Saturday, August 11, 2007

Scientific publishing: journals vs. patents

Brent Goldfarb et al., in a paper Scholarship and Inventive Activity do report positive correlations between inventions and publication activity. This is consistent with papers by Agarwal and Hendeson, Markiewicz and DiMinin and Stephan et al.

If publication by patent were a SUBSTITUTE for publication by journal, one might expect a negative correlation.

In the embryonic stem cell area, recall that Thomson published via both journals and patents, as did the inventors (i.e., Bardeen et al.) of the transistor back in the late 1940's. Further, even Hwang Woo Suk tied up patent applications before publishing in Science, as did Kim in the Cha/Fertility and Sterility duplicate publication matter. Because of the faster speed of journals, a submission to a journal (submitted shortly after a patent filing) is apt to appear in public LONG BEFORE the patent publication, so that the public has lost nothing in terms of time of access.

The diminished number of US science publications, in the face of increased patent application activity, remains a mystery.


Submitted to InsideHigherED:

Since the time of the last post (July 23), the journal Science covered the NSF studies in its August 3 issue [317 Science 582].

In terms of details, one should note that academic publishing (about 75% of US publications) showed a slight increase in absolute numbers, while publications from private entities showed a stronger decrease.

The Bayh-Dole Act allows federal grantees to take title to inventions under certain circumstances, but typically the grant recipient files a patent application (which now is typically published whether or not a patent issues) AND submits a journal article. This practice is not unknown in the private sector. More than fifty years ago, the inventors of the transistor (at Bell Labs) made sure that a letter went out to Physical Review immediately after patent application filing, and the letter was published long before the patent was.

One notes that although US publication numbers have plateaued, in spite of more scientists, more money and more journal pages, that, over the same time period, patent applications have monotonically increased, and that there is now a huge backlog of unexamined applications at the USPTO.


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