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Why Science is Good for Business

Slashing federal funding of science might dent economy

For three years running, significant cuts in science funding across a variety of federal agencies have been proposed. Congress has resisted—so far. New research by Matt Marx, an associate professor of strategy and innovation, suggests trimming federal investments in science might impair US innovation in the long term.

In a study published in Science, Marx—along with researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Connecticut, and Harvard University—examined how patented inventions rely on federally funded science. Nearly a third of all patents in the United States depend on federal research—a percentage that has grown substantially over the past 90 years. This trend applies across all fields; at its most extreme, almost 60 percent of patents in chemistry and metallurgy came from federally funded science.

Regardless of field, patents spurred by federal funding are more highly cited, renewed, and novel. Corporations, and especially start-up companies, are particularly likely to build on basic science funded by the government.

“Government support of basic science is perennially controversial because of the lag between the investment and the ultimate economic benefits,” says Marx. “Our study shows the growing reliance of US innovation on federal funding over the long haul.”