Government-funded research increasingly fuels innovation

First-of-its-kind study shows that cuts in federal funding for science might hinder the economy by halting innovation.

For the third year in a row, the Trump administration proposed significant cuts in science funding across a variety of agencies. Although Congress restored these cuts in the past two years, new research by BU Questrom Associate Professor of Strategy & Innovation Matt Marx, along with researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Connecticut, and Harvard University, suggests that doing so might impair US innovation in the long term.

The study, recently published in Science, examines how patented inventions rely on federally-funded science. Nearly a third of all the patents in the US rely 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% of the patents in chemistry and metallurgy rely on federally-funded science.

Regardless of field, patents that rely on federal funding are more highly cited, renewed, and more novel in their terminology. Corporations, and especially startup companies, are especially likely to build upon 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,” observed Matt Marx, associate professor of strategy & innovation at Boston University Questrom School of Business and one of the study’s co-authors. “Our study shows the growing reliance of US innovation on federal funding over the long haul.”

This historical study is the first to quantify the influx of federal science patenting in the US and to provide data on how US patenting has relied heavily on federal funding since 1926. Not only does federal funding help us stay on the cutting edge when it comes to international competition, but it also provides jobs in varying industries.

Read the full article as published in Science.

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