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Lens or Prism? Patent Citations as a Measure of Knowledge Flows from Public Research

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  • Michael Roach
  • Wesley M. Cohen

Abstract

This paper assesses the validity and accuracy of firms' backward patent citations as a measure of knowledge flows from public research by employing a newly constructed dataset that matches patents to survey data at the level of the R&D lab. Using survey-based measures of the dimensions of knowledge flows, we identify sources of systematic measurement error associated with backward citations to both patent and nonpatent references. We find that patent citations reflect the codified knowledge flows from public research, but they appear to miss knowledge flows that are more private and contract-based in nature, as well as those used in firm basic research. We also find that firms' patenting and citing strategies affect patent citations, making citations less indicative of knowledge flows. In addition, an illustrative analysis examining the magnitude and direction of measurement error bias suggests that measuring knowledge flows with patent citations can lead to substantial underestimation of the effect of public research on firms' innovative performance. Throughout our analyses we find that nonpatent references (e.g., journals, conferences, etc.), not the more commonly used patent references, are a better measure of knowledge originating from public research.

Suggested Citation

  • Michael Roach & Wesley M. Cohen, 2012. "Lens or Prism? Patent Citations as a Measure of Knowledge Flows from Public Research," NBER Working Papers 18292, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18292
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C18 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric and Statistical Methods and Methodology: General - - - Methodolical Issues: General
    • O3 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights
    • O31 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Innovation and Invention: Processes and Incentives
    • O34 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Intellectual Property and Intellectual Capital
    • O47 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - Empirical Studies of Economic Growth; Aggregate Productivity; Cross-Country Output Convergence

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