer from MIT," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 48(1), pages 44-60, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:inm:ormnsc:v:48:y:2002:i:1:p:44-60
    DOI: 10.1287/mnsc.48.1.44.14279
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Rebecca Henderson & Iain Cockburn, 1996. "Scale, Scope, and Spillovers: The Determinants of Research Productivity in Drug Discovery," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 27(1), pages 32-59, Spring.
    2. Adam B. Jaffe & Michael S. Fogarty & Bruce A. Banks, 1998. "Evidence from Patents and Patent Citations on the Impact of NASA and Other Federal Labs on Commercial Innovation," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 46(2), pages 183-205, June.
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    4. Rebecca Henderson & Adam B. Jaffe & Manuel Trajtenberg, 1998. "Universities As A Source Of Commercial Technology: A Detailed Analysis Of University Patenting, 1965-1988," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 80(1), pages 119-127, February.
    5. Jaffe, Adam B, 1989. "Real Effects of Academic Research," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(5), pages 957-970, December.
    6. Cockburn, Iain M & Henderson, Rebecca M, 1998. "Absorptive Capacity, Coauthoring Behavior, and the Organization of Research in Drug Discovery," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 46(2), pages 157-182, June.
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