Before Jerry Thursby came to Emory two years ago,
he and his wife, Marie, served on the economics faculty at Purdue
University. Jerry Thursby now is chair of economics in Emory College,
and Marie is the Hal and John Smith Chair in Entrepreneurship in
Georgia Techs Dupree College of Management.
All three schoolsEmory, Purdue and Techare major research
institutions heavily involved in technology transfer and licensing
of the intellectual products of their respective labs, so its
understandable that the Thursbys have been studying the economic
ramifications of this practice for some time. In the Aug. 22 issue
of Science, the pair published the latest of several jointly
authored papers on the subject, a one-page overview of studies that
have examined the effects of the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act on university
According to the paper, of 84 U.S. institutions responding to two
surveys in 1991 and 2000 by the Association of University Technology
Managers (AUTM), new patent applications from universities rose
some 238 percent, license agreements by 161 percentand total
royalties to universities shot up by 520 percent. These numbers
and others like them have prompted some critics to charge that Bayh-Dolewhich
grants universities sole ownership of inventions produced from federally
funded researchhas prompted researchers and even the universities
themselves to focus more on the bottom line than a quest for scholarship.
But is it true? For their study, the Thursbys used not only AUTM
data but also sent surveys to some 135 research universities (receiving
responses from 62), and they surveyed businesses that actively license
patents and innovations from higher education laboratories.
Though Jerry Thursby acknowledged much more work needs to be done,
the results suggest that Bayh-Dole has not turned university labs
into the profit centers alleged by the acts detractors. The
2000 AUTM survey netted 156 total respondents, who reported $1.24
billion in income from royalties and cashed-in equity net
of unreimbursed legal fees. But the average annual income
per active license was only $66,465, and just 43 percent of licenses
earned any royalties at all; less than 1 percent (0.56) of licenses
earned royalties in excess of $1 million.
There is often a misperception among people when they see
this [$1.24 billion] income, Thursby said. If you only
look at the bottom line, you arent seeing the real character
of licensing, which is highly skewed toward certain universities
and certain licensing.
Indeed, while average license income per respondent was $8 million,
nearly 80 percent earned less than $5 million and half reported
less than $824,000. In the paper the Thursbys point out that technology
transfer offices below the median averaged four employees, making
it likely that those institutions spent more on the office than
they received in royalties, however Jerry Thursby added that this
is likely to change as both number of licenses and royalties continue
to trend upward.
There is no question that licensing and patent applications have
increased dramatically since Bayh-Dole was passed, but Thursby suggested
the relationship between the two may be less causal than many think.
As best as you can tell, this licensing would have been growing
anywayBayh-Dole just made it easier, Thursby said.
One overarching question is whether Bayh-Dole has steered university
researchers into more applied fields and away from basic research.
Again, though they stress that more data need to be collected (which
the Thursbys are currently doing through a comprehensive survey
of faculty activities) the Science paper says a study of 3,400 faculty
that from six research universities from 198399 indicated
their ratio of basic to applied research does not appear to have
changedeven as licensing has increased more than tenfold.
Even if the findings were different, Marie Thursbywho serves
as an adjunct faculty member to Emorys economics departmentsaid
it might not be cause for concern.
[A shift from basic to applied research] is not necessarily
negative, as applied research is important for industrial innovation,
she said. Also, there is evidence that applied research results
often give researchers ideas or means to conduct new areas of basic
research; witness Pasteurs discoveries, which came out of
his work for the brewery industry.
University research is a key element in the national innovation
system, Marie Thursby continued. So the efficiency of
the transfer of results to industry is an issue of national interest.