We believe that the return on investment for universities' intellectual property is enormous — and not only about the bottom line (see Nature 501, 471–472; 2013).
The 1980 Bayh–Dole Act sparked a revolution in US academic innovation by allowing universities to keep their federally funded intellectual property. This has led to more licensing income and royalties for inventors, better funding opportunities as a result of wider research collaborations, and an increasingly entrepreneurial academic culture. Society has benefited from applied research into global challenges, such as health and the environment, from an economy strengthened by licensing revenue and from the well-paid jobs that have been generated by university start-up companies.
Across the United States, universities create an average of two start-ups a day, which tend to last longer and attract more investment than non-university start-ups (see go.nature.com/ojq3fx). A survey by the Association of University Technology Managers in Deerfield, Illinois, revealed that 82 federally funded institutions achieved net product sales of US$36.8 billion in the 2012 fiscal year (see go.nature.com/vgtjk4). Among institutions surveyed, the number of cumulative active licences also increased to more than 40,000, and more than 5,000 US patents and almost 6,400 licences and options for new technologies were issued during the year, with 705 start-up companies formed and 591 consumer products created.
University patenting and academic technology transfer have certainly paid off.