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Government-funded research increasingly fuels innovation

Almost one-third of U.S. patents rely on federal research

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A new study finds that almost one-third of U.S. patents rely on federal research.


June 26, 2019

By computing links between government grants and tens of millions of U.S. patents and scientific papers from 1926 to 2017, researchers have demonstrated that almost a third of patents in the U.S. rely on federal research. Although this may be a conservative estimate, this number has increased steadily over the past 90 years.

The results are published in the journal Science.

"Technological progress is seen as a process through which inventions build on one another," says Hillary Greene of the UConn School of Law. "In this study we examine the importance of government-supported research as contributing to subsequent inventions." 

The study, the first of its kind, offers a holistic view of the effect of federal funding on innovation. Where previous studies established impacts in particular fields, the current work provides a historic and quantitative analysis of all U.S. patents over a lengthy period of time.

The research also establishes that corporations have steadily increased their reliance on federally supported research. The effect occurs across all fields; as one example, almost 60 percent of the patents in chemistry and metallurgy rely on federally supported research.

NSF's Directorate for Social, Economic and Behavioral Sciences supported the study.

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