People & Patents in Italian Universities: characteristics of academic inventors and link with research quality

Brigida Blasi
Italian National Agency For The Evaluation Of Universities And Research Institutes

Carmela Anna Nappi
Italian National Agency For The Evaluation Of Universities And Research Institutes

Sandra Romagnosi
Italian National Agency For The Evaluation Of Universities And Research Institutes

Academics are increasingly engaged in valorization of research activities. Production of knowledge and valorization of research are driven by different characteristics, motivations and incentives, they can be substitute or complement. While knowledge production is based on openness, i.e. publication and discussion of results; patenting activity is inspired by commercial and revenues objectives and does not allow the disclosure of results (hence the publication in the academic community) in order to preserve the investment value. However, universities can benefit from the collaboration with the business sector, especially for funding, use of equipment and infrastructure, and opportunities of verification and refinement of theories and discoveries in concrete situations. On the other hand, valorization of research takes time away from basic research and long-term innovation, with less diversion in disciplines in which the distinction between basic and applied research is smoother.
This paper focuses on the link between research performance and patenting activity of Italian academic inventors to understand whether their patenting activity is positively or negatively associated with the quality of their scientific production.
To explore this interaction, data on individual characteristics of academic inventors are used focusing on disciplinary and gender issues, academic role and interactions with Institutions’ characteristics to which they affiliate. We use data collected in the second round of the Italian Evaluation of Research Quality (VQR) 2011-2014, a research assessment exercise on research and third-mission performance of Italian universities.
Microdata on individual characteristics, patenting activity and quality of scientific production of inventors are drawn from VQR 2011-2014 database, while data on patents are taken from the European Patent Office (in particular from the Worldwide Patent Statistical Database) and subsequently validated and integrated by researchers in the submission phase of the VQR.
We estimate an empirical regression model in which we want to understand the correlation between research quality and patenting. We are aware that our estimates are affected by endogeneity problems due to reverse causality, hence we do not want to detect which element influences the other, but instead the existence of a correlation controlling for inventors’ characteristics and institutions’ characteristics.
The results of our empirical model confirm the positive link found in the literature between patenting and the quality of academic scientific production. We find that academics that produce high quality publications, as evaluated through informed peer-review method in the VQR 2011-2014, do engage more in patents production, even when controlling for disciplinary fields, individuals’ characteristics (gender, academic position) and institutions’ characteristics (geographical area, type of institution, legal status, field specialization, funding).