Evidence from Patents and Patent Citations on the Impact of NASA and Other Federal Labs on Commercial Innovation


  • Adam B. Jaffe,

    1. Brandeis University, Graduate School of International Economics and Finance, Sachar International Center, Mailstop 021, Waltham, MA 02254-9110, USA and NBER.email: ajaffe@nber.org,
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  • Michael S. Fogarty,

    1. Centre for Regional Economic Issues, 311 Wickenden, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH 44106, USA.email: msf3@po.cwru.edu,
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  • Bruce A. Banks

    1. Electro-Physics Branch, NASA Lewis Research Centre, 2100 Brookpark Rd, M/S 302-1, Cleveland, OH 44135, USA.email: Bruce.A.Banks@lerc.NASA.gov
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Federal lab commercialization is explored: (1) by analyzing US government patents and (2) in a qualitative analysis of one NASA lab’s patents. Tests apply to three distinct sets of patents, 1963–94: NASA, all other US government, and a random sample of all US inventors’ patents. The federal patenting rate plummeted in the 1970s. Consistent with increasing commercialization, both NASA’s and other federal agencies’ rates recovered in the 1980s. The case study finds citations to be a valid but noisy measure of technology spillovers. Excluding ‘spurious’ cites, two-thirds of cites to patents of NASA-Lewis’ Electro-Physics Branch were evaluated as involving spillovers.