Public Release: 

European public research performs better than thought

Improving indicators could ease comparisons

United Nations University

It is generally thought that Europe has failed to benefit commercially from its substantial investments in research performed by public universities and government research institutes. This is the so called European Paradox. The United States seems to do much better, with public research institutes linked to the creation of several globally competitive firms and blockbuster products.

The US is widely believed to outperform Europe on the commercialization of the results of public research. Examples of American success include formal measures of technology transfer such as the number of patents, start-ups and licensing revenue earned by universities as diverse as Stanford, Columbia and the University of Florida. In contrast, the perception is that European academics are less entrepreneurial than their American counterparts, resulting in less formal technology transfer from European universities to firms.

Until recently, a lack of comparable data prevented an assessment of the actual situation in Europe. But according to a recent study by researchers at UNU-MERIT in The Netherlands - a research and training centre of United Nations University - Europe does better than assumed, at least as far as formal technology transfer goes.

The UNU-MERIT survey shows that Europe performs better than the United States on two of the three indicators for the actual commercial use of public research (licenses executed and start-ups) and comes a close second on a third indicator (licence revenue as a share of research expenditure). In 2004, per million dollars in research expenditures, European public research institutes executed 20% more licenses, established 40% more start-up firms, and earned only 10% less license revenue than American universities.

There are problems of comparability between the US and European data, and part of the European success on license revenue is due to very good performance of government research institutes. Furthermore, "none of these indicators measure successful commercialisation of the results of public research", say UNU-MERIT's researchers Anthony Arundel and Catalina Bordoy. "A start-up can fail, a license may not lead to anything of value and even license revenue can be earned without the firm bringing an invention to the market or making a profit from it. Nevertheless, the results are intriguing and show that European academics might be far more 'entrepreneurial' than commonly thought."

To improve indicators on the commercialization of publicly funded research, the UNU-MERIT researchers propose several steps that should be taken to improve the existing questionnaires from different countries in order to make the results fully comparable. They note that this should not be particularly difficult.

Open science Arundel and Bordoy stress that firms acquire research output not only through formal relationships with research institutes (contract research and licensing), but also through 'open science' by reading journal articles, attending academic conferences and informal contacts with researchers. "Too much focus on indicators for formal technology transfer might lead policy makers to promote formal technology transfer at the expense of transfer through open science. That would be wrong. The European Paradox is probably the result of a poor performance in the system of open science, as Europe's performance in formal technology transfer from public research to firms is not at all bad. That would mean that policy makers would have to concentrate on improving Europe's performance in open science."

As open science does not leave a clear trail of data such as patents, licensing contracts, and the establishment of new firms to exploit a new technology, indicators should be developed to measure the impact of open science on the commercialization of public research.

Anthony Arundel and Catalina Bordoy will present their findings at the OECD conference Blue Sky II 2006 - What Indicators for Science, Technology and Innovation Policies in the 21st Century? The conference takes place from September 25 - 27, 2006 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

More information on the conference is available at

Copies of the full paper are available on request.



United Nations University (UNU) is an international community of scholars engaged in research, postgraduate training and the dissemination of knowledge aimed at resolving the pressing global problems of human survival, development and welfare, in line with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

UNU-MERIT is the United Nations University - Maastricht Economic and social Research and training centre on Innovation and Technology. It integrates the former UNU-Institute for New Technologies (UNU-INTECH) and the Maastricht Economic Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (MERIT). UNU-MERIT provides insights into the social, political and economic contexts within which innovation and technological change is created, adapted, selected, diffused, and improved upon. The Institute's research and training programmes address a broad range of relevant policy questions dealing with the national and international governance of innovation, intellectual property protection, and knowledge creation and diffusion. UNU-MERIT is located at, and works in close collaboration with Maastricht University in The Netherlands.

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