Why Should Universities Patent Their Research? The Benefits of Patenting for Universities
The total number of patent applications worldwide is growing at an increasingly faster rate. According to the World Economic Forum, a record number of global patent applications were filed in 2021, 3.4 million, up from 1 million in 1995 and 2 million in 2010. More than two-thirds of the patent applications in 2021 were from Asia Pacific countries, especially China, India, Japan, and South Korea. Asian universities account for more than half of the registered patents in their countries, while that number is less than half in the US.
See also: Patents and the Intellectual Property Rights Ecosystem at Indian Universities
Why are universities becoming more interested in patenting their research? Universities are increasingly being looked to as leaders in scientific research, innovation, and economic development. Patenting their inventions and innovations improves the reputation of a university and can help in the recruitment of students and faculty. In addition, patents can also lead to additional revenue for the university and improved ranking and reputation. This article will explore some of the ways patents have benefited different universities worldwide.
To improve university rankings and reputation
Universities are increasingly paying more attention to various rankings, which serve as a proxy for the university’s reputation locally, nationally, and internationally. Universities also use rankings to benchmark their performance against competitors and to attract top-quality talent as well as funding. Among the various ranking systems, Impact Rankings, by Times Higher Education, includes a special section on industry, innovation, and infrastructure, which takes into consideration patents citing university research and the creation of new companies directly from university research, among other measures of innovation. The top ten 2022 Impact Rankings in this area include universities located in South Korea, Canada, and Saudi Arabia.
Universities also use their patents performance as a basis for promotional material. For example, a press release from the University of South Florida announced the institution’s ranking on the list of global universities receiving the highest number of US utility patents. The article states, “The ranking places USF in rare company among the academic institutions generating new, novel and useful inventions — including innovation powerhouses such as the University of California System, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University and Stanford University.”
Finally, individual patents can form the basis of promotional content for the university too. For instance, the University of Tokyo highlights the work of its researchers through news briefs published on its website, including related patents and publications (such as this article on 3D infrastructure visualization). This serves to increase interest in and recruitment for the university.
See also: Crafting A Patent Communication Strategy: Tips for Universities
To increase and diversify revenue
Diversified revenue streams can help universities to become more financially stable and to develop new programs or research initiatives faster. Patents can be a valuable source of revenue for universities. An article in the Hechinger Report stated that, due to decreases in federal funding for university research in the US, institutions are looking for other sources of income. Some of that additional income is expected to come from the licensing of patented innovations.
Similarly, King Khalid University in Saudi Arabia, the holder of numerous patents, has partnered with New Delhi headquartered Vikas Ecotech in developing technology to remove contaminants from wastewater. This collaboration has increased revenue for both the university and its partner.
It’s also worth noting that patents allow the university to receive financial compensation if its research has been used by unauthorized parties. Columbia University recently received $185 million in damages for patent infringement after a federal jury found that NortonLifeLock “willfully and literally infringed two patents related to groundbreaking cybersecurity safeguards invented by Columbia professors.” Shares of the award will go to the researchers who developed the technology, and Columbia will use the remainder to fund additional research activities.
To stimulate research activity and innovation
Research and innovation are a central part of a university’s mission. Patents stimulate research and innovation in universities as they protect and monetize research output. Chandigarh University, India, has filed the highest number of patents in the country for the past three years, and these have spurred other research ventures such as the Chandigarh University Student Satellite (CUSAT), a nano satellite developed in-house.
To develop the local community
Universities can play a key role in the social, economic, and cultural development of their local communities. Patents are one of the ways in which universities can support and promote local innovation and business activity. Once a patent is granted, the university can license the technology to local companies, thereby facilitating the development of new businesses and creation of new jobs. Licensing technology to local companies can help them to improve their competitiveness and grow their businesses, which can further contribute to the local economy. For example, two machine patents granted to Chaudhary Charan Singh Haryana Agricultural University, India, will help local farmers to set up small- and medium-scale businesses and improve their financial stability.
As demonstrated by these examples, universities can benefit greatly in many different ways by patenting their research and innovations. These benefits are enjoyed not only by universities themselves but also by the communities they serve, through technological and economic growth.