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Soc Stud Sci. 2008 Dec;38(6):835-71.

Why did universities start patenting? Institution-building and the road to the Bayh-Dole Act.

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Department of Sociology, University at Albany, SUNY, Albany, NY 12222, USA.


This paper draws on institutional theory to explain the rise of university patenting in the USA. While observers have traditionally attributed this development to the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, recent research has shown that university patenting was increasing throughout the 1970s and argued that the Act's impact was less than has generally been assumed. This paper attempts to reconcile these opposing positions by explaining the rise of university patenting as a process of institution-building. Beginning in the 1960s, a skilled actor within the federal bureaucracy created a proto-institution that simplified university patenting and encouraged the development of a community of university patent administrators. In the 1970s, that community in turn allied itself with government proponents of patent policy liberalization and representatives of small business in a successful effort to pass the Bayh-Dole Act. The Act itself should be seen not as creating modern technology transfer, but rather as a final step in a state-driven process of institutionalization that was already well under way by 1980. The case is used to discuss how an institutional approach, which is infrequently seen in STS, can sometimes be useful to it.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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