This project will use a natural experiment to identify the causal effects of transferring patent rights to the university on the incentives for academic researchers to produce and publicly disseminate new knowledge, and on the profile of academic founders who pursue commercialisation through university spin-off companies.
Our natural experiment exploits the institutional structure of the public research system in Germany along with the researcher-level exogeneity of the 2002 change in Germany’s employment law. Prior to 2002, university academic researchers retained the patent rights to their inventions. In 2002, the German government changed the employment law so that university researchers no longer held the patent rights to their inventions. However, in Germany’s other public research organizations (PROs), academic researchers did not have this “professor’s privilege” and the patent rights to their inventions were owned by the PRO. This allows us to exploit PRO researchers as a control group not affected by the ownership change. Using difference-in-difference estimators, the outcomes to be studied are a researcher’s quantity and quality of publications and patents. In a further analysis the impact on researcher’s incentives to found spin-offs will be addressed along with spin-off performance.
Our analysis responds to broader concerns in the academic and policy literatures about university research “privatization” and its influence on knowledge disclosure and technology transfer by shedding light on how patent rights influence the trade-offs between “open science” and “commercial science” as well as entrepreneurial activities of researchers.

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