Patents to Med School Faculty Rising Over Recent Decades

Rate of patents for clinical faculty lower than basic science faculty; recent NIH funds linked to patents

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 14 (HealthDay News) -- The number of patents granted to medical school faculty rose steeply between 1976 and 2003, and during this time the rate of patents was higher for faculty in basic science departments than clinical departments, according to research published in the Nov. 15 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Pierre Azoulay, Ph.D., of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., and colleagues analyzed faculty data from the Association of American Medical Colleges, a National Institutes of Health grant application file, and a database from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The investigators found that 122 patents were issued to medical school faculty in 1976, and 2,175 in 2003. The proportion of faculty members who were patent holders was 3.5 percent in clinical departments and 12.1 percent in basic science departments. Also, people were more likely to have a patent if they'd had recent NIH funding.

"Our data and analyses suggest that, increasingly, medical school research leads to patents, as well as to more traditional outcomes of scientific research. However, our results do not speak to the effects of increased patenting on the transfer or diffusion of patented knowledge," the authors write. "The consequences of these changes will depend on whether and how the patents affect the extent of university-industry technology transfer and the productivity of subsequent scientific research. These are extremely important topics for future research."

The study was supported by a Sloan Foundation Industry Studies Fellowship and the Merck Foundation Program on Pharmaceutical Policy Issues.

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