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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: December 2011

18 - Commercializing University Research

from Part V - Perspectives on International Considerations


Prior to 1980, most universities considered their primary mission to be student education and the performance of basic research. Prompted by the view that universities should become engines of economic growth, local technology development, and revitalization, Congress enacted the Bayh-Dole Act in 1980. This act added to the traditional university mission of education and research a third focus: the patenting and subsequent commercialization of university research. Bayh-Dole replaced the former rule of government ownership of inventions resulting from federally funded research with university ownership of those inventions and attached obligations to commercialize.

Well over two and a half decades after the enactment of Bayh-Dole, we can look back and evaluate how universities have succeeded in adapting to this third mission of patenting and technology transfer. We leave it to other chapters in this volume to speak to overall levels of technology transfer and economic development. Instead, we concentrate on one aspect of technology transfer: cultural elements that may lessen technology transfer within the United States and may make the Bayh-Dole approach inappropriate in other countries. In particular, this chapter suggests that part of the difficulty in ensuring the commercialization of university research lies outside the simple establishment of the right set of economic incentives. University research and its transfer to the private sector respond not only to economics, but to shifting cultural norms and values that often override or reduce economic incentives.

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