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Privatizing R&D: Patent Policy and the Commercialization of National Laboratory Technologies

  • Adam B. Jaffe
  • Josh Lerner

Despite their magnitude and potential economic impact, federal R&D expenditures outside of research universities have been little scrutinized by economists. This paper examines whether the series of initiatives since 1980 that have sought to encourage the patenting and technology transfer at the national laboratories have had a significant impact, and how the features of these facilities affected their success in commercialization. Employing both case studies of and databases about the U.S. Department of Energy's laboratories, we challenge much of the conventional wisdom. The policy changes of the 1980s had a substantial impact on the patenting activity by the national laboratories, which have gradually reached parity in patents per R&D dollar with research universities. Using citation data, we show that, unlike universities, the quality of the laboratory patents has remained constant or even increased as their numbers have grown. The cross-sectional patterns are generally consistent with theoretical suggestions regarding the impact and determinants of the decision to privatize government functions.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w7064.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 7064.

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Date of creation: Apr 1999
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Publication status: published as "Reinventing Public R&D: Patent Law and Technology Transfer from Federal Laboratories", Rand Journal of Economics, 32 (Spring 2001) 167-198.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7064
Note: PR
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  1. Jaffe, Adam B, 1989. "Real Effects of Academic Research," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(5), pages 957-70, December.
  2. Florencio Lopez-de-Silanes & Andrei Shleifer & Robert Vishny, 1997. "Privatization in the United States," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 28(3), pages 447-471, Autumn.
  3. Jaffe, A.B. & Trajtenberg, M., 1992. "Geographic Localization of Knowledge Spillovers as Evidenced by Patent Citations," Papers 14-92, Tel Aviv.
  4. Lang, Larry H P & Stulz, Rene M, 1994. "Tobin's q, Corporate Diversification, and Firm Performance," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(6), pages 1248-80, December.
  5. Boycko, Maxim & Shleifer, Andrei & Vishny, Robert W., 1997. "Privatizing Russia," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262522284, June.
  6. Lerner, Josh, 1999. "The Government as Venture Capitalist: The Long-Run Impact of the SBIR Program," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 72(3), pages 285-318, July.
  7. Jaffe, Adam B & Fogarty, Michael S & Banks, Bruce A, 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.
  8. Nicolas Barberis & Maxin Boycho & Andrei Shleifer & Natalia Tsukanova, 1995. "How Does Privatization Work? Evidence from the Russian Shops," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1721, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  9. Lerner, Josh, 1995. " Venture Capitalists and the Oversight of Private Firms," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 50(1), pages 301-18, March.
  10. Paula E. Stephan, 1996. "The Economics of Science," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 34(3), pages 1199-1235, September.
  11. David S. Scharfstein & Jeremy C. Stein, 1997. "The Dark Side of Internal Capital Markets: Divisional Rent-Seeking and Inefficient Investment," NBER Working Papers 5969, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Shleifer, Andrei & Vishny, Robert W, 1994. "Politicians and Firms," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 109(4), pages 995-1025, November.
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