The True Impact of Scientific Research on Industrial Technology? A Reassessment of IT Patent Citations

Date of Original Version



Working Paper

Abstract or Description

Economic research based on surveys, interviews, and case studies indicates that the linkage between science and industry is significant and growing in importance over time. Statistical analysis of patent-to-paper citations also strongly supports the notion of a growing science-technology linkage. How- ever, this approach seems to suggest that the linkage is highly concentrated in the biotechnology, biomedical, and pharmaceutical domains, and comparatively weak everywhere else. This finding is not only inconsistent with previous research results, it is also difficult to reconcile with the widely held notion that the IT revolution, arguably the most significant development of our time, has grown, in no small part, thanks to important advances in IT-related scientific disciplines. This paper aims to address this apparent inconsistency. We argue that patent citations to papers in the IT industry are created in the context of a special structure of relationships between academic science and industrial R&D that gives rise to a chaining pattern in citations, which, in turn, obscures the true effect of science on technology. Our approach is inspired by a long-known phenomenon in the science bibliometrics literature called "Obliteration by Incorporation", which explains how scientific contributions become embedded in the pool of accepted knowledge of a field, while their sources gradually become forgotten by the community. We verify our claim using patent citation data for a sizable portion of US patents granted between 1983-1999. The results provide a new outlook on the effect of scientific research on industrial technology. Based on this out- look, we can create a ranking of scientific research organizations in terms of the impact of their research on industrial R&D