Thursday, May 30, 2013

Open science in commercial firms

Universities engage in research and put result in the public domain because it fosters the public good. In recent years, though, they have put more focus on patenting research results in order to obtain more revenue in the face of dwindling income from public sources. For-profit firms, though, seem to follow the opposite evolution. They hire more and more researchers to let them publish their results in scientific journals instead of patenting them. This even happens to economists who get hired, for example, by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, AT&T, and commercial banks to conduct research. For the economists, I kind of understand it as a way to secure top talent when needing advice in complex markets. For hard sciences and engineering, my prior is that these firms have realized that patenting has become very inefficient as seeking exclusivity is now more of a lawyer's than a scientist's job.

Markus Simeth and Julio Raffo have another interpretation of what is happening in for-profit firms, and it looks like what is happening for economists. Using a dataset of R&D performing firms in France that they match with academic publications, they find that the old way of just collaborating with academics is not sufficient to acquire knowledge from the technology frontier, you need to hire them full-time. Adopting the academic discourse and disclosure allow to also benefit from it. And like firms participating in the open source movement, I suppose participating in the open dissemination of science also buys you some academic credibility that can attract top talent.

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