Patenting and licensing of university research: promoting innovation or undermining academic values?

Science and Engineering Ethics 17 (1):45-64 (2011)
Since the 1980s in the US and the 1990s in Europe, patenting and licensing activities by universities have massively increased. This is strongly encouraged by governments throughout the Western world. Many regard academic patenting as essential to achieve ‘knowledge transfer’ from academia to industry. This trend has far-reaching consequences for access to the fruits of academic research and so the question arises whether the current policies are indeed promoting innovation or whether they are instead a symptom of a pro-intellectual property (IP) culture which is blind to adverse effects. Addressing this question requires both empirical analysis (how real is the link between academic patenting and licensing and ‘development’ of academic research by industry?) and normative assessment (which justifications are given for the current policies and to what extent do they threaten important academic values?). After illustrating the major rise of academic patenting and licensing in the US and Europe and commenting on the increasing trend of ‘upstream’ patenting and the focus on exclusive as opposed to non-exclusive licences, this paper will discuss five negative effects of these trends. Subsequently, the question as to why policymakers seem to ignore these adverse effects will be addressed. Finally, a number of proposals for improving university policies will be made.
Keywords Patents  Academia  Ethics  Technology transfer policy  Innovation
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DOI 10.1007/s11948-009-9168-8
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